Spain Snippets: Barcelona

8 Jul

Our tour of Spain concluded with Barcelona.

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Instead of a hotel we opted to stay at Urban Suites apartments in Barcelona. That way we could cook. Above: delicious watermelon. Usually seedless watermelon aren’t the sweetest but these were!
Below: enough food for quite a few meals!

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Visited the overly touristy La Boqueria. We weren’t too impressed with it, but the overpriced fruit juices were pretty good.

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A preview of some of the food we ate. Feast for the eyes and the taste buds!

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Gaudi galore.

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We also made a side trip to the Dali museum.

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More on Barcelona as well as the rest of Europe when we come back in T minus 10 days! Hope you enjoyed these previews of Spain. We’ve got a few more hours in Paris and then we are off to Amsterdam and London.

Spain Snippets: San Sebastian

7 Jul

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I have to admit: I had never heard of San Sebastian before this trip started. Because of Jeannie’s insistence that we go to this small town in northern Spain close to the border of France, we found a jewel of a place that has it all: the best food in Spain/Europe/quite possibly the world, friendly pedestrian walk streets, easy bike paths throughout the city, and picturesque beaches. It truly is a wonderful city and we immediately knew we would return someday.

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San Sebastian is only a 6-hour bus ride from Madrid through the Spanish countryside. Notice I say “only”, as by this time we’ve been accustomed to long airplane flights, boat rides, train rides, you name it. The Spanish transport system (Alsa buses and RENFE trains) is comfortable and on time, unlike pretty much everything in Asia. The bus even had wifi!

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One notable thing about San Sebastian is its huge network of bike lanes and bike-friendly culture. We rented bikes for a day and rode around town. We went along the beach, through the high school and college area, and finally back through a long bikes-only tunnel that looked like something you’d see on the Matterhorn in Disneyland.

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The food in San Sebastian is fantastic to say the least. It’s also easy to figure out what to order. At all the tapas bars, the food is laid out on the counter and you simply pick up what you want to eat and pay per number of dishes you’ve had. The food ranges from simple bacon and mushrooms on a stick to smoked squid with a lime shooter and fancy biscuit. We tapas bar-hopped the first night and easily found our favorite to be Bar Zeruko. The range of culinary dishes here is truly amazing! Anthony Bourdain even said that besides Vietnam one of his favorite places to eat is in Sebastian. This is because they have the highest concentration of top ranked restaurants, so there’s no room for error.

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There’s more to share from San Sebastian, so stay tuned!

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Spain Snippets: Madrid

5 Jul

What a welcome surprise it was to land in Madrid as the next leg of our journey! After two months of being in less developed countries, it was nice to hop directly onto the subway and literally arrive at the doorstep of our hotel.

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Madrid is such a walkable city. We stayed right in the center and almost never had to use the subway. There’s restaurants, shopping, parks, historical palaces, and the world famous Prado museum all close by. We also spent quite a bit of time at Zara and Mango, because they’re both Spanish clothing brands and we could claim our VAT back as well.

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Everyone is out and about in Madrid. Madrid is one of the best places in the world if you like pedestrian walk streets. There’s shopping, cafes, and plenty of things to do in the center of town. The sun stays up late and the people eat out accordingly late as well.

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Old presidential palace and the view it overlooks.

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Apartments overlooking one of the older squares in Madrid. A long time ago, this square was used for bullfighting; the city rented out the balconies to spectators, hence the box numbers which are still there today.

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A few famous restaurant fronts a few blocks away from our hotel.

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Everyone’s heard of the famous Spanish tapas. What’s different in Spain is that you’re not expected to spend your whole dinner experience in one restaurant. It’s common to try out a dish or two, then pay and leave 20 minutes later to go to some other tapas place to try something else. More than likely that place will be steps away from the previous restaurant because everything in Madrid is so close together.

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Late night churros, anyone?

We’ll have more detailed posts and pics of our time in Europe when we return from our RTW adventure. We’ve only got a couple more weeks left!

