Trip Report Part 1 - Bangkok

Aug 26th, 2008, 07:37 AM
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Thanks for finding the name of the artist for the white temple. The pix on the internet look wonderful -I would probably not have put this on my list! Have you heard from Winya about whether we can book her directly?
FromDC is offline  
Aug 26th, 2008, 09:18 AM
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Sorry - I haven't found the e-mail address yet that she gave me. I'll try to look for it tonight and get in touch with her. Work keeps interfering with fun !
jcasale is offline  
Aug 26th, 2008, 03:17 PM
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I have been through everything we saved and I couldn't find her contact information. I'll keep looking, but I have no idea what I would have done with it. I am going to try to get an e-mail address for her through Asia Tours because I have some pictures I want to send her. If I get in touch with her I will let you know.
jcasale is offline  
Aug 27th, 2008, 04:47 PM
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I'm really enjoying re-living all my Thai memories in your report. We stayed at the Kata beach resort for 2 weeks in 2005 and thought it was one of the best overall beach resort experiences that we have had. We had a fantastic sea view from our third floor balcony and the room was big enough to comfortably fit the four of us (2 young kids). We stayed at the Centrepoint Silom last year and totally agree with you that the location is hard to beat. Cambodia is on our list for next year so I am looking forward to that part of your report.Thanks again for sharing your experiences.
shanek is offline  
Aug 27th, 2008, 05:57 PM
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So glad that it is bringing back great memories. I could see going back to Kata and spending at least a week. We plan to go to Vietnam and Laos at some point in the future and I am pondering "chilling out" at the end of the trip back at the Kata Beach Resort. I am hoping to get the Cambodia part posted tomorrow. That was an amazing experience. Scary at times - I'll explain.... ;-)!
jcasale is offline  
Aug 28th, 2008, 07:11 AM
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I'm back with the final days of our trip.

Day 16:
We slept in a bit and then went for a last swim in the ocean and in the pool. After a liesurely breakfast (banana pancakes again- YAY!) we packed up and headed for the airport. We flew to Bangkok and then on to Siem Reap arriving at about 7pm. Unfortunately every time we got to a new city it was already dark so we couldn't really see much. We had gotten our E-visas prior to leaving the US (I think they have suspended that option, but I'm not sure) and so we were able to go pretty quickly through immigration. We stopped and changed some money (about $200) and discovered that the exchange rate was huge (4000-1!). We also discovered quite quickly that EVERYTHING is priced in dollars so we really didn't need to change money at all. We used it primarily for tips, but I don't think most people wanted Cambodian money.

We were staying at the Bopha Angkor and they had a driver waiting for us. It was a quick trip to the hotel which is charming. Fabulous gardens and very comfortable rooms. The lighting in the room is a bit dim for reading, but otherwise it was a wonderful place. We at dinner at the hotel restaurant and had a great meal for next to nothing. During dinner we kept hearing this barking noise and asked out waiter what it was. He said it was a toad! As we were getting ready to leave he called us over to see the culprit. It was indeed a little toad that was making an amazing sound!

Day 17:
We had booked Ponheary for three days and she picked us up right at 8am. We went to Angkor Wat first since she said most people would go there in the afternoon so we would do things opposite. I couldn't believe how huge the complex was. It was so different from anything we had ever seen. As we walked through the temple, she told us great stories. We would stop from time to time and just listen to her. She was very conscious of the fact that DH had difficulty with stairs and a lot of uneven walking and I think paced things for that.

About halfway through the temple we started running into fodorites! We ran into Ponheary's brother Dara who was guiding Alison and her husband. Then we ran into Terry and her daughter. It was quite fun to put faces to all of the names here!

After Angkor we went back to the hotel for a rest. We ended up having lunch at a little place next door to the hotel (Angkor Meas). It was OK, but there are other better places in town to go. The Bopha Angkor is only about a 5 minute walk to the old market and lats of restaurants. After lung Bill took a nap and I went for a swim in the pool.

At 3:30 POnheary picked us up again and we went to Angkor Thom. The gate was amazing and Bayon was unbeleiveable. In many ways I liked it better because it was smaller and easier to take in. The faces all over the temple are mesmerizing. There are hundreds of them and no two are alike. They all have a slightly different expression. After Baton we went to the Elephant Terrace and the terrace of the Leper King (so called because the statue is so pock-marked). Then we went back to the hotel for the evening.

We debated where to go for dinner and Bill decided he wanted to go to the Foreigh Correspondant's Club (FCC). We got into a tuk-tuk (driven by Mr. Million who looked for us every night from then on and became our own personal driver !) and headed over there We ate outside by the pools and had a lovely evening. It felt a little excessive to be eating in the lap of luxury in such a poor country. Dinner was a bit pricey, but good.

