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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Always in search of the perfect beach, Alex and I splurged on two fabulous beach holidays this summer.

Ironically, what I realized is that while I do love looking at the beautiful sea, I much prefer swimming in the chlorinated pool. No pesky sand to get all over everything, no sticky salt left behind after drying off, no coral to slice up my feet, and never any slimy seaweed-covered bottom.

Thankfully, I also discovered the sheer bliss of the pool villa.

Our first trip of the summer was to Koh Racha, an island south of Phuket, here in Thailand. When we were booking the trip, we were thinking that it would be our only “vacation” of the summer and the rest of the time would be in the US or here in Bangkok. So, we splurged on a fancy hotel with our very first pool villa:

Our Pool Villa

Private Pool

Yep, that’s our pool – just for our villa, with the view of the ocean through the door.

Now, that’s not to say that the beach on Koh Racha wasn’t up to standards, because it was beautiful:

Perfect Beach

But, I have to admit that I didn’t swim in the sea at all the whole time we were there. It was more than enough to be able to watch and listen to the waves from our private pool.

And now I guess I really am a fancy pants. Because I pretty much only want to stay in pool villas from now on. In fact, I’m so dedicated to my new goal that I actually bought a book called Thailand Pool Villas (clearly a ploy from the Thai Ministry of Tourism, and only available here in Thailand, but one that will serve me well, I’m sure).

As if that wasn’t enough, our second trip of the summer (after spending 3 weeks back in the US) was here:

Beach & Restaurant

The Maldives. Basically, paradise on Earth. Sadly, no pool villa for us here, though (I booked this trip before I knew just how much I was going to love the pool villa).

Each island in the Maldives is so small that the country has a policy of one island, one resort. Our little island was so small that we could walk around the whole thing in about 15 minutes.

Our villa was adorable:

Our Villa at Dusk

with basically our own private beach directly in front:

Relax

I actually made sure to document the most crowded beach day:

Two

Two people.

I’d wanted to go to the Maldives for years, but what finally pushed me to actually go this summer was the fact that Bangkok Air (“Asia’s Boutique Airline” according to them) flies directly there and it’s only a 4 hour flight from Bangkok. I guess summer is the “worst” time to go, so flights were relatively cheap and hotels were offering pretty major discounts. Having said that, I would love to go back again, but I might try a different hotel next time.

Maybe one with a pool villa…

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Over the last few years Alex and I have been working on collecting art, specifically paintings, on our travels. Nothing fancy, but Alex now likes to refer to me (sarcastically) as a “patron of the arts.” Whenever we’re on a holiday, we tend to look for paintings by local artists as our souvenirs. Of course this also includes selecting special pieces here in Bangkok.

So, last week, we headed out to Chatuchak to pick up our second painting by a local artist:

Bodhi

This one is a Bodhi tree, the tree that Buddha meditated under, and a common site around Thailand and southeast Asia. I love the heart shaped leaves, a shape which is reproduced in all sorts of temple decorations around the country.

We had our first painting made (by the same artist) last year:

Swirls

This one is more of a modern twist on a similar style. I love the swirling style and flowing writing across the bottom. The three panels make it super easy to transport and gives it a more distinct feel than the single panel.

Both paintings have a dark reddish background with the trees and leaves pressed on in gold leaf. They are so shiny and soothing to look at. I love them!

What do you like to purchase as a record of your travels?

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Today begins our three week semester break! We started celebrating in style last night with a hi so (a cute Thai nickname for “high society) evening of drinks at the Banyan Tree’s Vertigo, dubbed the highest open-air bar in southeast Asia, and dinner at the Suan Lum night bazaar.

We arrived just after five, in time to see the cloudy gray skies over the city:

Gray Skies

Got to watch the beautiful sunset, while enjoying our drinks:

Sunset

Ben and Chrissy

Enjoyed seeing the evening lights slowly brighten:

Dusk

And eventually headed back down to the city for some tasty Thai food:

City Lights

Along with our lovely friends:

Celebrate

The perfect way to start a holiday break, if you ask me!

What are you doing this holiday season?

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This has been an interesting week. On Tuesday, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), began protesting at Bangkok’s international airport, Suvarnabhumi, which resulted in the closure of the airport when they “stormed” the airport control towers and stopped allowing planes in and out. It’s now Saturday morning and both Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang (the older, domestic airport) have been closed for days. Hundreds of thousands of travelers are now stranded in destinations around the world while this major hub of travel in Asia is non-functioning.

Oddly enough, life seems to be going on entirely as normal here in the city. The streets are calmer than usual – less traffic, less people out and about – but that’s about it. We continue to go to school and work every day, ride the BTS, and enjoy living downtown. It’s a strange feeling, knowing that something critical to the county’s future is happening just on the outskirts of the city, but having absolutely no effect on our daily life.

