FUN-travel: Asia

February 18, 2010 by  

Day 1 – Tuesday, February 23 –  Asia – 5 Countries – 51 days – Longest Trip Ever Taken

  • Good News –there is No Bad News! Planned Spontaneity is working
  • Use points for Business Class ticket – plane leaves LAX at 11:45 am – have feeling to get to airport early – flight to LAX cancelled – make earlier flight (better to get to LAX and wait in Red Carpet Lounge)

    Marriott Bangkok

  • More Good News – rest of flights on time – just really, really long (11 hours to Tokyo – 2 and a half hour layover – 6 hour flight to Bangkok)Good News – able to sleep
  • More Good News – arrive 1 hour early – get to hotel at 12:30 am
  • Good News – stay at Marriott and get upgraded to junior suite, river view room – have corner room with incredible views – room #636 (very auspicious) good sign for start of trip
  • Bad News – wine is really,  really expensive in Thailand

FF (FUN Facts) – Bangkok, known as the City of Angels is a landscape of striking contrasts: massive new skyscrapers along with over 400 glittering Buddhist temples,

Vegetable Market

Vegetable Market

Day 2 – Wednesday, February 24 – Bangkok, Thailand – Day lost to travel & time changes

Day 3 – Thursday, February 25 – Bangkok, Thailand

Grand Palace Mosaics

Grand Palace Mosaics

  • Bad News – tour pickup 8:30 am – not much sleep over past 2 days
  • Good News – go to flower market – then to Wat Chetuphon (also known as Wat Po), a Buddhist temple dating from the 16th Century – see Reclining Buddha, 46 meters in length and 15 meters high, with beautiful mother of pearl inlaid soles
  • Good News – next stop Royal Grand Palace – under restoration – gold and colorful mosaics that cover the temples are more beautiful than last seen 20 years ago
  • Good News – have traditional Thai lunch – then ride antique river taxi boat through winding canals – houses on stilts, schools, temples, and shops line the canals (traders in tiny boats sell their wares)
  • More Good News – free happy hour from 4 to 7 in concierge lounge (including wine)
  • Good News – able to stay awake until 9 pm – get on Thai time (go to sleep and stay asleep with aid  of Ambien)
Floating Market

Floating Market

FF (FUN Facts) – Bangkok is also known as the “Venice of the East” – extensive network of klongs (canals) linking the Chao Phraya River

Day 4 – Friday, February, 26 – Damnoen Saduak, Thailand

Morning Bath

Morning Bath

  • Good News – slept good – depart 8:00 am for 1 hour drive to the Floating Market
  • Good News – colorful, busy and chaotic ride! – stop for lunch on river – go to teak and rosewood furniture factory (watch artists carve wood to create beautiful pieces  of furniture)
  • Good News – dinner cruise on antique rice barge – traditional Thai dancers

Day 5 – Saturday, February, 27 – Chang Rai – Golden Triangle – Where Borders of Laos, Thailand & Myanmar (formerly Burma) Converge

Ready For Our Walk

Ready For Our Ride

  • Good News – pickup for airport 11:30 am – have leisurely breakfast (highly recommend this hotel – beautiful Thai influence – not  your typical business hotel at all)
  • More Good News – fly Thai Airlines to Chang Rai – part of United’s Star Alliance so no baggage charge for excess weight
  • Good News – on time, met at airport, arrive Anantara Resort – beautiful property perched high on hill overlooking the Mekong River (also run Four Seasons tented camp on other side of mountain)
  • Only Bad News – poor air quality, very hazy
  • Good News – full orange moon from our balcony
Orange Full Moon

Orange Full Moon

Day 6 – Sunday, February, 28 – Chang Rai – Golden Triangle

  • Good News – sleep good – get up early for Driver’s Ed, Thai Style – resort contains a private elephant camp
  • More Good News – they are easier to ride than a camel! – little scary at first but have two hours to learn how to mount, dismount and steer them through the jungle –
  • Good News – go to Opium Museum –excellent state-of-the-art exhibition focused on the 5,000 year history of the drug and its profound effects on society in this region and around the world – then take drive to town to see temple
  • More Good News – everything is flowing nicely – we love Thai food and the people are so kind and gracious!

