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Trip Report SE Asia so far - a trip report

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A week into our SE Asia trip and here is a trip report so far – I am not sure how far I will get as I was never very good at getting reports done, but after all the help I have received from this forum this year, I feel I must at least make an attempt.

I feel I short changed Hong Kong – jet lag and moving 5 people around a strange city takes longer than you think – I will come back again with a girlfriend and do this amazing city more justice. New York was my place of indulgent escape but Hong Kong is definitely now very high on my personal agenda.

Day 1 - We arrived in Hong Kong in the early afternoon after a 14 hour flight from Johannesburg – and that was after a 2 hour flight from Cape Town with 3 hours waiting at the airport before we left Johannesburg!
Hong Kong airport is brilliant so clean and organized and easy to navigate – we decided to catch our breath before heading into town and so had some amazing pastries from a little shop on the left as you walk towards Burger king and the husband and 12 yr old had a Burger King? – Very naughty but who needs to argue after flying for 16 hours!
It seems that the special deal on the airport express where you get a better price for group tickets is finished and it also seems that although you can buy your airport express tickets on the Octopus card you pay HK$20 more for them if you do so cash is the way to go. We also compared the cost of hiring a taxi or similar as we are 5 people, but the airport express was the better deal. Change your Am Ex traveler’s cheques to HK$ at the Bank of China on the 2nd floor of the airport - no commission charged.
Anyway it was an easy ride into Kowloon station and then straight on to bus K3 to the Salisbury YMCA.
Check in was easy, and we were given rooms on the 10th floor. They were a harbour view room and a suite but the suite view was blocked by the convention centre somewhat so I went down to reception to ask if we could possibly move. They said we could move up to the 12th floor but only on the next night –we did and the view was amazing. After check in we took the Star Ferry – an easy 5 minute walk from the hotel to the ferry and followed the signs to the upper deck – tickets were HK$2.20 – at this point we had not bought the Octopus cards – in hind sight we should have bought them at the airport – more later. Anyway, the ferry was great – very clean and organized as is all of Hong Kong. We then walked out of the Hong Kong ferry terminal to the bus stops and caught the 15C to the Peak Tram station. We bought return tickets for the tram and also for the Sky Terrace – an extra HK$10. I am sure I saw that if I had paid for the Peak Tram ticket with an Octopus Card its about HK$20 cheaper – can this be? I forgot to check on my way down. Any way the views were amazing the sky was clear and I would never have believed there was a more beautiful skyline than Manhattan until I saw Hong Kong – wow! We had dinner at Café Deco and although we hadn’t booked the staff were very helpful and accommodated us if we were out by 8h30 which we were. I had the Thai chicken – excellent – the children had pizzas with an “Asian” twist – declared to be brilliant! And the mother and husband had a rice dish and a noodle sigh – very good. I would eat here again. We spent some time on the Sky Terrace - great views but very cold – then back to the Y for some sleep

Day 2 – breakfast on the 4th floor of the Y – brilliant buffet – highly recommend. We lost time trying to change more money – should have done at the airport – at he bank of China in Tsim Sha Tsui doesn’t change them – ended up drawing cash from a machine, then we had to go get Octopus cards – the grandmother got a cheaper card but there was not enough money loaded on as she ran out later on her card. Took the MTR to Tung Chung then caught the 23 bus to Po Lin – it’s a very long and winding road and although good to see the scenery, I am not sure that on a limited tome schedule it is worth it – yes Cicerone I know you said so but husband wanted to go. After we climbed up to the Buddha which was great and yes he does have a very kind face rk, we went back to Hong Kong island and found Maxims in Central – guess what – between 3 and 5pm they close for cleaning – grrr! Ended up at a Delifrance – not great – then rode the escalators and explored Hollywood road and Cat street and all the old lanes as best we could in the fading light with jet lag!

Tired and back at the Salisbury we ended up eating again on the h floor at the buffet – we were so impressed! Amazing sushi and loads of interesting well prepared food for HK$248 per head – really worth it – and of course that view and the light show – what can I say!

Day 3 – Tried the breakfast on the ground floor of the Y – yuck – not good, then the teenage daughter, grandmother and I set off on the Diane Freis factory shop chase – what a blast – we were so lost it became hilarious. The one address I had off this site had me going to Hung Hom so off we set in a taxi with the address kindly written out for the driver by the bell man at the Y – the company have moved to who knows where! Next we got another taxi to Kwun Tong, the address found in the latest Fodors HK book – after a great trek through the station and the mall and up a road and adown an alley we did find the factory and the dress! BUT – way too expensive, so great journey – no dress – oh well – never mind. Back in Kowloon we took the ferry over to Hong Kong and the number 6 bus to Stanley – great ride, but quite foggy weather – the first 2 days in HK were so clear –we were really lucky. Stanley is nice – the market is not cheap at all, the right hand side is cheaper than the left – go figure- we ate lunch at Wild Fire. The food was ok, the foggy view and the relaxing on the balcony was great.
After the market we got the bus back to Central and then the MTR up to Kowloon station and looked for the “Waterfront” shopping centre – as per Fodors book - found the odd shop but the bulk of the centre has shut down. We walked through to the new mall above/ behind Kowloon station – very chic. We ended up at a supermarket called 360 – that was such fun – all the different deli counters to eat at and unusual fruits and veg to inspect – brilliant ice cream, and the bread and pastry counter were just too much for the grandmother – especially after she sampled the snake head soup!

Day 4 – we took the MTR up to Prince Edward and walked though the flower Market and up to the bird garden – the boy thought the bird garden was cruel – he could be right. By noon we were on the way on the K3 back to Kowloon station – via all of the hotels in the area it seemed, to check in at the airport express for our flight to Vietnam – what a performance! We were able to check in for Vietnam Air with Cathay Pacific, but because our tour company in Vietnam had our onward tickets from Vietnam to Cambodia, the check in guy had a real problem with this – even though we were able to show him all our tickets on to Thailand then Macau then back to Cape Town. He spent about 45 minutes filling forms that he said I had to sign stating we had no onward tickets – I did sign, but added that we had paid for tickets that were in Vietnam – he didn’t even check we were on the Vietnamese onward flights that I was able to provide flight numbers for. He also had a major problem with the fact that the visa documentation from the Vietnamese government had my son’s passport number one digit incorrect. Anyway I was convinced we were going to miss our flight as he wouldn’t process our bags, finally he did, and we got on board as they were about to close the gate – and gate 45 is very far away!
Moral of the story – even if your Vietnamese tour operator has your tickets get either copies or at least the e numbers and also check to the exact digit all government visas and get a new one printed if there is an error. Due to this delay we didn’t have time to get passport photos taken for the visas and we were all getting very stressed.

VIETNAM – the flight was short and uneventful as all good flights should be. Our guide from Exotissimo was waiting for us as we got in to the terminal – I was most impressed and he handled the lack of photos and wrong digits and everything with aplomb – no problems at all – all stress incurred was completely unnecessary - grrr.

The weather is warm and a little humid here, the drive into town was fascinating – you see photos of stacks of live pigs on the back of motorbikes and 3-4 people to a bike but seeing it in real life is quite something!

The Metropole Sofitel is beautiful. Check in was easy – the room in the new wing is stunning, the staff attentive and polite (no tipping policy here). I heard a brief drilling sound in the distance but nothing of note and certainly nothing to complain about.

We ate dinner at Au Lac, in an old French villa- you have never seen such tall and narrow doors - and we had the set menu to experience a cross section of Vietnamese food. The best were the spring rolls and fried rice; the honey chicken was good as was the aubergine, but the beef on lemon grass was not so great. We walked back to the hotel – crossing the road here is an experience - you must be brave and foolhardy and walk slowly and steadily in a straight line, then all the motorbikes drive around you.

Day 5 - Breakfast in the Spice restaurant at the Metropole was brilliant. We then went to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum – very somber and an interesting experience not necessarily to western taste or understanding. We also visited the one pillar pagoda and the grounds around it with the temples and the Temple of Literature, all very interesting and part of the tour by Exotissimo. An hour cyclo tour was great fun and well worth doing. Shopping in the old district was great – especially Craft Link opposite the temple of Literature for embroidered bags and silk wraps. We saw the water puppet show – Punch and Judy on a pond – very clever and quite magical and a good chance to rest. Exhaustion set in so we adults ate at the Metropole bar – excellent food and very inexpensive, the children did room service and checked out the dvds

Day 6 – today we explored the old town of Hanoi on our own – the traffic system? Works but its just so crazy, every now and then you can wander through an old lane that is so quiet and imagine what it must have been like just 10 years ago when there were no scooters and certainly no cars. We bought shoes on Hang Dau street and walked all the way to the old Eastern gate and along Hang Ma and down to St Joseph’s Cathedral. The area around the cathedral is great and if I were to do it again I would spend more time here. The shops and restaurants are great and when it got dark we headed back to the hotel. Another light meal at the bar – its very hard to go out for dinner with tired children after a very full day but we are very happy at the Hotel here. I can honestly say this is one of the most beautiful hotels I have stayed at (and for you nay sayers, yes I have stayed in very nice hotels all over the world.

Enough for now, and I hope this report has given some insight to the next travelers. Tomorrow we go to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc caves and Van Lam village – watch this space

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    I'm also a fan of CraftLink. We bought from both the branch at teh Museum of Ethnology and the one across the stret from the Temple of Literature.

    I'm glad to hear that you are having such a good time.

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    Thanks for the info that there is a second craftlink - I wanted another silk wrap but they had sold out of the colour I wanted and on our way back from Halong Bay we will have wime to spend a few more hours in Hanoi. I thought I would explore around St Josephs, walk on the red bridge and now visit the 2nd craftlink

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    I don't know how many more days you have left, but one of the joys of being in Hanoi is all of the delicious street food all around you. If you'd like to try it but want to know more, do a little poking around on Savour Asia-- There are very detailed descriptions (and photos) of all kinds of food, and directions on where to find the best stalls and vendors around the city. There are also Hanoi restaurant recommendations if the weather isn't good or if you need a break from all those motorbikes roaring by!

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    wow Hanuman I wish I had read your email before today - I could have met you in the bar! We are now in Hue and the weather is very odd indeed! So hot this moring and now it looks like rain. I love Hue its so peaceful after Hanoi - I shall update my trip report later - I do hope I am not boring people

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    Day 7 – Another great breakfast at the Metropole we left early to drive out to Tam Coc – to interrupt myself at this point – I would highly recommend that anyone traveling with children plan to do a little less than we are – we have grumpy children today as anything earlier than 10am is the crack of dawn when they are on holiday. Anyway I am holding them off with promises of 5 lazy days in Hoi An

    The drive to Tam Coc from Hanoi took about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The traffic is really awful – 9 dead people in one hour and I am not joking, the mad scooters and buses sound like fun when you read the Fodors forum but the reality of it is something else. We had an excellent driver and wore our seatbelts, but other tourist buses we passed drove so dangerously – one was part of an 8 dead person accident – it really puts a dark cloud on your trip and I will spare you the details, but please don’t take the traffic lightly and do wear seat belts and do pay the extra few dollars for a decent vehicle and driver.

    Anyway enough of the somber stuff. On our way to Tam Coc we stopped at Hoa Lu – a historic site north of Ninh Binh – it was a nice stop on the way to the caves but not worth a separate trip. When we arrived at Tam Coc we visited a village house as part of our Exotissimo tour – we really didn’t like this part and the constant pushing of the embroidered table cloths – if you tour with a guide, I suggest you skip this bit. The ride up to the caves on the sampans was amazing – so beautiful – take a hat/ umbrella as there is no shade. We paddled through all three caves. On the way back from the last cave we had the “you buy embroidery” sales pitch, well we resisted, and then after a while she gave up and jumped ship! I must explain that we left the village with this lady rower and a 10 year old boy, in other words after we didn’t buy her embroidery she got onto another boat and left us with the 10 year old boy – the us being me and a grandmother. Next thing, the rain came down so hard and the 10 year old boy looked far from happy and Grandma and I picked up a paddle each and started to row. We were soaked to the skin and really did try to see the funny side of it all. After a while – say 20 mins of rowing another boat pulled up to us and threw us a rope. It was actually great fun but it could have been a problem and a bit scary for the feint hearted. We spoke to our guide when we got back and he said people were having problems with the boat people but c’est la vie. We had lunch at the local restaurant and then drove back to Hanoi in the rain. It was a great day and very funny, but the deaths on the road brought us all down and made us realise how very fortunate we are that we are able to step in and out of this world and back to the safety of our own.