Dead Sea, the Jordan Side

21 Jun

On our drive back to Madaba, we decided to take a detour to splash around in the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea separates Jordan from Israel and is a prime source of income for the salt and mineral mining industries. In addition, it’s a prime source of tourism on the Jordan side, with fancy Hiltons and Movenpick resorts starting to spring up. Because the Dead Sea has no natural outlet, the salt content keeps increasing. Currently the salinity is 8x that of seawater!

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We went to the only public beach on the Jordan side, and once again had to pay the special tourist pricing. Locals: 0.5JD. Us: 16JD each!

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The public beach had a swimming pool area as well. Many of the visitors pay a few bucks to coat themselves in the local mud–supposedly it’s rich in healthy minerals and good for the skin and body (as well as an effective sunblock).

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Floating in the Dead Sea is an amazing experience. The minute you sit down, you pop right up in the water! The feeling is akin to sitting in an inner tube, although you just happen to be in really buoyant water!

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You can do weird things in super buoyant water. Here, Jerry is literally suspended vertically in the deep water without treading. It takes no effort!

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It’s actually quite difficult to swim in the Dead Sea. So much of your body is out of the water that it’s difficult to propel yourself. You also have to take care not to get any water in your eyes. We also accidentally got some on our lips and boy, does it sting!

The Dead Sea is yet another highly recommended place in Jordan. Visiting Jordan has been one of the highlights of our trip so far. From the friendly people to the wonders of Petra to the uniqueness of the Dead Sea, Jordan has something for everyone!

Petra

18 Jun

“A rose red city, half as old as time.” Isn’t that just so romantic?? The description fits Petra perfectly.

Undoubtedly the pride and joy of Jordan is Petra. We spent 2 days hiking around Petra and it is our choice for most beautiful place in the world. Without a doubt, Petra is one of those places you absolutely must see before you die. The combination of the natural beauty along with human craftsmanship isn’t comparable, there is nothing else like it out there.

To read more about Petra, go here. But really, the entire place is indescribable and pictures don’t do it justice. We’ll just show you how we spent two days there:

Our hotel, Petra Moon, was an easy two minute walk down the hill from the entrance of Petra. We took advantage of our proximity and got our start at 6am each morning when the site opens.

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Day 1:
Whereas we spent half days at other world wonders (3 hours each at the Great Wall and Taj Mahal, 1 hour at Christ the Redeemer), we dedicated two days to Petra. A single day ticket for people daytripping from Israel costs 95JD, whereas a 2 day pass is 55JD. This is the way Jordan encourages tourism in their own country. By the way, similar to the Taj Mahal, nationals pay a fraction of the cost, 1JD.

Booths lining the path to the entrance: Indiana Jones snack shop!

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It’s about a brisk 30 minute walk to the Siq, you can see some carvings along the way.

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We started getting all googly eyed when we got to the Siq. Such a beautiful path! It takes maybe 10 minutes to get through the Siq if you don’t stop to take pictures. Bonus, the Siq is also wonderful because it’s shaded!

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I think our most favorite part of Petra was exiting the Siq and seeing the Treasury unfold in front of us. It was incredibly magical and we were awestruck. The best part about it was that we had the entire moment to ourselves, not a soul was around. We literally just stood there and gawked at the entire thing. It was just so gorgeous. And since it was overcast, the lighting was just perfect for photography.

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We spent a good hour at the Treasury. You can’t go inside unfortunately, but we sat on one of the benches and just hung out. It was also fun to people watch and look at their reactions when they see Petra for the first time.

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We took advantage of the overcast day and went on a 2 hour hike to the Monastery, Petra’s #2 attraction. If you’re up for it, this is a good hike to take because many other attractions are along the way.

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Can’t believe that arch is still intact!

Above: Coliseum Below: This is Petra’s version of Third Street Promenade/La Rambla/Champs Elysses

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Brown University currently has an excavation project going on. Did you know that experts say only 15-20% of Petra has been uncovered? Amazing! Generations to come will hopefully have more to look forward to.

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The Monastery is larger and less intricate than the Treasury. Definitely worth the hike!

