Sunday, June 29, 2008

Things I learned in Asia

*Everyone in any small area knows most everyone else. Word gets around. Be nice to your waiter: He is related to someone.
*Don't muddy the water around you; you may have to drink it.
*Don't buy from the children: If they're making money in the streets they won't be sent to school.
*Get lots of small bills: You need to buy from lots of vendors to help them all, especially in the little villages. They don't have change.
*Don't bargain with the poor folks: You look like a cheapskate; relatively, you are rich. A buck/penny means more to them. Let them keep the change.
*Do bargain with the Tourist Market folks: It's fun, and if you both laugh, it's friendly.
*Use your Lonely Planet guidebooks: Wow! They were super accurate. That tiny woodcut-print shop in Kyoto was worth the whole trip!!
*Learn how to say "Thank You" in every language
*Laugh a lot! It's a universal language. Smile when you're not laughing.
*Go with a friend, or find one on the way: Double the fun.
*Take good shoes: Everything worth seeing is a walk.
*Plan on photo storage: We bought a tiny, 120Gig hard drive. Bring extra memory cards and batteries to switch out.
*Memorize the Microsoft/Explorer/Firefox pages: Everything is in Asian Characters, & figuring out how to toggle English is hard.
*You will get used to their harder beds. It'll take some time to get used to yours when you get home.
*Go to the boondocks: They are so glad to see you! The East West Siam Company was our introduction to the tribes all through Northern Thailand. There are a lot of other companies who pay the villagers for visits.
*Smile for at least a few of their photos: At Borobudur we were politely mobbed by folks who wanted photos with us. 'Round-eyes' are rare.
*Condense your purse/daypack to a minimum, & plan for secure storage for the rest. It gets really heavy.
*Early on find out how to get cash in needed quantities. We spent a harried time accumulating enough cash to get those lovely woodcut-prints in Kyoto.
*Take all your credit cards, more traveler's checks than you think you'll need and then as many $20 bills as you feel comfortable carrying. Tell your credit card companies where and when you're going. Authorize someone at home to call them in case they block your card.
*Splurge! You won't pass this way again. Buy it when you see it. Tighten your belt when you get home. Research what each place specializes in before you go.
*Find out when the disabled workshops are: Siem Reap's Artisans store is phenomenal. I regret not asking about these earlier in our trip.
*Plan on mailing things home: DHL & FedEx are the most secure way to send things.
*Don't put valuables in your checked baggage. Temptation is unkind.
*Learn about the local Children's Hospitals. They are all over SE Asia and worthwhile. We visited one at Siem Reap.
*If you're female: Master "The LOOK". It says 'Don't mess with me!' Don't respond to catcalls, or look at men. Learn how to discourage...
*If you're male: Don't look or talk provocatively or touch!
*Don't expect your guides to protect you from beggars and touts. They live there & know these folks have to make a living, too. Ask how to discourage them, & how to say NO.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day Sweet Sam !

Remember when I gave you Brewster the Rooster for Father's Day?
This Father's Day I'm coming home... can I consider that a Father's Day gift?
Does it count if I'd be giving you Myself even if it were'nt Father's Day?
I Love You !!! Susi

Headed HOME !

We're in Tokyo, waiting for our flight to Chicago, then to DC, and home on Tuesday. GT figured it's 20 hours in the air.
Siem Reap, Cambodia, is a burgeoning city. Every corner is sprouting a new building, mostly hotels. Tourism has made it grow too fast for it's streets and other infrastructure. I thought of the gold-rush towns. The roads into the Angkor Wat area are pretty good, and it is a huge area, designated by the UN as a world heritage site. We used three guides, all of whom were licensed by the state. We liked each for different reasons. We took our first guide, who has been licensed for just a year, with us for the helicopter ride. He was both thrilled and terrified. We called a guide recommended on an Asia Travel Forum who sent over an excellent guide, who took us out into the country. The next day we asked a young woman contracted to our hotel to guide us. She brought her adorable daughter with her (our request). We had a super time with them, and she was able to show a lot of her friends how beautifully behaved her youngster is.
We showered, then went to the Children's Hospital to give blood and lounged around the pool until airport time. Gwin donated for the first time; she's inherited type 'O' from her father, making her a universal donor.
We enjoyed the Hotel de la Paix greatly. The treated us extremely well and the food was superb.
But nothing can beat being home!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

On to Angkor Wat !

