Friday, March 28, 2014

FINAL REFLECTIONS OF OUR SE ASIA TRIP


Reflections

     Now it's time to look back on our 3+ month long trip to SE Asia-Cambodia, Myanmar/Burma, and Thailand.  First of all, I am so glad we did this trip.  I'm happy with the countries I chose to visit and the length of time we spent away from home.  I'm also happy to say I came in under budget so our next trip to Europe is on!

     Preparations:
          Brought way too many pairs of shoes.  I think I packed 6 pairs of shoes but only ended up wearing 3 pairs-my waterproof Keens, sturdy Reef flip flops, and a nicer pair of out for dinner sandals.  Took an arsenal of first aid items.  No need for that as I could have bought everything I needed overseas and for less money than what I paid home!  Wish I had brought our good compass to use when we were at the Angkor site.  My guidebook had tons of great info but so much of the info was telling you which direction to find certain things.   Good thing I took a pumice, antiseptic wet wipes, foot cream, moisturizer, sunscreen, and a hat.  Bare feet get ugly after walking around in the temples where you have to remove your shoes!  The sun was so much hotter than I could have imagined.  The sunscreen, hat, and plenty of water saved me.  My husband was thankful for our travel alarm clock as most places had no clock in the rooms.

     Transportation choices:
          American airline companies can take a lesson from the Asian ones.  The service, price-everything-exceeded our expectations.  Favorites were Asiana, Air Asia, Air Bagan.  Unhappy with Jet Blue, Cambodian Angkor Air, and NOK Air.  Tuk tuks were a blast.  Loved them even though the ones in Bangkok were hard to get in and out of as compared to the ones in Cambodia.  Did a lot of walking and climbing-both my husband and I each lost 20 lbs.!!  Loved taking the boat from Bagan to Mandalay.  Learned to navigate the river ferries, the BTS, and the MRT in Bangkok-superb, easy.  The Green Vip Bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai was a good decision as was the IBIS bus from Kampot to Phnom Penh.  Should have booked tickets sooner for the overnight sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.  The train we ended up on was a nightmare of a trip-over 30 stops and no A/C- and one I wouldn't want to repeat.

     CAMBODIA:

          This was a DIY trip and we loved every place we stayed and everything we did for the most part.  We found the people to be the country's best asset.  Ankor was more magnificent than I imagined.

          Siem Reap-I regret that we lost 3 full days in Siem Reap due to Jet Blue.  What an awful way to start a vacation!  Because of that I couldn't do my planned overnight to the remote temple sites.  I missed my chance to see Banteay Chhmar but we did manage to do a very long 1 day trip to see Preah Vihear and others.  Losing 3 full days meant we had to cut back on other activities/sights too.  I never got to Banteay Samre, the landmine museum.  I wish I had told people to move when we were at Phnom Kulen.  Maybe then I wouldn't have gotten bumped accidentally which caused me to fall and get hurt.  Thankfully it wasn't a serious fall.  Some cuts, bruises, a bit of bleeding-nothing too gory.  Wish we had stuck to our plan for sunset at Phom Krom instead of letting ourselves be talked into sunset on Tonle Sap Lake.  Phom Krom would have been free and Tonle Sap Lake was too costly for a sunset experience.  Why pay when you can have the same or better for free?  Being an avid photographer I was sorry we didn't have the time to stop by to see John McDermott's photos of Angkor.  So glad I had budgeted as much time for here.  The 7 day pass was perfect for us.  Loved our quad adventure but wish we had booked for a longer amount of time to four wheel through the countryside.  So much fun!  Cooking class was a blast and the food we made was surprisingly good.  Who knew I had it in me to cook great tasting Khmer food.  When all is said and done,  the wondrous Angkor site just blew me away.  I will never forget how I felt when I saw Angkor Wat for the first time.
          Battambang-Loved our short time here but wished we could have done Nary's Kitchen cooking class.  I've heard so many good things about it.  The bamboo train was fun and even if it's touristy I'm so glad we did it.  Glad we added this town to our itinerary.
          Kampot-The best thing was staying at Riki Tiki Tavi.  Great property, great staff, great food.  What more can I say?  Could have skipped our tour to Bokor Mountain and then I would have spent time at Rabbit Island instead.  Glad we had crab for lunch in Kep.  So happy with all my Kampot pepper and so are the people back home who received some as gifts!
          Phnom Penh-Didn't get to Sovanna Phum or Plae Pakaa shows.  I regret that.  Loved getting to spend time with Ms. Keo Davy of the Tour Assistant Program and of course, Sam the man!  Glad we went to the S 21 prison and the Killing Fields even though it was so sad.  It was an important part of Cambodia's history.

