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.Read More
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? Honestly people, it’s exhausting. Do I have “I’m a tourist, rip me off!” stenciled on my forehead? Taxi drivers of the world, for God’s sake just turn on your meter and call it a day. End of rant (but stay tuned, I feel another one coming on).Read More
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.
I was sure this would be cause for alarm but, amazingly, 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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More