December 2010 sitting in our hotel room at the Anantara 5 Star resort: http://www.anantara.com/ in Thailand typing this. I figured I had better start now or I would never get it all posted when I got home. J Five weeks on the road and for sure I would forget something.
Let me back up some. First of all I want to thank Jim Harlan who is a dear friend and who helps us book much of our travel through his company:
Uncommon Adventures: http://www.uncommonadventures.com/
Jim has traveled to so many places himself he is well equipped with knowledge to help us/you plan a spectacular get away. Thank you Jim you are always a professional and wonderful to work with. Our adventures are effortless and you take great care of every detail.
On this trip to get from the US to our destination and everywhere in between we took the total of 15 flights and by the end will have seen 8 countries. Those countries are, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam and Hong Kong. The trip was sometimes exhausting but it can’t be helped. If you travel that far from home you better see it all while you can.
The Airlines we flew were Eva Air, Thai Air, and Vietnam Air, all reputable and comfortable airlines. Our experience with each of them was outstanding.
We did not lose our bags and they arrived on time every time for each leg we flew. Now that my friends is amazing!
HEALTH NOTE: These countries are highly Malaria ridden. You must get vaccinated and have the proper medications before you travel here. Hep A and Hep B, Malaria meds of yours and your doctors choice ( we took the Doxycycline instead of Malarone since my husband is highly allergic to that medication) You must have a Typhoid vaccine a Tetanus shot and carry the Deet wipes and the heavy-duty Deet lotion. It’s best to also travel with clothes that help repel the mosquitos. There is also a high break out of yellow fever from mosquitos that bite during the day.
CLOTHING TIPS: Have a hat with you, the sun is intense and be sure to drink plenty of water. Especially if you are in Indonesia you are at the Equator and the sun is HOT and you might not even realize you are getting burned until it’s too late. Bring and wear GOOD walking shoes. This nonsense I keep seeing especially with woman and flip-flops and high heels while trekking through the jungle or climbing on junk boats it’s just down right senseless. You want to be able to truly experience the villages, the jungles, the waterfalls etc. and you can’t do it unless your shoes and clothes are appropriate for the climate and the circumstances.
It took us two days to arrive in Indonesia. We flew business class Eva air from Seattle to Tai Pei and Tai Pei to Jakarta. Eva was a fine airline, the seats were comfortable, they laid almost flat. The food and drink service was over the top incredible! I had read some reviews about the airline that were not favorable but I found everything about it to be comfortable and satisfying. We flew business class on every flight we took that offered it. It is the best most comfortable way to travel when you are as far away from home as we were. It makes it less stressful and it’s easier to relax and rest on flights. You rarely have to worry about your baggage, you are allowed to carry more weight than you probably need too, you are not hassled at check in and you can effortlessly check in to flights each time. Also you get to use the lounges at the airport which makes for a great way to relax while traveling, they have good food, drinks, and wi-fi and it’s usually quiet and sometimes you even can get a shower depending on the airport you are at. For this trip to and from and everything in between we have to fly 15 times, so Business Class is a must when you spend so much time on planes.
(side point: using a credit card that gives you unlimited miles with no blackout dates and no restrictions is the best way to get the upgrades to seating on flights or to book your flights business or first class. Many banks offer this now as well as some Credit unions. If you find free money like this you should sign up for these offers it will help you to build miles and plan amazing vacations.)
In this economy not everyone has the opportunities to travel so if there are bargains to be had, and Frequent Flier miles to gain I recommend you take advantage of that.
We stayed in an FM7 hotel in Jakarta: http://www.hotels.com/ho324660/fm7-resort-hotel-jakarta-indonesia/ the room was large and spacious, the food in the restaurant decent and inexpensive. The wine was served very chilled which seemed odd to what I was used too but it was about the only wine I was going to get on this trip considering the countries I was visiting.
Of course I could buy wine at the hotel restaurants but the cheapest glass was 12 for wine that I could buy by the bottle at home for 7.00. In the Anantara hotel they even had a bottle of Robert Mondovi wine for 1000.00 a bottle I could buy at home for 10.00. WOW!
