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althom1122 Feb 28th, 2006 07:26 PM

After all that planning and all that agonizing, Karen and Julie finally did it!
It had the makings of a Dickens novel, with an Asian twist � bare-foot ragamuffins pushing $1 bracelets outside the Temples of Angkor, women in Bangkok selling soup on the street from cast-iron pots, a 24-year-old Buddhist monk dispensing advice to a middle-aged couple, and a Cambodian woman trying in vain to teach a West Virginia native a few Cambodian words � as an audience of eight (including two monks)howled in delight.

Add to that a smashed TV, a broken-down SUV, a favorite shirt ruined by hotel housekeeping, and a flat tire in a tuk-tuk in the middle of nowhere, and you get a pretty good sense of Karen and Julie�s amazing adventure to Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.

In short, it was (brace yourselves) the best of times, the worst of times.

As you may remember, it all started with a dream - and a posting to Fodor�s describing a �mother-daughter conundrum": could two women with no experience traveling to Asia put together a trip to Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, make all the arrangements themselves, and go it alone? The answer, I�m pleased to report, is a resounding YES. WE DID IT! (And we did just about every single thing on our jam-packed itinerary!)

And as soon as I recover from jet-lag, I�ll fill you in on all the details... promise. Give me a couple days (and no demerits, please - I'm totally pooped!).

Guenmai Feb 28th, 2006 07:50 PM

Glad you had a "real" travel experience. I knew you two could do it! Happy Travels!

Kathie Feb 28th, 2006 08:11 PM

Welcome home, Karen! I can't wait to hear all the details.

eurotraveller Feb 28th, 2006 08:43 PM

Hi Karen! Welcome home! I am truly sorry that we weren't able to meet up with you for the lady boy show!

I am glad we were able to meet briefly and I hope our paths cross again some day!

I look forward to reading your report!

glorialf Feb 28th, 2006 08:55 PM

Welcome back. Can't wait to hear the full report and certainly hope that "the best of times" far outweighed the "worst of times."

rhkkmk Feb 28th, 2006 09:33 PM

and of course i especially want to hear all the ins and outs and how julie and mom did together....laid back julie and push the envelope mom....a great pair....hahaha

anxiously await the details

bob are our employee....i hope we will get 100% out of you as i have just paid my taxes!!!! no slacking allowed!! you are not from cambridge

LA_FadeAway Feb 28th, 2006 11:15 PM

I'm anxiously waiting to read this report!!

althom1122 Mar 1st, 2006 04:18 AM

Tamara - yes, we missed you at the show! It was great fun. And two women behind us in line benefited from your absence - they had no reservations, the show was booked, and they were happy to get your seats! (Can't wait to read your report, too!)

Bob, ok, ok, I'm heading to the office. Your tax dollars hard at work (if a little bleary-eyed).

Gpanda Mar 1st, 2006 05:35 AM

A one week extension is hereby granted. However, as I recall your pre-trip posts were quite detailed. We expect the same from your trip report.

There are no slackers in Cambridge. Just a lot of very relaxed people.

offwego Mar 1st, 2006 02:02 PM


althom1122 Mar 1st, 2006 07:03 PM

First installment. (I didn't need the week's extension - couldn't wait to get started!)

Warning I have perhaps over-achieved in terms of detail. Maybe Ill cut back on the next chapter. Most of you old-timers will already know much of what Im sharing anyway, but hopefully the detail will be useful to fellow newbies (and interesting to the rest of you!).

Day 1
I left Baltimore with temperatures in the mid-50s and what a relief because I was wondering what to wear to the airport if it were in the 20s. But I managed with a wool sweater (which I left at the hotel in Bangkok till the end of the trip) and a lightweight jacket. The flight on AirTran to San Francisco was fine. Arrived late Friday and spent the night at La Quinta hotel near the airport. Buying two separate tickets, one from here to SF and another from SF to BKK, worked well for me and I was glad I went a day early, although I spent a very long Saturday awaiting my daughters arrival. Then... suddenly, around midnight, we were off.

We flew Eva Air, which was great. Economy class was tolerably roomy (although the flight was full), and the quilted blankets were the nicest Ive seen on any carrier. Best of all, it was actually warm enough throughout the flight. Meal choices were Chinese or Chinese (chicken/rice or beef/noodles on the way over; pork/rice or chicken/noodles on the way back). It was edible, but it was airplane food.