    We had a light supper at the bar restaurant of the Metropole – the pumpkin soup is great. Tomorrow Ha Long bay

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    I am hanging on every word in this great report.. I leave in 2 weeks and coincidentally just posted a question asking about the trip to Tam Coc...trying to decide whether or not to take it,,

    Keep up the good work and have fun in Halong Bay!!

    Scenery anywhere has to be pretty amazing to compare with that around your home city!

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    Day 9
    Breakfast was fine – no complaints and we arrived back at shore around 10am. We passed one of the largest floating villages in Vietnam. You hand your passport in when you get on board I guess so that you pay for any drinks you order before you jump ship ‘cos you need the passport back – we of course forgot and just got off so had to go back and get the passports.
    The drive back to Hanoi was uneventful and we arrived around 1pm

    We went to Koto for lunch near the Temple of Literature. Here are my thoughts on Koto – brilliant idea, an initiative to get youngsters off the streets and give them an opportunity in life and the service and attitude of these young people was great – they love to practice their English on you and they are very proud of their organisation. The food however was very disappointing. I think the best thing to do is support them and go for coffee and cake or sandwiches but have lunch elsewhere.

    We had time to kill before our evening flight to Hue so we wandered around the area near St Josephs Cathedral – loved Tina Sparkle and all the little boutiques there, and found a shop selling Vietnamese dried nuts and seeds, so I bought some green tea pumpkin seeds for a chef friend – very pretty. In hindsight we should have spent these few hours at the Metropole as one of the things we didn’t do that we should have done was to have the afternoon high tea/ chocolate experience. The parties in Vietnam are amazing as is the ice cream! In Vietnam you under estimate how tiring driving is even when you are not the one doing the driving.

    Check in at the airport was easy and another uneventful very full flight. We arrived in Hue at 20h30 and were met by our Exotissimo guide for the transfer to our hotel – La Residence. The streets were so quiet and clam – after Hanoi it was bliss!

    La Residence was the residence of the former governor of Central Vietnam and is now a stunning boutique hotel – the décor was so very beautiful – again very Indochine – I kept photographing bits of it for ideas for home. I loved the dark wood floors with the metallic mosaic inlays. The gardens and lily ponds were beautiful as was the pool. The gardens run onto the perfume River. Our room looked over the river.

    It was late when we arrived and we were hungry and although the kitchen had closed they managed to make rustle up some very good sandwiches and spring rolls for us. We sat in the bar and listened to the house singer – so plasnat and relaxing

    Day 10
    Day at Hue and one of our best so far – lots to tell.
    Breakfast was included in the hotel rate and it was really nice. The temperature by mid day got to about 32 degrees so breakfast over looking the Perfume River was really pleasant. They have these huge grapefruits here called pomelos – they are not sour like grapefruit and white and black spotted dragon fruit – these combined with some dim sum and chocolate croissant and coffee make a great breakfast. The husband went the more traditional eggs and bacon route and was also very impressed

    Our guide met us and took us to the River where we took a boat to the Thien Mu Pagoda. On the boat we got the “you buy my embroidery” again – you do get a bit tired of the hard sell all the time – its not enough that you are paying for the boat ride - oh well.
    We drove to the Ancient Citadel – that was stunning and very well worth visiting.
    Then we drove to 2 tombs – Khai Dinh and Minh Mang. There are 7 tombs in the area, but these two are supposed to be the best – especially Minh Mang – I could have spent hours and hours there by the most beautiful lake. There were so few tourists there – just us and another couple – it was incredible and one day I would love to visit again – a picnic by the lake would be a great idea and I am sure you would be allowed to do this. The peace and tranquility of these once forbidden places is truly a wonder to behold. How much longer some of them will last I don’t know as the most recent one – Kai Dinh is less than 100 years old and yet it is already so black and crumbly
    Some of the areas of the Citadel that were bombed have been restored and more are being restored as an on going project.

    It was such a hot day – we bought conical hats to keep the sun off and spent the late afternoon by the pool at the hotel – also enjoyed the free wireless internet! We skipped the Dong Ba market as we all needed some chill time.

    There are lots of good restaurants in Hue and one of the best is supposed to be Le Parfum at the La Residence hotel so we ate there – tired after a long day. The food was excellent lots of choices of both western and Vietnamese dishes and a good wine list.
    All in all a great end to a wonderful day.

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    Oh this is wonderful reading. But you forgot to post Day 8 and the Halong Bay trip!! I read the Tam Coc part again and had to laugh when I read that your rower jumped ship after her embroidery was spurned! It sounds like the best idea is to get a VERY early start for that side trip from Hanoi, correct?? Maybe even 6:30am??

    I am also headed for Hue and La Residence, so continue to hang on every word! Please keep it up!!

    Oh, what is Tina Sparkle??

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    Oops sorry - here's day 8 - see I did do it. Just got back from an amazing dinner at Brothers Restaurant in Hoi An - we sat literally on the waters edge on a wooden deck - youwill have to wait for the story in sequence!

    Tina Sparkle is quite an upmarket little designer shop selling beaded bags and the like. Hanoi is full of beaded bags and after a while they all look the same, but this shop is different albeit more expensive. The one thing I am finding is that you tend to get "sold" stuff and can't really browse and I tend to say no thanks and leave and so I will be the one going home and saying "I wish I'd bought....." so I need to get my act together soon before we leave.

    Another thing in Hanoi there are loads of embroidered cotton lingerie/ shoe/ swimsuit bags that make great gifts for about US$2 for the nice ones. Well I thought I'd buy in Hoi An and guess what - not a single flipping one in sight down here! Grrr!

    There are loads of fake Kipling bags - so cheap here - $10 Hanoi, or $5 Hoi An, but they are fakes and so don't have all the little inside pockets my real one has. Also fake Lacoste and Polo mens T shirts with collars here for $4 - check the feel of the cloth though and the size etc if you want to buy.

    Interestingly you use dollars here nost of the time - everyone seems to take the Vietnamese Dong and divide it by 16 000, so 32 000 VND is $2. People give you change in either dong or $ unles its small change then its Dong. When we arrived we changed $100 into Dong and that was fine for water and txos and snacks etc, won't bother to change more for the last few days. With a credit card, people seem to prefer Visa and there is sonetimes a 2-3% charge, but not always.

    Remind me to tell you about the strings of pearls for $6 - freshwater but lovely.

    Anyway i am jumping ahead of myself. I really hope I am not boring any of you, and i hope that in some way i am giving a little back for all that I received in planning this epic trip.

    Day 8 - We left early today for the 3 hour drive to Ha Long Bay. We left our luggage at the Metropole and took our over night bags with us in our mini van. Driving towards Ha Long city you pass through coal mining towns – everything is grey and black, the streets, the plants, the sky and then you see a fresh green leaf newly grown amongst the black like a reminder of how things could be. We do so much in our own little worlds to recycle and create less of a carbon footprint – hmm. The weather was quite cold when we arrived – should have packed better. We stopped half way up for a trip to the “happy house” – can anyone guess what that is?

    Check in was easy – you wait in a little café and your bags are carried on board the Emeraude – what a beautiful boat. We booked a suite for the grandmother and two children – there are only two suites on board and I wish we had booked both – don’t forget to bring a step ladder to reach the toilet! The husband and I had a regular cabin – very nice no problems – they are replicas of the 1920s cabins – very Indochine. We had a buffet lunch when we arrived on board – not bad. We sailed around the bay – the scenery exceeds any expectation you can ever have – well worth going and the Emeraude was so much more intimate than the huge day trip tourist boats we passed. We went to the Hang Sung Sot or Cave of Awe or Amazing/ Surprise cave depending on who you talk to. It was really good and well worth visiting – the pink willy caused great amusement with my 12 year old! You can basically wander where you like which was really good as the Cango Caves in the Western Cape are all guide led now. The view from the cave entrance – up many steps – was spectacular over the bay with all the old boats and junks? The Emeraude tender took us back to the boat an hour later. The buffet dinner was very good – we had lots of huge prawns so if anyone else posts that the buffet was not great that would probably be because we ate all the prawns!

    After dinner we watched Indochine on the big screen on deck – what a great idea – very atmospheric, you almost feel as though you are in the movie when the scenery on the screen is what you see outside the screen – a bit surreal. There are blankets you can wrap up in – also adds to the atmosphere. We were all quite cold in Halong bay – we definitely should have packed some sweaters or the like

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    Ekscrunchy - 6h30 would be too early to leave for Tam Coc as it is still dark and the roads would soon get busy with rush hour traffic. We would have left about 9am so perhaps an 8h15 - 8h30 start will be fine. Just be very careful about who you use to get there. With a small mini bus you canask the driver to take his time as we did - some of those big tour buses and very scary and there really is no rush - the caves will wait

    Don't forget hat, sunscreen and umbrella for Tam Coc, and do get some rowing practice in before you get there!

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    Capetown: Ha Ha..rowing practice! I guess those embroideries at Tam Coc are not so nice, as no one here has even mentioned buying them..despite all the hassle!!

    Your report continues to delight! And I am taking the Emeraude next month!! I guess I will bring a wool sweater and also a little jacket...

    I cannot thank you enough for all of these tips..please remember to tell about the pearls!! I love the shopping and food information. along with everything else you are writing! And thanks for the tip about the prawns on the ship..I hope they have replenished the buffet table by now!!!

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    I'm also enjoying following along.

    I recently bought some prawns here at home, because the sight of them brought back memories of our day on the boat. Eat all you can while you can, because they absolutely do not taste the same here.

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    Femi you are so right about the prawns - however there is a little Greek restaurant in Tarpon Springs in Florida - I have the name somewhere at home - where the prawns are some of the best I have ever had in my life - one day I will go back

    Kathie - glad you are around - I need some jewelry advice. We will have 5 days in Chiang Mai and then we arrive in Bangkok very early inthe morning after the night train down. We are free that morning and then pretty busy for the rest of that day and then the next - there after we have a week in Hua Hin.

    I know you have contributed a lot to this forumn re jewelry in Thailand, but with one morning and no desire to haggle my life away, where could we go to buy a birthday present for the daughter and something for me - which place is your favourite/ easiest to dela with? Do I just phone them from our hotel when we arrive?

    I will do more trip report soon - a Happy Christmas to you all - its Christmas Eve here in Hoi An

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    The jeweler I've been using for the last 20 years: SJ International, 125/8 Sawankhalok Road, Dusit, Bangkok, phone 02-2342446, 02-2342447, 02-2411875

    Call them and they will pick you up at your hotel and return you to your hotel after your shopping.

    Ask for Lily and tell her (or if she is not there, any of the sales people) that "Kathie from Seattle" sent you. You'll get the best price, no haggling.

    Happy shopping!

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    Thanks Kathie - I shall do this - will let you know

    Hey Bob - glad you are around, its thanks to you in no small part - and Raymond and james that this trip is as good as it is. Here's a great big chunk of trip report - I am suprising myself inthat i am actually enjoying writing it!

    Day 11
    Our guide and driver picked us up at 8h30 for the drive to Hoi An .

    We drove through the scenic country side, through the rice fields and past the water buffaloes and the eucalyptus groves to the Hai Van Pass – also known as the Pass of Ocean Clouds, We looked down onto Lang Co Beach and the Son Tra Peninsula, so beautiful, I really wanted to get down to that beach and just walk through the desolate beauty of it all – I must come back here.