We then flew from Jakarta to Sarong, and stayed in another FM7 hotel. There we met the lady who had set us up on the dive boat with other companions. Her company is City Seahorse Inc. out of Ft. Worth Texas http://cityseahorse.com Her partner Tony arrived with her. We had heard mixed reviews about her as a person and most of them were not favorable, but we went nonetheless. From the hotel in Sarong, the next morning we took a ten-minute drive to the boat, which was docked at the port. It was a filthy disgusting run down port with old rusted boats waiting to sink, garbage floating in the water and plenty of filth to go around. The one thing that shocked me on this entire trip was the amount of plastic just floating in the water everywhere. There is no recycling, and since people just throw their garbage out their doors, windows, boats and cars, the plastic is the one thing that just floats, clings to animals and plant life and is a constant on the land and water.
The one positive note about Deb and City Seahorse was that most if not all the divers on the boat were wonderful people and great experienced divers. We had a blast with them and made some really good friends. It was the best experience I had had on a dive boat in years. Everyone got along, everyone made friends and the laughs were long and hearty. (Except for Deb and Tony who were as the days went on nothing but a pain in the ass) Brad said that everyday Deb reminded him of his x-wife with her know-it-all look at me attitude and he was getting very anxious and upset having to deal with that drama every day.
The dive masters Ella and Abraham, Norberto and Ong were fantastic. They were attentive and talented and made the experience a great one.
Deb had said that this was the best diving in the world but as the days went on it proved not to be. The visibility was poor, the current sometimes too rapid to photograph or even really see any fish. But there were good days and there was much life in the sea.
The food on the boat was so-so, mostly fish and chicken, the same most nights and dry. Rice with every meal, curry, salsa, cabbage salads with peanut sauce, etc. not much creativeness. The soups were decent but sometimes too spicy.
The boat is only 10 years old, it’s a sailing yacht. The rooms were small but decent, the bathrooms big enough to shower and move around. The way the boat was built was like an old pirate ship, so it was very dark and creaked a lot. It was supposed to give the “romance” of the old seas but I just found it dark and damp.
We WILL NOT book another trip with Deb and City Seahorse. We had even been informed that she was insistent on collecting all the tips for the crew at the end of the trip and dividing them up and distributing them. But we knew that if she did not like someone on the boat that she would not give them a fair tip so we as the divers/guests put a stop to that right away. And in the end we made it clear that we expected that every one of the crew receive fair and equal division.
Not sure why she and Tony came on the trip except to get a free vacation from our funds. We know we could have booked the trip ourselves for a lot less and that she and her company took a big chunk off the top, which was extremely annoying to us and to all divers on the boat. We will not only not book with them again we will make sure to tell the dive community that her services are unnecessary. The dive masters were well equipped to take us to dive sites and show us the way we did not need Deb and Tony.
After 12 days on the boat it was time to say our goodbyes to everyone. Graham and Margaret Roy, Dave Miller and Alice Duong were all going to Jakarta to the same hotel as us so we all had dinner and drinks together. It was a great way to end a great first part of our trip. They were all good people, great divers and I miss them already.
The Weather in Indonesia was HOT, we sweat every day! And not just a little sweat but buckets of sweat. No need to wear make-up you just sweat it off. We got used to it after a while but it was good to be out of it.
The next 5 days we were in Thailand at a 5 star resort on the hills overlooking the Golden Triangle or the three countries, Burma, Laos and Thailand. (Anatara as previously mentioned) This hotel is amazing. It reminds me of the kind of place travelers and explores like Lora Croft or Indiana Jones would stay. There is no high fashion or fancy clothes; it is an explorer’s hotel. For people who are real in the dirt travelers, who ride elephants and hike and explore the jungle. Who wear travel pants and hats, and have dinner on the Veranda. Is it expensive? You bet it is, but honey its worth every single dime!
The Weather in Thailand was warm and dry and not nearly as hot as Indonesia, but still hard to wear make-up and it’s easier to wear your hair up or a hat because after trekking, or even dining outside you are going to be warm.
The service here were superb! The hotel is lovely, the rooms relaxing and with everything you need for a nice relaxing and joyous stay especially after a day of trekking in the jungle with and on top of elephants.