During our layover in Taipei (which, by the way, has a serene almost surreal airport), a Taiwanese man about 10 feet from where we were sitting was taking a picture of his wife. I asked, using hand motions, if hed like a picture of both of them. He was delighted and handed over his camera. When I gave it back, he pantomimed could he return the favor. I nodded yes and started to get my camera out but he motioned for me to sit down and snapped a picture of us with HIS camera. He never did take one of us with MY camera. Evidently, he just wanted a picture of the blonde Americans who offered to take his picture. Julie and I loved it WE were the tourist attraction.

While in Taipei, it dawned (literally) on me that it was morning and wed be arriving in Bangkok at 11:30 a.m. not 11:30 p.m. as Id told Julie Taxi. Duh. (I am such a scatter-brain sometimes.) I tried to figure out how to use the international pay phone to let her know, but to no avail. Calls overseas always confuse me I never can figure out what numbers to dial. So we arrived in Bangkok shortly before noon, taxiless. But as you all had said, getting a taxi turned out to be a breeze. I remembered your words of advice ignore the folks inside trying to get you to use their services and go outside to the taxi stand. We did so and it was very cheap about 350 baht, as I remember (and we managed to call Julie from the hotel to save her a trip to the airport that night she was quite gracious more on her later).

Our hotel was Centre Point Silom, and it was fabulous. One suggestion there are several Centre Points, and Silom evidently isnt the best known. To be sure your taxi driver goes to the right place, tell him its near the Shangri-La. Id definitely stay at Centre Point Silom again. Its extremely well located, and our one-bedroom apartment was spacious:
- small kitchen with refrigerator, stove, sink, dishes, and washer/dryer;
- dining room with table for four;
- large living room with TV (more on that in a moment), VCR, DVD player, and glass slider to the deck overlooking the river;
- large bedroom with king-size bed (firm but very comfortable) and twin bed, TV and built-in dressing table;
- large (separate) dressing room with closets and safe;
- and large marble bathroom with soaking tub and separate shower.

All tastefully decorated. All for $81 a night. Good grief! It was unreal. My only complaint (and its a nitpick) was the weird lighting. It took about six switches in every room to turn on all the lights (including the bathroom!).

Other hotel amenities: a nice pool, which I never used too busy (but Julie did once); a fitness center (never used too busy); and a restaurant, which we did use and which turned out to be a terrific deal. Our first night we had chicken/cashews and pineapple fried rice plus drinks (including my first of many banana fruit-shakes) all for about 320 baht. Excellent food. Breakfast was decent - a buffet spread with cereal, yogurt, fresh fruit, toast and pastries, a station for ordering eggs, and a selection of Asian-style food (which I'd eat for dinner but not before 11 a.m.!).

Our first major mishap (other than the time mix-up) occurred that very first day. Julie said, Hey, I think Ill try moving the DVD player into the bedroom so we can watch a movie in bed. Big-o mistake-o. She started fiddling around with it while I went to unpack in the bedroom. Suddenly there was a sickening crash. While trying to unplug the DVD player, she had slid the TV forward such that it went over the edge and toppled to the floor. A gorgeous 27-inch Sony that looked like new. Except it no longer looked like new. The big dent/crack ended up setting us (me) back $300. But the greater damage was to our overly tired psyches. Julie cried. And we somehow found ourselves in an argument neither of us wanted. But after calling the hotel desk to come up and look at it, we shook it off and decided to head out and explore our neighborhood.

How to describe our first impression of Bangkok... I can tell you right now that whatever words I find, theyll be inadequate. The city is overwhelming an onslaught of the senses.

Its hot and humid oppressively so. Its crowded the sidewalks teem with people. Its noisy streets are jammed with cars, tuk-tuks, and motorbikes (weaving in an out among the traffic, all drivers apparently having a death-wish). Its colorful with bright scarves, beaded jewelry and fresh fruit of every variety imaginable. It smells a new smell every 10 to 15 feet depending on whats for sale at the current stand: pungent flower bracelets, curry soup in cast-iron pots, dead fish laid out on display, skewers of meat, or some other unidentifiable substance that is apparently meant to be food. And theres no end to it one stand right after the other as far as the eye can see and the legs can carry you. Behind the stands are stores selling everything you can think of - shoes, luggage, jewelry, hardware, incense, housewares, and on and on.

