May 17th, 2015 - Travel from Bangkok to Shanghai - Day 275

Shanghai at night

Another travel day, which is getting a bit old, but being this close to home seems to keep everyone in good spirits as we pack our bags yet again for another day long journey.  This time we are heading for an unplanned stop in China.  Every time we would tell people about our agenda we would typically get the question - Not China?  We had read a bunch before booking the trip and most accounts we had of China went like this - "We are glad we went, but it was not great".  So when we were planning the trip we decided we would skip it and maybe go back sometime in the future.  Plus the visa process is a bit of a pain (like India) so it was just easier to leave it off the list.  Fate being what it is, the earthquake in Nepal had now re-routed us to a necessary stop in China and we were all really excited about it.  

The trip to the airport was the same slog we had taken in which included some walking plus two trains, but it went smoothly and we were checked in and ready to go with plenty of time.  One nice surprise when we boarded the plane was that the flight was only 4:30 instead of the 6:30 I thought it was - so we were all a little relieved.  

The flight to Shanghai was smooth and we were on the ground before we knew it and headed to immigration.  We were leveraging a 72 hour transit visa for which there is no real process until you get to the passport control.  I was a little worried about not having a visa in hand as we were landing in China, but everything I read said it was easy and it really was.  The passport control officers were really nice and we were off on our way in about 15 minutes.  

We gathered our bags and headed out to the madness of Shanghai.  Stacie had done her research on getting into the city and so we headed off to find the train to take us in.  It was really easy and we were in the city in no time flat.  However, we did no know exactly how to get to the hotel.  We received some help from the attendant in the subway station who told us what stop to get off at and we made it to the right place easily, but still needed to find the hotel.  When we made it out of the subway station we were engulfed in a sea of people on a pedestrian shopping mall that looked like it could have been in any city in the USA.  I tried asking a couple of people where the Wesin was and they had no idea.  So we decided to get a taxi and that is where the real fun began.  We could not get a single taxi to stop for us.  Plenty were available, but they had no interest in giving us a ride - something we would later learn is a real problem in Shanghai.  

We just started wandering around hoping we were moving in the right direction.  We stopped at two hotels and I asked for directions and neither could really help although they pointed in a general direction.  Then as we were walking Lea needed to stop for a slight bag adjustment and we happened to stop in front of a restaurant.  The owner was sitting outside and thought we wanted to eat and started speaking to us in Chinese.  I tried to tell him we did not want to eat and ask him if he knew where the Westin was, but there was no english to be had.  However, after a couple seconds he called inside and his son came out and lo and behold he spoke perfect english AND he knew where the Westin was.  He pointed us in the right direction and we were off.  About 10 minutes later our sore backs were in the cool comfort of the Westin and then shortly after we were checked into our beautiful rooms.

We were all hungry, so we went to the concierge and asked for a good Chinese restaurant.  She pointed us to a restaurant just behind the Westin and told us it was great.  We went immediately and when we got there we knew we were in for something interesting.  The atmosphere is difficult to describe, but if you could picture something between a shriners hall and a hotel ballroom that might do it justice.  The real treat came when absolutely nobody in the restaurant spoke one word of english - like seriously - not one word.  Maybe we should have been prepared for this, but after being in SE Asia for almost a month we had become accustom to almost everyone speaking english, so it took us by surprise.  The good news is that they had an english menu.  

The food was OK, but not great, other than the Dim Sum that Stacie ordered, it was fantastic.  After dinner we were all beat and headed right back to the hotel to get some rest.  Another long but successful travel day without any major issues.  Only one more travel day left.  



May 16th, 2015 - Bangkok, Thailand - Bay 274

We woke up for our only real day in Bangkok (we fly out tomorrow) and did not have much of an agenda.  This stop was really planned very late as a way station to a flight we could get back home.  It was nice to have a day where we did not have a big agenda as we are all a little tired of big agendas.  We had breakfast in the hotel because it was included in our $56 dollar per night rate - and sometime you really do get what you pay for :-)

we then went out for a real coffee across the street at Starbucks.  We discussed plans for the day and decided we would wait out the heat of the day in the hotel and then head to see the Palace and the Reclining Buddha later in the afternoon on our way to dinner.  However, after a couple of hours in the hotel I was getting restless and decided to head out to see a little more of the city.  There is a huge weekend market at a place called Chatuchak and I thought it would be interesting to see.  Stacie wanted to go along, but the kids were having too much fun vegging out to be bothered with venturing out into the heat of the day.  

