Monday, December 11, 2017

Asia Adventures, round 2: Thailand, Laos, Myanmar; Krabi Town

Breakfast at the Ban Sainai resort was quite an affair! There was an extensive buffet spread including a salad bar, pastries, juice bar, coffee bar and quite a few traditional Thai breakfast foods like soup, curry, etc. There was also a menu to order from of traditional western and some more eastern offerings.

First I want to comment about the fruit in Asia. When I walked into the restaurant buffet area (the restaurant is also open air), the first thing I smelled was the sweetness of the fruit offering. Fruit tastes like fruit here-- it's quite amazing! Just like when I went to Vietnam 7 years ago, I was really blown away by how incredible the fruit tastes, and it is the same here. I got a coffee, some fruit juice (who ever would expect that I, hater of the nasty carrot, would love carrot juice!?) and a plate of fruit. Yum. Dragonfruit, pineapple, watermelon.

I got an egg roti for breakfast, which is a traditional Thai crepe with egg, and some cinnamon sugar sprinkled on, some more fruit and coffee. The pond view is beautiful and peaceful though sitting on the deck in the cottages is an open affair to the restaurant. Some fish came up for breakfast, and some ducks enjoyed some break a boy threw out to them.

Holy humidity! It was lovely when I first went out-- nice and cool and in the low 70s. It's now 78 and the humidity crept up with the heat!

I wandered the grounds a bit taking in how truly lovely they are. Mountains loom over the resort, which is a maze of plush green. I went to the desk for help to figure out my day. Apparently the town opens at around 10-11, so I'm glad I didn't decide to go into town early. This also helps my planning for tomorrow! I will take the 11:00 shuttle to the beach, and walk along the bit of town there as well. I have a sunset cruise that picks up near there at 1:15. I think I will get another massage tomorrow am before I leave since nothing will yet be open.

I think I forgot to mention the Mosque yesterday. Around dinner time I could hear in the distance the chanting and songs of a mosque. It was quite beautiful, though thanks to Hollywood and their push of terror movies, it gave me some chills. I learned on the cruise in talking with a guide that this area, and particularly Railley Beach, is very Muslim. Thailand overall is very tolerant of religion, all religion. There is a large Muslim population in Ao Nang and Krabi town, and a very large one in Railley Beach area. He mentioned that there is one dog that lives in Railley. No dogs used to as the Muslim people believe they are unclean, but this stray came as a puppy and is allowed by the locals.

I took the shuttle at 11 to go to the beach, and we were dropping right there. It's quite busy here since it's 'high season' and there were people all over. It's a thin strip of beach that seems to go on forever. You can see many of the rock "islands" from the shore, and just like in Vietnam's Ha Long Bay, it's really beautiful. I walked down a ways at the suggestion of a couple I met in our tuk tuk ride, and it was much less crowded. I dipped my toes in sand and enjoyed the amazingly warm waves splashing. This truly is paradise!

There are massage shops all along the beach and women (and some men) trying to get you to buy. They are mostly 300 Thai BHT, around $9 US. I unfortunately didn't have time, but decided to enjoy a quick pedicure while I wanted to meet up with my mini-cruise. It was interesting. She didn't soak my feet beyond a quick dip to remove sand. It was purely removing polish, trimming, etc. and reapplying polish. No scrub, massage, etc. But for $2 USD, it was a steal.

I met a really nice woman from Estonia who spoke very good English. She was light blonde and very fair, like my friends in Sweden.

I grabbed a lunch of pineapple rice with chicken and shrimp. It was really good and served in a pineapple! The chicken was.. interesting. I am struggling with how to describe it, but if you took a fabric, like a cotton ball or something like that, and spread it out over the dish.. it was almost a dry foamy texture and really strange!

I took a walk down the street to get an idea of what the town is like. There are a lot of tourist stores, selling guided tours, tourist 'trap' items, tattoo parlors, juice bars and the like. I'm so very glad I decided to not stay right in town and on the beach but stayed a five minute drive from it. My hotel is such a paradise and so quiet, aside from the lone rooster in the distance. :)

I picked up a post card for my nephews as I send them one from wherever I go, then went to the meeting point. There was a good-sized group of maybe 50 people. I talked for a bit with Carlotta, our guide. She was a small, young girl in her mid-20s. She was from Milan, Italy, then lived in Argentina with family for a couple of years before moving here four years ago. She is fluent in Thai now and said it was difficult to learn. She did mention that it's very 'simple' in that they don't have as many descriptive words as in other languages. An example she gave is the word breakfast. They don't have a word for breakfast, lunch, dinner but say morning meal, evening meal. The very long words on signs that I saw are actually not words but content! They don't use spaces and punctuation and just carry on with their words.