    We stopped at the Cham Museum in Danang – the building is really basic but the reliefs and sculptures are quite spectacular. The charts on the walls were actually very interesting as you could see how the Cham people moved through Vietnam and where their artifacts can be most readily found.

    From here it was a short drive to the marble Mountain where we stopped to visit one of the many “workshops” where the people carve marble. I really didn’t like this as yet again it was another hard sell even though we were told we could see marble being carved – the children stayed in the mini van! We then went to the caves in the marble Mountains and these were great – very macabre. You alk up the steps to the entrance and then you are in a tall chamber like an upside down ravine where you look up to the sky though the rock at one point, but you walk down into caverns with all these images of Hell –very creepy and the at the end you can climb right up to the sunshine and “enter Heaven” well worth the climb and the spectacular view over Danang. A word of caution however, the lighting is poor and not directed at your feet so you really need to watch your step – I do suggest strongly that a small torch would make all the difference. Well worth the visit and a trip we would highly recommend for all ages.

    We then drove on to Hoi An where we went to check in at the Life Resort. This turned out to be a really good choice as its literally on the edge of the old town and a better location than the beach resorts. Life Resort suffered serious floods at the end of November and the entire place had to be evacuated and still today certain areas ie the the riverside rooms are still under repair. The staff are so proud of this place and they apparently worked tirelessly to get it back on its feet to where it is today. The staff are so nice and helpful and happily book dinner reservations in the town, cooking courses etc. Everyone you pass greets you with a “good morning sir” from the sweeper to the wait staff.

    We were initially offered 2 rooms by the pool area but we asked for more private rooms as when you sit on your outdoor terrace you are still very much in the public eye. We were then give2 rooms on the second floor and are very happy with them – spacious, clean and stylish. A couple of things to note- the beds are quite hard but if you ask reception they put a padded layer on for you accompanied by many apologies for any discomfort you may have felt. Also there are mosquitoes here. I asked for bug spray which was duly delivered but you need to make sure that the staff don’t come in to turn down your room in the evening and then leave the door ajar whilst they do and so let more mosquitoes in. having said all this we have been here 4 days and I don’t have a single bite and normally every bug in cape Town goes straight for me! The body lotion in the bathrooms has a lemony scent and maybe that is what’s keeping them away.

    We then went on a tour of the old town - the Japanese covered bridge etc – you buy a book or card of tickets and choose what you want to see. In hind sight we should have chilled at the hotel and done the old town tour or own as its only 2 or 3 streets and very easy. However we wouldn’t have known which sites to choose as you can’t see them all on one book – it seems quite complicated. We saw the House of tan Ky and the Quan Cong Pagoda.

    Everything we saw was interesting but after Hue nothing seemed special – I hope we don’t sound cynical. The conical incense burners in the pagoda was good to see and the silk worms at the Handicraft centre.

    Dinner that night was at the Senses restaurant at the resort – quite good, bit quiet, nice service. Then the promise of lazy days ahead put happy smiles on faces!

    Day 12
    Today was a lazy day and the husband and I wandered through town on our own and left the children to sleep late and relax by the pool. Its very hot here – 36 degrees and sticky – those Vietnamese hats are proving very useful – also great to put your shopping in!

    There was a man selling hammocks – he was advertising them as two strengths for the different rope thickness – 1 Vietnamese strength or 2 Vietnamese people/ 1 American strength. At $6 for a hammock we bought 2 for the children for home – we went with the 2 Vietnamese strength!

    After sorting out clothes at Yaly – see later on in report – we went to the Cargo Club for lunch – further down the road from Yaly on Nguyen Thai Hoc St. We sat upstairs and looked out over the river and ate spring rolls – they were soooooo good.
    Music is piped through the speakers on the streets – Frank Sinatra singing “My way” in Hoi An – what a memory!

    For dinner this evening the children wanted pizza and the guide books said Good Morning Vietnam on Le Loi was the best so we went there. The pizza was good, but don’t think good like the good pizza in America.

    Day 13
    After breakfast the children and I did a lantern making course at the hotel – it was really interesting and the lanterns came out quite well. Hoi An is famous for its lanterns and they are everywhere – so pretty and magical – the medium sized ones are about $3-4 and they collapse down like an umbrella – I am trying to convice the husband that we need to take lots home to hang in the garden – how amazing would the white ones look at night – like little moons in the trees – he being very practical is trying to convince me that you can’t leave them out all the time and who is going to be up and down ladders taking the down! Guess who?

    The husband and boy got bicycles from the resort – no charge – and rode to the beach – about 4km away – they rode through rice fields and past water buffalo – apparently thr journey there is better than the location. We thought long and hard about staying at the beach or in the old town and decided on the town – I think that was the right decision because other than some sand there really is not much to do in the beach area.

    We girls wandered through town again and went back to the Cargo Club – I really like it here – you need to go upstairs and out the balcony at the back, not inside the shop at the street level.
    We bought pearls – lots of pearls! The pearls here are fresh water pearls and quite big and pretty with a good luster. My mother bought a long string for $8, and I bought 4 strings not made up into necklaces of even fatter pearls for $6 each – pink ones and black ones and white ones! I want to get them strung with long gaps in between to make long lariats rather than a traditional strung necklace. We also bought some very funky bracelets with all different coloured pottery shapes – great gifts for the daughter’s friends at school - $1 each, and other necklaces with coral and crystal – the prices were so cheap and the choice was great – the conical hats were most useful as shopping baskets in this shop

    In the evening we ate at Brothers on Phan Boi Chau St – near Life Resort – wow! Amazing, magical, so very beautiful you run out of superlatives. You walk down thought a lantern lit garden over a little bridge over the lily pad ponds to a deck on the waters edge. The food was excellent – expensive by Vietnamese standards - $12 - $15 for a main course. It was so good we booked again for Christmas night. This is one of the best meals we have had here and certainly the most special location. A good tip would be to call in during the day and pick your table for the evening – take one of your $10 pashminas for if the breeze gets up.

    Day 14
    This morning we headed over to the local bank in Hoi An and changed some travelers cheques (Am Ex $) to $ cash – very easy and a 1.5% commission. Traveler’s cheques are not very trendy and are a pain but they are great for back up and save carrying cash

    On the subject of money, I love the way you can split the price of a thing over 2 currencies. Eg an item costing 64000 VND you can pay $3 (16000 =$1) and then 16000 VND or you can pay $5 cash and get the change in either Dong or Dollars – I love it!

    We went to Yalys to pick up the items I had made and also the ones my mother decided to have made yesterday – all turned out very well and we were pleased. I was actually very impressed that the 2 items (ie my own originals) I had copied both needed repairs and they did repair both garments for $1 – not $1 each – very good! The one thing I would highly suggest is that a/ it is probably better to bring something you love to be copied and b/ keep in mind that the fabric choice here is a little limited. If you want suiting and poplins and silks – no problem, but I wanted an embroidered cotton to copy a Betsy Johnson dress I had but although they could copy the dress I didn’t find a suitable cloth in their range – next time I shall bring my own cloth. Also their prints are all very “like pyjamas” quote daughter. Yaly is supposed to be one of the more expensive companies but you need to keep in mind that none have air con, and it is sticky and hot here and really can you be bothered with all this trying on etc. Nobody was laughing and having fun in these shops, so if it’s a business transaction of copying a favourite garment, then pay the few extra bucks and go to Yaly – whoever you choose it’s a bit of a schlep. Trip Advisor forum have quite a few threads on Hoi An tailors that are worth reading. 2 very flared long silk skirts and one lined cotton sequined skirt – total price $110 – good deal for the work involved

    The husband and children went to sort out passport photos for the Cambodia visas – very easy to get done and we all met at Scout café for our cooking course to the red bridge Cooking School – now this was fun! A family at the hotel we are at (Life resort) did this the other day and raved about it so we asked the hotel reception to book it and for $15 per person we were on our way. You meet at a café in the old town where you get a complimentary drink and then are split into a group of 7 or 8. You then walk with your guide though the market and explore Vietnamese litchis and apples and the like and get lots of interesting tips about how to buy/ use rice paper- eg don’t soak in water rather put the dried rice paper leaves between lettuce or cabbage leaves in a plastic bag for the to “rehydrate” gently and not get all sticky and glutinous – I do hope I am not boring people now! After the market you get on a boat and travel down the river for about 25 minutes to the Red Bridge Cooking School – the boat man let my 12 year old “drive” so we all donned life jackets (joking!) and thoroughly enjoyed the journey past the sampans and old fishing boats – this was actually much better than the planned boat ride on the Perfume River in Hue.

    The cooking course was very good – very hands on and interesting. There were 15 of us and we sat around the chef in a covered area with open sides. We were given a copy of the recipes and as the chef made each dish we then had to go to our own little stoves and make them ourselves – well hidden talents were discovered – after 20 years I was impressed to see that the husband has a skill for carving tomato flowers!

    After the course we all had lunch on the veranda of the restaurant looking over the river- so lovely and the food was excellent. The boat took us back to town dropping people off at the Life resort on the way. We wandered through the old town again – bought beautiful “pashminas” for $10 – wool and silk – very nice.

    Christmas Eve dinner was the “compulsory gala evening” at Life Resort. The buffet was 1st class – those prawns again! We were so touched by the effort made by all the staff with the carol singing – apparently they had all been taking English and singing lessons for weeks. The genuine desire to please and to care for the visitors to Vietnam is so amazing; you just want this country to be successful and the people to prosper. I was disappointed to see the odd scornful tourist bemused by the singing staff, but would we as Westerners go to the trouble to learn the words of the songs for Chinese new year for the Asian visitors to our country – I think not.

    I sit here now watching the butterflies dance through the fronds of the palm trees and I am so glad that we came to this beautiful land.

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    This continues to captivate! I am also headed for the Life Resort (3 nights) and La Residence i Hue (2 nights) so I am taking many notes!

    Do you think that it is worth the trouble to buy your own string at home, and have them string the pearls on that??

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    Eks, go to a jeweler to have your pearls strung. No need to bring your own silk. Pearls are always sold on strands that you then can have strung any way you would like. My jeweler does it for free for regular customers. Even if she cahrged, it would cost MUCH less than the US.

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    So Kathie..just to you mean to take the pearls to a jeweler (as opposed to the place I buy the pearls??) in Vietnam?

    Thanks! I bought some really nice pearls in China but I think the silk/string is stretching..or maybe it is just my imagination....(running away with me..)

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    Personally, I'd take the pearls to a jeweler. I've had beads hand-knotted in a number of places, but at a good jeweler the knots will be more uniform and tight against the pearls. Pearls that are worn frequently should be re-strung every one to two years. Do note that the very inexpensive pearls you buy are not good quality, but more "fun" jewelry. Nonetheless, if you are going to wear them you'll want them strung and hand-knotted.

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    Eks just a tip on Life resort - you do not want a room onthe ground floor - we are on the 2nd floor at the very end - room 221 - so nobody walks past us at all - the day beds on your on stoep (balacony?) are great for chilling on but people will walk past you to get to out of their room if you are not onthe end - also 3rd floor would be good. The section overlooking the river is closed due to the flood but not really a problem

    Kathie is correct - these "Vietnam" pearls although real are more fun then investment pieces. They are strung into necklaces, but I want gaps of about 2cm between my pearls for a more random baroque effect then i can layer lots of long strings. We will restring them ourselves in Cape Town as they do not need to be regular or well strung but yes it is a job a jeweller shoyuld do for you

    We leave for Cambodia today and then on to Thailand

    I am glad youare finding this interesting

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    One thing we got wrong - when we went to Tam Coc, we should have got our guide to take us to the Perfume pagoda area which is on the way from Hanoi to Tam Coc, we could have skipped Hoa Lu and gone there rather as it sounds very beautiful

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    Eks, I mean a jeweler anywhere. Since I have a regular jeweler in Bangkok, I use her for restringing pearls and she doesn't charge me. But wherever you have it done, try to do it while you are still in Asia, as the prices for restringing in the US would buy you many strands of those pearls.