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Throughout the park, you’ll be asked persistently and constantly to pay for camel and donkey rides. We must have been asked at least 2 dozen times on the first day. The locals won’t take no for an answer. Here’s the deal:

Even though your ticket gets you a “free” ride from the entrance to the Siq, you still have to pay “tip.” We opted to explore the entire park on foot. I read that the camels, donkeys, and horses are abused, beaten, and overworked. Jerry actually even saw a worker drop kick a camel in the head, which was so sad. At our age, it’s easy to turn down rides because we can handle the distance and heat. However, I can see that an older person or a young kid might benefit from paying for rides. Petra is so huge that you realistically can’t explore the entire thing in one day. We had the luxury of two days, which not everyone opts for.

Day 2:
Again we left at 6am and had the Siq/Treasury to ourselves. Day 2 was looking to be a very sunny day, so we immediately left for the hike that gives an overlook of the Treasury.

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Along the way, we explored some tombs.

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The natural colors are so gorgeous!

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This dog was annoying at first because it kept following us around and sniffing our food. It was also quite dirty and so we didn’t want to pet him for obvious reasons. However throughout the hike he grew on us and we even named him Buddy. He was sort of like our hiking guide, it was endearing! In some areas the trail was not marked as well, and so Buddy would “guide” us in the right direction.

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Left: We are back on the ground a few meters from the Treasury. I’m pointing to where we hiked up to! Right: Up on top is a nice tent like structure, perfect to relax and rest before going back down.

We opted out on seeing Petra by Night (Jeannie kept wanting to call it Paris by Night, those of you who are Vietnamese would get this joke), because we heard it was crowded and very touristy. The description sounds romantic, seeing Petra in all it’s glory by candlelight/moonlight. But after watching youtube vids and reading online reviews we gathered that we’d essentially be herded with other tourists in a large group and be forced to watch a “cultural” show with music/dancing, and whatnot. Not our idea of a good time! It’s also pretty pricey and not included in the 2 day ticket.

Other tips:
Bathrooms are really clean, well at 10am, I don’t know about 5pm, but up to date plumbing and western style. They are also a decent number of facilities throughout the park.

Food is very expensive inside the park, so at dinner each evening before, we ordered a few sandwiches to go and we also picked up fruit and drinks from local markets. Of course this only works if your hotel room has a fridge.

Petra is the name for the Archeological Park/site. When you book accommodations and eat out, you’re actually in Wadi Mousa, the town that serves as a gateway to Petra. We thought we’d clarify this because we were initially confused as well!

Definitely go for the two day ticket. The weather was perfect at 6am when we headed back to the hotel by 1-2pm or so, it was pretty uncomfortable. As we made our way back shortly after lunch, we saw folks that were barely heading out. That’s too ambitious for us! Also, the later you go, the more crowded it is, that’s when the hordes of tour buses caravan dozens of tourists at at time. There is just nothing comparable to having the Treasury to yourself, even for a few minutes!

The view from our hotel. Beautiful!

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Indiana Jungs!

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All in all, Petra was our favorite place on this trip so far. We’ve got a month to go before we fly back to SFO, so it’s safe to say we don’t think anything will top our Petra experience.

So what are you waiting for? Book your ticket now! While Jordan is a very safe country at the moment, who knows what the future will bring. The region is so volatile (latest news: Syria), and so it would be a shame if Petra ever went the way of the Bamiyan Buddhas. Although I highly doubt that would happen (would be the travesties of all travesties), one can’t really predict the future. Especially for a region like the Middle East.

We hope you enjoyed this post! Our next post: floating in the Dead Sea. We ❤ Jordan!

Jordan: Good Country, Bad Neighbors

18 Jun

We were both pleasantly surprised upon arrival in Jordan. Perfect 80-degree weather, good food, and extremely friendly and welcoming people. Jordan is a progressive, relatively westernized, safe country which just happens to have bad neighbors with Syria and Iraq (among others) in the Middle East. Everywhere you go, people say welcome to you, smile, and practice their English. It’s refreshing to see and a huge change from India where we felt so unwelcome. In addition, there is no tension between Christians and Muslims, and the country has taken a very progressive stance on women. Shorts and bare shoulders are not a problem like in many other parts of the Middle East.