I wonder when all this is going to end? Technically, I suppose I’m stranded in Bangkok, but if Bangkok is home, does that really count as stranded?

Treasure Island by Aaron Escobar

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Both Alex and I have wanted to go to Bhutan for many years. I think we first heard about this little landlocked country in the foothills of the Himalayas while we were living in Munich, and it was back then that we decided we would have to go. Someday.

Amazingly enough, someday happened a whole lot quicker than I thought. Last year, when we moved to Bangkok, we learned that quite a few of our teaching colleagues have been to Bhutan because the school offers a “Week Without Walls” trip for the high school students every year through Rainbow Tours and Treks, based in Thimpu, Bhutan.

Given that the Bhutanese government requires all tourists who travel to Bhutan to use an authorized tour guide, this was the critical information we needed to make our trip happen. As odd as it sounds, working through a tour guide actually makes me totally uncomfortable – you’re basically surrendering your entire trip to one person (who knows full-well that this is probably going to be the only time you’ll ever deal with them, so if they mess it up, they’ve already got your money). For the cynical and hyper-anal traveler, such as myself, this is quite a frightening thought.

So, knowing that so many of my colleagues (and students) had such wonderful trips with Rainbow Tours, I willingly surrendered a wad of cash to the lovely Sonam (you have to pay in full, in advance), in the hopes that we, too, could have an amazing adventure in the Land of the Thunder Dragon.

And what an adventure it was!

First of all, the Bhutanese government requires that all tourists pay US$200/day/person to visit the country, thankfully this is all-inclusive so we basically didn’t pay anything else above and beyond that base fee (except for souvenirs which were equally overpriced and a tip for our guide and driver). So, once we arrived, we just sat back and enjoyed being led around like little children day-in and day-out for our 8-day visit.

We started our trip in Paro, home of Bhutan’s only airport, where we climbed up to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. There was some misleading wording in our travel schedule, something about a 4-hour round-trip climb, which may have lead to some slight crankiness on one member of our two person party, but we made it all the way to the top, on our own, without the help of the horses stationed at the bottom of the mountain.

It was quite a hike, this is the view from the half-way point (where there is an adorable little cafeteria and they serve you piping hot tea and cookies – who says hiking isn’t civilized?!):

And here we are a little closer, the view from just before you start down into the gorge between the side of the mountain you hike up, and the side of the mountain the monastery is on, prayer flags fluttering in the wind:

Speaking of prayer flags, it was absolutely amazing to be walking through them all over the place in Bhutan:

Unfortunately, there were no pictures allowed inside the monastery, but here’s a look at the sweeping view we had of the Paro valley from the top of the mountain:

Little did I know it, but this was to be the first of many hikes in Bhutan. Day two had us driving up to Thimpu, the capital city, and exploring some of the cultural sites:

Of course, we also did a little hiking:

After a few days in Thimpu, we headed to Punakha and Wangdue, which was actually my favorite part of the trip. Both Thimpu and Paro were comparatively crowded and touristy once we saw the little villages on the other side of the Dochula Pass, look at those stunning Himalayas – you can see clear across to the board of Bhutan and Tibet:

We saw more temples:

Made a few friends:

Saw some beautiful Dzongs:

Some amazing views:

Entered some mysterious temples:

Visited a local school:

And, Alex wore his Bhutanese traditional dress pretty much the whole time:

All in all, it was pretty amazing. Apparently Bhutan has only around 13,000 tourists visit the country each year. It was easy to tell that many of them spend the majority of their visits trekking, so there were very few other tourists every where we went – most places were completely deserted except for the monks and locals in their lovely traditional dress.

I have a few too many pictures posted up on Flickr from just about every moment of our trip, please feel free to check them out!

Basically, for me and Alex, this was a trip of a lifetime. As much as we’d love to go back, we probably won’t (especially now that we’ve heard the price is rising to US$400/day/person next year!).

Have you ever taken a trip like that? Where did you go? What was it like?

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One of my favorite things about having visitors is doing all of the “touristy” things I never seem to find time to do on an average weekend in the city. One of the things I had really been wanting to do was take a boat tour of the canals in Thonburi (across the river from Bangkok). Despite all the visitors we had last year, I was never able to make it over to the other side of the city.

Theppaksi

So when Alex’s parents came for a visit a few weeks ago, and the fates aligned to allow us a day off work during their trip, I took my chance!

We enjoyed a relatively cool morning exploring the Grand Palace (I believe this was visit number 2 for me and visit number 5 for Alex) where I continue to tempt fate by bringing a pair of flip flops to change into once I skirt the security guards at the entrance. The rule apparently is was that all visitors must wear closed-toe and closed-heel shoes to enter the palace (along with covering shoulders and legs).