We jumped in a Taxi and were there in about 20 hair raising minutes later.  The market was massive, by far the largest we have been to in Asia or on the trip for that matter.  The interesting thing about this particular market was that every booth seemed to be selling unique items.  In most of the other markets we have been to there are about four types of sellers - electronics, bracelets / jewelry, t-shirts, scarves, and they all sell pretty much the exact same thing.  There are a few other sellers littered around with unique jewelry, but you have to search for them.  In this market each booth had something completely unique.  For example one booth sold nothing but chicken incubators.  So it was fun to wander around and see what was around the next corner.  As a bonus, the entire market was covered, so it was nice to be out of the scorching sun.  We wandered around for a couple of hours and bought a few more gifts before it was time to head back home.  

We took another taxi back to the hotel and took a break for a while before heading out for the evening.  We got a bit of a late start so we had to choose between the reclining Buddha and the Palace and we chose Buddha.  We were trying to be good visitors and got dressed up a bit which included dresses for the girls with shirts to cover their shoulders and pants for Peter and I.  While this was considerate of us, it was a big mistake because we were scorching hot and nobody else was dressed up at all.  

The temple with the reclining Buddha is called Wat Pho and is a very large complex of temples with the reclining buddha being the main attraction.  We arrived there at 5:45 and the complex closed at 6:30, so we had to hurry around a bit, but it was really nice to be there late in the day without the throngs of crowds that are typically there.  

That is one big Buddha

Dropping coins in the 108 copper bowls to bring good luck and prosperity

Dropping coins in the 108 copper bowls to bring good luck and prosperity

We always loved seeing the monks

Late afternoon thunderclouds

After Wat Pho it was time for dinner.  We haggled with a taxi driver right outside and finally got him down to our price with our favorite tactic of just walking away.  

We had to walk down a winding maze of back streets to finally find our dinner spot, but we were glad we did.  The spot was right on the water and because we had made a reservation we had a prime table overlooking the river.  

In the middle of dinner this couple came by selling something that looked like squid that they would take off the rack and cook before putting it in a net and handing it up to you.  We did not partake, but the table next to us did - it certainly was interesting.  

After dinner we took a taxi home and crashed in order to get ready for another travel day tomorrow.

May 15th, 2015 - Siem Reap to Bangkok - Day 273

Today was a travel day, but not a long one.  We are all getting a little tired of moving so quickly lately, but there is not much time left on the trip, so we are trying to keep that in perspective.    I think everyone wished we stayed in Siem Reap a little longer because we like the town and it's very easy living here. 

The morning was standard.  We got up, went to breakfast and then came back upstairs and got ready to go.  The plan for the day was to head out to Ankor Wat for the entire morning from 7:30 to 12:00 and then head back to the hotel, grab a bite to eat and then head to the airport.  

We hired a Tuk Tuk for the tour and were off.  The temples at Ankor Wat are a wonder.  The site is considered the largest religious monument in the world and after a short time there I can see why - its massive.  It was built in the 12th century and was formerly Hindu and then Buddhist.  The site served as temple of the capital of the Khmer Empire - Ankor - which literally means city or capital city.  Ankor Wat is only one temple of over 2000 in the larger Ankor Temple Complex that is a World Heritage Site.  Our tour was going to take us to some of the more famous temples starting with Banyon Temple.  

The temple touring begins

We walked through Banyon Temple with about 500 to 1000 other people, which made the experience less than magical.  You had to wade through huge tour groups and wait for people to sneak through small passages.  However, the temple itself was incredible.  The bas relief carvings everywhere and the detail on every stone just blew us away.

After the experience at Banyon we were hoping to find something a little quieter.  We knew that Ankor Wat and Ta Phrom, two of our other planned stops, would be packed, so we decided to take a little walk at our next stop to see some less visited temples.  