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    Day 15
    A quiet day spent relaxing, walking around Hoi An in the afternoon and just generally chilling – this place has that kind of affect on you

    In the evening we went back to Brothers Restaurant. They had a Christmas evening organized. There was a buffet and some fixed courses =- lots and lots of food for $28. There was also some really good Vietnamese live music – the dress and the instruments were so lovely with the river as the backdrop.

    On a more mundane note I have a tip to pass on – don’t have your clothes washing done through the hotel – rather walk to the main gates to the hotel where you will be politely mobbed by a group of women who will wash your clothes for 20 000 dong per kilo – ($1 = 16 000 dong). We went with the one woman to her house close by and she showed us lots of washing and so we thought oh well lets just do it – the next day we picked up two bags of sweet smelling clothes where even the socks ere ironed – very impressed!

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    Day 16

    Today we packed to leave. We went for a walk near the resort and found there is another Yaly close by – quite a modern air conditioned one and well worth keeping in mind if you are going to have some clothes made and you are staying at Life resort – the one in the town that I went to is very hot and busy so this one I found on the last day would be my choice next time

    We were meant to check out at noon but the staff was quite happy that we sat around on our balcony until 1pm when we were picked up by Exotissimo to take us to the airport. The drive to Danang airport is very quick – maybe 40 minutes, and check in was effortless. Its quite interesting that there seems to be one flight a week from Danang to Siem Reap – on Silk Air – so our timing was perfect., We had originally thought to go down to Saigon but we had to make some choices and Siem Reap won

    Another uneventful flight and we arrived 10 minutes early into Siem Reap (flight is about an hour). We only got the Visa and landing documents as we were about to land and only after we asked the air stewards for them so there was much scribbling of forms for 5 people on our part which was a bit annoying when we could have done them during the flight so make sure you ask for the forms when you get on. Visa processing is so easy. You hand in your form and a photo and $20 cash to the visa official – a jolly smiling bunch they are – no really they were great I’m not being sarcastic. They then take your passport away and then all of the people on the flight stand in a group and the passport names are called out – with much hilarity – and handed back to each person. The whole things was very amusing and very easy – quite a contrast to Visa control at say JFK

    We were met by Ponheary at arrivals – what a nice woman – and driven to the Hotel de la Paix – oh my word – what an incredible hotel – I have never stayed in a more chic, more beautiful place. I have taken millions of photos and want to fly straight back home now and redecorate! The hotel is very central – next to the market on the edge of the old quarter and apparently near lots of restaurants. We are in a deluxe room – very spacious and oh so stylish – check out their website and have the volume button on as well –

    We were tired after the flight – and all that doing nothing in Hoi An so we went to the Café in the hotel for sandwiches and delicious chocolate cake and some of the best ice cream I have had – the Mars Bar ice cream was divine as was the caramel and pistachio!

    An early night for an early temple day tomorrow.

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    I am still following along and loving this report! Thank you (and thanks to Kathie) for the clarification about the pearls. And for the tips on the nicer Yaly and the Life Resort. Can't wait to read more..

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    Hi all from Siem Reap - other than the temples we which we are covered on - what else to do? This afternoon we visit the lake. Restaurants? Anyone eaten at Balcony Cafe? Viroths worth a visit? Your thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks

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    Thanks Kathie I will. We are going to Tonle Sap this afternoon and we then only have tomorrow - I think the children are getting a little templesd out and we are meant to go to Banteay Srei tomorrow - shall I skip it or should I convince them its really worth seeing this one more temple? Please advise all you that have gone before!

    We have booked to go to Viroths and will take a walk along the river.

    I am very keen to find out if there is anywhere in Siem Reap that I can do a cooking course? I am absolutely in love with the food here - went to Cafe Indochine again today and the beef with kompot pepper is one of the best meals I have eaten in my life! The daughter had the chicken version and yesterday I had the fish amok - wow! The mother had the mushroom pasta and it was exceptionally good

    any way please let me know about this last temple and a cooking course?

    Thanks a lot from Cambodia

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    Banteay Srei is simply stunning. It is very different in style from the other temples. It's small, so it can get overrun with tourists. Ask your driver to take you there, say, first thing in the morning or whenever he expect there to be the fewest people. It's a fair drive from Siem Reap, so you'll see some interesting countryside. I guess the question is whether your kids are up for a longish drive and another temple.

    Ask at your hotel about cooking classes.

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    Kathy we are now all on for Banteay Srei tomorrow - I think now that we are in to week 3, we are a little tired - even after the down time in Hoi An - its very hot here and I think that does make you feel weary. The husband and i are fine, but the others seem a little tired. We will all go to the temple tomorrow and get back early. the grandmother and children can spend the afternoon at the hotel and the husband and I have found a cooking course - through the hotel - I will feed back. We will do more temples tomorrow and and the children can play by the pool - we shall see what the day brings - we will also visit Artistes d'Angkor tomorrow.

    More trip report coming soon. Any comments are appreciated - this may not seem like an epic trip to some but believe me moving 5 people from age 12 - 70 through countries I have no experience of, for 5 weeks, and trying to keep everyone happy is quite a feat. Travelling with very little ones although hard work is easy in that they do what you do but teenagers do need to be listened to and considered.

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    capetownfolk, in case you don't realize it, your report is so much fun to read and so helpful to those of us planning trips. Sounds like you are having a great time and hats off to you for the inter-generational efforts.
    Even with your level of detail I will still have loads of questions when you return since we are following your exact itinerary in JUne -- including the Silk Air flight from Danang to SR. You are the first person I've found who actually has taken this flight -- I was beginning to think it was my imagination.
    And ekscrunchy, please post your details as well when you return. Safe travels and happy new year to all!

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    Just wanted to drop a line to say thanks for the great report. I am reading along with interest!

    I decided on a whim to get some FF tix to Thailand and Cambodia and now am reading the Asia board to try to figure out what I am going to do while there :)

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    Thanks Alison and all for the support. I am actually enjoying writing the trip report more than I thought I would.

    Yesterday I was tired and it probably showed in what i wrote. I think the one thing I would advise all visiting Siem Reap is take more down time than you think - its ok not to visit every temple and its ok to just chill at the hotel - still learning this bit. I guess its so far and so expensive for us traveling from S Africa with our weak currency so one thinks one, must get as much in as possible - i am learning though and exhaustion achieves little. I have some down time now so shall put thoughts to paper on the latest part of the report.

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    I've really been enjoying your post.I'm taking notes for our eventual trip to Vietnam - - thanks for the detail. I'm glad you are enjoying Hotel de la Paix. We thought it was one of the best places we ever stayed. I thought the restaurant was incredible. I have two regrets, both shopping related. First, I didn't buy enough silk scarves in the market across the street (I think I bought 6 or 8). Second, I bought two polychromy plaques at Artisans D'Angkor and they tarnished. I can't find any way to remove the tarnish because they are varnished. Maybe the next fodorite who visits will ask at the shop - they don't answer my emails!
    Enjoy the rest of the trip.

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    Hi all

    sorry about your plates DC and I would have asked for you had I known. I didn't buy anythinh at Artistes d'Angkor I found a lot of things expensive and I was "saving" myself for Thailand - where I am now! About to head out and see if the elephants here are like the elephants we have back home - large, grey amd intelligent no doubt. My trip report is long for Cambodia and will get posted shortly

    ANyone got anything to advise re Chiang Mai- we are here for 5 days. Restaurants? Sights? Things to buy?
    thanks in advance

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    The one must-see in CM is Doi Suthep.

    Here is my report about craft shopping in CM:

    Crafts: I opted to visit only fair trade and non-for profit craft places this trip. All of these places are listed in Nancy Chandler. Our stops were Sop Moei Arts, Thai Tribal Crafts, and the Golden Triangle. We also looked for Northern Crafts Center, but it turns out to be an exhibition space, and there was none going on at the time.

    Many of you probably know Sop Moei Arts. They have gorgeous things. I was a bit surprised at how limited their selection was. Nonetheless, we found some lovely gifts there.

    Thai Tribal Crafts has many items made by a number of the northern hilltribes. The items are inexpensive and charming, and we picked up a lot of small gifts.

    The real find of this trip was The Golden Triangle. It was hard to find! Our driver (who could actually read the Nancy Chandler map, and my printing!) was very persistent. We were all triumphant when he found it. But the gate was closed and locked (it was after 5:30). Not to be deterred, he called the phone number and the owner came out and let us in. The Nancy Chandler book says no English is spoken but that is not true. The owner is an Akha woman who was married to a Dutch anthropologist for many years (he is now deceased). Sales of the textiles benefit the Akha women who make the items. She does have old Akha textiles from time to time. We were able to buy several old pieces as well as some new pieces. The items are really unusual. We didn’t see anything like them anywhere else. The owner is a wealth of information about the textiles. We talked for quite a while, and she pointed out that many of the new needlework pieces are done on modern synthetics, as it is less expensive. We bought a number of pieces made from local cottons and dyed with natural dyes. She can tell you which pieces use which techniques and what the various motifs mean. Note that she takes NO CREDIT CARDS. Bring cash!

    You might want to read the CM section of my 2006 trip report: Kathie's Chaing Mai, Penang, Bangkok 2006 trip report (or some such title).

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    Day 17
    This morning we had breakfast at the Hotel de la Paix – excellent – especially the eggs Benedict, and the orange juice – oh my!

    A few notes on the Hotel de la Paix – the architect apparently has a strong landscape design background and his talent is evident through out the hotel – this was his first hotel. The use of plants different levels, lighting and textures is amazing – I think we photographed every corned of the hotel –so chic and stylish and a must to at least visit if you are ever in Siem Reap. The Art Bar is where you would expect the reception to be and on our last morning the entire floor of this area was filled with about 4 inches of water – when we asked why we were told “just for effect, for a change”. It looked incredible on the black marble tiles – like a mirror reflecting all the beauty of the building around you

    We all left to get temple passes – 3 days for $40 each – cash only so make sure you have enough and also make sure you keep the passes – which have your photo on – with you at all times as you do get stopped and asked for the pass along the roads. We went to Angkor Wat first – so amazing and so surprisingly accessible – you can walk just about everywhere, I do wonder how long this will last though. Its really hot here so do bring hats, and sun block and water, and this is supposedly the cool season and we live in Africa! I won’t go on too much about the bas reliefs and the history – I am sure there is lots of such information available elsewhere.

    We stopped at about 12 o’clock and went to Café Indochine just near to our hotel. The food is some of the best I have eaten, and we all said this so I do highly recommend it – you turn left out of the front door of the hotel and walk about 5-8 minutes down the road and its on the left. The chicken or beef with kampot pepper is the best and the fish amok was excellent.

    In the afternoon Ponheary picked us up at about 2.30pm and we went up in the tethered hot air balloon. Its not an amazing experience but it is worth the money and the one thing it did make us appreciate was the symmetry of the temples and the moat surround. We then went through South Gate to Bayon temple – the pyramid shaped one with the huge smiling faces on the towers. This temple was very beautiful. From here we walked to the monkey temple and the Terrace of Elephants.

    This evening we went to a traditional dancing restaurant – Koulen? Recommended by Ponheary. The dancing was lovely and the food was quite good –we liked the extra thin crepes with bean sprouts that were made whilst you wait – all for $12

    The husband and I went for a walk around the “Pub Street” area and checked out the bars and art galleries – it was so warm and pleasant to walk around – highly recommended

    On a boring note, there is a petrol station to the right of the hotel where you can stock up on shampoo and the like

    Day 18

    This morning we left with Ponheary for Ta Prohm or Jungle Temple one. This has been my favourite temple – I loved the trees and the atmosphere is unusual in that there are lots of areas where you can wander down a corridor and see no one and feel like you are the only person there and it must have been like this hundreds of years ago – and then you meet a bus full of tourists and its back to reality. There are lots of great photo opportunities you just need to keep moving in the opposite direction to the crowd. It was a bit crowded – compared to say the Minh Mang tomb in Hue but then that is to be expected. It really is like Tomb Raider here! Ponheary was great at explaining the history of the temple and showing us good places to go and take pictures.