Day 18:
Off again at 8:00. Our first stop was Banteay Srei - temple of the women. I loved this particular temple. It was so beautiful and peaceful. Again, Ponheary had timed it so that we would not be dealing with crowds. On the way out we stopped to listen to traditional Cambodian music being played by a band made up of land mine victims. They were amazing. Most of them were missing arms or legs. One guy was playing the melody of the music on a leaf! We listened for qute a while and purchased one of their CD's as a gift for my brother. Then we had a learning experience! We had told a couple of girls on the way in that we would buy a t-shirt from them on the way out. They literally attacked us! Unfortunately Ponheary left us to go pick up something she wanted. Then Bill and I got seperated. By the time we got done we had spent way more than we should have, but we had some very nice shirts. I finally had ot keep telling them that I was DONE and just keep walking. In the end we probably overpaid by no more than $10 total and that won't make a difference in our lives. But Ponheary apologized for not staying with us to help negotiate. Oh well. No biggee.

Next we went to Knar School which is one of the schools that Ponheary and the Ponheary Ly Foundation support. We had gotten donations from many of our friends and wanted to be able to show them where the donations were going. We brought a huge bag of rice to the school and the watched Allsion (Terry's daughter) teaching English to some of the older kids. It was her first day, but she looked very poised and the kids were so attentive. We then went into some of the other classrooms and watched some of the younger kids in class. As an educator that was a highlight of the trip. It's amazing to see what other countries have (or don't have) with regard ot education.

Afte a quick stop at the land mine museum (small, but sobering) we took a helicopter flight over the temples. It's expensive (although no more so than anywhere else in the world), but we like helicopters and typically take one wherever we have the opportunity. After that we went to the Artisans d'Angkor workshop and shop in Siem Reap. Ponheary showed us all of the different crafts that the young people are learning there. They bring people in from the rural areas to learn a craft as a way to provide income for them and also to keep traditional Cambodian crafts alive. We bought several items for ourselves and others and then went back to the hotel.

We had lunch at (believe it or not) a Mexican restaurant, Viva, in the old market area. It was really quite good (and the pitcher of margaritas hit the spot). Then we had ice cream at the Blue Pumpkin.

After another swim in the pool (both of us this time) Ponheary picked us up at 4 to go to the Floating Village. That was a really interesting place. Most people were getting dinner or washing up at the end of the day. It was fascinating to see the small floating houses and watch daily activities. After a while, though, I started to feel like a voyeaur and stopped taking so many pictures. I wondered how I would feel if people came by and wanted to take my picture while I was fixing dinner or doing the dishes.

After a little bit of a rest Ponheary picked us up again for the small GTG in Siem Reap. We went to the Khmer Kitchen and had dinner with Ponheary, Terry, Allison, Lori, and another mother daughter pair, plus quite a few teens from Philly who were just finishing up a 2 week stint teaching English at the schools. It was a lot of fun and the dinner was great. I had Amok fish (which I had tried to get the night before at the FCC and they misheard my order). It was delicious!

That night (actually early the next morning) we had an experience I have never had in all of my travels. We were afraid. We were sleeping peacefully (or at least I was - Bill said he had lots of thoughts going through his head of the "killing fields", land mines, etc) when we were waked up by an explosion that sounded like mortar fire. We listened for a minute or two and it sounded very close. Bill kept trying to hear if there was any small arms fire also but didn't hear any. We had NO idea what was going on, but the explosions were rattling the windows and sounded even closer than before. We dressed quickly and grabbed all of our valuables out of the safe and stuffed them in our day pack. I grabbed a couple of water bottles and we debated what to do. Bill told me to wait in the room and he was oging to go check it out. I told him "like hell I'm staying here" and I followed him. We crept out to the office which was quite close to our room and saw the night manager slumped over the desk. Then we saw a guard out by the road looking up. We looked up also and saw what the explosions were - fireworks!!! At 4am!!! With no explanation or warning!!!! Needless to say it was quite a while before our hearts stopped pounding.

The next morning we found out that the fireworks had been set off at the headquarters of the Cambodian Peopls Party (former Khmer Rouge) in celebration of the World Court determining that a disputed temple on the border of Cambodia and Thailand would stay in the possession of Cambodia. With elections just a few weeks away we wondered aloud if there was any connection (remember who we are and what we can do?). But maybe that's our American paranoia coming from the fact that the terror level kept going up as the elections got closer in 2004. Dara thought that was a possible explanation, though. As a side note - we found out when we got home that there had been troops massing on the border while this was all going on. So fighting breaking out was not all that out of the realm of possibility. At any rate, it really brought home just how fragile the peace in this country is and how resilient the people are to be so upbeat in the face of such a violent (recent) history.
jcasale is offline  
Aug 28th, 2008, 11:46 AM
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OK, final installment (I think)!

