I am BACK! After many many weeks of silence, I am finally back – lots of work, travel, some medical things AND the trip of a lifetime and that’s what I will be telling you about – well that’s if you are interested in hearing about Mike and my Cambodia and Vietnam adventure for many many blog entries to come. Same as with my El Salvador trip, I will be breaking up our trip into 2-3 day chunks so that you don’t have to read 15 pages of my trip report in one sitting :-).
It truly was a trip of a lifetime, celebrating Mike and my 10 year wedding anniversary. We have met the nicest people there are, saw 1000 year old temples, experienced a real Buddhist “wedding blessing”, spent time on the Mekong river and in the SaPa mountains learning about Vietnamese ethnic minorities like the Hmong, Red Zao, and Tay, “cyclo’d around in Hanoi and Saigon with 6 million crazy scouter drivers, “sailed”epic Halong Bay”, ate a gourmet meal in the middle of a Cambodian rice paddy, collected sand dollars on the historic China beach, walked the famous Tokyo Shibuya crossing and learned a TON about “modern communism and Buddhism, something I thought that could never go together.
This trip will always stay with us like our wedding in Fiji – memories for a life time! I hope you will enjoy reading my travel diary including the selection of pictures we took and maybe it will even inspire you to visit these beautiful countries.
Day One: Seattle – Beijing (Wednesday) September 14th
The day starts off easy, our trusted personal Russian chauffer Andre drops us off at Seat tac airport around 11:00 am., we check in for our flight and are exited we treated ourselves to a business class fight for such a long distance, it really takes out the sting of long distance travel.
Once on board we are checking out our “cubby holes” where we will spend the next 11 hours in. These cubby holes are not super spacious but pretty good sized and really private and can be converted into flat beds, which of courses is the best thing ever, together with the free booze and nice food that gets served on real plates with real silverware, I am giggling like a little school girl – I am sure it was pretty easy to figure out that I flew business the first time the way I was inspecting every little detail and pushing all 21 buttons in the different consoles. We immediately get greeted by some friendly stewardesses and once in the air get treated like royalty. I especially enjoyed the real French Champagne (Heidsieck that is), Bulgari toiletries and my own pair of slippers, duvet and Pajamas. Can you imagine? I got my own “in flight” PJ’s…too bad Mike didn’t take a picture when I walked back from the bathroom in my purple PJ’s and snuck into my awesome cubby hole. What a pity, I am old and enjoy sleeping on a plane more than drinking myself silly on all the awesome champagne, wine and liquor they offered.
BUT I do think I look pretty happy in this picture just before take-off :-).
The flight went really smooth just at the end there was a somewhat weird announcement that the airplane would be disinfected, but then I didn’t see anything, so no clue if I understood that correctly.
One we landed in Beijing, we got greeted by a friendly “Chinese Helper” – the lady was wearing a red sash that said: I am here to help. She escorted us to the transfer table, where we received our boarding ticket for Bangkok, then we were escorted to the “customs booth” where the person who gave us our Bangkok boarding ticket, also was the person who let us through customs, followed by a very thorough security inspection. Kind of strange that we didn’t get our Bangkok boarding pass right away in Seattle, usually when you fligh internationally you get all your boarding passes right away, I wonder if that is a “Chinese thing” where all arriving passengers kind of have to “check in” prior to leaving China again?
After the security inspection we made it to the Hainan lounge, chilled out, drank some Chinese beer and ate more dumplings, walked to the gate and stopped at the Urban food market where lots of hip young Chinese were hanging out drinking cappuccinos and fresh pressed Orange Juice. I’ve always heard that Chinese people can’t use Facebook and guess what, I tried to log into Facebook in the Beijing airport and indeed it didn’t work, that is a very weird feeling not to be able to access a web page of your choosing. I might have to read up why exactly Facebook is not welcome in China.
By now its late afternoon and Mike and I both can barely keep our eyes open, we are boarding our Bangkok flight and are falling asleep the second the plane takes off.
Day 2/3: Beijing – Bangkok (Thursday/Friday) September 15/16th)
We are sitting at the Bangkok airport and are waiting for our flight to Siem Reap//Cambodia. Let’s review Bangkok: We arrived at 2:00 am. Friday September 16th at a very modern Bangkok airport. Immigration was pretty smooth but incredible busy at 2:00 a.m.! We grabbed our suitcases and were greeted by our first tour guide “Johnny”. A very energetic young Buddhist man (we learned about the Buddhist part later). 40 minutes later we checked into the beautiful Bangkok Sofitel and drifted into a short coma and had to wake up after only 5 hours of sleep to start our Bangkok city tour. We learned about public transportation and took the sky train as well as the river boat to the Grand Palace which is a complex of some amazing temple buildings at the heart of Bangkok. The palace has been the official residence of the King of Siam (and later Thailand) since 1782. The king, his court and his royal government were based on the grounds of the palace until 1925.