When we jumped out of the Tuk Tuk at the elephant wall we knew we had found our spot.  Many of the tours were driving right past and the number of tourists was way down compared to Banyon.  We started walking around and enjoying the relative solitude.  

Guarding the entrance to the elephant wall

Underneath an elevated walkway leading to another temple

Another view of the elevated walkway

After walking around for a while we found a path that looked like it led back to another temple in the woods.  I could not see anyone else heading back there so I thought it would be the perfect place to go and find some real peace and quiet.  We walked back to the temple which is called Phimeanakas.  It turned out to be the Royal Chapel where the king would come to pray every day.  We climbed to the top of the temple and found it completely empty other than a security guard who showed us the way up to the actual spot where the king would worship.  There was a small shrine set up at the spot.  We sat in the shade and just quietly enjoyed a moment of solitude.  Then as we were sitting there, a woman appeared and started preparing the shrine.  She was very nice and asked us if we wanted to light some incense.  We all did and when we were done she would pray for us to have a long life.  She then tied a red piece of braided yarn around each of our wrists with tremendous care and ceremony and again wished us long life - it was very touching and a perfect experience to remember Ankor and Cambodia by.  

Stacie lighting her incense

Receiving her yarn

Our special temple

The road less traveled

After our wonderful experience at the temple we headed back to the tuk tuk and were off to Ta Phrom - the jungle temple - where the forrest has reclaimed the land by growing in and around the temple.  This is where Lara Croft Tomb Raider was filmed - how exciting!

The temple was really interesting, but the stars are the trees growing in and around the stone.  This temple was a little easier to navigate than Banyon without running into a million people, but was still very busy.  

After Ta Phrom we only had time to head directly to Ankor Wat as our final stop

Ankot Wat was impressive, but a little anti-climatic.  We were so hot and tired from walking around in the 96 degree 90% humidity weather that we could not quite deal with the throngs of people prowling around the temple.  We managed to walk through most of it, but did not wait in line to get to the very top.  

Peter caught this great picture of a monk in the temple

We were also running out of time and needed to get back to the hotel for a quick shower before heading to the airport.  On the way back we stopped at Sister Sery for a quick lunch and one of these:

We showered and checked out right on time.  We still had a little time before our shuttle was going to pick us up, so we went to grab a coffee.  It was then as I was checking on the hotel reservation in Bangkok that I noticed I had booked it for the wrong day, the reservation was starting Saturday instead of Friday.  This was the fist time I had done this (unless you count going to the airport on the wrong day) on this trip - which I think is pretty good.  I jumped on Skype to call the hotel and after 20 minutes we had it sorted out.  

The rest of the trip to Bangkok was uneventful.  We arrived safely, picked up our bags and headed to the hotel.  Stacie is always pushing for us to take public transportation instead of a taxi, which I love.  On this occasion that meant taking a train into the city and then switching to a subway.  It was all pretty easy with the exception of the fairly long walk between the train and the subway station, which of course was screaming hot as well.  However, when we arrived at our subway stop and emerged into the city, we really had no idea which direction to walk.  I did not get a SIM card for my phone so I had no data and no way to check Google Maps.  We tried asking a few people, but they did not have any idea what we were talking about.  So we just started walking.  I tried hailing a Tuk Tuk driver to see if he could tell us the direction and he started telling us to get in.  The Tuk Tuks in Bangkok only have two seats, but this guy wanted all four of us AND our bags to pile in and he was going to charge us 200 Bhat ($6) for the ride.  When I finally convinced him we would not fit he reluctantly pointed in the direction of the hotel - which was about 100 yards away around the corner.  

We made it to the air conditioned heaven of the hotel and nearly collapsed in our rooms.  We took a short rest and then headed out for dinner.  The place we made a reservation at was supposed to be great, but when we walked in the atmosphere reminded me of my grandmothers dining room, and not in a good way. Our waiter was the most serious person we have met in South East Asia.  Peter was convinced he was actually in the army and this was his night off.  However, despite the atmosphere and the grumpy waiter, the food was good AND it was air conditioned.  

After dinner we bee-lined back to the hotel and crashed after a long yet successful travel day.