Day 7 – Monday, March 1 – Ban Kiew Kan, Thailand

Our Hostess at Lanjia Lodge

Our Hostess at Lanjia Lodge

  • Bad News – 2 day boat trip on Mekong to Luang Prabang, Laos cancelled due to low water levels
  • Bad News – very sore from elephant ride!
  • Good News – instead take 1 hour drive to Lanjia Lodge – a community co-op hill tribe-style lodge (4 rooms) with western conveniences – private toilet & shower, hot water (in shower only) – woven bamboo floors and walls, mosquito netting

    Hmong Shaman's House

  • Good News – very different experience – simple but charming, perched on side of mountain in the middle of a Hmong & Lahu village – spectacular panoramic view of village and mountain valley, Mekong River, and Laos in the distance
  • Bad News – burning of rice fields creates very thick smoky haze – can’t see much in distance
  • Good News – except for some roosters in the morning, almost deafening silence (one of the pleasures of staying in the countryside)
  • Good News – guide from lodge speaks English, walk through village, stop at a Hmong shaman’s house , learn how to make one of their traditional crafts – indigo batik, and visit Royal Project to plant a medicinal tree in community nursery
  • Good News – go inside villagers home – witness actual Lahu shaman ceremony to bring good luck to family
  • Good News – after dinner short performance of traditional music and dance by villager
  • Good News – food is very good and have lively conversation with our British lodge mates

Day 8 – Tuesday, March, 2 – Luang Prabang, Laos

  • Bad News – drive 5 hours to Chang Mai airport
  • Bad News – still sore from elephant ride!
  • Good News – stop and see very beautiful all white temple with mirrored mosaics
Pure White Temple

Pure White Temple

  • Good News – only 1 hour flight, on time, and no extra charge for overweight baggage
  • Good news – Luang Prabang  is former capitol of the Lan Xang Kingdom (1353-1545AD) and one of the best “preserved” towns in all of Asia – very charming, quaint  colonial-style wooden and brick buildings – all preserved under the town’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status
  • Good News – French influence – lots of outdoor cafes and fabulous bread
Mekong River Boats

Mekong River Boats

  • Good News – official name of the country is Laos People’s Democratic Republic (Laos P.D.R.) – initials actually stand for Please Don’t Rush!
  • Good News – delightful time-warp atmosphere (feels like we’re in the 50’s)
  • Good News – good food, cheap wine – dinner & bottle 200,000 kip – $23 US
  • Good News – stroll through huge night market – lots of activity and people watching

Day 9 – Wednesday, March 3 – Luang Prabang, Laos

Bridge From Boat to Village

Bridge From Boat to Village

  • Good News – wakeup call is symphony of birds chirping in trees outside our window – 5:55 am
  • Good News – early enough to see seemingly endless procession of monks on alms rounds (as many as 250-300 monks depending on season) – barefoot, in single file, and in descending order of seniority and age on main street (2 blocks from hotel)

    Monks on Morning Alms

  • Bad News – need coffee
  • Good News – find a hotel café open
  • Bad News – didn’t ask the price – $11 US ouch (60 cents from street vendor)
  • Good News – start out for day of touring at 8:30 – get on Mekong for 2 hour boat ride to Pak Ou Caves to see Buddhist shrine – stop at village for break half way – see women weaving on looms and men making straw baskets
  • Bad News – need bathroom, no western toilets to be found
  • Good News – the cave is filled with thousands of offerings of Buddha statues in various sizes and shapes – on way back see Laotians panning for gold (the low water level allows for more access to river bed)
  • Good News – lunch including beer $13 US – restart for city tour – see former Royal Palace, now a modest museum, displaying personal items and gifts presented to the former Royal family – visit several temples (not in nearly as good condition as Thailand)
  • Good News – made reservations for L’Elephant, a French restaurant, best meal we’ve had the entire trip (may be getting a little tired of eating rice, veggies, curry, etc.)

