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LowCountryIslander's South East Asia Adventure

LowCountryIslander's South East Asia Adventure

Old Jun 6th, 2011, 05:25 PM
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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Today was another good weather day, warm, but not too terribly hot and it was sunny. We left the hotel at 8am for a one and half hour bus ride to the Mekong Delta.

Our first stop along the way was at the Vinh Trang Pagoda which is a beautiful temple and had one of my favorite Buddha’s of the whole trip. It was an enormous happy Buddha, just sitting there, with a big smile on his face holding his prayer beads, every time I think of it, I smile too!

We made our way to the boat we would board to explore the Mekong Delta. We stopped at 2 of the 4 islands in the area to see local villagers making coconut candy, and explore the waterways. The boat ride lasted about two and a half hours and it was refreshing to be out on the water.

All too soon we were back on our way to Saigon, we stopped for lunch at the Mekong Rest Stop, a huge restaurant complex, clearly geared to tour buses, but the local fish dish served “standing up” between sticks, was then served rolled in rice paper was really very good.

By late afternoon we were back at our hotel in Saigon and did a little retail therapy in the area around the hotel. Dinner tonight was a group event at the hotel’s international buffet and happily the food was excellent. As much as I hate to admit it, after 10 days I was ready for some non-Vietnamese food, it was kind of nice to slip in a few Italian items for dinner tonight.

After dinner it was time to pack my bags, this would be the last night in Vietnam, we are moving onto Siem Reap in the morning.
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Old Jun 7th, 2011, 06:38 AM
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Since we don't care to "shimmy" into the tunnels either, do you still recommend a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels on our only free day in Saigon?
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Old Jun 7th, 2011, 07:00 AM
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all very interesting...
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Old Jun 7th, 2011, 12:16 PM
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HappyTrvlr...

I've tried to come up with a good response for you, but find it difficult since we all have different likes and interests.

I found the history of the Cu Chi tunnels to be interesting. Am I glad I went? Yes. However I went because it was included on my tour and if I had done this trip on my own I would have been in Saigon more than 3 days and I could have explored the city more and gone to the tunnels. For me, the 3 days in Saigon, weren't really spent in the city, which I regret. If you only have 3 days in Saigon and one full morning is dedicated to the Cu Chi tunnels, I would skip the tunnels and instead explore the city, maybe spend more time at the market, but that is my opinion, others might feel like they don't want to spend that much time in a larger city. Me, I really like cities.

rhkkmk....yes, interesting...as I write this and try to relive it, I have realized either my journal notes were not inclusive enough, or I just didn't enjoy the "group" aspect of the trip, or I'm just a boring writer, which could very well be the case! As I mentioned up-thread, I have learned my lesson and realized I sometimes like group travel, but need to pick those situations VERY carefully! I keep hearing a little voice in my head say..."LCI...I told you so"!
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Old Jun 7th, 2011, 05:44 PM
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Thursday, March 10, 2011…Goodbye Vietnam, Hello Cambodia

We had a late morning flight (11:40am) from Saigon to Siem Reap, Cambodia. The flight departed on time and lasted a short 45 minutes. We arrived on time and after a lot of stamping of visas and passports at the passport control desk we were through and at baggage claim. We met our guide, Tee, piled into a minivan and went directly to the hotel, The Victoria Angkor Resort and Spa.

After a quick freshen up we stopped for lunch and then onto our first temple experience in the Angkor Wat complex. Our first glimpse of the temple complex was at Preah Khan, also know as the Jungle Temple. All I can say is “Wow”. The carvings in the temples are beautiful and only a warm up to what we will see in the next day. Once we had sufficiently explored the Jungle Temple it was time for us to climb a nearby mountain trail and view a sunset over the Cambodian countryside.

Tonight we had dinner at The Khmer Kitchen and this was one of my favorite meals. It’s a very laid back place and the food was good. I had fried eggplant with pork, RM had the same dish but with shrimp and J had a noodle dish. The three of us shared our entrees with a bottle of Chilean white wine and the total bill was $14, unbelievable!