Its almost more than the Western senses (especially jet-lagged Western senses) can take in. And its totally fascinating it all screams for your attention. Theres so much to look at, and the scenery changes every few feet, while remaining eerily the same. (Didnt I just SEE that stand? But no, its different and the woman running it is different.)

Ah, Bangkok. I was totally smitten in that first half hour.

We wandered down the street and were delighted to see how close the hotel was to the Skytrain and the river pier a major plus. We drifted into a wat (dont recall the name, but it was fun to see our first monks and get our first taste of taking off our shoes to go inside - I was too shy at this point to speak to the monks). On the way back to the hotel, we came upon a stand that actually smelled GOOD. Hm. Whats this? A young woman selling some sort of pastries. Shed pour some sort of batter into a big pan with lots of little circles, fry it, and pop out half circles that looked and smelled quite appealing. How much? Ten baht for about a half dozen. Lets see, 10 baht. Thats, um, $2.50. No... its 25 CENTS. Really? Yup. Our first taste, so to speak, of Bangkok food prices (we hadnt been to the restaurant for dinner yet). And the treats were indeed a treat. Kind of a coconut pastry. Yum.

Back to the hotel for a short nap. Then dinner. Then to bed. I was exhausted yet exhilarated. Could hardly wait til morning...

More to come...

rhkkmk Mar 1st, 2006 07:16 PM


we eat it up.....i'm so happy so far with what you have said and so beautifully said...!!! it is just as i told you, no???

can't wait to read more....keep it coming....

bought tickets for next year yet....

i see "W" got out of town so you could write to us...i thank him for that...

keep it coming...


MaryW Mar 1st, 2006 07:35 PM

Great start Karen. I've been waiting for your report (and Tamara's) before booking Centrepoint for later this year. Glad you liked it.

Can you tell me please - do the rooms have hairdryers and iron and ironing boards. Also did you use the washing machine - some reports say its not too good.

Looking forward to the rest of your report.

althom1122 Mar 2nd, 2006 02:36 AM

Mary, Centre Point does have hair dryers and a washer/dryer - but I couldn't figure out how to make the dryer work. It's all one machine, a small one, and supposedly the dryer comes on at the end of the wash cycle but it never did (and the whole process takes quite a long time). But it did work (they even leave you a packet of detergent for one load). We ended up just hanging the clothes up to dry. There was no iron/ironing board, but I'd almost bet that housekeeping could bring one up if you needed it.

Kippy Mar 2nd, 2006 03:09 AM

keep writing and in full - I'm loving it and it's all the detail that's making it such a delight!

and... those delicious coconut milk half circles...memories of burning my mouth because I just couldn't wait for one trayful to cool down a bit!

althom1122 Mar 2nd, 2006 04:10 AM

A couple other things about Centre Point. One, I loved that it was just upstairs from Robinson's department store. It made it so easy to go down to the basement and pick up groceries/snacks and other necessities. I was able to buy tape on the last day (not to mention two $5 pairs of shoes!) because Robinson's was right there.
Second, I have to tell you about the doormen. What a hoot. They wore uniforms very much military in nature. And... every single time they saw you, they'd salute smartly. Don't know if doormen at other hotels do that (I didn't even SEE any doormen when we stopped by the Oriental), but we got such a kick out of ours at Centre Point. They were so friendly - and so military. :-) Overall, I was extremely impressed with the service of the hotel.

Bella_Bluebell Mar 2nd, 2006 05:57 AM

Karen - this is fab, so descriptive! Keep the detail coming!

Kristina Mar 2nd, 2006 06:08 AM

Loving the report! My mother and I take a "big trip" together every other year or so (including a week's trip to BKK about 5 years ago), so I'm interested to read about your trip with your daughter. Can't wait for more...

simpsonc510 Mar 2nd, 2006 06:29 AM

Great report. Keep it coming!

Gpanda Mar 2nd, 2006 07:28 AM

K-penalty avoided. Glad to see that you were captivated by BKK. We love just being on the street and observing the urban landscape and its inhabitants. Robinson's is great.

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