We got onto a long boat from the shore, that took us to a larger boat. There were people from all around the world on the boat, and I spoke with two from the US, India, France, Germany, China, and others. Everyone was very friendly. The boat had a second level and people were jumping off onto the water. The crew offered a free drink to anyone who did a backflip and very eagerly chanted 'back flip, back flip' to encourage. Even so, only one tried, an American girl from California.

We stopped in four places to swim. The current was pretty strong at times but it was so beautiful. The water seemed really salty and buoyant, and floating was no problem. It was a little choppy and I got more than one mouthful of the salty brine. So much for not drinking the water! lol. Though I actually was so hot that I got a watermelon 'juice' that ended up with ice in it when in town. I decided to take my chances so fingers crossed!

The boat offered snorkels so of we went to check out the 'island' we were near and the schools of fish that were mostly silver, and black and yellow striped. The second site we stopped at had more of a reef and had more different fish and sea urchins.

The sun started to set at the third site we stopped at. I spoke with another guy on the crew who was from El Salvador. His parents emigrated to Canada in the Calgary area during the civil wars and he was hoping they would love to Thailand for a while. He had been living there for two years and loved it, while Carolotta had been there for 4.

The sun set in some of the most beautiful yellows, oranges and reds. It went surprisingly quickly! Dinner was a yummy affair after with pad thai, masaman curry and another chicken and vegetable dish, with lots of vegetarian dishes as well.

Carlotta told me that someone on the cruise was going to propose from his girlfriend. Unfortunately it wasn't until well after dark but it was very sweet. She got a number of the folks on the cruise to help as he has created many laminated little signs that people ran out with. She of course said yes, and everyone clapped.

I was a bit swum out but then they have a night swim as there is bioluminescence! This kind of plankton glow, and when you wave your arms in the water it was like a night sky of fireflies lighting up the water. It was really amazing to see!

We got back to the shore on the smaller long boats. I was still soaked and my towel got dunked in the water when I got off the boat. I decided to just stay as is and made the walk up to the tuk tuk meeting point for my hotel. It was unfortunately very full, and I felt badly about my sopping towel but, oh well! I made it just in time to go back. It was around 8:30 and I was completely exhausted! I took a long hot shower, which felt SO good after all of the salty water, and headed to bed at 9:30.

I recommend Krabi Sunset Cruises and had an amazing day. I got to see all I wanted to in this area and while I'd love another day to relax, I'm onward.. to my next adventure in a few hours. After breakfast and another wonderful pummeling massage. Ahh... :) (Note, the massage at my hotel is 510 BHT or $16.

Forgot to mention that Carolotta was sharing with me about teaching in Thailand. She said the local school pays between 35,000 and 45,000 BHT a month (around $1200 USD). Teachers work 4 hour days, housing and food is paid for. Expense would be minimal and 40,000 BHT would go a long way towards any of that. Something to ponder for certain!

I had the roti with mataba for breakfast-- a crepe filled with a mixture of banana, egg and milk. Yum. I also tried homemade pea bread-- it's bright blue and tasted like white bread with a slight sweetness to it.

This place is wonderful and I recommend it to anyone- Ban Sainai resort. The grounds are beautiful and lush, with a mountain overlooking and a beautiful little pond stocked with koi. A gorgeous duck dined with me this morning, with such amazing colors! I can't wait to be able to post pictures to this blog so you can see!

Everyone in Thailand is incredibly friendly. The language sounds like a song, and Carlotta told me that inflection can change the meaning of a word. There is one word for dog, horse and-- dang it if I forgot the third. Depending where you put the inflection provides the meaning. This is another reason why she said it's a very simple language. Not simple to learn, but simple itself. She said that once she stopped making it complicated, she learned it.