The spa was wonderful; I had a heated stone message and Brad a Thai massage. Mine seemed more relaxing than his; he seemed to be in pain. J
If you want to ride the elephants you can, there is an elephant camp with 42 elephant’s right here next to the hotel. In the morning you go out and meet the elephants in the jungle with the Maut Tribe, they introduce them to you and then you get to ride one back to the camp.
Riding an Elephant was interesting and hard work. You sit on top of its head right behind the ears. It is not comfortable on the thighs or back. But what a hoot, riding an elephant in the jungles of Thailand!!
I was nervous about it, the animals are SO big, but the tribe’s people stay with you and teach you and if you relax and just enjoy the experience you will be fine.
We rode them into the river at the end and bathed them, that was something else, you have to hang on to their ears because you don’t want to fall off into the water, the elephants are big and you don’t want them to fall on you.
But as scary as it seemed when it was all over, it was worth it to say I had experienced it.
We also went to see the Hall of Opium Museum: http://www.chiangmai-chiangrai.com/hall-of-opium.html What a great experience that was getting first had reading on how destructive the Opium trading is/was, and how times and people have tried to change the people so they no longer become dependent on Opium crops. It gives the history about when it got started, how destructive it is, how it changed, the two Opium Wars, the trades, the addicts, etc. Thailand has tried to clean itself up and find new crops to grow such as coffee. It was a very educational afternoon. Of course the Princess Mother had much to do with the rehabilitation and education of the Thai people: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Srinagarindra
The day we went to tour the three countries, Laos, Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand. We saw temples and villages, and even had a picnic lunch by a lake near a cave. We bought a lot of souvenirs in Laos they were nice and inexpensive and we got to meet some of the villagers.
We were shown wine with Tigers Penis, Scorpion, Snake and Gecko in it. I couldn’t even look at that wine but Brad tried some. J He said it was just a very strong Moon Shine.
We had to take a very small wooden boat around the islands. It was an experience for sure.
Then we were off to Cambodia, this was the part I was really looking forward too, the temples!
The weather in Cambodia was HOT! One day trekking the temples it reached 98 degrees F. We sweat like mad and trekked for 6 miles that day while seeing some of the largest temples like Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.
Here is a good article on the temples: http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/07/08/cambodia.temple.guide/index.html?hpt=hp_bn12
These were fantastic, the structure, the history and the fact that they have been there for so long. The jungle just eating them away for years until French explorers happened upon them one day. (You must drink lots of water while trekking, it is very hot and you will become dehydrated very quickly)
The Angkor Thom temple was especially impressive to me. It was so well-preserved and the expanse was more than I expected.
We also got to tour the Temple where the film Lara Croft was filmed. That was exciting, to see this wonderful temple http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ta_Prohm The trees literally have grown up through the temple walls itself, the photos we took were impressive.
And just like the movie, there are butterflies everywhere in Cambodia, it’s amazing and they are so lovely!
This temple of all the ones we toured had the most tourists. Everyone was there taking photos of themselves in the spots where Angelina Jolie had stood for the movie; it was silly and fun all at the same time. 🙂
The hotel in Cambodia was also a 5 star resort, the oldest hotel in the area http://www.raffles.com/en_ra/property/rga It had an old colonial feel to it. The service here was superb, the food not great but good.
There was turn down service every nite, and the pool was an exceptionally large infinity pool. We ordered drinks and lunch at the pool and spent some time just relaxing. The people in Cambodia are so friendly and kind. We loved it there.
Now we are off to Vietnam.
The Weather in Vietnam was warm but comfortable. It was humid and you will sweat that’s just a given.
It’s only been 10 years since the Americans have been allowed to tour Vietnam and they like to talk about the Vietnam war. Actually they call it the American War and depending on who you talk to the war stories and or memories of what happened, how it started and ended are all very different.
We visited the War Museum which is NOT unbiased. It is told from the point of view of the Vietnamese. So the stories are somewhat different, the length of the war is different, the people, the places, the events all told from their point of view. You must have an open mind and realize that Truth is not absolute. http://www.nationalvnwarmuseum.org/about.htm
President Bill Clinton has visited Vietnam several times over the past few years and the Vietnamese people are very proud of this, and we were even shown two restaurants where he ate, we ate at both. There are photos of him all over the walls. It was fun!
(i have more to type and photos to add but right now i am going back to bed. Gotta love Jet Lag! )