Driving in Jordan is civilized and very similar to driving in the US. In fact, all of the major US car rental agencies are present in Jordan. We rented a Toyota Yaris for our drive to Madaba, Petra, and the Dead Sea and it turned out to be a great decision. Because the cities are separated by stretches of desert with no rail and limited bus connections (think: similar to I-5), we could drive at our own leisure. Being a LA driver, I had no issue with the driving and found the drivers to be quite courteous, although they tend to take unnecessary risks like passing around blind corners.

To give you a sense of our schedule:
Day 1, fly into Jordan, pick up rental car, stay in Madaba
Day 2, drive to Wadi Mousa, the town which serves as a tourism hub for Petra
Days 3/4, explore Petra
Day 5, drive to Dana Biosphere Reserve and stay at Feynan
Day 6, all day at Feynan
Day 7, drive to Dead Sea, float, drive to Madaba
Day 8, all day in Madaba
Day 9, drop off rental car and fly to Madrid
As you can see, having a car was so useful and convenient! And, we ended up not venturing into Amman at all.

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Quick stop at Kerak Castle on the way to Petra.
Food in Jordan is good too. Tired of vegetarian food from India? Go to Jordan, where you eat beef, lamb, and chicken kabobs all day, everyday. I was in heaven, although Jeannie got a little tired of the meats and started ordering cucumber and tomato salads as her main dish.

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Scenery in Jordan is unlike any other country we’ve been to so far. There’s plenty of dirt, but it’s not dirty, if that makes sense. We chose to make Madaba our base point rather than Amman. Madaba is closer to the airport, smaller, easier to navigate, and more historically relevant. Madaba is one of the most ancient cities in the Middle East, dating back thousands of years. In fact, the oldest map of the Holy Land is a floor mosaic set in one of the churches in Madaba. In addition, it seems that all cities have a ubiquitous mosque spire which belts out calls to prayer at various times of the day.

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We’ll talk about Petra and the Dead Sea in future posts, but here we’ll briefly mention our time at Feynan Eco-Lodge. On paper the lodge sounded good, but it just wasn’t our kind of place. We get the whole sustainable tourism deal, but we felt that Feynan fell short and didn’t live up to its full potential. We didn’t mind the no AC or no Internet, but we felt that sleeping in the rooms was equivalent to sleeping in a clay oven that had been baking all day. There was not much to do unless you liked hiking during the hottest part of the day, and though vegetarian food can be tasty and healthy, the food at Feynan was neither of these and instead very oily and depended on jams, sauces, and dips to supplement the meal. Also, I feel like there was this expectation to spend money there, for example they seemed to look down on us when we declined offers of paid guided hikes, and also when we opted to not order drinks during meals. We weren’t expecting the place to be a 5 star Four Seasons type of oasis, but you can’t just slap an Eco-tourism label on things and expect people to be grateful for an “authentic” experience. It’s sort of putting and organic sticker on an apple, people aren’t going to miraculously think it’s the best apple ever. If the apple tastes good, people will eat it, regardless of its origins. There were some highlights though. We saw the most gorgeous sunset at Feynan. We also got to see a bunch of planets and stars through their very powerful telescope. And also, we had this really amazing soup that almost made up for the other lousy dishes. So overall, a slight miss in a country full of hits.

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Coming up in Part 2 of Jordan: Petra.

How Not To Do India in 3 Days

9 Jun

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India is one of those countries where you either love it or you hate it. We had a hard time adjusting to the culture and finding the charm in India, and we were happy to be in and out in less than half a week.

Due to flight scheduling, we only had 3 days in India and thus decided to make seeing the Taj Mahal our one and only goal. We achieved it but it certainly was a whirlwind.

Night #1
Arriving in New Delhi, our senses were overloaded with 110 degree heat at 10pm, crazy traffic, not-faint-for-the-heart driving, people and animals everywhere, homeless beggars lying around in the street, and in general, chaos. We even saw a dead body in the street a hundred yards down from our hotel. My initial thoughts were: this country is a disaster. It was quite a shock coming from the cleanliness and civility of Thailand.

