Tuesday, September 30, 2014

PREPARATIONS/PLANNING-PRIOR TO START OF SE ASIA TRIP 2014

     About Us:

Me-Chris-a retired teacher, age 68 but I turned 69 while in Bangkok.  I love photography but I'm just an amateur.  I'm also keen on ancient sites and history, experiencing new cultures and everything that entails.  I was a bit anxious about all the walking and climbing we'd have to do as I've had minor surgery on my right knee twice.  I really do enjoy the planning any trip takes-whether the trip is long or short!

My husband-Richard, a retired construction contractor, age 71 in tip top physical condition.  His interests are scuba diving (he did this in Thailand and while diving encountered a whale shark-the highlight of his trip as this is a rare experience) and golf.  He will have no problems with any of the physical aspects of our trip.  He leaves all the planning to me and rarely complains about any activities I've planned.

     I have been planning this trip to Cambodia, Myanmar, and Thailand for several months.  I got so much help from Trip Advisor and Fodor's-so many who posted trip reports and then the destination experts and finally the "regulars".  I was a bit OCD in that I made up monthly calendars-January, February, March, and April-with our hotels, flights, destinations, activities, $$ amounts, etc.  Some of this worked, a lot didn't!  I still advocate research but maybe not go overboard like my husband said I did!








     I booked my international flight to be open jaw where we'd depart from Buffalo to Siem Reap and return from Bangkok to Buffalo.  Cost of our international flight, open jaw for the 2 of us was $3310.60, booked on May 14, 2013.  This price included all flight segments, taxes, and insurance.  This was mostly a DIY trip except for using a local agency-One Stop-in Myanmar to book the hotels and flights I requested.  As with any planning things did not always go smoothly but for the most part I'd say our trip was great and was everything we expected it to be.

     I took 2 credit cards and 1 debit card from a company that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees.  For Myanmar it took 3 months to secure the pristine USD bills that were required.
New $100 bill

     Despite taking precautions I got sick in Cambodia (not from the food) and had a slight injury touring the sites in and around Siem Reap.  Luckily I had packed some first aid supplies but truthfully that wasn't necessary as in all 3 of these countries there are pharmacies all over where you can get anything you need for less than what you'd probably pay at home.  My husband cursed all my plastic zip loc bags of things that went into our checked bags.  I must admit most could have been left behind.  What we used was the first aid stuff, the Tide packets for hand washing things we didn't send to the laundry, our sunscreen, mosquito repellant.  Oh, for Myanmar/Burma I used my pumice, heel repair lotion for my feet, and wet wipes.  Your feet will get dirty/gross when you have to be barefoot at some of the temples.  Everything else I could have bought overseas.
Too much unnecessary stuff!



 


      I did a pretty good job packing as we used most of what I packed.  Only while we were in Cambodia did my feet swell to the point where I couldn't wear some of my shoes.  What I packed too much of was shoes.  You can get by on a sturdy/strong pair of flip flops and a pair of shoes for walking on uneven surfaces or climbing steep, narrow steps.  My husband and I each had a pair of waterproof Keens which we wore sightseeing in SR and in northern Thailand for our day with the elephants.  There are very inexpensive places where you can do laundry and we did that a lot.  Bring clothes that are lightweight, will dry fast, and mix and match.  One thing that I wish we had brought from home was a compass as the one we bought in SR didn't work right and it would have helped in exploring the Angkor sites.

     Photography equipment that I brought in a carry on specially designed for this kind of stuff-
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5  This is the camera I used and was happy with it for the most part.
Canon EOS digital Rebel XTi  This is the camera my husband used.  I also brought a 70-210 lens for this camera along with filters.  I should have left this camera/lens/filters at home as not used that much.
Sony digital HD video camera recorder.
We took around 20, 000 pictures and possibly 5 hrs. of video.
For our next trip if my husband wants to practice taking pics I'll get another very good point & shoot.
Or does anyone have any suggestions??