    We then went to Banteay Kdei this was interesting as there were lots of rooms you step up and down into and a lot less crowded, I really like this temple.

    We got back to the hotel early – it was really hot today and chilled for the afternoon until 3.30 – now comes the best bit……..

    We drove to the river past lots of palm leaf and straw houses built on stilts. Lots of great photo opportunities – I asked Ponheary if it was ok to photograph people and their houses and she said yes because they believe they are beautiful if you photograph them and ugly if you don’t photograph them – well they must be stunning judging by the amount of photos the husband took – at one point it was “will you please get back in the van before the sun sets and we haven’t even got on the river yet!” Ponheary chose a beautiful long wooden boat for us and we rode down the river to the lake for about 40 minutes. We passed all the houses on stilts and the ones on oil drums and the floating shops and the schools and churches on stilts and we learnt how the houses get towed to other parts of the river in the drier season and then towed back again when the rains have come. It was soooooooo interesting and one of the high lights of this whole trip. The children lay on the bow of the boat and the breeze was wonderful and all was well with the world. I can see how people want to stay here.

    We arrived at a sort of floating fish station/ shop/ drinks and tables place and relaxed for about 45 minutes and watched the sun set on the lake – paradise found!

    Now here’s an odd bit. When we arrived at the river side and before we got on the boat young girls kept taking our picture with their digital camera which we found strange. When we got back after sunset the same girls were then getting us to buy small plates with Cambodian scenes around the edges and you guessed it- our photos in the middle! You have to admire their entrepreneurialism, thought this is so not my scene. The husband felt we should buy some as they did show initiative- I say its coercion, but oh well, I guess they need the money more than we do.

    We were all meant to go to Viroths but the children wanted sandwiches (café at Hotel de la Paix sandwiches half price after 8pm) and TV so we left them safely at the hotel and took a tuk tuk to Viroths – that was fun and we arranged for the same driver to pick us up later and take us back which he did – and we booked him for the next evening. $3 to Viroths and back for all of us. Viroths was very good – a nice setting and good food – very inexpensive and deserving of the good reviews it gets. The wine list is very small – just 4 white wine choices though the cocktail list is extensive. We are still not getting the hang of ordering dishes for the table for us all to share from so we had too much food and the grandma and I chose the same main dish – fish amok and finished neither where we could have ordered something else to share – oh well – got 2 more weeks to get it right!

    Tuk tuk home and the end of a wonderful day.

    Day 19
    This morning – after 2 weeks of traveling, I finally found a solution to the “will you children get down to breakfast now please we are going to be late for our guide AGAIN!” Here’s what you do, or what we now do. The hotel rate includes breakfast and my 16 year old picks at it as does my 12 year old – just too early to eat when you are on holiday, so you have the breakfast delivered to their room – just one breakfast so now you save the $18 (a lot for us Africans) and the novelty of “breakfast in bed” gets them awake and between them they pick at enough food to maybe cover one breakfast – there was still lots left on the tray. To avoid squabbles as to who gets what I said the one child gets first choice of everything today and the other gets first choice tomorrow – happy children, chilled adults! So off to the temples.

    We left at 8am and drove to Banteay Srei. Our guide today was “Sepaul”? (Sorry spelling) – an ex student of Ponheary. He was a monk until last month – apparently a lot of Cambodian young men spend some time as a monk – he did one year and he told us it has taught him to be very clam and tolerant of others – we Westerners have much to learn! The drive to the temple took about 45 minutes through the countryside, past buffaloes and oxen, rice and wheat fields – so nice to see the simplicity of life around us. The road was quite pot holed and so the journey was quite bumpy.

    Banteay Srei is a very special temple (Kathy you are right) it is much smaller than the others we saw and you can’t walk on it as much as on the others. The colour is very unusual a sort of orangey rose and the bas relief is so finely detailed. It was extremely crowded and we were there early – I think it is less crowded but much hotter in the afternoon, so take your pick. I enjoyed walking around the outside the most with the water lily filled moat between me and the temple – as there were so many people inside I got some great photos with no people in from the outside – good move.

    After the temple visit we drove to Artisans d’Angkor which was very interesting – I love the idea that this programme of teaching articstic skills to people in the rural area is helping to keep the villages alive and reducing the number of people coming to the big towns to find work – a problem very evident back in South Africa. The shop here is very well laid out and quite sophisticated. After Vietnam I don’t really see Siem Reap as a shopping place, also am saving some $ for Thailand. The 16 year old bought a “silver” elephant whose body opens up to create a secret compartment – very nice - $15. I bought 2 packs of Cambodian Kampot pepper – been eating that a lot at Café Indochine so I thought I better take some home. The large carved heads were stunning – about $45 - $500 and it would be great to have one shipped home – I will come back one day with just the husband so maybe then…..

    We dropped the grandma and children off at the hotel to swim and relax and the husband and I went to Hotel Shinta Mani where we had booked to do a Khmer cooling course. We got there at noon and it was just us and the chef for 2 hours. You get the recipe printed out though the chef did some things differently so take notes, and he cooks a dish and talks you through it – you then eat the food he cooked and then you cook the same thing – wow – no pressure! You definitely get it right when you are so one to one with the chef. We made chicken lemon soup- it was brilliant and I will definitely make it at home – very light yet flavourful – good for our hot climate. A few things we can’t get at home like the lemon pickle and the Tomayam paste, so I shall ask Sepaul if he can take me past the old market later and buy a small jar of each. I have a chef friend who may be able to work out how to recreate it at home for when the jar runs out – otherwise it will be back to Cambodia for some grocery shopping – can you just imagine it… “just popping out for some lemon pickle darling” – then a week later you get back ..hmmm could be fun. Next we made Fish Amok which is the main dish around here – I have had it a few times and its delicious and now I know how to make it – Ha! The dessert was ok, Num Hi – rice flour and coconut balls boiled like gnocchi and with a ginger and sugar and coconut milk soup – don’t think I will make this one again – perhaps if you book this course you can ask for 3 savoury dishes rather than 2 savoury and 1 sweet. At $35 each, plus 10% tax it was really expensive and certainly compared to the $15 dollars we paid at Red Bridge in Hoi An, but I wanted to know about Khmer cooking and I couldn’t find another cooking course n Siem Reap – now I am sure you will all have suggestions for me but its too late, and besides this was a great experience on a more intimate level that Red Bridge – glad we did it.

    We chilled out at the hotel and then left again at 3.30 to go to Preah Khan or Sacred Sword temple. I think this temple was the best for me – Sepaul tells me that we each find a temple that feels right for us and this one was definitely mine – it has many rooms and also the trees growing though various sections. Being late in the day there was only the husband and I and maybe 3 other couples and it’s a big temple! Apparently most people visit here in the mornings so my advice to those reading this would be to do as we did and get there about 4hwo. There is a very interesting area that is made up of rounded columns like in the Greek temples that the Cambodian people still are not sure how this form came to be here.

    By the way I found out the Tomayam paste here is sold as Tom Yam or Tom Yum paste and was easy to find

    This evening we took a couple of tuk tuks to the pub street area and had a meal at the Soup Dragon – it was ok, the view from the third floor terrace was really good – most of the buildings in this area are 2 storey. We also went to the Blue Pumpkin for ice cream – very nice. Back to the hotel to pack for 2 flights tomorrow……..

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    Kathie thanks for the input re craft shopping - I agree with you about chosing who you support- more on this later. We had planned to drive up to Chiang Rai but lots of complaints this side from certain people about too much driving so we cancelled the plans. I will return one day with just the husband or a friend. Again traveling with a diverse age group is not the easiest. This is partly why we chose some down time in Chiang mai as I really don't think some of us would cope with too much time in Bangkok. I guess its like New York - I love it but some people just find it all too much.

    Bob this will be an intersting trip to Bangkok as it really will be just a brief taste and again I can come back another time. We shall see. The weather is cool in Chiang Mai - so nice after Siem Reap, but just as many mosquitos! Grr!

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    Day 20
    We left at 7h30am for the airport and check in was very easy for our flight to Bangkok – we were not however allowed to check our bags all th e way through to Chiang Mai as we were changing airlines and so had to get them and check in again at Bangkok

    Siem Reap airport is very beautiful – its new and has lots of glass looking out onto gardens and Cham style sculptures through out the airport. The officials are all very friendly which was not really something I expected – oh us Westerners with our pre conceived ideas. Here’s the best bit. After you check in and go through to the duty free shops there is a screened off section where you can get a foot massage – 30 minutes US$10, 45 mins US$ 15 and 1 hour US$20. I only had time for the 30 minute massage – but oh what a treat – one of the best foot massages I have ever had and I do hope that in posting this other people will have the advance notice I wished I had had.

    Another uneventful flight and an hour later we were in Bangkok. It was very easy to retrieve our bags and then queue up for Air Asia. They seem quite strict about the 15kg weight luggage but not too bothered about hand luggage weight, so lots of people ahead of us who had too much checked luggage weight were simply allowed to remove some of their stuff and take it on as hand luggage – go figure! Now here’s a tip. When you have checked in and go towards your gate, don’t go down to the actual gate until the last minute as there is absolutely NOTHING there and no food and no food served on the flight except some snacks that you have to pay for. We went through to soon and on top of that the plane was an hour late in departing so we were all very fed up. There is no seat allocation you just sit anywhere. Lots of people push to get on the plane and there is really no point as there are enough seats for everyone. You can pay for an express boarding ticket which lets you get on first – I think it costs US$10, but over 60s (or maybe 65s?) and children get on as Express boarding anyway just go up to the front as they don’t call for you. The other thing you need to know is that you must have YOUR boarding card and YOUR passport in your hand as you board, a lot of families had their boarding cards mixed up as often one person holds them all – we experienced African traveling family had it right though! Go us!

    So, the flight was an hour late and arrived an hour late – as late planes do, and we were met by our guide Chod – very chilled and very kind and we drove the 10 minutes to the Yaang Come Village resort. Reception was very nice – the lemongrass tea is fabulous and I now have the recipe so I will try it back in Cape Town and if it tastes anything like as good as at this hotel I shall post the recipe. We were given a family room – not a good idea with 5 of us and one bathroom. The two rooms are big with lots of space but we should have got 2 deluxe rooms rather – oh well its only for 3 nights and then we do move to 2 deluxe rooms. There were a lot of mosquitoes in our room so we sprayed and put up the do not disturb sign.

    We all needed to eat as we had flown through lunch but it was too early for dinner so Chod took us up the road to a little café – very basic, but brilliant food – great Pad Thai – see later on for directions.

    The Sunday market was on so we all went there for the evening – we got the hotel mini van to take us. Much has been posted on this forum before about the Sunday market so suffice to say it deserves the good reputation it has. The prices are very good- I bought a straw bag/ basket with leather trim for 280 Baht and saw the same one in the shopping mall later in the week for 850. There were lots of hill tribe crafts and small gifts at very good prices. There are lots of food areas – we ended up around the very pretty pagoda half wy up on the left. We took a tuk tuk back to the hotel – all 5 of us in the one seater tuk tuk – that was an experience!

    Day 21

    Breakfast at the hotel was ok – nothing special but nothing wrong with it either the husband and the grandmother loved the omelets that are made as you wait. Chod says there are so many boutique hotels opening up in Chiang Mai and a lot of them are very good but often the food is not great as they are not big enough to employ a professional chef – this makes a lot of sense
    After breakfast we were picked up by Chod and driver and drove for about an hour and half to an elephant ‘camp’ (forget the name for now – will post later if anyone asks) now we have lot of elephants in Africa and one of our best experiences was feeding and playing with the baby elephants at Buffelsdrift near Oudtshoorn, but these Indian elephants are very cute, and seem to have lots of character. We watched the show where the elephants play football and paint pictures – very good. Apparently these elephants are left over from the logging days - there are about 300 in the area and about 200 are used for tourism and 100 are free to roam around. I expected this to be a bit contrived but it was actually a really great morning and I would highly recommend it. Just as the show was ending we left and went over to the area where you ride the elephants – this was at Chod’s suggestion so that we wouldn’t have to queue and we didn’t. The daughter and I were on the one elephant and the husband and son on another – the grandmother chickened out. The ride was wonderful – after you got used to the swaying movement and learnt to trust that the elephant is not going to fall down the steep incline he is walking and drop you in the river. I kept waiting for the bit where the mahout/ driver tried to sell me embroideries and then jump elie when I didn’t want any – but he didn’t and the hour’s walk through the countryside was wonderful.