On top of that, I’ve never felt so unwelcome in a country due to the staring. Everyone stares at you, and especially Jeannie as a female. You get the impression that the general population has never seen an Asian person, even though India is supposedly part of Asia! It’s an extremely uncomfortable feeling and something that we almost never experienced having grown up in California. The last time Jeannie was stared at was during a cross country road trip going through Indiana. Even then it was just a curious stare from some kids. In India, it felt much more intense and very invasive.

Day #1 in New Delhi
To get to the Taj, we had to first get train tickets to Agra. There’s no way to buy train tickets in advance online, so we gambled and decided to try our luck once we landed in New Delhi. All of the hotel staff and travel agencies said that there would be no way to find next-day tickets to Agra, and we would have to hire a private driver ($100) for the 120-mile trip to Agra (which takes at least 5-7 hours driving due to inadequate roads). I refused to believe that, so the next morning we headed out to the New Delhi Railway Station via subway. Surprisingly, the subway is clean, efficient, and modern, with AC. Once we got to the railway station after 2 stops, we crossed over to platform 1 to find the International Tourist Bureau, where we scored same-day tickets in AC3 class using the foreign tourist quota. Most people don’t know that a small percentage of seats in all trains (usually 2 per train) is reserved for foreign tourists, but it takes a lot of effort to book these seats. In addition, we were able to buy next-day return tickets on the 8pm Shadabati express (takes about 2.5 hrs), all for $30 for the two of us.

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One of the subway entrances was ghetto as heck, but inside it was decent.

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The train station was chaos and just plain ghetto. There is limited seating so people will just lie on the ground everywhere throughout the station. Kids will pee on the train tracks. No surprises, trash everywhere as well.
AC3 is a mid-class sleeper car, with 6 people per compartment section. During the day, the bottom berths fold into seats. It was a fairly decent 3.5 hour ride (we had non-annoying neighbors), and we found our way to the prepaid taxi stand for our ride to the Radisson, which is walking distance to the Taj. We’d definitely recommend the Radisson for the convenience factor. For the Taj Mahal being the bread and butter of Agra, no, India!, you’d think Agra itself wouldn’t be so run down and crappy. But it was, and we definitely were glad we didn’t stay in town. In fact we didn’t even go into town once and took all our meals at the hotel.

Day #2, now in Agra
The next morning, we started walking to the Taj at 6am in order to beat the crowds, heat, and street peddlers, and to capture the building and grounds in the early morning sun. It was definitely worth it. If you go any later you’ll be bombarded with locals trying to lure you into buying overpriced souvenirs, food, and rides via animal/wheels. It’s extremely overwhelming and sometimes even dangerous. Not every tourist knows this, but your ticket (which you buy away from the gate) allows you a free ride via golf cart to the gate itself. You just have to queue outside for a moment. However, locals will try to trick you into going into their trucks, and pretty much pretend that it’s free. Of course the unsuspecting tourist will accept the ride, and have to pay later. We really, really, detest this kind of scamming, and it seems that the government turns a blind eye when it comes to scammers.

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The Taj Mahal is a beautiful mausoleum situated in a large garden overlooking the river. The inside is a relatively simple crypt–it’s the outside where the beauty lies. Once the sun started heating up and the tourists started coming en masse, it was time to go…at 9:30am. Yep, we made it back in time for the hotel breakfast!

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We were able to score a late check out from our hotel and squatted in the lobby until 7pm. Then began our most ridiculous plan to date: 8pm train from Agra to New Delhi Railway Station, 11pm next-to-last-subway train of the night from the railway station to the airport, cumulating in our hotel picking us up at 11:30pm (our hotel offers free airport pick-up, and no one said you had to fly in to redeem it!). We really were ballsy in formulating this plan, I don’t know what we were thinking. Anything could have gone wrong and we would have been SOL. Our train could have been really really late (it actually was only 20 min late). The website could have lied about the last airport express subway train from the railway station to the airport (website said 11:30pm, our hotel in Agra told us it was 11pm). Our hotel could have forgotten to pick us up and we would have been stranded at midnight. However, luck was on our side, and we made all the connections smoothly, just 15 minutes later than we planned. We did end up catching the next to last airport express, whew! We felt like we were in an episode of The Amazing Race.