     I was impressed for the most part with the local airlines we used.  Favorites were Air Asia, Air Bagan, Air KBZ, and Air Mandalay.  Ones I would not use again were Cambodian Angkor Air and NOK Air mainly for their excessive baggage fees.  For international airlines we felt Asiana was way better than Air China and forget about the US airlines ( I mean you Jet Blue!) although hats off to the lady at the United check in counter who got us from Chicago to Buffalo on an earlier flight and noticed that Asiana had tagged our bags as going to Cleveland!

     Itinerary-24 nights in Cambodia, 28 nights in Myanmar, Thailand split 12 nights/then 26 nights, and 1 night air travel from home to SE Asia and 1 night air travel from SE Asia back home.  Grand total 92 nights-our longest trip so far.  We left home January 4, 2014 and returned home April 6, 2014.  The best thing was that we missed one of the worst winters on record for Buffalo/western NY!

     I decided to do this blog to record our trip although I did keep a journal while traveling.  I also wanted to give back to those who helped me in my planning by sharing my experiences-good and bad-with any future travelers.

     Important things I learned:  planning can be great; things don't always go as you planned so be flexible; people overseas/from a different country are as interested in you as you are interested in them; a smile can go a long way; don't expect things to be like back home as the food is different, the climate is different, and the traffic is certainly different!  I'm sure there's more but these are just a few of mine.  Ah, I learned I don't like living out of a suitcase so future trips will have destination stopovers of at least 5 nights minimum, preferably at least 1 week.  Too much schlepping around for my liking this trip.

     And so our adventure to SE Asia begins!  

Monday, September 29, 2014

DIASTER STRIKES IN THE FORM OF JET BLUE AIRLINES-JANUARY 4, 2014



 January 4, 2014

     It's 5:00 am and my husband and I are getting ready to head to the Buffalo-Niagara Airport where we will catch a flight on JET BLUE to JFK and then from JFK to Seoul on ASIANA AIRLINES and from Seoul on Asiana to our final destination-Siem Reap, Cambodia.  Our first flight departs Buffalo this morning at 9:24 am and we should arrive in Siem Reap on January 5, 2014 at 10:50 pm.  Our bags are packed and ready to be loaded in the car.  We each have 1 checked bag-under 20 kg. each.  Then 1 checked bag of my husband's scuba gear that is around 18 kg.  A carry on of camera/video equipment.  A carry on of TSA approved items like prescription medicines, etc.  We are wearing fleece jackets as it will be hot when we arrive in Cambodia but it's winter here in western NY.  We opt not to wear our normal winter jackets as they are too bulky and heavy.  Our brother-in-law Dan arrives to drive us to the airport.  He will use our car as he only has a pick up truck.  He will be taking care of our mail, checking at times to make sure our house is still standing, and will pick us up on April 6, 2014 when we arrive back home.  It's been snowing a bit but nothing unusual for our neck of the woods.  We arrive at the airport by 7:00 am which allows us to check our bags, get through security without rushing.  Waving goodbye to Dan we wheel our bags inside.  I check the departure board.
Our flight #2301 is listed as being on time

Our flight is on time but there are several that are canceled or delayed.  Check in Jet Blue counter.  The guy says he can check our bags all the way through to SR.  I show him the print out that says we're supposed to claim and recheck our bags at JFK.  He says we're all partner/codeshare airlines so that's not necessary. Ok I say as we have a 2 hr. 15 mins. layover in JFK and not having to claim, then recheck will be a help.  We get through security and are in the waiting area for our gate.  JFK is backed up due to storm so rather than circling JFK air space our flight is delayed.  I'm getting a bit worried.  After about 1/2 hr. we start the boarding process.  We're receiving instructions from flt. attendants when the JB pilot appears to say we are going to wait for 9 passengers who are heading to Aruba.  Originally their connecting flt. at JFK was not going to wait for them but now the flt. is so we reopen the cabin doors, etc.  Now my 2 1/2 layover time is almost gone.  I ask the attendant about us catching our Asiana flt.  She replies "don't worry, all the flts. have been affected and they're all delayed-no problem."  Easy for her to say.  After what seems like being on the ground at JFK forever we finally get off the plane.  The attendants have asked people to remain seated until my husband and I and the 9 to Aruba are off the plane.  We have to run from Terminal 4 (I think) to Terminal 5.  We're 30 minutes late for our flight.  Well, it wasn't delayed.  It left on time at 1:00 pm.  It was Asiana's only flight so all staff have left.  To make a long, depressing story short, this decision by the JB pilot causes us not to arrive in SR until January 8, 2014 but our bags arrived January 6th.  And we were stuck in BEIJING for 2 nights with no clothes and no one knew where our bags were!  I will NEVER fly on Jet Blue again.  We also had to spend all night in the terminal as no hotel rooms to be had.  Plenty of others sleeping at tables, on the floor, etc.  Not a pretty picture!
Phone numbers & names of people I spoke to while stuck at JFK