    We got back to camp and were first at the buffet – good planning from Chod – the food was very good, something for everything. After lunch we sat on benches on flat bamboo rafts and traveled down the Ping (pronounced B/Ping) River for an hour or so – very relaxing. When you get off the raft there are a couple of stalls selling hill tribe crafts and hind sight being 20/20 vision I can tell you that these were some of the cheapest we saw the whole time we were here and they are sold by the hill tribe people in the area.

    We then dove quite a lot higher up into the mountains and we passed a few hill tribe small villages – we stopped at one – I think Karen – tribe. There was nobody selling anything you could just wander around and see how people live. It felt a bit strange to do this but Chod assured me that the people were quite fine with it, he explained that the hill tribe people are very self sufficient and they grow everything they need, they fish and hunt and there were many pigs and piglets around much to the 12 year olds delight!

    As we were leaving the village we were met by 4 Akha tribes women, they were exquisitely dressed and our guide explained that they are very clever as they follow the tourists and sell to them. I don’t like being sold to, but these women were such fun and o nice and their pencil cases and water bottle bags were lovely and very inexpensive. I know that you can buy very beautiful crafts and antique crafts if you travel further north – read Kathie’s report on this forum – but we are 5 and this is as far as we are going. Anyway much fun was had by all and then we went back down hill to a Karen
    Tribe village, here it was just selling with little stalls everywhere and I didn’t feel it was very representative of village life – all these stalls waiting for the next tourist bus. I think we were very fortunate to see the non tourist village considering our brief was that we did not want to spend hours and hours driving.

    On our way back to Chiang Mai we stopped at the orchid farm – very pretty and an easy stop along the way so well worth doing. You are given a beautiful orchid flower on a brooch pin when you arrive – perfect for New Years Eve tonight.

    We were obligated to the “Gala evening” at Yaang Come Village and I am so glad we went. As at Life Resort in Hoi An, the staff went to so much trouble. A market village was set up where you could wander around and receive lots of little local appetizers to try and there was a barbeque area as well as the main buffet. There was lots of traditional dancing and then a musician and singer – all in all a good evening and a nice way to see in the New Year. I loved to watch all the candle lanterns floating heaven wards from all over Chiang Mai. The fireworks were crazy loud – I have never heard fireworks so loud before – I thought we were under attack – it was not nice –I kept thinking about how the poor animals must feel and all the elephants in the hills – we have very strict laws about fireworks in Cape Town so I guess I am not used to the free setting off of them that I saw here. Anyway it did not spoil the evening – a happy New Year to you all, may 2008 be all you can wish for and more.

    Day 22
    The one thing I find with the rooms at the Yaang Come Village is that the curtains work very well – the room is pitch black so you sleep and sleep and the beds are very comfortable – as a result we slept right though until 10am and breakfast finishes at 10am – no problem said the staff and breakfast was duly served. We chilled out by the pool for the morning the weather is perfect – warm and sunny but not hot.

    In the afternoon we decided to take a look at the airport plaza shopping mall – it was ok, not great but a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours. There is a Japanese restaurant on the 1st floor called Zen that had a long queue so we joined the end and had the most wonderful Japanese meal – I would highly recommend it.

    We wandered around the night market later on – it was not at all as I expected. I don’t like night markets, but here everyone is so relaxed and pleasant and very few people are pushing their wares at you – you just wander around – I am afraid I had to succumb to a few moc croc t shirts – you all know the ones for the 12 year old – boys get through many t shirts and the going rate at the moment seems to be 125 Baht after some negotiation –hopefully that info will help someone. There was a young girl – maybe my daughters age selling the most beautiful glass bead necklaces – she was making them at the stand – I like to support people who make their own crafts so we bought loads and at US$3 I have gifts for quite a while!

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    Kathie - to interrupt my own tale - I owe you a debt of gratitude - thanks so much for the jewelry connection - SJ were more than I could ever expect them to be - the service, the prices (your prices!) the choices - I will return! Thank you so much you are a kind and generous person

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    capetownfolk - Thank you for your detailed report about Siem Reap. We will be staying at Hotel de la Paix in March with our kids (ages 12 and almost 16). I really appreciated the restaurant information - Cafe Indochine sounds like a must!

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    on our way to Macau and booked into Royal - I am sure you suggested but I do get my initials mixed up and it could be Raymond? Anyway we get there about 4pm Macau time and as you know we are 5 with lots of luggage - how best to get to the Royal Hotel from the airport?

    Jgg - I dream of Cafe Indochine - please make sure you have the beef with kampot pepper. when you travel you sometimes find a restaurant and a dish that you remember forever - I promise you one day i will go all the way back to the little Greek restaurant in Tarpon Springs Florida for mezze - or maybe you shouldn't in case you are disappointed - you will love Cafe Indochine I am sure. Siem Reap is so hot during the middle of the day so I am sure you will be back at the hotel during this time.

    also it is worth getting on the de la paix web site and booking a massage well in advance if you want one as it was all fully booked when we were there for an end of day massage.

    KATHIE: It was Lily's day off, but there was a young lady called Bung whom i really "clicked" with. She really understood my taste and every case we looked in she picked up exactly what I would have chosen so she stayed with me and i would ask for her again. I found their designs very contemporary - for instance i found an amethyst ring surrounded by rubies and the red and purple looks great together. Also there multi sapphire copies of the Bulgari flower rings - what can I say!!!!!!! Many many thank yous, i will definately go back there and again I am so very grateful.

    I will post their new phone numbers - I have the card somewhere.

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    Day 23
    This morning we were met by our guide and take to the Winter Palace. I now know why its called the Winter Palace – it was FREEZING – all you follow behind me be warned and take layers – we were so cold you could see our breath – a novelty for our African children! The grounds of the palace are so beautiful – we walked up to the reservoir and there is piped jazz music that the King has composed – it was very good. There are orchids growing everywhere and the tallest bamboo I have ever seen. At the top we were now so cold we were glad to see a coffee stand and ordered hot chocolate, but Asian hot chocolate is not the comforting milky drink we are used to its more like chocolate espresso and needs sugar – to our taste anyway – so the children went for the hot waffles with chocolate or strawberry sauce

    After the palace we went to the famous Wat Prathat Doi Suthep temple a little lower down the hill. It was very crowded and I believe it is better to go at the end of the day and see the monks performing their ceremonies – again see Kathie’s trip report on this forum. We enjoyed the temple, it is most impressive with amazing views over Chiang Mai and many worshippers making offerings and receiving blessings. The 12 year old was called forward by a monk and blessed and he tied a white string to his wrist – it was very moving. We stayed here a while and then we drove back in to town.

    A word of warning here – Chod told us that a number of tourists have complained that gems they bought at the very large chain store Gem Gallery have not been the best quality when they took them home to Europe and had them re valued. I m not meaning to show any disrespect to this store but Chod was warning us from the experience of Exotissimo – we did find a very reputable jeweler as I wanted an un heat treated sapphire and SJ in Bangkok did not have any – I can post the name later if anyone wants it. I also took the natural sapphire to the owner at SJ in Bangkok who had it examined for me and confirmed that I had an un heated stone at a fair price – so I am very happy – the store is up near the mountain pagoda and I dealt directly with the gemologist.

    We walked through the day market and the flower market – I cannot get over the price and the quality and variety of orchids here – when I think what we pay for them in Cape Town – there they are such a luxury! We went back to the hotel in a red truck taxi - you can sit in close to the driver with the mosquitoes or near the door opening with the exhaust fumes – your choice but fun and efficient!

    That evening we went to Whole Earth restaurant next to Yaang Come Village. Now I know lots of people rate this restaurant and especially on Trip Advisor but we were a little disappointed as were other guests at the hotel we spoke to. I think partly our fault – we sat inside and should have sat in the garden and the food took nearly an hour to arrive with no staff checking if we were ok in the interim so we were all hungry and ratty by the time it did arrive. Then half way through the meal the roti we ordered at the start finally arrived so we said no thanks too late and the older lady “manager” snatched it away and stormed off in a huff – definitely not the famous Thai hospitality. Oh well 95% + of the meals we have had in nearly a month have been great to excellent! Whole Earth is obviously very convenient to the Yaang Come hotel but I am sure there must be some better choices just as convenient.

    Day 24
    We had a free day with no guide planned for today but Chod our guide was keen to spend the day with us at no charge as he had a free day too. Now the thing about Chod is that he is very chilled which makes him a most pleasant person to be with – the children think he is wonderful – a previous guide was met with the comment “mummy I wish this man would stop bossing me around!” I think it is a fine line between getting things done and remembering that people are on holiday. Anyway Chod met up with us at the hotel at 10h30 and we walked to the river via the Chedi hotel which I wanted to see. It’s very beautiful in a sophisticated was – I love the water/ lake effect as you walk in with the flowers in glass jars floating on it, though I think Yaang Come Village is a better choice for us with the children.

    We walked through the temple near the Chedi and at the riverside there was a stall selling fish and turtles and eels in buckets and birds in cages so that people could buy them to set free but the ones that were set free into the river just lay there dying. Chod said by the time people set them free they are too exhausted to survive. When we were at Doi Suthep yesterday there was a sign asking people not to buy these poor animals as it just encourages people to capture more and the monks at this temple do not support such acts – Chod says there seems to be two schools of thoughts amongst the Buddhists – I know which one I would go with. There were no Ping River boats available so we decided to rather ride down the river at the end of the day

    We drove to an Kasmir silk carpet importer and had a “lesson” in silk carpets – took notes of quality and prices but they seem much cheaper than in Cape Town we then drove on to a metal working factory and later on to a buffet lunch by a bid lake in private grounds m- sorry forgot to write down the name but the lunch was excellent.(I could find out if pushed)

    We went for the river ride – we started at an old farm where they filmed some of Rocky 4? 5? The new one anyway. It was so relaxing sitting by the river drinking lemon grass juice - I could have stayed there for hours – Chod taught the children some card tricks and life was good – one of those moments that just stays in your mind like a photograph for years. The ride down the river was great – loved it – but then I love riding about in boats – with me doing absolutely nothing of course! An hour later we arrived back at the Wat near the Chedi and walked back to the hotel via a 90 minute massage at one of the little massage places to the right of the Yaang Come Village – (300 baht – about US$9.50)

    We had the set Thai menu in the grounds of the hotel that evening – I was so impressed by the quality, the variety and the quantity of the food – I would highly recommend a meal here – it definitely exceeded my expectations. The service and ambience were just wonderful. You tell reception the day before that you would like to eat at the hotel and then you choose either western or Thai – I guess they shop according to the number of guests.

    Day 25
    Today we leave for Bangkok and so decided to have a chilled day – not that the whole time in Chiang Mai hasn’t been pretty chilled. We went back to the little café up the road for lunch – I didn’t get the name but you turn right out of Yaang Come Village and its on the opposite side of the road about 300m up on a corner, the food brilliant and today it was very busy – lunch for 5 with soft drinks came to about $8!

    I tried to make an appointment with SJ jewelers in Bangkok but the number I got off the Fodors posting does not seem to exist any more – maybe it has changed, but I will still go tomorrow anyway – I shall let you know Kathie and I shall also post the new number if there is one.

