Thursday, March 26, 2009
Oh, goody! Another travel day! We hate to leave this wonderful Oasis!Our flight to Singapore with a connection to Johannesburg, South Africa does not leave until 7:30PM so we have the day to get ready. Carolyn spends the morning packing and cleaning out. Dick works on the computer checking on things since we are not sure if we will have much access until we get to Cape Town the evening of April 1. We arrange to have a box of gifts mailed by the hotel to home. Luggage and weight is always a concern. We have arranged for a 3:00PM late check out and we will spend the last of our time relaxing around the pool. Our car will leave to take us to the airport at 4:30PM. Then it is Thai Air to Singapore with a layover and Singapore Air to Johannesburg with a layover and finally South Africa Air to Victoria Falls with a planned arrival of 11:25 AM March 27! This is the worst of the travel days and the longest flight. The next 30 hours should be interesting; or something!
This morning is cooler than the last several days. We are up and at breakfast by 8:30. Breakfast at the Peninsula is a leisurely affair and not to be rushed so we take our time and enjoy all the neat treats.
We again do not get going as early as we should, but our plan today is to use our Grand Palace tickets to see the Dusit Palace, Vimamek. This royal residence was built in 1900 for King Rama V after his visit to Europe in 1897. It is an interesting combination of Thai and European styles and is the world’s largest golden teakwood mansion. It has been restored and is used as a museum now. This is a huge complex and has some seven residences built for members of King Rama’s V family that are now used as various museums. The grounds are very quiet; not many other tourist are present and it is easy to walk around. Fortunately, the Mansion has AC so we enjoy the guided visit. By the time we leave, the sun is out in full force. Our taxi had agreed to wait for us and take us to out next site so we have not succumbed to the heat and humidity just yet.
It is nearly noon and the traffic is horrible. Our plan was to visit some of Chinatown, but when we get there, the crowds are terrible. Dick has no desire to wade through a sea of humanity, so I make a quick stop at the India Emporium and find some lightweight pants and shirts, for a total $18US for 6 pieces, to replace some damaged items. This should work until we get to Dubai and the suitcase waiting for us there.We then catch a cab back to the hotel and spend time poolside.
At 3:30PM, SJ Jewelers’ car picks us up to go get the pieces Carolyn had made. We are delighted with the way they turned out. From there we have them take us to the nearest skytrain station and head to the Nana area to pick up the clothes Carolyn ordered and then take them to Dick’s tailor. Dick has a final check of his things and he arranges to have all the clothing mailed home.
It is now definitely cocktail time so we catch the skytrain one last time and head for the hotel. Tonight we repeat the Bar routine of the other night and then adjourn to the Lobby Restaurant where there is some very nice live music. We order a dinner of tempura and rice rolls which is wonderful and eat with chopsticks which is different!.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
We will post today in the morning.
We decide to get up early, well about 7:00AM so we can do some site seeing before it gets too hot and the crowds get so bad. We have the buffet breakfast today and it is really a big spread!
Back in the room, we work on the blog and get the laundry out. Unfortunately we don’t get out of the hotel till nearly 10AM and we are definitely not ahead of the crowds! We catch a taxi from the hotel to the Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha. The taxi drops off at the palace gate. Tickets cost 700BAHT or about $20US for the two of us. We were here in 2004 and want to take some photos of the colorful buildings. The heat is stifling, there is not breeze and the crowd grows by the minute. We first walk over the the Emerald Buddha or Wat Phra Kaew. This is probably our favorite site in Bangkok.They seem to be doing lots of repair/restoration on various site this one included. We spend about 30-minutes taking our photos and then head to the Palace grounds for some more pictures. We really should have been here at 8:30 when it opened.