Dear Ones, We're at a 'Boutique Hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand for a night, then to Siem Reap, Cambodia very early tomorrow morning. By direct flight it is only an hour, but we have to go back to Bangkok and then to Cambodia.
Bann Tazala, here in Chiang Mai is a jewel set on a long narrow lot; each room decorated with lovely pieces of art. It's beautiful that I started wandering along the corridors snapping away, and when I moved a beautiful door to get a better shot, the door fell!
We hung out our wet clothes, from the rafting trip at Lisu Lodge and ran straight to the 'Night Market' where we've just finished filling a box to send back home.
Lisu Lodge was as fun and enjoyable as the Mekhala River Cruise was; both by the same company: "East West Siam". Gwin got the run down on all their other tours, so maybe she'll be able to enjoy other trips with them. We really liked our Guide, and hope to stay in touch. We also met some lovely people there. I guess folks who can afford to travel tend to be rather nice.
We'll be home soon!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Thanks for the support, Everyone !

Thank you to Family and Friends for your unstinting support of our trip to SE Asia. We have had a wonderful trip so far; seen and done far more than we expected. Kyoto turned out to be a smaller place than we expected, and we saw the best of the best sights. Our Ryokan, a Japanese Family Inn, was disappointed not to see more of us. Gwin found out how easy it is to walk in that pristinely clean city and walked my feet off. We saw several Geishas and their apprentices and attendants. They are followed by paparazzi like movie stars. We walked around the Goin, or geisha district until fairly late (for us) and saw pretty canals lit by lanterns. We also shopped a la 'Lonely Planet'. These guide books have been infallible in their advice on restaurants and shops. We found some lovely wood carving prints in a tiny shop they recommended, and enjoyed excellent meals in the recommended places. We photographed each of our purchases before sending them home. It'll be like Christmas to see them again.
Bali is as magical as they say! We stayed at the Ibah Luxury Villas, in Ubud, a mountain town known for it's art. We cruised through town the morning after a midnight arrival that had us following the Innkeeper's flashlight to our luxurious Villa. Around every corner at the Villas, and in town in the stores we saw photo ops. Exotic, and fascinating. Our helicopter trip was educational and fun. We flew along the beaches packed with surfers, and then across countryside covered in terraced rice fields and small villages, which we had just driven through to the airport. When we topped the edge of the volcano the ground dropped off: straight down. Wow ! We flew around the lake in the middle of the crater, and returned to Denpasar. Gwin was able to talk to the pilots, who showed her everything she wanted to see. Truly the way to tour.
When we got to Yogyakarta we got to see the real Indonesia. The people are as nice as the Balinese, but the myriad of temples with offerings was replaced by devout Muslims, who are more reserved, and pray (by loudspeaker) five times daily. It's a large city... we stayed toward the volcano, Mt Merapi, next to a golf course that is very popular in SE Asia. Our Villa was very nice, but we were spoiled by the luxurious one with the private outdoor shower under flowering vines, LOL! We got used to it, though, and appreciated having a pool of our own. We toured Borobudar and Prambanan Temples one day. They are marvels of hard work and religious emotion, chiseled into stone. The next day we rested by the pool. Gwin got a book called 'Guns, Germs and steel' which I'm happily chewing my way through. It has enough to keep me ruminating about for a long time; answering the question "Why did these WASPs end up having so much stuff"
So, now we're in Bangkok, after a nice flight on Thai Air. We got in at 4 PM and started trying to confirm the Mekhala River Cruise pick-up time. I thrashed around until the next morning, when Gwin took over and sorted it out. She aroused someone at Lisu Lodge, who gave out the cell number of the River cruise folks. They must have assumed that they'd forgotten us, and waked up Ti-Ti, who picked us up in a nice Mercedes at 9 AM and gave us a truly fun tour of Ayathuya's tourist spots. There are few other tourists, and we only shared the boat with an Italian couple on their honeymoon. We really enjoyed our 'long tail' boat ride from Ayathuya to the river boat. Food and ambiance was up to par. We fed the local insects at dinner, but the bites don't itch, and I believe in donating to the locals!! The Mekhala River Cruise was up there with Bali.
We're off to Lisu Lodge tomorrow, and are looking forward to the tours there.