    Chod met us at the hotel to take us to the train station. Personal story coming up, all ye fact surfers scroll down. For most of this trip the husband has been looking for a plain wooden carved Happy/ Laughing Buddha to put next to his bed. I am not quite sure why and he won’t tell me. I am hazarding a guess that at the very start of the holiday in Hong Kong there was a lot of tension and fedupness – we have had a very hectic year, and one particular row ended in the conclusion that we don’t laugh and have fun enough anymore, so just maybe that’s why he wants a happy Buddha. Maybe he has thought on from where the rest of us are and we should all have a happy Buddha next to our beds to remind us how to start and end the day. Anyway, for weeks we have been looking for this Buddha and Chod took us to several places but to no avail. When he arrived at the hotel to pick us up he had a plastic bag with a newspaper wrapped something for us, and inside was the most beautiful carved plain teak laughing Buddha, he stands about 6 inches high and he is beautiful and fat and has the kindest face. Chod said he drove around on his scooter looking for one today and found nothing, then he went home and prayed and then went out again and in the next shop he found our Buddha. I was so touched and so was the husband – this was so unexpected and certainly the kindest of deeds – we are very grateful.

    I am sitting on the train now – we have 3 first class cabins on the 4h30 pm to Bangkok – the grandmother wants to spend the night on a train as she never has and nor have the children – its quite an adventure – more so as the husband and both children went to the 7/11 to get sweets and the train leaves in 4 minutes and they are not back yet!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Phew they just got back – 3 minutes to go and my nerves are in shreds!

    Another tip – the white wine at the Yaang Come Village was excellent – and you can buy a small bottle for 250 Baht if you don’t want a full bottle. I should have bought one for the train as it would have been so nice to sip a glass of wine – there are glasses in the compartment – whilst I am scribbling on the computer.

    The one thing I will say about this train traveling is its very relaxed – no check in, no passport control, no overweight baggage worries and believe me by this stage of the trip they are overweight! The cabins are basic but comfortable. There are 10 first class 2 people cabins in the one car and only one 1st class car per train. You can only book 1 month in advance as far as I know and the 1st class cabins get booked up pretty quickly – you can ask your guide via email to book before you get here or through your local travel agency or you can book on line but we didn’t have a lot of success with that for some reason and then you still have to arrange to get your tickets a day or two before you travel. Each sleeper costs 1453 Thai Baht – that’s about US$45. Staff just came round with menus so you can order food for dinner and for breakfast and you can also get beer – we ordered sandwiches from Yang come so we can do the whole picnic on a train thing. The view of the countryside is nice, but being winter the sun is low so we are looking into a glare somewhat – I shall report back as to whether we survived the night and it what mood we are to be found!

    Post script – the sun is setting behind us now and the country side is magnificent – all rolling hills and jungle – rolling jungle?

    Day 26
    Ok we survived the train – that can now get ticked off the “to do at least once in your life” list. It was very noisy – the train on the track bit, and I was not too sure about the cockroach things I kept squishing. But it was private and the bedding was clean and the guy they put in charge of the car was kind and considerate so all in all it was not a mistake – next time I will fly though! Our cabin and the children’s had an interleading door so we kept it open which made the area more spacious and kept them with us so it was a whole sleep over picnic on train affair – good bonding here!

    We were met at the station by our Exotissimo guide – Saraporn, she said we could call her Sara - and driven to the Sofitel Silom. The hotel is pleasant and of course the usual stunning Thai flower arrangements and great Sofitel beds, and the power shower is just the best. We had breakfast which again was brilliant – the usual Sofitel spread and really fresh and tasty, the homemade fruit yoghurt was delicious as was the chocolate croissant with the black coffee – mmm.

    The grandmother and I called SJ international jewelers – the phone number is different to the one on this forum – and the driver picked us up and took us through - its about a 30 minute – due to heavy traffic - drive from the Sofitel Silom. Se my earlier thank you posting to Kathie re jewelers.

    We were met at 1pm by Sara and we went to the teak palace – Vimanmek – the worlds largest teak building – it is is so beautiful and very interesting – Sara is so knowledgeable regarding Thai history and culture. Its quite interesting how Chod was the perfect guide for laid back Chiang Mai yet Sara is ideal for the historical places we are visiting in Bangkok – as a mother of 3 herself she is excellent with our children – they love her.

    We went for noodles after the teak palace and then we went to the Marble temple – Wat Benjamabophit. It was a really good time to go as it was reasonably quiet and the monks were performing their evening rituals. I liked all the different Buddhas around the courtyard some from different countries.

    Later that evening the husband, 12 year old and I walked through the night market near the hotel – mistake – I remembered why I don’t like night markets – noise, tourists (loads of them) car fumes, bad smells, junk for sale at stupid prices with everyone trying to rip you off – at least that’s how I feel when you ask a price and get told 600 baht and then when you laugh and say that’s a silly price then next price offered is 200 baht – anyway that’s my rant of the day. Also you may recall I absolutely loved Chiang Mai night market – so charming and polite and everyone being so nice to each other – oh well another experience. We did buy some very nice black and white photographs of Angkor Wat etc in simple white board frames which will go into simple glass frames back home.

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    sorry it must be someone else....i know nothing of taxis, etc in macau....they should be right there i expect however....we used a rickshaw when bags..just a day trip...

    hope you took good care of Chod ($$$$)...he seems very unusual...but then most of them are...

    you are having a fabulous seems so....all that planning is really paying off...

    contact me when you get home as i want to come to cape town and need pointers: [email protected]


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    Hey Bob - I was probably thinking of Raymond - you two confuse me with all those initials. Taxi was straight forward but hows this.............
    we approach Macau airport and start to land and then the plane veers up again and we land at Hong Kong instead. Macau was totally fogged in and we sat on the plane in HK for 4 HOURS!!!!

    Finally arrived here exhausted - I really was not sure i would get to Macau but am so glad we did and can't wait for tomorrow to explore.

    Chod is the most amazing guy - I shall post his mail address.

    re Cape Town - only a pleasure - back there on Monday

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    Day 27

    A busy day today with much to see and the 34 degree heat and humidity made the day a little challenging at times. Sara’s gentle ways kept us all under control with her rounding up children instead of us adults – very nice! The 12 year old would take Sara off to show her fish and “Buddhist cats” he would find around the temples.

    We started with the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha – it was good that we went to see this most interesting and historic site and Sara was very knowledgeable but it was very crowded with bus loads of tourists and lots of Thai people too coming to pay respects to the late Princess. The Grand Palace itself was not open to the public at his time due to the death of the Princess. This entire site is so impressive and very beautiful – very glad we took the time to see it.

    Afterwards we went to Wat Po to see the reclining Buddha. Wow! You see pictures and read books, but nothing quite prepares you for the sheer size and beauty of this magnificent Buddha. Again lots of tourists but an essential place to visit on this our first time in Bangkok.

    We ate lunch at a restaurant by the ferry landing on the river – very nice –excellent prawns.

    Next we took a boat ride for about and hour up the river and through all the canals. You pass by houses literally built next to the water, like and Asian Venice. It was so interesting and lots of children were playing by the water and dived in when the tourists rode by so we could cheer and clap for them. You can buy bread along the river to feed the enormous cat fish that almost want to jump on board for more – I said they would make a great meal, no said Sara they are pets!

    We stopped at the temple of dawn – it’s a very steep climb to the top so we let the husband go up and take a video so we could say we saw it too! We are getting lazy in the heat. We ended at the waterfront shopping centre. There are lots and lots of “antique” shops on the 3rd floor and we were all for taking home a 7 foot Burmese Buddha! Then of course the practicality of this kicked in – no doubt I will post a question later asking how to buy a 7 foot Burmese Buddha!

    From here we went to the main Jim Thompson shop in Bangkok – very nice, very expensive. I wanted to go to the factory shops but we just didn’t have the time.

    We had planned to try the Terrace for dinner, but some of our party didn’t want to go out so we ate at the Mistral Restaurant on the 2nd floor of the hotel. We all had the buffet - it was one of the best buffets I have had and I highly recommend it. I never expect a restaurant in a hotel to be good which is silly really as a lot them are good, but this meal really was fantastic. The 16 year old loved that you could assemble and spin your own salad and the 12 year old had to be almost surgically removed from the chocolate fountain at the end of the meal, he of course was convinced that the only way to deal with a chocolate fountain is to stand right in front of it and just keep dipping things in. For 700 baht each this was seriously good value for money.

    Day 28
    There was a queue for breakfast this morning – my goodness – I think the cruise ships also recommend this hotel so perhaps another reason to choose another one next time – not against cruise ships but queuing for breakfast definitely does not cut it for me. However the breakfast was great and we hit the road for Hua Hin.

    The drive takes about 3 hours – just under, and the road is very bumpy! We stayed at the Wora Bura resort/ hotel just south of Hua Hin. The resort is very small and pretty
    I think about 80 rooms. They market themselves as a historic hotel and the design is based on the teak palace in Bangkok – it works very well. The grounds are tiered water features and mazes which lead down to the pool and onto the beach. The rooms are very big and we were impressed with the lighting in the evening – tired of dimly lit hotel rooms where you can’t see a thing. We had deluxe rooms. There seem to be a lot of Scandinavians here and very few children as I guess most European and American children are back at school already. There is a games room with play stations and a library and spa. The staff was very courteous, though I found their English was limited – but then its much better than our Thai! The idea of coming to Hua Hin was to be beside the sea and have some down time and not have to take another plane somewhere – this entire trip has us on 10 planes altogether – enough already. Also after our 4 weeks exploring Florida last Christmas the biggest complaint from the family was “when can we stop and just do nothing?” so Hua Hin hopefully fits this requirement.

    The husband walked around a little and pronounced he was bored and the teenage daughter flopped onto a poolside lounger under an umbrella and pronounced she was in heaven – what is a woman meant to do!

    We continued the quiet theme and had dinner at the hotel restaurant on the beach. The food was very good – the mosquitoes were busy – remember your bug spray. There was a singer and a guitarist – they were good – we danced by the sand – very romantic.

    Day 29
    The hotel breakfast was very good with lots of choices from minestrone soup to traditional English, pastries, egg station, fried rice and sweet and sour pork – they covered all bases.

    We took the complimentary shuttle bus into Hua Hin late morning and walked through the town down to the harbour. There are lots of “tailor” shops here and opticians so I guess you can get your clothes and glasses made up cheaply. The people are nice and not pushy apart from the odd Indian tailor asking you “hello where you from” the children got quite good at pre empting and asking “hello where you from?” before they did. We get quite odd looks when we say Africa. Hua Hin is quite pretty but there really is not a lot here. We walked to the Hilton – where we did think of staying and perhaps should have as it was busier than the Wora Bura and so maybe would have been better for husband and son who like to be busy. We walked up to the Sofitel which looked like a bigger version of where we are staying. We got a tuk tuk back to the hotel – it was getting really hot at this point and the husband and son walked all the way back along the beach – about 5km.

    This evening we got the bus again into town and walked around the night market. This was much more like the Chiang Mai night market – quite laid back, no traffic and the people were very pleasant – same stuff on sale of course. We loved the way the restaurants have a barbecue/ grilling station on the street in the night market and all the tables and chairs are behind this so the “kitchen” if you like is in front of you. Speaking to an Australian gallery owner we were told that the best restaurant is called Bird Chilli in the night market so we ate there. The food was excellent and very inexpensive. You choose your fish or sea food and they grill it on the street and you can have jacket potatoes and grilled sweet corn with it. The staff was very friendly and nice and made you feel most welcome.

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    Day 30
    We tried to book a snorkeling trip which takes you 2 hours down south and then out to an island (Hole Island?) where you spend the morning snorkeling. Well we tried several companies and it seems there is a limit of 500 people allowed on the island and the quota was full and so we could not go – a great pity as I think it would have been fun, so a tip for future travelers if you want to snorkel book in advance!

    Tip: probably the best pedicure I have ever had – at the Wora Bura spa – excellent.

    We went into Hua Hin centre and ate at Bird Chilli again – great prawns on the grill and great fresh snapper cooked in foil.