After resting and people watching in a shady area in front of the throne room at the Grand Palace, we catch a taxi to the flower market and walk the 2-3 blocks looking at the wonderful color and variety of the flowers and produce offered. The prices are truly unbelievable: 30BAHT (less than $1US) for a dozen LONG STEMMED roses; 2 dozen orchid stems for 40BAHT, etc. At this point, the heat and humidity have won and we catch a taxi back to the hotel where we change and go to the pool for an hour or so and enjoy a light lunch in the shade of our sala. Here, the breeze is blowing and we enjoy a quiet rest.We take a taxi to Carolyn’s tailor. It costs 161BAHT on the meter and takes 30 minutes in the traffic. Dick pays him 200BAHT and it is worth every penny as we arrive for Carolyn’s fitting cool, calm and collected. Her clothes will be ready at 4:00PM tomorrow.
After supper in the area, we cannot find a taxi that will take us back to the hotel so we use the sky train. It is crowded but cool and the three flights of stairs up and then down again is a bother for Carolyn but you do what you have to do. We arrive back at the hotel a little before 8:00PM, shower, work on this blog and realize we are having problems with posting the pictures for each day.Dick will work on that problem tomorrow.
We are up early today. Our flight is at 9:55 AM and we need to check in 90 minutes ahead of time. Dara picks us up at 8:00 AM and we do the 15-minute ride to the airport. There is a tour group checking in when we get there and of course, we choose the line served by the slowest person. Once we get our boarding passes, the rest is easy. We now have an hour to kill. Fortunately, the airport is nice, clean and reasonably cool, so the time passes quickly.
The plane arrives and leaves on time and we are landing in Bangkok about 10:45AM. Thankfully, the Peninsula crew is there to greet us and whisk us back to the Hotel. We are treated like returning royalty…..we could really get use to this treatment. We are in our room by 11:30 with all of the luggage back together. This time our room is on the 34th floor (on the floor plan it is next to the one we had the first time). We are next to the Peninsula Suite, which takes up the whole center of the building. It is occupied, as there is a “guard” in front of the suite doors. The view is grand!
We spend some time reorganizing the luggage and getting caught up on the internet before we head out. The jewelers send a car for us about 2:00PM and we leave the new stones so they can be mounted and ready with the other stuff. We have the car drop us at Carolyn’s tailor for a quick fitting and then catch the sky train back to the hotel.
It has been a long day and we are still a bit beat from the heat and not too hungry. We decide to go to the Bar for a drink…great idea. The service is great…they make Dick’s Manhattan the way he likes it and Carolyn tries the Mint Julep. Well we actually have two along with some wonderful nibbles. With a lovely glow, we go to the Lobby for a light supper. It is very good to be back “home!” The night view of the Grand Palace is very nice also.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
The alarm goes off at 6:30AM, as our guide to Angkor Wat will pick us up at 8:00AM.
Neither one of us slept very well. The room got cool enough temperature wise, but the AC never really got rid of much of the humidity. In addition, everywhere in this part of the world they have a down duvet on the beds. The second time Carolyn woke up hot, she pulled the comforter out of the covering and slept much better under just the cover.
Breakfast is a nice full buffet, both English style, translate baked beans and tomatoes, with the eggs and Asian style. There is not too much English being spoken by the guests, but we hear lots of French. Like the airplane yesterday, the hotel is nowhere near full.
Our guide, Dara, is waiting when we get to the lobby. He tells us the plan for the day and it will be a full day! This morning we will split our time between, what we came to see, Angkor Wat and Banleay Srey, the beautiful more remote women’s temple. Then we will come back to the hotel for lunch and a rest until 2:30PM. At that point, we will make a fast stop back at Angkor Wat to get some pictures with the sun on the front of the temple and the reflecting pool, then head to the Angkor Thom complex and finish with Ta Prohm.
and we head on into the park. With few people, we can easily get good pictures and see the rooms, courtyards, walkways and all the beautiful carvings without falling over dozens of people. This is a huge complex surrounded by a wide moat with a wide causeway to an outer wall. This wall encloses large grounds with smaller buildings and a raised walkway to the main temple area. This main temple area has four tall corner towers and a taller central tower. This is all stair stepped with steep, narrow, stone steps to each new level. The stone steps are covered, in many places, with wooden steps that are somewhat wider and not quite as steep.