Day 10 – Thursday, March 4 – Luang Prabang, Laos

Mosaics on Outside of Temple

Mosaics on Outside of Temple

  • Good News – have day to ourselves – after breakfast at our river café take long walk through old town (about a mile) – hike up 328 steps to top of Mount Phousi for panoramic view of the town, river, and surrounding countryside (unfortunately too much smoke in air to see very far)
  • Good News – need laundry – drop off 5 shirts & 4 pants – only $4 US

    Weaver in Village

  • Bad News – not ironed, oh well, who cares?
  • Good News – wander aimlessly through streets and come upon the locals market of fruit, fish, rice, noodles, vegetables and meat vendors – (if it’s true what they say in the US about proper food handling and refrigeration, all of these people should be dead)
  • Good News – need some familiar food – lunch at French café – have thin crust pizza and very fresh Greek salad
  • Good News – book 90 minute massage for $10 US
  • Bad News – you get what you pay for – not the same as Sandra’s back home

FF- So far weather to date, midday has been hot and humid – early morning and late evening very cool – need light jacket

Day 11 – Friday, March 5 – Hanoi, Vietnam

  • Good News – have nice morning walk and late checkout of our lovely riverfront hotel – Chang Heritage
  • Good News – get to airport – Laos Airlines boards – has all passengers on board, so takes off 30 minutes early (same as last flight) no excess baggage fee – only allowed one bag at 44 lbs and we are way over
Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

  • Good news – get concierge level at Hanoi Hilton because Chris has Diamond VIP status – love that free wine & food (same reason we get upgraded at Marriott’s)
  • Bad News – this is the end of getting spoiled – he retired so no more trips to Pasadena
Hanoi Temple

Hanoi Temple

  • Good News – like having all the creature comforts – not all the time – like the mix of small, older local hotels too
  • Good News – 8 Crazy Aussies in lounge – have quite good FUN with them!
Forbidden City in Hue

Forbidden City in Hue

FF – One of the things I like about travel is all senses are in full gear – sight, sound, smell and totally in the present moment

Day 12 – Saturday, March 6 – Hanoi, Vietnam

  • Bad News – wake up to disagreeable digestion – only ate at recommended restaurants – in all our travels can’t remember when this happened the last time
  • Good News – not a problem as we are covered by “planned spontaneity” prescriptions
  • Good News – best cup of hot coffee I have has since leaving US
  • Good News – our tour guide is very intelligent and articulate
  • Good News- start tour at Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum – he’s embalmed in glass case – then of to Hoa Lo Prison (the “Hanoi Hilton”) where so many prisoners of war were incarcerated, then go to beautiful Temple of Literature compound –
  • Good News – have lunch in Old Quarter – very French architecture with crumbling houses crammed into narrow alleyways that are still named after the goods that were traded there – Silk Street, Gold Street, even Fried Fish Street!

FF – Hanoi is known as “the city of Motorbikes.” Crossing the street is counter intuitive. You don’t run, you stroll, watching the traffic and making sure they are watching you. This city rivals Naples, Italy and Mexico City when it comes to following any kind of traffic laws

Day 13 – Sunday, March 7 – Hue, Vietnam


Pagoda Complex

  • Good News – only 1 hour flight Vietnam Airlines, on time, and no extra charge for overweight baggage
  • Good News – old, charming, classic hotel built in 1901
  • Good News – not as hot here – take boat ride on Perfume River to Pagoda Temple – get to observe Monks chanting and preparing for the evening  meal
  • Good News – dinner on outside court yard with traditional musicians and dancers
Porcelain Decrorated Walls

Porcelain Decrorated Walls

  • Good News – have chorus of frogs in ponds making sounds I’ve never heard in my life (sounds like they’re saying YEP, in unison, in a digital voice)

