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RTW 8 1/2 – The Himalayas Edition

Wrapping Up the Summer of Asia

Posted by on Aug 22, 2013 | 2 comments

Wrapping Up the Summer of Asia

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It’s only fitting that a summer spent in Asia – my favorite region of the world – would end in one of my favorite cities in the world, Bangkok. I don’t have anything new or exciting to say about Bangkok that hasn’t been covered to the point of exhaustion already on this site but suffice it to say, it was a perfectly relaxing place to spend my final days of freedom before the college football season starts next week. Sadly, I spent most of my time while in Bangkok working. Of course, that’s not to say I didn’t squeeze in a massage or two…I’m not a total glutton for punishment.

This past month has been yet another absolutely incredible adventure. I have always wanted to visit the Himalayas but January (during my annual RTW trip) just seemed like a bad (i.e. cold) time. The summer months, as it turned out, were just perfect, despite the rainy season. I mean, sure, rare was the day that I didn’t sweat entirely though my clothing in the humidity and, ok fine, I did trudge through at least one flooded out intersection in Myanmar. But who’s counting?

Overall, I think I was extremely lucky. On the few days that I really needed good weather (to fly over Everest, to make the Tiger’s Nest hike and to tour Lhasa) I got it. Who cares if I had a few rainy days at the beach? In fact, there’s something to be said for a lazy, rainy day at the beach. Especially if you can say it from a luxurious villa or a spa massage table.

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Not Much to do in Haikou

Posted by on Aug 20, 2013 | 2 comments

Not Much to do in Haikou

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I had originally planned to spend 4 nights on the Chinese island of Hainan, known as the “Hawaii of the East.” However, the change in plans regarding Tibet meant cutting my stay down to just two nights. Flight options from Lhasa also meant changing Hainan airports to fly into smaller Haikou instead of the more popular Sanya.

But since there was a perfectly posh-looking Sheraton resort located in Haikou, I decided to give it a try.

After a somewhat obnoxious travel day from Lhasa which involved a plane change in Chongqing and two flight delays, I finally arrived in Haikou Hainan, exited the airport to the taxi stand and was surrounded by 5 drivers shoving their iPhone calculators in my face to show me how much the drive to the hotel would cost.

It was the Chinese version of “Let’s Make a Deal.”

I knew from the hotel’s website that the ride should cost approximately 120¥ but the drivers’ opening bids were in all the 300¥ neighborhood. Sigh. Do we really have to play this game every time I arrive in a new destination?

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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

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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 which necessitated a 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 – Windhorse Tour – that could arrange for the permit and guide and just like that 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. (Scroll down to the end of this post for a detailed guide on planning a visit to Tibet.)

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.

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Kicking Back in Khao Lak Thailand

Posted by on Aug 19, 2013 | 3 comments

Kicking Back in Khao Lak Thailand

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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.

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Myanmar – Part Three: Monsoon Madness in Mandalay

Posted by on Aug 16, 2013 | 1 comment

Myanmar – Part Three: Monsoon Madness in Mandalay

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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.

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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

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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 impressive 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 One: The Beauty of Yangon

Posted by on Aug 12, 2013 | 6 comments

Myanmar – Part One: The Beauty of Yangon

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“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, 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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Long Lights & Late Nights in Bangkok

Posted by on Aug 7, 2013 | 2 comments

Long Lights & Late Nights in Bangkok

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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).

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The Full Monsoon-Season-Monty in Krabi Thailand

Posted by on Aug 5, 2013 | 0 comments

The Full Monsoon-Season-Monty in Krabi Thailand

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In Thailand’s defense, we knew what we were getting ourselves into. After all, you don’t travel to Southeast Asia during the summer monsoon season without expecting a little rain to fall.

But I’d been to Thailand eight times before (though always in January or February) and never seen it rain even once so I figured, “how bad could it be?” And all things considered, I think we were ultimately pretty lucky.

After a quick transfer in Bangkok from our blissful stay in Bhutan, Shannon and I arrived in the southern province of Krabi Thailand to a setting sun capping what we were told had been a beautiful day. We had two full days ahead in Krabi and planned to spend one relaxing by the pool and the other doing a little island-hopping in the immediate area.

Since it was late when we finally arrived at the beautiful Dusit Thani Krabi Beach Resort, we decided to ease into our Thai beach vacation and spend the next day enjoying the hotel’s pool and beach before selecting a day-trip for the following day.