Day #3, originally supposed to explore New Delhi, but we opted to late check out and squat at our hotel with the free AC all day and all night…until 2:30AM. Because yes folks, we had a 6am flight to Jordan. Add that to the list of “what were Jerry and Jeannie thinking.”
So we’d probably not recommend to do what we did in terms of cutting things so close. We were successful, but boy were we stressed out for a little while. But we truly did not want to spend a second more than necessary in New Delhi or Agra. We just aren’t the kind of travelers that find fascination in the poverty, chaos and lack-of-infrastructure that seems to dominate New Delhi/Agra. Maybe other parts of India are totally different and actually civil, but we aren’t eager to find out anytime soon, if ever.

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Especially when it’s 113 degrees.

Koh Tao, Thailand

6 Jun

What’s Thailand without its world famous beaches?

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On our RTW, we happened to be in Thailand during the buffer season which is mid-May. At this time, the winds pick up on the west side (Phuket side) and the snorkeling becomes rougher and the Surin and Similian islands close down for tourists. So we decided to visit Koh Tao (aka Turtle Island), a smaller island on the eastern side of Thailand. We flew a 2 hour plane ride from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui, which for some reason has a large number of tattooed smoking white guys. Not exactly our type of company. Then we took a 1h45m boat ride over very choppy waters to Koh Tao (we had to close our eyes the whole time, it was that bad!), where we were picked up by our resort and then proceeded for another half hour over some 4wd terrain just to get to the resort. Whew!

You really can’t go wrong with any island in Thailand (there are so many to choose from!). It really just depends on your taste and what you’d like to do. However, a word of caution, if you’re prone to seasickness, you might want to stay at an island that you can directly fly into, such as Phuket. Phuket is quite overrun with tourists, which is why we didn’t choose to stay there, but at least you won’t have to endure that terrible boat ride!

We stayed at Jamahkiri resort, which is a high class resort and has a nice view of Shark’s Bay in southern Koh Tao. We also specifically picked it because you can go snorkeling directly from the resort, versus needing to book a separate snorkeling trip.

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The snorkeling was fantastic (as long as you stay away from shore, as it’s a little shallow over the coral at this time of the year) and we were able to find some low-cost food at a backpackers type place called Rockys next door, which was a pleasant surprise. The food at our resort was a little too fancy schmancy our tastes and wallets. We did the very same thing on our honeymoon in Fiji- stayed at a resort with nice amenities, dined at a backpackers cafe. Jeannie was also able to get a nice full body massage, wrap, and facial.

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Our little find.

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Red fleshed dragon fruit!

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Best thing about SE Asia, all the fresh fruit.

We had pretty much typical hot beach weather the entire time. It started to get stormy on our last night and because all rooms at the resort have ocean views, we were treated to a fantastic and lengthy lightning show from the comforts and safety of our room. Gotta love the simple and free entertainment.

All in all, it was nice to be in a place for a couple of days where there’s not much to do. There’s infinitely more stuff going on in big cities, but with that comes pressure to try to squeeze in a lot. We’re glad we included a nice relaxing mini island vacation in the middle of our whirlwind trip!

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Chiang Mai, Thailand

5 Jun

Note: Heavy photo post! But the elephants and tigers are so cute!

Chiang Mai is the second-largest city in Thailand. It’s a destination city that is known for hosting many of the outdoor and wildlife activities that Thailand has to offer. In addition, all of the activities are child-friendly and the Elephant Nature Park is particularly enlightening.

In our 3 days in Chiang Mai, we were able to walk the old city and visit the huge Sunday Walking street market, hike a 10-level waterfall, play with live tigers, go to a Thai cooking school, and visit an elephant nature park where injured, sick, and orphaned elephants are given a good home for the rest of their lives.