    Day 31
    Not being able to go on our snorkeling trip we had a lazy day ahead of us. The grandmother and I explored the Market Village shopping centre with the Tesco supermarket – I liked the indoor out door market areas and although not worth a special trip it was a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

    The family lazed under shady umbrellas by the pool for a lot of the day and this evening we ate at the hotel – the food was very good – as we have an early start tomorrow.

    I think Hua Hin has been a pleasant stop and the down time has done us all good – I am glad we came.

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    i have looked at the wora bura for our stay last year but i thought its prices was too much, with the hyatt being cheaper...

    sorry you did not eat at supatra which is really good....oh well next time....

    so where to next or are you all done??

    when you say the GP was not open to the public, i suspect you mean the main building (throne hall) where she is in repose?? you did get into the main grounds did you not?? i hope so...

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    It was just the Grand Palace building as the princess is in repose there. We saw the rest of the buildings and they were wonderful - one of the trip highlights for the husband.

    The Wora Bura is a lovely resort but i think the children may have had more fun at the Hilton - should have listened to you Bob! By the time we got to Hua Hin, we were winding down and getting a bit lazy so it was good to just chill.

    we are all back in Cape Town now - got in yesterday and I still need to complete and post my report on our final stop - Macau - it will be done.

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    Day 32
    A 6am start today – children not impressed at all, and we were collected by our Exotissimo guide and driver for the 3 hour drive to Bangkok and on to the airport for our flight to Macau. The road from Hua Hin to Bangkok is pretty rough – really really bumpy – I think they are working on it – I think they are working on it ALL at once!

    If you have a lap top with you and want internet connection look out for a Shell garage with a coffee boy coffee shop where you can get free wireless internet and a decent cup of coffee

    Check in on Air Asia for Macau was easy and the flight was 3 hours. As we were about to land in Macau the plane pulled out of the landing when we were only 100m above the ground as it was too foggy to land! We had to go on to Hong Kong where we sat on the runway for 4 hours. It was boring and uncomfortable to say the least. It did however afford some interesting people watching – amusing to see the different approach to the situation from the Western and Eastern passengers – guess who was better behaved?

    Eventually we arrived at Macau and took two taxis to the Hotel Royal.
    The hotel is ok – not as glamourous/ upmarket as others we have stayed in, but then of all the places we planned to visit Macau was the one where we struggled to get a clear cut direction on which hotel to stay at – the large casino hotels not being an option for us, but the location of the Royal is very good and the hotel is clean and the beds are very comfortable.

    Day 33
    After a not very good breakfast at the Royal we set of to explore Macau. First we needed some money and walked over to the Grand Lisboa where we found an Am Ex booth open to cash some travelers cheques – please note banks in Macau are not open on a Saturday.
    We had a little guide book from the Macau tourist office and there was a walking tour in it which we decided to follow – it was such a good idea, and having set out fairly early by Macau standards – 9am – we pretty much had certain places to ourselves.

    Now I know a LOT of people on this forum do not like Macau but here’s our take – we LOVED Macau. It is so nice to walk around the little streets and my mother who has been to Portugal several times said “it’s very much like Portugal here” – she had not realised it was a Portuguese colony. We deliberately avoided the commercial casino area, the Cotai strip, the Fishermans Warf and maybe that’s why it worked so well for us.

    Perhaps if I outline the walk we took it would serve as a guide for others:

    • Start at the A Ma temple on the south western tip overlooking Barra Square
    • The Moorish barracks are around the corner on Barra Street
    • Lilau Square – one of the first Portuguese residential areas is up the road – there is a Mandarin house here
    • Go up Barra St to Padre Antonio Street and Lorenco street to the very beautiful St Lawrence’s Church – nice display of crosses and crucifixes in cabinets.
    • Walk up Prata St behind the church to St Josephs seminary – the staircase up to the church is very grand and great for photos
    • Follow the granite wall up the hill to Gamboa Lane and the path up the hill leads to St Augustine’s Square – lots of old buildings here
    • Walk down Tronco Velho lane to Almeida Ribeiro Avenue which opens up to Senado Square – this is the main square in Macau and you will find the ubiquitous Starbucks and McDonalds, but there are many beautiful old Portuguese buildings around the square.
    • Walk up to Cathedral square – up a very steep hill and sign posted – very pretty square – worth the uphill walk
    • When you stand with your back to the cathedral walk down the street in front of you to the left and half way down on the left is the Lou Kau Mansion – a magnificent old Chinese merchant’s house – very well worth spending some time here
    • St Dominic’s church and square are at the bottom of the hill next to Senado square
    • Follow the sign posts to the ruins of St Paul’s – it’s the front wall of the cathedral full of statues and carvings approached by a very impressive flight of stone stairs – the back area has a small museum – such a beautiful place to visit.
    • To the left of the stairs – before you climb up – there is a street full of “antique” furniture and artifacts which was very interesting to walk down.
    • Mount Fortress is to the right of St Paul’s – more stairs but the view of China and the sea is great – there is also the Macau Museum up there but we didn’t visit it.
    • To the left of St Paul’s is a tiny temple – Na Cha and a section of the original city walls
    • You can walk down to St Anthony’s and Casa Garden but we didn’t do this bit
    • We walked across to Guia Lighthouse – it’s a seriously steep walk up through lovely grounds – lots of people working out up here – take your time and enjoy the views, its really nice at the top – note the light house area is closed at 5.30 pm

    Macau is very well sign posted so its very easy to find things with all the historical places clearly marked. I loved the old street signs in blue and white tile and the black and white mosaic paving.

    One of the reasons we went to Macau was that the price of flights from Bangkok to Hong Kong was very high – we are 5 people – and the cost to Macau with Air Asia was extremely cheap. Macau is well worth a visit and if possible stay overnight so you can get an early start – a friend of mine who regularly travels to Hong Kong on business went to Macau for a day last year and said it was just too crowded to see anything, We did notice that from 1 o’clock the streets did get very crowded but by then we had seen the old town and didn’t mind all the people

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    Day 34
    Last night we went to the Venetian hotel – the children wanted to see it – and they were most impressed that they fitted in a trip to Venice whilst in Asia. Its huge and well done but a bit corny – it was nice to see and just wander around – take layers, it’s cold in there.

    Today was lazy and we had a late start. After hotel check out we walked down Horta de Costa to the red market and bought more of those wonderful egg custard tarts!
    In the afternoon we got the hotel bus to the ferry terminal and checked in on the Turbo Jet for Hong Kong airport. Tickets cost HK$300 per person – about US$38. we went “first” class or whatever they call it, and you sit upstairs with just a few other people and get a snack tray and a drink and coffee and enjoy the quiet – very nice – also freezing cold so wrap up well –we had to ask for blankets, the air con was working over time.
    When you check in for the ferry you check your big nags in and get them back again in Hong Kong so you only have to take your hand luggage bags on board. They weigh your bags at this point so make sure you have packed as if for the airline check in

    When you arrive in Hong Kong you line up at counters 2 and 3 for most airlines – Cathay Pacific has its own counter so if you are traveling in a group I would suggest that one person goes straight to the airline check in whilst the other retrieve the bags. After you get your boarding pass you go to a refund booth with the coupon the check in guy gives you and you get your Hong Kong airport tax back which you paid when you bought your original ticket – you get HK$120 per person – you then go through to Hong Kong airport on a bus.
    We wanted to cash in our Octopus cards but because you do not actually go into the Hong Kong side now you can’t but we did get the airport tax back which is a lot more so that’s fine and now we have 5 Octopus cards – valid for 3 years – so we will just have to go back again!

    Anyway homeward bound after a wonderful trip. All made very easy by Exotissimo and Ponheary in Cambodia. Both of whom we can highly recommend

    Day 35

    We arrived in Johannesburg at 7h30 after a very very long and tiring flight. We had a 9 o’clock connecting flight down to Cape Town and by the time we got all our bags together and cleared customs and walked the long distance to the domestic departures it was 8h30 and we were too late to check in for the 9 o’clock flight. The 3 adults had boarding passes already for this flight but as the children were on standby (they were booked on a 10 o’clock flight) and their seats were only released overnight, we could not get their boarding cards. I explained to the check in staff that I was not happy to leave 2 very sleepy children alone in Johannesburg whilst we went on to Cape Town. Well everyone likes to complain about airlines, but SAA staff was amazing. They managed to issue the 2 boarding cards and then one of them literally ran with us the great distance to the gate and get us on board just in time. They were amazing and we were so grateful. It was an easy 2 hour flight south and we were greeted by a sunny 28 degree day back home.

    All is well with our world and we have had the most amazing time – it was the trip of a lifetime and my mother who will be 70 next month has had a great chance to see parts of the world that she would not have been to otherwise.

    All that remains is for me to thank you all for the advice you have given us over this past year of planning and for taking the time to read this very long report. I do hope that it will be of use to those who travel in the future.

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    I also *love* a detailed report, and I realize how much effort goes in to writing them. Thank you again.

    We head to HK, Siem Reap and Bangkok in less than two months. I will definitely be using some of this information.

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    I just got to read your report. Glad you like Macau. I love it too. And I stayed at the Royal on 1/3. They gave us a room on the "executive" floors, and it's very nice. Not sure what floor you were on.

    Breakfast is way overpriced, and we ate at the little diner one block NE of the hotel.

    As for the Hong Kong part, the group ticket for the Airport Express is still there. You have to use a manned counter to get them, not from a machine.

    I am also sorry that you tried to eat at Maxim's between 3-5pm. That's a time when most Chinese restaurants close down between the breakfast/lunch dim sum period, and the dinner period. You just can't get proper Chinese food at that time of the day.

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    At the Royal in Macau we were on the 16th floor - executive/ premier - which is non smoking - the room was nice but I guess after Thailand it seemed small - but then I know this is normal for Hong Kong/ macau. Three beds inthe one room was too much though as you could not move.
    I loved macau and i do highly recommend a visit especially when taking advantage of the cheap flights from Bangkok - info I found on this forum by the way.

    we have over 4000 photos - between 3 cameras and I want to find a way to put a selection of them together and make them available - I am not sure how to do it but I will ask my computer guy this week and we shall see.

    would this be of interest to people?

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    Just rereading your post as I am getting ready to work on the details for our Oct/Nov trip - -even more helpful now that we decided to begin with Hong Kong and include a day in Macau. Did you ever post the pictures?

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    What a wonderful report. All the details and information. Have copied so much for my upcoming trip.

    Am trying to remember the name of the supermarket in Cape Town. They sold green recyclable shopping bags. I believe they have the ingredients you need.

    Obviously maturity has made you a fabulous report writer. Little did your teachers know.

    This has been a wonderful read.
    Thank you

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    Sometimes you write trip reports and you wonder why - apart of course to thank people for the input they gave you in the planning stage and also to pass on the info. Well this week, I found another good reason. This entire trip report was on my lap top, and I thought it was backed up, well it wasn't, and my son dropped my lap top and every single thing on it was beyond recovery! Thank goodness I could get this report back from the Fodors site.
    I have just had lots of photos printed and am busy putting them into an album and you quickly forget the names of places so it's been great to check back to this report.
    Bob is heading down to Cape Town soon and I am going to get him to show me how to post pictures - at long last they will get posted!
    It was an incredible trip - how I would love to do it all again

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    What an enchanting report! I missed it the first time 'round when I was off-line for a period of months. So delighted to have the opportunity to read it through now. Sorry about your lap-top but thanks for bringing this to the top. I hope that you have more travel plans...

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    That's a great idea...get Bob to help with technical stuff. Was Rasputin unavailable? Just have your son throw the new laptop in the ocean. It's quicker and will make a better story.

    I do agree with all of your reasons for writing a trip report. Posterity had never occurred to me as a reason.

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    some people have seen that i have good attributes, while others, one of whom i will have dinner with tonight, fail to see them....i'm looking forward to new friends in capetown...

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    The best he can hope for is one good attribute. He tricks many on this forum, but Beth and I can see his true nature. I like to think of our dinners with him sort of like a probation officer meeting with clients.

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