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RTW 8 1/2 – The Himalayas Edition

Long Lights & Late Nights in Bangkok

Posted by on Aug 7, 2013 | 2 comments

Long Lights & Late Nights in Bangkok

After two weeks on the road around the Himalayas, Bangkok was Shannon’s final stop of the Asian summer tour before she headed home and my friend Angela (whom I met on the Antarctica cruise in January) flew in from Australia. Ang would be joining me for the next 10 days of the trip.

I’ve been to Bangkok on each of my round-the-world trips so this was my 9th visit to this wonderful city. We arrived at Bangkok’s domestic airport (DMK) from Krabi at 5pm and by 5:30pm were in a taxi and headed to my favorite home in the city, the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel & Towers.

Unfortunately, we hit the worst traffic I’ve ever seen in Bangkok and it took us 2 ½ hours to get to the hotel. I’ve never had an airport trip take longer than 45 minutes from either airport but I guess I’ve never landed during evening rush hour before. The odd thing about Bangkok traffic is the system of traffic lights, some of which can remain red for a solid 20 minutes (we were on the receiving end of those extended red lights a number of times). But just before 8pm we arrived at the Sheraton, just in time to enjoy a glass of wine from the Towers Lounge overlooking the Chao Phraya River.

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Myanmar – Part One: The Beauty of Yangon

Posted by on Aug 12, 2013 | 6 comments

Myanmar – Part One: The Beauty of Yangon

“I’m so sorry, it’s not okay” explained the Air Mandalay agent as she politely handed back my perfectly crisp and lovely US $100 bill. It wasn’t exactly the welcome we were looking for when we arrived in Myanmar but I would imagine we’re not the first to arrive in the country formerly known as Burma with worthless cash.

After a quick flight from Bangkok, we had just landed in Yangon, Myanmar and our first mission was to find the Air Mandalay ticket office to pay in cash for our domestic flights later in the week to Bagan and Mandalay. We’d made the reservations online but ticket payment was strictly in cash in US dollars. So after clearing immigration without a fuss we emerged into the arrivals area of the international terminal in search of the office.

We were directed to the domestic terminal for the Air Mandalay office which sounded as though it was right next door but turned out to be a half-mile walk in the sweltering heat…with luggage. We finally found the correct desk and waited patiently as they diligently hand-wrote our tickets. Then we proudly forked over our top-quality US dollars and one-by-one the Air Mandalay agent rejected them. Uh-oh.

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Myanmar – Part Two: The Temples of Bagan

Posted by on Aug 13, 2013 | 1 comment

Myanmar – Part Two: The Temples of Bagan

After getting up at 3:30am to catch our 6:30am flight from Yangon, we arrived in Bagan, Myanmar just before 8:00am excited to explore the town we’d heard so much about. Before we exited the airport, we stopped at the ticket counter to purchase the $10 pass to the Bagan Archeological Site that would grant us admission to all of the temples during our stay.

Angela (who had thankfully taken on the task of arranging most of our Myanmar accommodations) had selected our hotel primarily based on its #1 ranking on Trip Advisor and when we arrived at the Blue Bird Hotel in the New Bagan area it was just as lovely as advertised. They were even kind enough to check us in when we arrived at the early hour of 9am. Our room was bright and spacious and the air conditioner was pumping out chilled air with an impressing efficiency despite the already oppressive morning heat. There was also a secluded infinity pool surrounded by a lush, Eden-like garden. It was heaven with wifi and a mere $75 a night.

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Myanmar – Part Three: Monsoon Madness in Mandalay

Posted by on Aug 16, 2013 | 0 comments

Myanmar – Part Three: Monsoon Madness in Mandalay

Pop quiz…raise your hand if you knew that the Mandalay Bay casino in Las Vegas was themed (albeit very loosely) after Burma/Myanmar? No takers? Well, never fear, I’m not sure many people have ever made that connection. I know I never gave it much thought until I started booking flights for Myanmar. Just a fun fact I thought I’d share with you all as we continue our 3-city tour of Myanmar. Mandalay is Myanmar’s second largest city and home to half of the country’s monks. But most people would be surprised to know that the city isn’t ancient at all. In fact, technically Las Vegas is older.

Mandalay was created by King Mindon Min of Burma in 1857 as the new capital of the kingdom of Ava. By contrast, a group of Mormons were the first permanent Las Vegas settlers in 1855. I know, I know, I am just full of fun facts today! After beginning our Myanmar journey in Yangon and then spending a few days in Bagan, we landed in Mandalay mid-morning, the final stop on our week-long tour. We piled into a taxi for the 45-minute drive into central Mandalay and to our hotel – the clean, new and very affordable (at just $41/night) Hotel Yadanarbon. After checking in and ditching our bags, we got a map and decided to take a walk over to check out the enormous Mandalay Palace complex which encompassed nearly half the map and seemed to be just a short walk away.

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Kicking Back in Khao Lak Thailand

Posted by on Aug 19, 2013 | 3 comments

Kicking Back in Khao Lak Thailand

Into every month-long trip, a little pure relaxation must fall…and on this summer’s trip, it fell squarely on the sleepy beach town of Khao Lak Thailand. Normally, on my round-the-world trips, I make one stop at a Thai beach destination. But since the summer months are the rainy season, I decided I’d better hedge my bets and throw in two beach stops in Thailand figuring it would increase my odds of good weather.

For my second foray into southern Thailand in as many weeks, I chose to fly into Phuket and make the drive north up the coast to the quiet town of Khao Lak Thailand. I’d discovered Khao Lak years ago, on RTW #4, primarily due to the beautiful and extremely reasonably-priced Starwood property located there, Le Meridien Khao Lak.

I’d stayed at Le Meridien Khao Lak twice on previous trips and always loved it. The only real downside is the hour or so drive from Phuket which means it’s best to have a car. Not really a downside as far as I’m concerned, considering there is typically nothing relaxing about the crowded beaches of Phuket, certainly not when I was there just a few months ago during Chinese New Year. I swore then that I’d never stay in Phuket-proper again.

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Thin Air, Don’t Care: Three Days in Lhasa Tibet

Posted by on Aug 19, 2013 | 0 comments

Thin Air, Don’t Care: Three Days in Lhasa Tibet

The week before I departed the U.S. last month, I’d all but lost hope for my visit to Tibet. My entry permit had fallen through at the last minute necessitating re-booking of flights and a complete revamp of the itinerary for our second stop. After significant research, I was able to locate a travel agency that could arrange the permit and my trip to Lhasa was back on track, albeit significantly delayed. Luckily, I hadn’t solidified my flights to Hainan Island for the last week of the trip yet so I was able to do some shuffling around and squeeze Tibet back into the agenda.

After Khao Lak, I flew back to Bangkok and then had a brief connection in Kunming, China in order to reach Lhasa Tibet. Since the Tibet entry permit cannot be delivered outside of China, I would need to locate the travel agency representative in the Kunming airport to obtain the permit before being allowed to check in for the continuing flight to Lhasa. I was sure this would be cause for alarm but the company representative was waiting for me holding a sign with my name on it as soon as I came out of customs. Hooray! I was really going to Tibet! I don’t think I actually believed it until I had that permit in my hands.

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