But first, we had to get there. We booked a private first-class cabin on a sleeper train, and it turned out to be a pretty rough experience. Train travel on the Internet is a little romanticized, with the main positive points being transportation and sleep accommodations all rolled into one. The reality is that it’s small, cramped, and uncomfortable, with dirty bathrooms and bad overpriced food. We had our own cabin with private sink and two fold-down beds, but the western toilet/shower combo did neither function well. 15 hours later, we arrived at 9:30am, an hour and a half late. Neither of us were well rested and we looked forward to taking a nap before visiting the Sunday Walking night market.

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The train station in Bangkok. It was a little ghetto to be honest. FYI if you order your ticket online, they won’t give you a hard copy at the counter. Instead they’ll direct you to an Internet cafe. We solved this problem by taking the train to our hotel, explaining that we were going to check in the following week, and asking if they could print for us. Cost us 50 cents, but cheaper than an hour at the Internet cafe! Thanks Holiday Inn Express!

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Different modes of transportation in Thailand- modern subway and elevated “sky” trains, rickety old school trains, and trucks converted into passenger bench taxis.

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The Sunday Walking night market sells a collection of handmade goods and excellent food, all for a buck or so. This was one of the better markets in the world that we’ve been to, and easily surpasses Mongkok, Temple Street, and Saigon Ben Thanh in terms of variety, quality, and price. Instead of tacky fake goods, there tended to be well crafted handmade wares. Similar to Unique LA, without the hipster factor.

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Bugs anyone? Crunchy!

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Flowers are huge in the Thai culture

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What’s nice about the market is that the paths take you to some wats along the way, sightseeing and shopping all in one.

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Fresh donuts/street side foot massages

Refreshing Thai iced tea, super cheap and strong at a cafe.

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On day 2, we hired a private driver to take us to the Maesa waterfall and Tiger Kingdom. Maesa was nice but the 100 degree heat and high humidity quickly drained our energy. And after having been to Iguazu Falls, sadly other waterfalls aren’t the same to us.

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Afterwards, we hopped back into the car and 5 minutes later were at the Tiger Kingdom. At TK, they breed and raise the tigers from birth, and socialize the tigers with humans every day in order to make them somewhat domesticated. This allows them to make money by giving visitors a chance to get up close and personal with the tigers. They have 4 sizes of tigers to “play” with: small (2 months), medium (6 months to a year), medium-large (1 year), and large (18 months). There is a huge difference between the ages, even though all of them can be considered juveniles. We chose to visit 3 cages: medium, large, and small.

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The medium tigers were our first cage. We were a little apprehensive at first because we’ve never been close to a tiger and these medium tigers could easily kill you without much effort. The trainers were nice and showed us various poses to with the tigers and even how to lay down on them. General rules for approaching tigers: approach from the rear, pet with a heavy hand, and do not touch the head, face, or front paws. After visiting the medium tigers, we played with the large tiger and small baby tigers in their respective cages. Though the biggest and smallest tigers made for the best pictures, we found that we enjoyed the medium tigers the best. They were more interactive and playful. The big ones are lazy, sleepy, and lethargic, and the little ones were a bit ADD. The mediums were the most fun to watch! PS, did you know tigers sleep 16-18 hours a day??

The Tiger Kingdom is certainly for tourists, and if you’re a PETA activist this place isn’t for you. But for those who want to do something crazy? stupid? fun? this place fits the bill.

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The next day we made an all day trip to the Elephant Nature Park. Here, they don’t offer elephant rides and the elephants don’t do tricks. It’s a nature conservatory where abused, orphaned, and handicapped elephants are brought to give them a sanctuary for the rest of their lives. Most people don’t know that domestic elephants are accorded the same rights in Thailand as livestock. Its sad to see that they are beaten, abused, and overworked to the point where they break down. One elephant was blinded by its former owner, who shot out its eyes to try to get the elephant to carry lumber faster. Another elephant had stepped on a land mine and lost a foot. It’s sobering to see these elephants, but good to know that they have a good home at the park. We were able to feed them, pet them, and play in the river with the elephants. It was a wonderful experience and something that will be remembered for a long time.

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Finally, we also took a Thai cooking class. I’d say that equally attractions in Chiang Mai are a third animal related, a third massage/spa, and a third cooking schools. We chose Basil cooking school because of great reviews and also because the kitchen is more modern. Tip: choose the evening cooking class, the weather is cooler, and the food doubles as dinner.