Day 14 – Monday, March 08, – Hue, Vietnam

  • Good News – still not so hot – 80 degrees
  • Good News – 9:00 am tour of Imperial Citadel, most well-known site in Hue – begun in 1805 by Emperor Gia Long, complex comprised of the Imperial City, several museums, lakes, and lovely gardens – see Forbidden Purple City built in early 1800’s for emperors personal use and staffed by eunuchs who posed no threat to the royal concubines. Nearly destroyed in the Tet Offensive – ruins house Royal Library (UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site in 1993)
  • More Good News – take drive through country side to Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc – prolific writer who left behind 4,000 poems and 600 stories – huge complex sits on highest hill- walls are covered with porcelain figures – then on to Khai Dinh’s Tomb
  • Good News – lunch at hotel – need Western food – have club sandwich (clearly not even the same as in the US but close enough) and Salad Nicoise (pretty close too) – YUM!
  • Bad News- missing the Oscars – no party with friends – first time in seven years
  • More Bad News – not televised! and my computer can’t download off the Oscar website – WiFi too slow

FF- Today is Woman’s Day in Vietnam

Khai Dinh's Tomb Grounds

Khai Dinh's Tomb Grounds

Day 15 – Tuesday, March 09 – Hoi An, Vietnam

  • Bad News – wake up to rain
  • Good News – cooled down – maybe it will blow out the smoky haze
  • Good News – 3 hour drive to Hoi An – over Hai Van Pass – see lots of country side, rice fields, water buffalo
Hoi An Fish Market

Hoi An Fish Market

  • Good News – can see Da Nang from top – weather is clearing – stop for coffee
  • Good News – lovely hotel on beach and get upgraded to beach front room
  • Bad News – weather didn’t clear over here – very windy (50 mph) and cold
  • Good News – have lunch at hotel – club sandwich and Greek salad (getting closer, even get French fries)
  • Good News – free hotel shuttle to town (3.5 miles
  • More Good News – cute, charming town with French, Japanese and Chinese influence – 18th century one of the busiest trading ports in Asia – despite the ravages of war town managed to remain untouched– traffic free streets easy to walk around – lots of shops – selling everything including custom clothing ready in 6 hours – find fresh food market – goes for blocks – pretty much run by women
  • Good News – Happy Hour in bar – wine is much cheaper in Vietnam
  • Bad News – we’re the only people in there
  • Good News – eat dinner at Italian restaurant with pizza oven! pretty good, thin crust

FF – Vietnam second to Brazil for coffee export

Hoi An Water Taxis

Hoi An Water Taxis

Day 16 – Wednesday, March 10, – Hoi An, Vietnam

Incense in Temple

Incense in Temple

  • Bad News – weather still windy and cold
  • Good News – have 10 am tour of city
  • Bad News – pretty much saw it yesterday
  • Good News – have lunch of local foods
  • Good News – back to happy hour – more people out – wind is dying down

FF – Had no idea that Da Nang is the next hot vacation spot – Hyatt & Le Meridian building massive vacation villas on huge ocean front parcels

Day 17 – Thursday, March 11 – Ho Ch Minh City (Saigon)

  • Bad News – have 5:30 am wake up – 3:30 am, wide awake
  • Good News – plane on time and once again no charge for excess baggage
  • Good News – go to Cu Chi Tunnels (Viet Cong guerillas built labyrinth of narrow tunnels virtually underneath U.S. military bases, used them to hide during bombing raids and to stage surprise attacks
  • Good News – descend stairs, walk 20 meters – that’s enough
  • Bad News – very teeny, tiny, tunnel – Chris gets stuck
  • Good News – Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon, backed to being spoiled with Concierge Level
  • Good News – take walk, have lunch, BLT sandwich & tuna & egg salad quite good (getting closer) with beer $10 (includes generous tip)

FF– Saigon is big, cosmopolitan city with 12 million people. AKA “the city of twice as many motorcycles.”

Day 18 – Friday, March 12 – Ho Ch Minh City Saigon)

  • Good News – start my morning with cappuccinos in lounge
  • Good News – start tour 9:30 am
Lunch Break

Lunch Break

  • Bad news – pretty hot (in 90’s)
  • Good News – go to colonial General Post Office (built 1886, still in operation), City Hall (now the HQ of the People’s Committee), Notre Dame Cathedral (closed by the Communist regime after the 1975 takeover) Reunification Palace, once the Presidential Palace (Communist tanks rolled into Saigon April 30, 1975, crashed through gate, soldier ran in and unfurled a VC flag from the fourth-floor balcony)  History Museum, China Town and local temple
  • Bad News – too much traffic
Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon

Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon

  • Good News – lunch of pizza, salad and ice cold draught beer $15

OO – (Outrageously Overpriced) – food & beverages in American hotels

Day 19 – Saturday, March 13 – 8 day Cruise – Mekong River Delta

  • Bad News – 8:00 am departure
  • Good News – ready to go
  • More Good News – should be good adventure!
  • Bad News – take 2 hour bus ride to get to ship in My Tho
  • Good News – beautiful, old teak & brass ship, only 38 cabins
  • Good News – lunch on board – set sail for Cai Be – take local boat to see floating market – stop at village – go to rice paper, popped rice and Coconut Candy Factory – family owned (mom, dad, 3 kids) all made by hand in thatched roof hut
  • More Good News – have met lots of interesting and FUN shipmates (made a point to find Aussies to guarantee a good time)

FF – brochure states, “River Conditions Warning!
The rivers you will sail on are subject to seasonal rises and falls of water level, in some places as much as 30 metres. Water levels can change dramatically overnight and a sudden rise can impede our progress upstream considerably and even prevent us from passing under certain bridges. A sudden fall can result in our being unable to get into certain places or go as far upstream as we would hope. Groundings on sandbars are not infrequent and are part of the excitement of any Pandaw expedition. Published itineraries are indicational only and subject to sudden change. In such events alternative itineraries will be provided and we do our best to ensure that if a stop is missed we make up for it with another stop. Passengers are thus forewarned and expected to be flexible and patient. River cruising in Asia can be a dramatic and adventurous experience – not like cruising the controlled waterways of Europe or America. Note also that we operate in areas with little or no developed infrastructure and subject to the strictures of local officialdom. Be prepared for this and it is all more the fun!

Coconut Candy Factory

Coconut Candy Factory

Day 20 – Sunday, March 14 – Mekong River Delta Cruise

Morning Excursion8:30 – 11:30

Brick Factory

Brick Factory

  • Take traditional Sampan boat to Dong Hoa Hiep to see Brick and Tile Factory – then to Rice Factory – everything done by hand (conveyer belt is line of 8 people passing the bricks & tiles to each other & stacked on boats)
  • Ride on Tien River where we see beautiful water hyacinths along the banks
  • Sa Dec – like a little “Venice” with numerous narrow canals & various activities on the banks – go to local market

Afternoon Excursion – 3:30 – 5:00

  • Cu Lao Gien island with Catholic monastery called “La Providence” – built 1875 by French nuns of “Saint Paul de Chartres” – very run down, sad place – where old, poor  woman with no family go to die

Good News – Bad News – This is really an incredible experience being able to see how the people live & being outside of the big cities

Floating Houses

Floating Houses

FF – Coconuts – all parts are used – milk extracted, meat scraped out, shells dried for fire wood

Day 21 – Monday, March 15 – Mekong River Delta Cruise – Chau Doc

Morning Excursion – 8:30 – 11:00

Going to Market

Going to Market

  • take rickshaw ride around city – then sampan boat ride to island of Cham Tribal Village
  • stop at fish farm (floating house with pen underneath – 6 x 8 x 12 meters deep – with 250,000 fish)
  • see palm tree leave weaving

No Afternoon Excursion

  • must wait to clear customs at Cambodia border – take nap

Day 22 – Tuesday, March 16 – Mekong River Delta Cruise – Phnom Penh

Morning Excursion – 8:30 – 11:00

  • City tour by cyclo (more comfortable than rickshaw)
Royal Palace

Royal Palace

  • Royal Palace, magnificent, huge compound of beautiful buildings and gardens, Silver Pagoda floor lain with five tons of gleaming silver, Buddha statue constructed of 90 kilos of 24 kt gold and 2086 diamonds the largest being 25 carats
  • National Museum – city has several impressive wats

FF – Cyclo Centre is charity that provides basic welfare and medical services to cyclo drivers, many of whom are very poor.