Original Jet Blue tickets-boarding passes & baggage claim tickets
   

   
   


     

Sunday, September 28, 2014

JANUARY 5-7, 2014: STUCK IN BEIJING


January 5, 2014

     We are waiting to board our AIR CHINA 11:50 am flight-JFK to Beijing, arriving Jan. 6 at 2:40 pm, departing 6:45 pm to Siem Reap. Arriving SR 11:00 pm.   No seats available on Asiana for today.  No one in the entire JFK airport has been able to get our checked bags for us.  It was locked in the Asiana Ofc.  I was told only Asiana staff could retrieve it (really??  I find that so hard to digest!).  I'm told our bags will be put on today's Asiana flt.  I question this as we will not be on that plane and isn't there a policy that if you don't fly, neither do your checked bags??   The winter storm is getting worse.  A plane slides off the runway while trying to depart.  JFK shut down.  Planes diverted-ours to Boston.  We wait and wait and wait.  We finally board but by now we will miss our connecting flt. in Beijing going to Siem Reap (I mutter choice words about Jet Blue and that pilot in my head as now the dominoes keep falling against each other!).
Airport staff doodles trying to figure out things.

This document shows that Triangle Service picked up our bags  2014-01-04 14:43:46 from T5 and dropped them off 2014-01-04  14:50:11 at T4 to G30.
This shows our flt. from JFK to Beijing is on time.  Yea, right!!
     January 6-7, 2014


     We arrive in BEIJING evening January 6th and we wait in line with others to be given alternative flts. When it's my turn I'm told the next flt. from Beijing to SR is January 8!!   I'm now on the verge of tears.  I'm tired, frustrated, and so angry.  We spend tonight and tomorrow night at a hotel.  Our days are spent at the Beijing Airport working with Asiana staff to locate our bags.  First-they're still at JFK, now they're in Seoul, and at last they arrived in SR on Jan. 6th!  I really hope that's where they are as this is a 3 1/2 month long trip and we will need clothes.  We try to purchase practical clothes and toiletries not provided by the hotel at the airport.  If I'm into designer handbags, expensive jewelry I'm set but otherwise my husband and I are SOL!!  I must say the Beijing Airport is not as I remember from our 2007 trip.
To the left is stub from Jan. 6th and stapled is new one as also seen on the right for Jan. 8th.
Golden Phoenix-our home for 2 nights

Bedroom 
View from room


Room toiletries-not bad

Saturday, September 27, 2014

CAMBODIA-SIEM REAP: FINALLY!, ROYAL ANGKOR RESORT & SPA-JANUARY 8, 2014


SIEM REAP-January 8-19, 2014

January 8, 2014

    We take the free shuttle from our hotel to the airport.  Fingers crossed we will be in Siem Reap tonight!!  Flight takes off as scheduled.  I breathe a sigh of relief and finally start to relax.  I have received an e-mail from Asiana that our bags have been in SR since Jan. 6th and a rep from the airline will be waiting for us in SR to handle the paperwork to retrieve them.
We are finally on our way to Siem Reap.