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Chiang Mai is a great place to visit, both kid and adult friendly! We highly recommend it.

Bangkok, Thailand

4 Jun

Warning: some information in this post is not suitable for young children. Please pre-screen the text before you read aloud to the kids at home.

After our time in Vietnam, we were pleasantly surprised upon our arrival in Thailand. The airport is new and modern, the transit connections are efficient and clean, air conditioning is everywhere, and the people are nice and courteous. We actually had a car stop to wait for us to cross the intersection, which was a first since we left Japan. What a difference a new country makes!

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Everyone from America seems to like Thailand, and now we understand why. You get westernized standards for a fraction of the price. We easily found great food for a buck or two in the mall food courts, which are more like restaurants than typical American mall food courts. An ice cream cone costs a quarter! The prices for western goods (ie clothing, cameras, electronics, etc) are the cheapest in Asia, but that only means equivalent to American prices. We are so lucky to live in a land where items are cheaper than most of the world!

We’re not alone in liking Thailand. A number of middle-aged to old white male foreigners wander the streets and side alleys of Bangkok looking for companionship, mostly the physical kind. Some even manage to make a girlfriend out of it, even though it’s clear that the Thai woman is in it for the money and the old guy is in it for sex. It’s common to see a 60-year old man with a 20-year old Thai woman! We call these old guys “sexpats”, and they are everywhere. One night Jeannie and I roamed one of the nightlife streets of Bangkok and squeezed each other’s hand every time we saw a sexpat. By the end of the night, our hands were hurting!

Let’s go back to the malls in Bangkok. If you like shopping, this is the place for you. I’ve never seen a city with such a high concentration of shopping malls on one street! Wisely, the city has connected all of the malls with an aerial walkway which protects you from the sun/rain (and lightning), and provides an easy access to the BTS aerial tramway.

Terminal 21: an airport themed mall. Each floor is a city, London, Tokyo, Istanbul, etc.

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Even an SF floor, which was food! We didnt eat here, but prices looked cheap, and it was still happening despite the late hour. I believe you can still eat there even after the shops have closed. The Hollywood floor was the movie theater, no surprises.

Central World Plaza: mid range, you can find chains such as Uniqlo, Zara, Forever 21. Their food court was the best!! We got three mains, two drinks, and a dessert for only $8! Ridiculous! FYI, portions are smaller, which I like. That way we could try different dishes without wasting food!

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Thai iced tea made fresh in front of customers.

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Huge portion of mango with sticky rice.

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The top right and bottom pictures are at Central World, the top left picture is at MBK.

Other malls: Siam Paragon, you can find the baller stores such as Chanel, Hermes, etc. There is even an aquarium! The food court seemed affordable considering, but we didn’t eat there.

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MBK, this is probably the most affordable mall for wares, not really brand names, more of a flea market type of joint. That’s where Jeannie found her cell phone case. They have a bunch of restaurants, two food courts, a dirt cheap one, and pricey one. At the pricey food court, if you show your passport you get a free Thai iced tea. You don’t need to purchase food to get your free drink which is what we did the first time. The second time we decided to lunch there and found the portions to be very generous. See top left picture in the collage above.

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Fine dining at Pizza Hut??

Besides being mallrats, we also visited the Chatuchak Market (aka JJ Market), which is very huge and expansive. This market is open year round, but on Sundays, the market comes to life when every single retailer is open. You can find anything under the sun, including pets. This was the saddest part of the market. The dogs for sale were either newborn puppies packed together or in too-large cages.

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The market is divided into sections: clothing, housewares, crafts, wedding, shoes, pets, religious artifacts, eating, etc. it was pure chaos.

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We found THE best orange juice ever at this market. No sugar or salt added! It was supremely delicious.

We thoroughly enjoyed our short time in Bangkok and will be back sooner than later! We only had a day in Bangkok and didn’t make it to the famous palace, wats, or the floating markets. If you plan on going, allocate a couple days for the sites, and maybe a day for shopping. Until next time!

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