Courtyard in National Museum

Courtyard in National Museum

Afternoon Excursion – 2:00 – 6:00

  • Russian Market (very similar to all non food markets we have seen) contains house wares, clothing, shoes, hardware, souvenirs, etc.
  • S21 Genocide Museum where Kmer Rouge tortured and killed hundreds of prisoners
  • Killing Fields memorial of Choeung EK- memorial is over 50 ft high filled with shelf after shelf of hundreds of skulls stacked on top of each other

Good News – Bad News

  • the capital city is quite clean and modern while retaining its French charm extremes of prosperity amid  pronounced poverty

Not So FF – Kmer Rouge killed 3 million people during the war

Folkloric Dance Show

Folkloric Dance Show

  • wonderful after dinner Folkloric show of children dancing – 3 to 15 years of age – all from local orphanage

Day 23 – Wednesday, March 17 – Mekong River Delta Cruise – Kampong Chhnang

Fish Processing Plant

Fish Processing Plant

  • Good News – no morning excursion – yesterday was quite full
  • Afternoon Excursion2:00 – 4:15
  • take local boat to Kampong Chhang Village
  • see more floating house
  • stop at Fish Processing Plant
  • then on to the wholesale market on river bank
  • Set sail – lots of children splashing & playing while taking their baths all along the river

FF – Convinced music on ship surely was confiscated from US Soldiers during the Vietnam “Conflict”

Day 24 – Thursday, March 18 – Mekong River Delta Cruise – Chong Koh Village

Morning Excursion – 9:00 – 10:00

Typical Country Home

Typical Country Home

  • walking tour includes very colorful wat – all walls & ceilings totally covered with brightly painted mural
  • stop at school in session
  • then on to weaving factory (4 looms under 1 house on stilts) 3 smaller factories (2 looms under 1 house on stilts)
  • stop at store where egg salesman is delivering eggs (motorcycle with 2 large round baskets hanging off the sides filled with dozens of eggs, 4 crates stacked on top of each other and tied to seat)
  • back to ship inundated with villagers trying hard to get us to buy over priced scarves, table cloths, table runners
Colorful Temple

Colorful Temple

Afternoon Excursion – 2:30 – 4:00 – Angkor Ban Village

  • very rural Kmer village atop steep bank on river – town wat, home of monks, neighborhood consists of very narrow dirt roads with houses on stilts and animals housed underneath

FF – cows cost $1050 each

Day 24 – Friday, March 19 – Mekong River Delta Cruise

Morning Excursion – 9:00 – 10:30

  • walk 301 steps up hill to Pre-Angkorian temple Wat Hanchey – more commercial with oversized, concrete sculptures of painted fruits, vegetables and animals scattered throughout ground
  • cell towers abound
  • wander around and come upon Monks taking break in hammocks
  • 7th grade girls on way to school singing

Afternoon Excursion – Twin Holy Mountains

  • 50 ft gold lying Buddha
  • over 100 Canary Woman statues line the streets all colorfully painted blue, green, pink, gold
  • another killing field area as well
  • then on to Amica Village – walk through narrow dirt neighborhood streets with goats, chickens, water buffalo, dogs – kids playing in water at town well pumped by hand
  • then on to Kampong Cham orphanage – 91 children ranging in age of 3 to 17 – art classes and sewing classes teach them professions and sell to make money – buy 2 little colorful fabric purse/bags from girl who made them – cruise mates contribute $650 to buy new electric pump for well
Rush Hour Traffic

Rush Hour Traffic

FF – asked to be model for photo shoot on ship – magazine article being written about cruise

Day 25 – Saturday, March 20 – Siem Reep, Cambodia

Delicacy of the Day

    • Bad News – this is the end of the river cruise
    • Good News – this will be a lifelong memory
    • More Bad News – river too low, take bus for 4 ½ hours (we did not follow the normal itinerary – recommend going in early January in case of drought)
    • Good News – stop at local market – Delicacy of the Day – Fried Cricket


      One Response to “FUN-travel: Asia”

      1. Dave Keesey on March 14th, 2010 1:21 am

        Dear Chris and Susan, you two are amazing! A 51 day trip?? Thanks for the great recap. We are enjoying “being with you”. Stay healthy, Love, Dave Keesey