Within the main area are various courtyard areas, lovely long halls and smaller buildings that were used as libraries. Everything is very symmetrical and the carvings on the stones are incredible! The highest level is now closed to the public, but we get a very good view of the tower from the highestlevel open to the public. By the time we leave, the crowd is definitely building. As we leave through the"back door" this young boy wants to visit with us then he got all shy when we stopped to talk with him!We are hot and ready to sit down for a while. The hour-long ride out to the Banleay Srey is very welcome, but it was also an eye openning experience! We when through several small villages. We saw women pumping water from the gound well into a pan or bucket with a hand pump much like the one my grandmother had in her kitchen when I was a small child. One woman was bathing her small child in a big pan by the pump. These pumps were not where near the house or kitchen, in fact the kitchens seem to be outside also. This man is pulling the wagon of polls with his cattle. You can barely see his wooden house on stilts behind the trees. We get there about 11:30AM and, as Dara said there are tons of people but they are mostly leaving, which is good as this is a very small temple. It is famous for the reddish color of the stone and fine detail of the carvings. Before we go into the Temple, Dara takes us to a shady area where a group of men and one woman are playing beautiful, almost haunting, music. There are both wind and string instruments. One man is even playing tree leaves held just the right way to his lips. These people are part of the large number of people who have lost limbs and/or sight to land mines and now make their living playing traditional Cambodian instruments and music. It is very sad to see these young, healthy people with missing arms, legs and, in several cases, disfigured faces and blinded eyes. Banleay Srey, built during the 10th century, is very interesting and worth the drive. It has a different look to it and the stone carving is, if possible even more delicate and beautiful.Our biggest problem all day is the tourist markets that are set up at the entrances to the sites. These messy, thrown together shacks detract from the beauty of the sites and by the end of the day we both find the gauntlet of hawkers of postcards, books and scarves more than annoying. Carolyn is all for checking out the markets, but you could not do it for all the hawkers in your face! It was worse than China.
Now we are ready to head back to the hotel for a rest and some food and drink. We have both finished off about three bottles of water and our clothes are wringing wet! Dara drops us off at the hotel about 12:30PM. Dick heads to the pool, but the very idea of being in the sun turns Carolyn off, so she orders a room service pizza and settles into the comfortable lounge chair in the room to eat, read and watch Dick in the pool.
Dick is feeling better after a swim and finishes off Carolyn’s pizza as we talk about taking the first flight back to Bangkok tomorrow. Dara plans to take us to the big lake, Tonle Sap, to see the floating villages, but we got so hot this morning and the mosquitoes are so bad we decided to skip that trip. In addition, Carolyn’s asthma is flaring up for only the second time during the trip; probably from the humidity and insect repellent used around the hotel. The idea of the mad rush to get back and try to clean up and get to airport by 11:30 for a 1:30 flight is not appealing. At this point, we have seen what we really wanted to see and Dick is already complaining about temple fatigue!
Dick goes to the concierge and they are able to change our flight. The flights are not full as we changed the flight in at the last minute also. He then sends an email to the Peninsula to change our arrival time so that our airport transfer will meet us.
Dara is on time again at 2:30 and we head back over to Angkor Wat for some pictures of the front of Angkor Wat in the sun and also take time to walk to inside to see the reflection. While we are doing that we are treated with a group of monks walking on the raised walkway to the gate.Then it is on to The Angkor Thom complex, built during the 11th and 12th centuries. Here we enter through the South Gate and head to Bayon, the king’s pyramid temple, in the center of the royal capital. This temple has huge faces carved on all the spires. We start walking around the outside and Carolyn’s knees tell her she needs to get off them. Dara directs her to go wait at the entrance, around the corner facing the terraces, while he and Dick climb up into the temple. They spend about 20 minutes inside.There are very few people at this temple. From here we walk over to the Terrace of the Elephants with the 350 meter walk connecting it to the Terrace of the Leper King. Carolyn asks that we just drive by the Terraces as the walking is getting to be too much.