When we were finished with dinner, 4 of us went to the night market to poke around and see what it was all about. It was fun and we did a little bargaining for some souvenirs. We then had our first Siem Reap Tuk Tuk experience going back to the hotel, it was a quick 10 minute ride.
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Old Jun 7th, 2011, 06:42 PM
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Friday, March 11, 2011

We had an early start today, 7am, but we didn’t mind because it meant arriving at Angkor Wat before the big crowds and before it got really hot. It was really the perfect time to go. We had the light with us as we entered from the east, perfect for picture taking.

The complex was truly grand and we spent about an hour walking about and climbing to the top. We then visited Angkor Thom and entered the area via the causeway lined with statues of demons and gods. Then next stop was the Bayon Temple with hundreds of carved bas reliefs. We wound our way up to the top for a good look at all the giant stone faces. Our last temple of the day was about a 45 minute drive away, this was the Banteay Srei Temple. By the time we arrived there is was close to noon time and it was becoming brutally hot. It was a lovely pink sandstone temple, smaller than the others we had visited, but seemed to have much more delicate carvings, well; at least to my eye they seemed more delicate. One disadvantage to being there at mid-day was the angle of the sun. I’m sure at sunrise or sunset this temple must project a stunning pink glow.

On the return to the hotel we stopped for lunch and by 2:30pm we were back at the hotel and I was ready for a swim in the pool and a bit of lounging around on the pool deck. It was a great way to beat the heat and I decided to take advantage of the spa at the resort and booked a facial for the next day.

At about 6pm CL and I headed for the resorts outdoor cocktail lounge and thoroughly enjoyed our pre-dinner cocktails while listening to possible the worst Jimmy Buffet impersonator/musician ever!

Just before 7pm we met the rest of the group in the lobby for dinner at Viroth’s. Our group grabbed several Tuk Tuks that were in front of the hotel for the short ride to the restaurant. I really liked this restaurant a lot; it was a fairly upscale place with outdoor dining. There were lots of candles and comfortable tables and chairs.

Our server was fantastic and patient with all us women! We had a couple bottles of Chilean white wine (hmmm…I think there is a pattern with this Chilean white wine!) and between 6 of us we had 2 orders of green papaya salad, which was fantastic, for a starter. I had the sautéed eggplant with pork, which was similar to the dish I had the night before at the Khmer Kitchen, but if I’m being honest, the Khmer Kitchen version was my favorite. CL had a cashew chicken dish that was excellent and I can’t remember what everyone else ordered, but it was all delicious. There were also more diverse desserts here, so we had 3 orders of Bananas Foster, a chocolate mousse cake and a chocolate ice cream sundae…decadent, but terrific!

After dinner our Tuk Tuk driver, who was the sweetest young man ever, found us and took us to Pub Street. My mission was to have a drink at Linga Bar, now you may be asking, why would I want to try this place? It turns out the owner and I worked together years ago in one of the hotels I worked out and even though he was out of town on the night I was “kicking my heels up” in Siem Reap, I still wanted to patronize his place. All of us who had been at dinner were up for the outing and we had a great time sitting outside watching the action pass us by on Pub Street. And the cocktails at Linga Bar were great too!

By now we were fortified and ready to hit the night market again and this time my target was to experience a fish “foot massage”. Maybe it’s corny, but I was dying to try this and for the price of $1 I was willing to give it try. The first minute or so felt really weird, having these fish nibble my toes, but after 2 minutes it felt great.

By 10:30pm we were ready to call it a night and pulled our feet out of the fish tank and made our way to the entrance of the night market area where our Tuk Tuk driver was waiting for us! Within a few minutes we were back at the hotel and ready to get a good night’s sleep.
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Old Jun 7th, 2011, 07:24 PM
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i am still wondering about the sanitation of those fish??
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Old Jun 7th, 2011, 07:30 PM
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I tried not to think about it!
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Old Jun 8th, 2011, 02:41 AM
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It's really too bad your previous co-worker was out of town!
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Old Jun 8th, 2011, 04:16 AM
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AMC...I know, it's been something like 17 years since we've seen each other...maybe a reason to go back and explore more!
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Old Jun 8th, 2011, 06:41 PM
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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Today began with a leisurely morning including an abundant breakfast buffet and then one final spa treatment of the trip. A facial at the resort spa, yes it was $45 and for Siem Reap, that was pricey, but at home I couldn’t come anywhere near a $45 facial.