     MYANMAR/BURMA:

          Best advice was to use a local agent to book our in country flights and all hotels except for Princess Garden at Inle Lake area.  ONE STOP was a great choice for us.  They delivered on everything.  No hiccups.  Wish we could have stayed longer.

          Yangon-Would have liked to have had time to revisit Shwedagon even though we did spend several hrs. there.  I wasn't able to get a reservation for the dinner & show at Karaweik Palace.  Should have tried to book that much sooner than a few days before.
          Bagan-Loved the sunrise hot air balloon ride even though it was a splurge.  Have to have a few of those and the memories of seeing all the temples on the Bagan plain was priceless.  Upset that Minthu did not deliver on his acceptance to be our horse cart driver for 2 days even though he was telling me a few days before our arrival that he was looking forward to meeting us.  I had booked Minthu months-August 2013- ahead of our trip.  That was a major disappointment that he let us down like that.  He sent his uncle instead who was ok but that's not what upset me.  If you give your word to do something you should follow through.  It would have been better if he'd told us that his circumstances had changed, that he would not be able to drive us, and let us decide to use his uncle or not.  I regret agreeing to his uncle's suggestion of a boat ride for 1 hr. where we didn't see much of anything.  I thought it was a waste of time and money.
          Mandalay-Despite what some people say about it being a place you don't need to visit I must say we enjoyed our time here.  Being on a boat at sunset at the U Bein bridge was awesome.
          Inle Lake-Glad we decided to stay in town rather than on the lake.  Loved our time on the lake for Indein and Sankar.  Kakku was wonderful as was the Pao girl who was our guide.
          Ngapali-So glad I added this beach destination.  I felt that this was even better than the beaches we were at in Thailand.  Of course it's low key-no noisy bars that we saw when we were there so it may not suit others who want a more lively experience.  Really got to relax here.
          Mrauk U-Because of all the hype and the fact that it was open to tourists we went.  It's difficult and takes a long time to get there.  It was also one of the more expensive parts of our trip.  Very few tourists which was nice.  We had a great guide.  I don't regret doing this but would have liked to have had 4 nights here instead of 3.

     THAILAND:

          This was a DIY trip also.  All the hotels we chose were pretty good-some better than others.  Loved northern Thailand.

          Bangkok-Not our favorite city.  Too noisy, too smelly although by our 9th or 10th night I had gotten used to the street food smells.  Loved Wat Arun, Wat Po, the Grand Palace & Temple of the Emerald Buddha.  Regret that the protests prevented us from doing some things-like taking a paddleboat ride in Lumpini Park.  Regret not getting to one of the sky bars for drinks.  Loved spending my birthday on the river cruise with Loy Nava.  Wish I could have afforded to stay at Shangri-la but with 3 months of travel it just wasn't possible.  However, we had an excellent dinner there.  Loved the dinners we had at the Mandarin Oriental but wish I had known how much duck we were going to get.  We ordered way too much food and my poor husband had to eat it.  I'm sure he was upset about that-LOL!  Glad we booked the day trip to Ayutthaya with Tour With Tong-fantastic time.  Great guide and good, courteous, safe driver.  Sorry I didn't get to Asiatique.  It sounded interesting.  Regret not knowing where to get good street food.  I should have researched this on TA or Fodor's.
         Chiang Mai-One of our favorite places.  Not too big, not too small.  Plenty to do.  Loved our cooking class with Red Chili, our time with the elephants at the Thai Elephant Home.  Glad we did Doi Suthep.  No negative things about our time here other than it went by too fast!
          Chiang Rai-Jermsak, Jermsak, Jermsak.  I guess you get my drift.   He is one of the nicest men I have ever met.  Lovely inside and out.  We owe our amazing experiences in this city/area to him.
          Khao Lak-My husband wanted to scuba dive so here we were.  Unfortunately the diving was a disappointment.  He was reluctant to book a dive trip to Richilieu Rock as we were leaving that same day to go to Phuket.  I convinced him to go and that was the highlight.  He was diving at 60' with a whale shark!!  A big smile from ear to ear.  Smart and not so smart to rent a car.  The not so smart part was I was going to explore while my husband was diving but it Thailand you drive on the left, not the right like we do in the US.  Good thing the pool and beach were so nice at Le Meridien.  I do regret not saying something to the resort staff the first time our room was suffering from damp-not on all 7 nights but around half of them.  This place was laid back, not too busy and just what we needed to recharge in order to prepare for..........
          Phuket-Lovely to spend our time here with our daughter and grandson but our grandson can be a handful.  He's 5 and we're not!  His grandpa Ricky loved spending time with him at all the beaches we drove to and at the hotel pool.  Dino Park Mini Golf was a nice change from the beach and the pool.  The Big Buddha was really big!  Absolutely loved the trips we booked with Capt. Mark/Phuket Sail Tours-Phi Phi Islands and Phang Nga Bay.  Things I didn't like about Phuket-the traffic!  Also too many people for my taste but I guess this is a major tourist spot for some European and other Asian countries.
          Kanchanaburi-Another favorite place.  My husband wanted to stay here longer.  The WW II things were what drew us here.  The war cemetery, the Thai-Burma Railway Museum, Hellfire Pass and the museum there, the Death train ride.  Every time I walked on the Bridge Over the River Kwai I would hear that song from the movie!  I had to pinch myself to realize I was here.  We had a great time here and stayed at a great hotel-Sabi @ Kan.