Day 19:
Today for breakfast I decided to try the Khmer breakfast and I was really glad I did. It is a bowl of "beef ball soup," which is basically beef broth with a couple of meatballs in it, and fried rice with a fried egg on top. Plus the usual fruit and tea. it was quite good. After breakfast Dara picked us up as Ponheary needed to be finishing things up at the school with the kids from Philly. We went first to a small temple whose name I don't recall. Then we went to Ta Prohm which was the temple Bill most wanted to see. It is known as the jungle temple and we could see why. There are trees growing right out of the walls and vines wrapping themselves around doorways and walls. I can see why they used it for Tomb Raider 2. And having Dara with us was fabulous since he has a great eye for photography and often would tell me to move left or right to get a better angle. He was always right!

After a short rest back at the room, we headed off for lunch. We had wanted to go to the Blue Pumpkin, but it was closed. So we walked around a bit and ended up at the Red Piano (where Angeline Jolie hung out - I guess that was keeping the Tomb Raider theme going!). We had a wonderful lunch and then stoped at Swenson's for ice cream. Affter another dip in the pool for me and a nap for Bill we met up with Ponheary again. She had asked if it was OK for her nephew to come along. We had heard about him from others and were anxious to meet him. He is a doll! I have some fabulous pictures of him sitting on the big steps of the temples we visited. We went to several more small temples and just drove through the countryside. It was an amazing drive. We saw pigs being caried to market all smashed ina basket on the back of a motorcycle, a family of 5 on a motorcycle, a horse drwan cart leading another horse behind, and huge elaborate houses right next to small shacks. Cambodia is certainly a land of contrasts. Such a violent history, but a warm and gentle people. Extreme poverty next to wealth. So interesting to experience.

We had been told that after the unplanned fireworks the night before there were supposed to be planned ones at 7pm so we found a good place next to the river from which to watch. By 7:15 there had been no fireworks so we decided to go to dinner. We ended up going to Viroth's (diriven by our favorite tuk-tuk driver) which Ponheary had recommended and it was wonderful. My chicken lemon grass was excellent and the restaurant itself was lovely. It rained while we were there and we watched little enoles scamper up the walls next to us. It was a very relaxing and enjoyable way to end our visit to Cambodia. We had debated going to one of the Apsara dance shows, but deciede that we'd rather just go to dinner and relax.

Day 20:
Time to start the long trip home. We slept in and I had another Khmer breakfast. Then we headed to the airport. One thing we had not realized was that there is an exit fee that you have to pay. I can't remember how much, but I think it was about $30 per person. Glad we had some money left !

Our flight to Bangkok was uneventful and landed right on time. We had about 8 hours to kill so we put our luggage in storage (unfortunately they charge by the piece and we had several small pieces rather than one big one, but oh well) and went out to the public taxi line to get a cab in to the city. We had him take up to the Sukhumvit area and just wandered for a while (in the rain unfortunately). Then we went to the Skytrain (partly for an excuse to get one of those yummy waffles again ;-)) and took it to the Patpong area. We actually got to see them setting up the night market stalls which was really interesting. Then we went to have a last foot massage (one of the better ones) and then went to the Mango Tree for dinner again. It was a great way to kill time and well worth the storage fee and taxi fees. We caught a cab on Silom back to the airport and then boarded our plane for home. We had a 5 hour layover in Tokyo, but mostly slept on the benches there. Then back to the US. Interestingly - on our flight home the honeymoon couple who had been sitting behind us on the flight over were sitting behind us again on the way back! It was fun to share experiences with each other. They had spent a couple of days in Tokyo so we got to hear about that also. As we neared Chicago, we watched a vivid sunrise and thought back to a wonderful trip.

rhkkmk asks when I will be heading back. I could certainly see going back to Thailand in the future - maybe in conjunction with a future trip to Vietnam and Laos. Of course there are so many other places to go. But this trip definitely ranks in the top 5 - probably tied for second place with Australia and New Zealand (Africa is still #1). I have been enjoying showing all of my co-workers the pictures (at least a few of the 2200 that we came back with!) and sharing our thoughts about this fabulous part of the world. Thanks again for everyone's help!
jcasale is offline  
Aug 28th, 2008, 08:31 PM
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Thanks for the terrific post. I've taken great notes and can't wait for our own trip! - June
dgunbug is offline  
Aug 29th, 2008, 02:59 PM
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Thank you for the terrific post.
I have a question Who is Tong and how do we access her? I guess I have 2 questions. How do you access AAC limos.

Thanks so much
Dahnyoga is offline  
Aug 29th, 2008, 03:14 PM
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Google AAC and you can get their website.
Gpanda is offline  
Aug 30th, 2008, 09:03 AM
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I had a little trouble googling AAC - you get a lot of unrelated stuff (even when you put in limo). Here is the website:
Some other posters here had problems with them not showing up, but for us it all worked great. My only problem was that my attempts to pay for it ahead of time didn't work the first time and so I had to send them my credit card number via e-mail (I always send the first half in one e-mail and the second half in another). They had the slip ready for me to sign.
jcasale is offline  
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