However, every time we go there I see dozens of people, foreigners and locals alike, wearing much more casual clothes than the “rules” stipulate (although I am familiar with the concept of simply ignoring the “rules” that rages quite rampant here in Thailand, I am such a rule-follower that I wouldn’t dare). But, this time I’m quite pleased to report that I was able to trade my closed-toe, formal wear, palace-appropriate shoes, for the far more comfortable flip flops.Offering

Despite my fear of the eventual embarrassment of being told by one of the security guards to put the other shoes back on, no one seemed to notice, and in fact, at the very end of our visit, my father-in-law spotted that the sign now says that flip flops are acceptable footwear for the palace. Hello comfort! And no more carrying around my decoy “real” shoes all day!

After the palace visit, we headed over to the pier for our canal tour. Amazingly, although Alex hadn’t been there in months, the guy at the little booth actually remembered Alex from his last visit, and off we went without having to negotiate an acceptable price.

The tour we took lasted about an hour and whizzed us through the canals on our own private long-tail boat. It was a bit overcast so most of the pictures are pretty gray, but living in a tropical climate definitely makes you appreciate the cloudy days. 

Boat View

Crossing from one side of the river to the other is like stepping back in time. All along the banks of the canals are traditional Thai houses on stilts, you can see where the water has eroded the banks of the river. We saw kids playing in the water, people bathing, and of course lots of little ladies selling treats from their own boats. 

I wish we could have taken a few detours down some of the smaller canals, but the standard route must be pretty clearly mapped out. We saw quite a few other boats speeding through in the opposite direction as well.

Porch

I love being able to see the contrast between the modern city we live in on a daily basis and the more traditional, peaceful, pace of life in Thonburi. It’s amazing to me that these places can co-exist only a few minutes from each other, yet be so totally different.

One of the things I love the most about Bangkok is how quickly things seem to change, yet how much of the traditional culture is retained. When we lived in Munich I really felt like I had explored all the nooks and crannies of the city within the first two years. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ll ever have the chance to know Bangkok as well as I knew Munich, and certainly not as quickly. And I have to admit, I love that feeling. I love the idea of all the undiscovered secrets waiting to be found, a new adventure around every corner. I think that’s my kind of city!

What do you like best about the place you live?

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As usual, it’s hard to believe the summer is over… You won’t hear me complaining, though, I know a good thing when I see one. Eight weeks off every year is a pretty sweet deal, that’s for sure. Even though it went by at lightening speed, we had a great summer (as we always do!).

Our first two weeks in Munich were fabulous. It’s hard to believe we’ve been away from the city for three years already. It felt like we were living there only yesterday as soon as we stepped out of the airport. So many things have changed, but thankfully, most of our old favorite spots are still just the same:

We had some spectacular schnitzel at Steinheil:

Steinheil Schnitzel

Enjoyed the lovely, long summer twilight in the city’s many parks:

Frauenkirche

Got to see the highly protected, secret, back courtyard of the Augustiner Keller on Landsbergerstr:

Augustiner Keller

And, of course spend tons of quality time with our fabulous friends we miss so much:

Neil and Sabine

Sabine and Neil (check out the guy in full Bayern wear in the seat behind us – just a regular Saturday in Munich).

Martine and Chris

Martine and Chris (who flew down from London to see us!)

Mithra and Frank

Mithra and Frank (our steadfast lunching companions)

Trish and Martin

Martin and Trish

Once we got back to the States, we spent two weeks relaxing with my family in Connecticut:

Spent a few good days at the pool:

Lisa, Kim and Jay

Reconnected with one side of my family that I haven’t seen for 15 years (a post is soon to come on that story):

The Cofino Family

Enjoyed some fantastic meals, and just enjoyed being home.

For the last part of our vacation, we headed out west to Eugene, Oregon for two weeks, where we spent some quality time with Alex’s family and got to:

Experience the Oregon Country Fair:

Crowds

Go whitewater rafting on the MacKenzie River:

On the raft

Taste some delicious Oregon wine at the Kings Estate Winery outside Eugene:

Hills

Enjoy the stunning Oregon coast:

Crash

And hang out with our old friends, Annaliese and Jeremy, that now live in Portland:

Reading with Ken Kesey

Aside from some airline related travel snags (Hello, domestic travel in the US sucks big time!) It was a pretty sweet trip, I must say. Even so, it feels great to be back home in Bangkok – especially being able to hop in a taxi from the airport and find ourselves home, downtown, in under 40 minutes!

So, now that we live downtown, and we’re going to be here for more than a month (which was about the amount of time we had in our new place before we left for the summer holidays), what should we do that’s off the usual tourist/expat path?

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