     What will I remember the most?
          Angkor, time with the elephants in Chiang Mai, the cooking classes, the hot air balloon ride in Bagan, Jermsak, Sam the Man, Ms. Keo Davy and all the rest of the so lovely people we met either as guides, drivers, restaurant staff, hotel staff.  The beach in Ngapali, precious time spent with our daughter and grandson who live in China.  Some great new food-curries, dragonfruit, pomelo, and so many more great tastes.  Also leaving Buffalo with medium brown hair and returning to Buffalo as a "bleached blonde" as my mom described me!  That I survived all that walking and climbing and that I did it all!  Having a cake and everyone on the Loy Nava dinner cruise singing Happy Birthday to me.  Heck, just being in Bangkok/Thailand/SE Asia on my birthday!  All the thousands of pictures I took and hours of video that were recorded.  Learning a few words in Khmer, Burmese, and Thai.  Being in awe of the monks, the temples.  Trying to figure out the money!!  Baht and Kyat.  Losing sight of my husband in the water at a beach in Phuket.  He got caught in a riptide.  I was so scared.  And of course I can't ever forget all those on TA and Fodor's who helped with my trip planning offering advice and answering questions.  Thank you so much!   (I'm counting on the same from TA and Fodor's for my European Trip!!)

     What will my husband remember the most?
          All the different beers he got to drink, scuba diving with a whale shark, driving from Khao Lak in our rental car at night with that traffic!  He was so stressed.  Spending time with Dorie and Ronan in Phuket.  Me yelling at him when I lost sight of him at a beach in Phuket.  The Red Chili cooking class where he got to do his dish "with explosion".  Definitely the hot air balloon ride in Bagan.  All the beaches, the pools.  Loved time with the elephants in Chiang Mai.  Especially when the elephant decided to go get that grass way up high on a hill of sorts off our path!  Not having to do a lot of shopping-LOL!  Having to walk barefoot in so many temples, especially in Myanmar/Burma.  He hated that.  The stress of trying to keep our check in luggage at the weight limit.  The horrible experience with Jet Blue and being stuck in Beijing for 2 days with no clothes.  The spice/heat in the food dishes-the spicier/hotter, the better.

Finally we have to say we loved SE Asia much more than we thought we would.   But all good things must come to an end and we are happy to be back home with our family and friends.  My husband is happy golfing with his buddy Don and I'm happy going to my exercise classes at our local YMCA.  Got to keep in shape for Europe!!


Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Quad adventure in the countryside, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Richard and me-first row, on the left-hot air balloon ride with BOB, Bagan, Myanmar/Burma

Sunset at U Bein bridge, Mandalay, Myhanmar/Burma
Wat Arun, Bangkok, Thailand

Thai Elephant Home, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Left to right-Ronan, Dorie, Me, Richard on the Phang Nga Bay trip, Phuket, Thailand

       

   





     

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