RTW TRIP ALLEPPEY, INDIA DAY 99 TO 101: TO HOUSEBOAT OR NOT TO HOUSEBOAT?

From Kottayam, there are public ferries that can take you through the backwaters of Alleppey (also known as Alappuzha).  Most people head to Alleppey, a great town filled with backwater streets, farm life, and the quiet river life on the houseboats.  This area is definitely a highlight of South India.

Different houseboat designs

Different houseboat designs

We found out that usually the ferries departed from Kodimatha Jetty in Kottayam, but our hotel told us it recently changed to Kanjiram Jetty.  We took a rickshaw to Kanjiram Jetty, waited a bit for the next ferry, and hopped on.

The ferry is a pretty basic boat with interesting toilets, (basically big holes to squat over, with everything going directly into the water).  The seating consists of long, wooden benches within a windowless boat.  The front of the boat is probably the best for sitting, as there are ample places to take pictures from, and you are furthest away from the loud motor.

Riding the local ferry.  Bottom left and bottom right are images of the squat toilets (aka holes in floor).

Riding the local ferry. Bottom left and bottom right are images of the squat toilets (aka holes in floor).

We felt the views we were able to get  from this public ferry was way better than anything you would see on a houseboat.  The ferry boat was for locals, meandering through narrow waterways where you could observe women washing clothes, families bathing, local rice farming, animal care, and families in their daily life.  Since the houseboats are so large, you really can’t get this close to the locals. Best of all, this cost us a mere 15 rupees each!

Backwater life

Backwater life

Most people take off from Alleppey to stay in the house boats overnight.  When we realized we would have the whole boat to ourselves, and that we couldn’t go down narrow waterways, and that it was quite expensive, we opted on skipping it.

We did supplement our public ferry ride with a motorized boat ride on a smaller boat for a morning session.  This is a great alternative for those who want to go down small waterways, get up close to local backwater life, and want to avoid paying over $100 for a houseboat.  You will see a bunch of guys with their boats along the waterways, and many of them will approach you for rides.  We found basically all of them had the same price, but be sure to check out their boat.  You will definitely want some shade, and comfy lounge chairs in the front.

Bottom right: Greg on our boat, a local fisherman, and sampling local coconut.

Bottom right: Greg on our boat, a local fisherman, and sampling local coconut.

A group of university students that wanted to take their photo of me, Greg and I on the motorized boat tour.

A group of university students that wanted to take their photo of me, Greg and I on the motorized boat tour.

If you have some time, it’s also nice to grab a scooter and ride around town.  You can sort of see backwater life through some of the side streets, although there isn’t a huge area to discover.

Bottom right: Greg crossing a bridge on the scooter

Bottom right: Greg crossing a bridge on the scooter

Where to stay:
When we finally arrived to Alleppey, we stayed at the very pleasant Springs Inn Hotel.  It is a small guest house with only three rooms, but the convenience and comfort is there.  The room is spacious, with nice furnishings, with a clean toilet and shower.  There is a deck attached to the room, with wifi access on the deck.  The friendly family serves breakfast each morning.

Springs Inn Hotel: Yummy breakfast!

Springs Inn Hotel: Yummy breakfast!

If you are looking for something a bit cheaper, we also stayed at Brown Residency.  It was really hard to find, but once you get there, it is basically living in someone’s home, but it felt like we were the only ones there.  It was spacious, and extremely comfortable.  The owner, Matthew is really nice, and will help you as much as he can.  I highly recommend this place!

Brown Residency

Brown Residency

Where to eat and drink:
Kream Korner Restaurant: There are two locations, but we only frequented the larger one.  It had dim lighting, with sort of a art cafe feeling.  Decent food if you are in the area.
Indian Coffee House: No visit to India is complete without a visit to an Indian Coffee House.  There are locations all over India, and we visited two within Alleppey alone.  You can get coffee, snacks, and some basic meals here, served by men in picturesque uniforms and peacock hats. If you want an open air, quiet one, I suggest going to the one close to the beach.
Royal Park Hotel is one of the few places that actually serves alcohol.  It is dark, wooden, with a mostly Indian clientele.  The free nuts are addicting.
Thaff Family Restaurant: By far, my favorite place to eat in Alleppey.  Extremely high turnover, popular with local families and tourists.  The staff is friendly, and everything we ate here was absolutely delicious and cheap.  Our favorite was the aloo masala and the Parotta bread.  If you have a hankering for meat, they have a large variety that seemed to be rather popular with the locals.  We also enjoyed their ice-cream!
–  Harbour Restaurant: Close to the beach, you can come here for beers with a slight view of the beach.  When we went, it was filled with just tourists.  People come here because they serve beer!
Dreamers Restaurant: One of the few places in town where you can get foreign food. While the lasagna and penne wasn’t totally authentic, it was still tasty for India.  Sit on the upper floor for a nice sunset.  Sadly, they do not serve alcohol.  I do believe this is really one of the only places serving foreign food in the area.

Heavenly food:

Heavenly food from top right (clockwise): Thaff Thali, Indian Coffee House snacks, Thaff Aloo Masala, Dreamers Lasagna, Thaff Paneer Butter Masala, Dreamers Veg Pakora.

Costs for Day 99:
Springs Inn Hotel 800
Pastries 30
Tuktuk to Kanjiram Jetty (not Kodimatha) 150
Water, crackers, and cookies 50
Ferry from Kanjiram to Allepey 30
Kream Korner Restaurant: Aloo Ghobi, chapati x3, veg fried rice, coke, water 26
Indian Coffee House: tea, ice cream 28
Royal Park Hotel: 2 extra strong Kingfisher beer 280
Thaff Family Restaurant: aloo masala, paneer butter masala, porotta x4, water, chocolate ice-cream, butterscotch ice-cream 262

Total cost for Day 99: 1656 rupees / 2 = $12.98 per person

Costs for Day 100:
Springs Inn Hotel 800
Water, toilet paper 65
Scooter 400
Gas 200
Indian Coffee House: poori masala, porotta, masala dosa, water, chai, ice cream 125
Water 20
2 Kingfisher beer and fries at Harbour Restaurant 375
Royal Park Hotel beer 140
Thaff Restaurant: Aloo Masala, Gobi Manchurian, Pepsi, water, chocolate ice-cream x2, 3 porotta 275

Total cost for Day 100: 2400 rupees / 2 = $18.82 per person

Costs for Day 101:
Boat ride 900
Coconut 30
Thaff Restaurant: thali aloo masala, veg thali, 7-Up, 2 chocolate ice-cream 276
Rickshaw to Brown Residency 40
Rickshaw to Dreamers 50
Dreamers Restaurant: Lasagna, Tosca Penne, lime soda, Coke, veg pakora 610
Brown Residency 700
Rickshaw from Dreamers to Brown Residency 50
Beer 140
Snickers 15
Oreos 20

Total cost for Day 101: 2831 rupees / 2 = $22.19 per person

What I learned: Houseboats are expensive, long, and very private.  The houseboats themselves are rather large, so the houseboats spend a lot of time in the larger bodies of water, unable to venture through the smaller backwaters of Alleppey. It might be a great option if you want some quiet time or if you have a large group, but if it is just a couple of you, I think you can have a great and even more eventful time on the smaller boats and public ferries.

Actual dates of travel: Dec. 11, 12, and 13, 2014

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