Beijing Airport

Beijing Airport

Our flt. to SR leaving 6:45 pm

Our Air China plane
     The flight is fine.  Good service, ok movies, and not too bad food.  I honestly don't remember what I watched or ate!  We arrive in SR on time.  I have our passport size pics and two USD $20 bills.  We see the Asiana rep who waits for us to get our passports stamped with the visa.  This process takes about 5 minutes or so.  The rep takes us to an office and there I see our bags!!  We complete the paperwork, sign our names in several places several times, thank the rep and quickly find a car to take us to our hotel.  Cost $7.  Before leaving the airport I pick up some tourist pamphlets for SR.
     We arrive at our hotel ROYAL ANGKOR RESORT & SPA and there's several staff waiting to welcome us (I had been e-mailing the hotel apprising them of our travel woes as we were supposed to check in on Jan. 5th).  A cold towel and a refreshing drink.  Then we are escorted to our room, #411.  All I want to do is sleep.  I will unpack tomorrow.
Our room at the Royal Angkor Resort & Spa

Bathtub
Tea or coffee, anyone?
Bathroom



Bedroom

Bedroom area

Friday, September 26, 2014

JANUARY 9, 2014: QUAD ADVENTURE, COOKING CLASS


January 9, 2014

     OMG I slept like a log!  I feel good and ready to really enjoy this trip.  Up to now it's been one awful thing after another but we are finally in CAMBODIA/SIEM REAP!!!!  Today there is nothing pre arranged so I send an e-mail to QUAD ADVENTURES CAMBODIA to see if we can do a 2 hr. ride.  Yes, we can!  They will pick us up from our hotel at 9:45 am.  My husband and I head down to breakfast.  The grounds of this property are so pretty and that swimming pool!  My husband is just about drooling. Upon arriving to the breakfast building we give our room # to the hostess and pick a table.  It's a buffet with egg station.  There are so many things to choose from it's hard to know where to begin.  I select juice, fruit, toast/danish, a fried egg, and coffee.  It is very good and I feel like a new woman.
View of pool from our room

Our balcony

Breads and pastries

So much food


Vegetables
Egg station


Fruit
Hotel restaurant

Hotel lobby
    Phy from QUAD ADVENTURES CAMBODIA picks us up in a tuk tuk-our first ride!  We go to the office where we pay $70 for 2 bikes, sign a waiver of responsibility, and learn some basics.  I decide to ride behind Phy as I've never done this before.  We head into the countryside around SR.  After 5 minutes Phy asks if I want to drive and I decide to give it a go.  It's super easy and so much fun!  We stop for drinks as it can be dusty but we see so much-small villages, lots of kids waving & running after us, a local temple, animals grazing, etc.  We really loved this and would go longer next time.  I highly recommend this as a break from the temples or like us, do it before the temples!
Phy and my husband Richard

Small villages and children

Local temple

We had so much fun!

Quad Adventure Cambodia office
     Pool time for several hours.  My husband is so happy!  I've made arrangements for a cooking class for later.
My husband Richard

Me

Pool
     Narak, a tuk tuk driver from the hotel takes us to LE TIGRE de PAPIER, restaurant and cooking class.  He will return for us later.  Cost for class which includes 2 non alcoholic drinks is $28 for the 2 of us.  First our teacher takes us to the local market and points out the ingredients we will use among other interesting food items.  Then we return and head upstairs where the class is.  Who knew cooking could be so much fun!  There are 6 of us-just the right size.  My husband and I make papaya salad, banana blossom flower salad for our starter choices.  For the main I choose curry with chicken and my husband does seafood amok (he doesn't care for his dish as he doesn't like the coconut taste).  After we're done we head downstairs to eat the results of our labor.  There's enough to share.  We have 2 glasses of the house white wine which is not bad-$5.  Dessert is a banana pudding with tapioca. Jean Luc e-mails us the recipes from our class.  Narak takes us back to the hotel-$6 round trip.
Our teacher at the market

Nice looking food

Ready to start!

Ingredients

Ingredients

I'm having fun

Ingredients

Cooking up a storm

Serious at work

Some of the finished meals

My papaya salad and someone's spring rolls



One of the meals 

Another meal

Our group!
     It's been a wonderful first day.  Tomorrow we start our temple sightseeing.  I'm so excited!