It is near 4:30 by the time we leave this area and head to Ta Prohm, a large monastic complex built during the 12th and 13th centuries. This place is known as the jungle temple. There is work being done to stabilize the temple only; not clean and restore it. Much of it has collapsed under the weight of huge trees and their roots. It was the most interesting of all the sites. Once we got inside the gate area there were almost no people and it was very quiet. The sun was just before setting so the shadows were long and it feels a bit otherworldly. I guess that is why it has been used for movies such as “Tomb Raider.” The sun is setting as we leave the gate and head back to town. Dara drives us around the old part of downtown and then drops us back at the hotel. He seems disappointed that we are not staying over, but we are very glad we changed our flight. Carolyn’s asthma is getting worse and the humidity and mosquitoes are as bad as late summer at home…where and when we are smart enough to stay inside!
We have a light supper at the hotel, as again we are too tired to really care much about food, pack and go to bed. Carolyn pulled the down comforters out of their covers again so we slept reasonably well.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Well, today is the half way point of the trip. It is hard to believe we have been away from the US for two and a half months! Guess what, it is another travel day! Fortunately, the plane does not leave until 3:00PM and we have the morning to get repacked so we can store most of our stuff while we spend two nights in the Victoria Angkor Resort in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We enjoy a mid-morning breakfast and check out of the hotel at noon. Our hotel car is waiting to drive us the 40KM to the airport. Two Peninsula employees meet the car and escort us through check-in and to immigration where they have to leave us. By 1:30PM, we have completed all the processing and have made the mistake of going through security. It is a mistake because once through security there is nothing to do but get on the plane. There are no food courts or magazine racks and damn little air-conditioning.
Flight PG913 of Bangkok Air takes off 15 minutes late but arrives at Siem Reap International Airport on time at 4:00PM.The airport is clean, new looking and things move right along with all the 150 or so passengers getting in the same line. Cambodia requires a visa and Dick had tried to get it on-line but never succeeded. Few of the other passengers have theirs either and it doesn’t seem to matter as we all stand in the same line and turn our passport over to one of two officers who in turn pass the passport down a line of about 10 other officers. Our spare visa pictures were lost along with the computer in Sydney so it cost 100BHT and $2.00US for them to scan our passport pictures. Actually, I do not think they scanned them at all. I think they just increased the normal $20US cost of the visa by 10%. Everybody was paying $20 or $22 US dollars. We watch as the passports move along the line of men behind the counter and we move down to the end where another man is calling out the now finished passports by first name. We get ours and follow the arrows out as we had no checked luggage.
Our guide and driver are waiting for us in a rather beat up van but the air conditioning was pumping out the cold air. They take us directly to our hotel, Victoria Angkor Resort and Spa.What we see of the town on the way to the hotel is very unimpressive, hot and dirty, The hotel has a colonial French look about it with the public areas open air and they are, of course, hot and humid also. Check-in goes quickly and we are soon in our room where we turn the AC down and hope for the best. It does work and the room begins to cool! The room is clean and has the look of a nice beach hotel in the States.
The hotel has a beautiful salt-water pool and garden area and we will try that out in the heat of the day tomorrow. For now, we make 7:30PM dinner reservations at Le Bistro and then walk down the street to see what we can see.We start to walk through a park like square to an interesting looking shopping area, but it is bloody humid so we turn back toward at the hotel and find a shopping venue next to the hotel and wander in. It carries everything from bottled water to some liquor to silks to set and unset precious stones. Cambodia is a prime producer of rubies and that just happens to be Carolyn’s birthstone. I will leave the rest to your imagination! When they figure out we are serious about the stones, they move us into a VIP room and they turn on the AC. We were both about to melt and run down in our shoes standing in the main show room.
We return to the hoteland hole up in our room until dinner. Dinner is a delightful surprise at Le Bistro. We both enjoy one of the best French Onion Soups we have ever had. Carolyn is has potatoes Duquesne and Harcourt Verts (Green Beans) and Dick has Tiger Prawns (two) cooked in garlic and butter with a fragrant wild rice side. This along with a large bottle of cold still water, a glass of white wine each and a shared order of dark chocolate ice cream make for a pleasant end to a hot day.