By noon our group was gathered in the lobby and ready for the ride back to the airport for the flight to Chiang Mai via Bangkok. The line at check-in wasn’t too long, but it seemed to take forever to get to the front. Once I got my Bangkok Air boarding pass the next stop was to pay the $25 exit tax and then a security check. The waiting room at the Siem Reap airport was large, bright and there was free wi-fi (bonus!).

Our 2pm flight to Bangkok took off on time and we arrived at 3pm, in plenty of time for the connecting flight to Chiang Mai. At the Bangkok airport we went through passport control, stopped at an ATM to get Baht and by 5pm we boarded the flight to Chiang Mai.

We arrived in Chiang Mai just after 6pm to gray skies and rain. We met our guide, Jum and climbed into a huge 50 seat bus (there were only 9 of us) and drove to the Shangri-La Chiang Mai, our home for the next two nights. The hotel was sleek, clean, comfortable and not too far from the night market.

Just before 8pm we met in the hotel lobby and took a songtaew (red truck) to The Antique House Restaurant. This was a great choice. I had my first taste of Chang beer here and proclaimed it, “not too bad”. We started the meal with a thuong thong appetizer, which was a fried wonton with pork. For my main dish I had pork, green, and yellow peppers, onions and cashews served in a tarrow bowl with rice. I LOVED this dish, it wasn’t too spicy, but had just the right kick for me.

We took a songtaew (red truck) back to the hotel and this was a fun experience. We had a tough time communicating with the driver at first, but after showing him the hotel’s business card and asking some other locals the right direction to go in, we were on our way and back to the hotel in no time at all. I learned a valuable lesson, if the hotel’s business card is not in the local language have one of the hotel staff write the name and and address in the local language.
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Old Jun 8th, 2011, 07:17 PM
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always get an hotel card and carry it in your wallet..
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Old Jun 9th, 2011, 03:46 PM
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Great trip report! It brings back a lot of memories...
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Old Jun 10th, 2011, 05:36 PM
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Sunday, March 13, 2011

We spent the morning at the temple of Doi Suthep in the mountains around Chiang Mai. The temple was a beehive of activity; there were worshipers, tourists and a group of children musicians and dancers performing.

After taking in the temple, with fantastic views, by the way, we visited a Hmong Hill Tribe village and the rustic museum in the village. There was a lot of craft shopping at the village.

The afternoon was dedicated to shopping for those who wanted to go. There were stops at a jade factory, a silk shop, a silver workshop and a parasol factory. Since this was a Sunday we were able to checkout the Sunday market in Chiang Mai. Here, there was a lot of handicrafts and a lot of tourist “tat”, but I did find a terrific mango wood bowl and teak belt that I couldn’t leave.

For dinner we took another songtaew (red truck) to the Gallery Restaurant for another fantastic meal. This restaurant is in a very pretty setting, right on the river and we had a table right on the river. I had the most delicious white snapper with spicy (but I did ask for less spicy and glad I did, for my taste) mango salad, the salad was really flavorful.

After dinner several of us headed over to the night market to see what was on offer there. It was fun to walk through the labyrinth of stalls and see all the bargaining going on.

Once back at the hotel it was time to get suitcases ready for our departure from Chiang Mai tomorrow. I was sorry we didn’t have more time in Chiang Mai, I really liked what I saw there and would like to go back and explore more.
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Old Jun 10th, 2011, 05:58 PM
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Monday, March 14, 2011

This morning we checked out of the Chiang Mai Shangri-La and went directly to the Mae Sa Elephant Camp. This was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Feeding the elephants, watching them bathe, perform sports tricks, and even paint was a delight. I can’t help but smile when I look at an elephant and the best part of the time at the elephant camp hadn’t even happened yet.