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Himalayan Happiness in the Kingdom of Bhutan

Posted by on Jul 31, 2013 | 2 comments

Himalayan Happiness in the Kingdom of Bhutan

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“How was the landing?” our guide, Tshering, inquires with a mischievous smile as we pile into the car.

He knows how the landing was. Like they all are at this tiny airport sandwiched between soaring Himalayan peaks. Rough.

In fact, Paro’s international airport (the only one in Bhutan) is known as one of the world’s most dangerous airports. Just 8 pilots in the world – all from the Bhutanese national carrier, Druk Air – are qualified to land there.

Strong winds whip through the valley and pilots have to weave through dozens of houses scattered on the mountainside and contend with a runway shorter in feet than the town’s elevation. All of these factors can result in a landing that some have deemed “terrifying.”

I wouldn’t call our landing terrifying, but I would definitely say that of all of my landings (and there have been a lot) it was by far the most alarming. The kind of landing that requires a stiff drink and a mastery of the brace position.

The kind of landing that leaves you wondering, “Did we land or were we shot down?

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The Kathmandu Krush

Posted by on Jul 29, 2013 | 0 comments

The Kathmandu Krush

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Wear a mask, brush your teeth with bottled water and don’t open your mouth in the shower under any circumstances” offered my friend Clay (who did the Everest Base Camp climb a few years ago) when I solicited advice for my upcoming visit to the congested and notoriously polluted Nepali capital.

But despite his warning (which would make a lousy motto for the Kathmandu tourism bureau), I was undeterred. After all, no trip around the Himalayas was complete without a visit to Kathmandu.

And though I didn’t know quite what to expect, I have to admit I was drawn by the mystique of such an exotically gritty city. I figured it would be similar to my visits to neighboring India and Sri Lanka.

And let’s be honest, Kathmandu just sounds cool. It simply had to be part of my Himalayan adventure…potentially-lethal water supply notwithstanding.

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Panda-monium in Chengdu, China!

Posted by on Jul 25, 2013 | 0 comments

Panda-monium in Chengdu, China!

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Chengdu was not a planned stop on our original Asia itinerary. But when the entry permits for Tibet fell through last week, we had to make some last-minute adjustments to the schedule. Changing our flights to skip Lhasa, Tibet and go directly from Beijing to Kathmandu, Nepal meant an overnight layover in Chengdu.

As a couple of experienced travelers accustomed to rolling with the punches, we decided to embrace our new stopover and make the best of it. I found a lovely new hotel to check out (the Sheraton Chengdu Lido) and Shannon dove into research on what there was to see and do in Chengdu.

We didn’t have much time there, just half a day, but thorough research revealed that there was one adorable attraction not to be missed – the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.

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A Second Date with Beijing

Posted by on Jul 24, 2013 | 0 comments

A Second Date with Beijing

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Sometimes one date is more than enough. Other times that first date leaves you wanting more. It was January, 2006, and I was nearing the end of Round-the-World #1 when Beijing and I were first introduced. It was bone-chillingly cold and I was jet-lagged but the few days we spent together were marvelous – frozen lakes of skating children, an ancient forbidden city and some quality alone time with the world’s most famous wall. I’d always hoped to return someday in the warmth of the summer months to experience the city in full bloom.

So when I started looking into gateway cities for our summer flight to the Himalayas, Beijing was an obvious choice. And since my friend Shannon had never been, it seemed the perfect spot to kick off our Asian adventure.

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Goodbye, Atlanta…Hello, Summer of Asia!

Posted by on Jul 19, 2013 | 0 comments

Goodbye, Atlanta…Hello, Summer of Asia!

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It’s that time of year again! My summer event schedule is finally over and it’s time for a little global R & R before I kick off football season at the end of August. By now you might be thinking, “Jenny’s been uncharacteristically mum about her summer travel plans thus far.” And you’re right! I have been. But in my defense, I do have a good reason.

As many of you know, to complement my annual January Round-the-World adventures, several years ago I began a mid-year summer edition to explore a particular region of the world. Last year I dodged mosquitoes and nuzzled dolphins in Central America while the summer before I enjoyed a little Mediterranean island hopping and unintentionally parted ways with my cell phone on a Croatian ferry while traveling around the Balkans.

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