We spent a good couple of hours at the Palace, looking at the different temples. Learning about the history and visiting the “Green Buddha”, which is a Green Jade Buddha dressed in real gold tunics and is the highest ranking Buddha. You have to take off your shoes when you walk into the temple to show respect. The Buddha actually has 3 different tunics – one for each season…the rainy season, fall and summer. The summer outfit only goes across one shoulder and the winter one covers all parts of the Buddha.
Our guide described the 3 seasons as: hot, very hot and damn hot. After the third hour of sightseeing, Mike described the 3 seasons as: fucking hot, somebody fucking kill me hot and oh fuck I am in hell hot. Was it worth seeing this temple? Yes absolutely BUT this is one of the most visited sights in the world and even though we are travelling in the off season, it was packed – mainly with Chinese travelers. I hope I am not insulting anyone but yikes…Chinese people really lack common courtesy when travelling (and so do some European folks I admit). They run into you with selfie sticks and umbrellas, push you out of the way to be first in line and what is it with all the coughing and squeezing pimples in public. These were not isolated instances, Mike and I experienced this all day long, starting in the plane, visiting the temples and also in the bars and restaurants. Even our tour guide, who was extremely friendly mentioned to us that the majority of the Chinese people who travel to Bangkok/Thailand are first time travelers and the Chinese government is educating them on popper travel etiquette.
After that we needed an hour to cool off and headed to a local restaurant via tuc tuc – a very dangerous method of getting around in these 3 wheeled Vespas with kind of a cart in the back where the passenger sits.
Then we did a quick stop at Wat Pho, a 10 minute walk from the Grand Palace and across from our restaurant, also known as the Reclining Buddha temple – “reclining” in the sense that Buddha is lying on his side – and it was a humongous Buddha, 46 meter (approx. 150 feet) long. From Wikipedia:
The temple is first on the list of six temples in Thailand classed as the highest grade of the first-class royal temples. It is associated with King Rama I who rebuilt the temple complex on an earlier temple site, and became his main temple where some of his ashes are enshrined. The temple was later expanded and extensively renovated by Rama III. The temple complex houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including a 46 m long reclining Buddha. The temple was also the earliest centre for public education in Thailand, and still houses a school of Thai medicine. It is known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage which is still taught and practiced at the temple.
Instead of visiting the Jim Thompson Silk museum which was originally on the agenda, we decided to take a cab back to the hotel, it was just ungodly hot and we were still tired and jet lagged and needed some rest. We concluded the night with some drinks on the beautiful Sofitel rooftop bar, followed by a very nice dinner. I have to say, prices in Bangkok are really reasonable, I had a fabulous Lobster dinner in a very fancy restaurant for $50.
After an amazing breakfast, the Sofitel has one of the best breakfast buffets I have ever seen, from American sausage/bacon/egg/pancake dishes to European bread pretzel, Bircher Muesly and fresh deli meats to traditional Thai Pho and Dumplings plus all the juices and fruits you can think of, we headed out for the airport and it was time to say good bye to Bangkok.
This was a very good “scouting” experience for us and we learned that when you fly into the Bangkok, the best use of time would be to relax the first day and sleep in, get a massage and spend the day at a hotel pool and then in the evening visit a night market and or a Thai boxing match. Bangkok is known for its night and restaurant/bar life and we only got a very small (but great) taste of it, so much more to discover.
As with every Big city – there are 12 million people living in Bangkok- with an average temperature of 90 degrees, Bangkok unfortunately is dirty, crowded and has some of the worst traffic I have seen, gridlock every day for hours. But with that being said, the people are incredible friendly, the food is really good and I am sure it has a lot more to offer than the Grand Palace and other temples, we just didn’t had time to find and experience it, but I have the feeling we will be back to Thailand with another short stop in Bangkok to experience the city a little bit more. I really have to scout out more of the real Thai food. So far I only got to eat Thai Green Curry (with Lychees) which was really good and got to taste a variety of dumplings which were outstanding.
To be continued…