We were able to do a one hour elephant ride. At first climbing on top of the elephant was a little daunting, but after the 5 minutes I relaxed and enjoyed my time. CL and I rode on the same elephant and our mahout was Dang, a young man with a quick and friendly smile. Our elephant was Ood (pronounced like Ott). Dang the mahout was 20 years old and our elephant was 21. Dang had been working with Ood for about 3 years. We lumbered up a mountain trail and then down into a creek. We even got to see a baby elephant.

After the elephant adventure we stopped for a visit at a village of long neck people and then had lunch at an orchid farm. We ended our time in the Chiang Mai area with a visit to the Tiger Kingdom. A visit here seemed like an interesting idea, but once in the large cage (we visited the “baby” tigers) with the 3 medium sized tigers, I just didn’t feel good about this visit. Yes, the “promo information” says the tigers aren’t drugged, but these animals seemed docile to me, but then again, I’m not a huge animal person. Honestly, I couldn’t wait for our visit here to end.

By 5pm our guide, Jum, took us back to the Chiang Mai airport for our Bangkok Air flight back to Bangkok. The flight departed on time at 7pm and we landed in Bangkok just after 8pm. By the time we retrieved our bags, met our guide and drove into the city we were checking into the Bangkok Shangri-La Hotel at about 10pm. The hotel is beautiful and right on the river. There are several restaurants, lounges, shops, a spa and very inviting pool area.

It had been a long day so we got a quick bite and glass of wine at the hotel bar and I was asleep just before midnight.
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Old Jun 10th, 2011, 06:51 PM
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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

None of the hotel breakfast buffets so far on this trip prepared me for what I’d experience at the Bangkok Shangri-La Hotel. This breakfast buffet was served in the restaurant that looks out on the river and the selection on offer is vast. There was an absurd amount of choices, eastern, western, made to order items. You could eat here for breakfast and never need another meal that day, not that I did that!

We met our guide at about 8:30am and spent the morning touring the Golden Buddha Temple, the Wat Po complex where the reclining Buddha is, and the Marble Temple. My favorite was seeing the reclining Buddha, it’s absolutely massive!

After a morning of temples we spent some time walking through a flower market and a vegetable market. I really enjoyed the flower market, it was so colorful! We then took a boat across the river for lunch at the Supatra River House. Lunch was excellent. Then we took a long boat and cruised around the klongs which gave us a glimpse of river life.

By 3pm we were done with touring for the day and took a much needed swim in the pool with a “side” of frozen strawberry margarita! I loved the pool here and for the first time in my life experienced a pool “host”. As CL and I walked into the pool area we were greeted by a staff member asked if there would be 2 of us and if we wanted to sit in the sun or shade…Wow…that was a first for me.

After our cool and refreshing time at the pool, I was pretty much a wet noodle and by 6pm a rain storm with lighting had started, which didn’t make the thought of going out to dinner very attractive, so CL and I choose to stay at the hotel and have a light bite at the hotel’s Italian restaurant.
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Old Jun 10th, 2011, 07:18 PM
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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Today was our last day in Bangkok, and again, I was only barely scratching the surface of this city. It was a perfect weather day, cool, with a little cloud cover so it wasn’t unbearably sunny.

We started again at 8:30am for a visit to the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha. All were magnificent and jaw-dropping beautiful. This was another favorite place for me on this trip. The palace was fairly crowded in the morning, but the throngs coming in when we were leaving in the late morning were even larger.

By noon we were back at the hotel and had the rest of the day on our own until our final group dinner. After a quick pit stop at the hotel 5 of us took the Sky Train (so easy to navigate), from just outside our hotel door to the stop for the Jim Thompson House.

I am really glad I listened to a recommendation from friends who had been to Bangkok before to go here. I really enjoyed my time here. Not only is the house (which is a complex of several houses) lovely, but the garden, although small is very nice. Jim Thompson’s art collection was really interesting to see and the story of his life is even more interesting. Prior to going on this trip I had read a book about his life and that just increased my desire to see this house.

We arrive close to 1pm and the English guided tour was just about to start. The tour is about 35 minutes and covered some of Jim Thompson’s history and showed a small amount of his massive art collection.

After the tour we stopped in the café on site and had a short lunch break. The food was really quite good there and the atmosphere very inviting. We also browsed in the shop at the house and I came home with 2 beautiful silk pillow covers and a gorgeous silk handbag.

It was a short Sky Train ride back to the hotel and I had 2 hours to re-pack and organize my bags. Tomorrow CL and I would be departing very early.

Just before 7pm we met the group in the hotel lobby for our final dinner. RM had been keeping this a surprise and she led us out of the hotel and across the street to a boat dock. But it just wasn’t any old boat dock, it was the boat dock for The Peninsula Hotel. We were about to have dinner at Thiptara, the Thai restaurant at The Peninsula. What a treat, this was an outdoor restaurant right on the river with fantastic views and food! Our server was adorable and we had our own covered table area, it was the perfect night to dine outside.

A couple hours rolled by and soon we were finished with our spectacular meal and took the boat back across the river to the dock at the Shangri-La. We said our good-byes to all of our travel companions, because CL and I would be the first two to depart in the wee hours.
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Old Jun 10th, 2011, 07:39 PM
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great report...

do you have your return tickets for bkk yet?? we all do it..
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Old Jun 10th, 2011, 07:47 PM
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rhkkmk...Thanks for hanging in here with me and reading this to the bitter end!

I don't have the return ticket YET! I really would like to get back to Thailand. This was my first Thai experience and certainly did not get enough time there and would love to spend a whole week in just Bangkok!


And here is the travel home day...


Thursday, March 17, 2011

At 1:45am the alarm goes off…yes, we are on a 5am flight from Bangkok to Narita. By 2:50am CL and I are packed and on our way to the lobby to meet our guide who will take us to the airport. Surri, the guide is there waiting for us, bless her heart, at this ungodly hour! We turn in our room keys and get a boxed breakfast the hotel has prepared for us, it was great by the way!
By 3am we are racing towards the airport with hardly any other cars on the road, 3am is clearly the best time to drive to the Bangkok airport! We have our bags checked and boarding passes in hand by 3:30am. We said goodbye to our guide Surri and then waited in line for passport control to stamp our passports, who knew there would be a mob of Russians there too. I think we waited longer on that line than it took for us to drive to the airport. We finally make our way through security and find the gate for the Delta flight.

We board the flight to Tokyo and blessedly the flight is not full, that hasn’t happened lately! So CL and I are able to spread out and I get 2 seats to myself, perfect to snooze. We are served breakfast (#2 of the day so far) and about 5 hours late we touch down in Tokyo 40 minutes early.

Days before this was the tsunami in Japan and I was wondering what it might be like transiting through Narita, and although crowded, airport operations seemed completely normal.

We go through a security check, and find our way to the connecting gate. Then we decided to see if my Delta Sky Miles Gold status will get me into the Sky Lounge…BINGO…it does! CL is able to come in with me and WOW, is this nice. My first Sky Lounge experience, I’m really digging it! It’s a big spacious lounge and we enjoy some food and drinks and free wi-fi.

Before long it’s time to board the flight from Narita to Atlanta. It’s a full flight with a 3-3-3 seat configuration, I’m already missing the Korean Air flight over, and fortunately I have my coveted aisle seat. The entertainment system isn’t working very well for me, the flight map isn’t working at all, so thank goodness I have my Kindle to read. I manage to get about 2 hours of sleep, although not 2 solid hours, it comes in sleep “snippets”.

We arrive in Atlanta about one hour ahead of schedule, and there is barely a wait at passport control. My bags were in the first wave off the conveyor belt and I was through customs & immigration, rechecked my bags and went through security all within an hour of de-planing.

The flight to Savannah was slightly delayed, but only by a few minutes and I was upgraded to business class on the short 30 minute flight, where I promptly fell asleep. We landed in Savannah at about 7pm and I was back home in no time.

And a final note...

In spite of some of my feelings about group travel I truly did enjoy visiting all the places on this trip. Now I have a taste for Asia and hope to return to some of these places and explore new ones in the future.
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Old Jun 11th, 2011, 12:06 PM
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Your report is excellent and had helped me planning our timein Hanoi,Siem Reap, Saigon and Bangkok. We love cities too. Still undecided about the CuChi tunnels..can't enter them due to a physical problem.Thanks again.
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