She also mentioned that living here, things are much cheaper for someone who speaks Thai.. even if you're not a local. I don't remember the details but she said two friends of hers wanted to buy mango and spoke in English. The price and quantity she got speaking in Thai was much lower cost for more mango-- it was something like a 5:1 ratio. It took her a year to learn it but it was worth it. Buying local foods here and items in general are inexpensive by our standards. However, trying to buy imported food-- she said, like oranges or apples, are very expensive and not as good.

Carlotta and the guy I spoke with on the cruise suggested I look at two other areas: Pii, and Khao Sok. The next time I come here (yes, next time) I will try to leave some time open to explore. I packed in this trip so I can't go to other places, but it would be nice to check more out. I will see what I think of the other areas I visit, and I am very excited about my next destination: Chiang Mai.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Asia Adventures, round 2: Thailand, Laos, Myanmar; Krabi Town

Hi all! Incredibly long day of flying but I'm here! In Thailand!

The highlights of the trip include a dash through LAX to catch a flight (as flight 1 of 4 was late to leave, then sat on the tarmac for a while. So my 2.5 hour connection became just over 30 minutes), getting yelled at by an American Airlines staff member when I asked for help to find my flight after losing my boarding pass and not being able to provide a ticket for checking in a bag because, get this, I did NOT check a bag! Getting a middle seat on a 14.5 hour flight where I had a skinny little asian man pretty much enjoying my seat with me.. ahhh. The joys of travel. Trying to navigate huge airports like Hong Kong (which was so well-marked it was pretty easy) and especially Bangkok (nightmare) on no sleep was a bit, oh, exciting, but I'm here, here, here!!

Though I was all excited to have gotten everything into a carry-on bag that fits in an overhead bin, it did not meet the weight standards (7 kilos) for the small plane I took from Bangkok to Krabi Town, so it did get checked. It came out as required (yay!) and my transport was there waiting for me. He didn't speak English and since I don't speak the local language, it was a quiet journey.

I picked Krabi Town, or more specifically, Ao Nang, for a couple of days of beach and relaxation to try to adjust to jet lag. i don't sleep on long flights in the best of circumstances, but with four flights for a total of around 21 hours flying time, plus airport time-- it's been a really long day. Well, more than 24 hours, actually! I left at 9 pm Friday and arrived on Sunday mid-afternoon.

The ride to my hotel took around 40 minutes, and it could have been any town in Mexico. There are really lush tropical plants here, and everything is really bathed in a green blanket of all different shades. Many of the buildings have a tin-looking roof of bright colors, and the buildings are all in various states of decay-- repairs are made for need and not really for aesthetic. Roosters are crossing the roads in traffic and, I was a bit surprised that they drive on the other side of the road, like the English do. I said a silent "thank you" for deciding not to rent a car here. After my, ahem, "challenge," driving in Ireland, it's best I didn't try that again! I am thrilled to say that the first sign of America here was a 7 eleven store and NOT golden arches.

I am staying at the Ban Sainai Resort, and I am so glad I did! It was a little bit of a splurge. Hotels in Thailand, and most of Asia for that matter, are crazy inexpensive. This one was off the main road and looked so nice! I had booked a room on a pond with a hammoc, however, somehow managed to book the wrong dates for a pre-paid hotel! Yeah, get that. This trip was an intense travel planning one, given that I'm in 6 cities (8, actually) in 16 days. Once I got the masterpiece booked, all but one of the local airlines cancelled flights and had me researching to rebook. So it was a tremendous effort and no wonder I made a mistake. I'm just grateful I figured it out two days BEFORE I left and not after I got here!

I rebooked to another room that was more affordable and while I'm sad to not have the hammock, it's amazing! Large room with stained concrete floors, bamboo accents, a large porch, and right near the pool where the massage hut is-- WIN! The hotel front desk is open air and when we pulled up, I was instantly taken care of. I was seated and presented with a small cold drink which tasted like a light juice of some kind, and a nice wet cold washcloth. I immediately booked a massage for 40 minutes later (yes!!) and then I was driven to my cottage and told about all the property has to offer.

Oh, that massage! i have never hurt so good in my life. I was very stiff and in a bit of pain from the journey and she pummeled me, stretched me.. oh man it was amazing. It started with my feet on warmed sea rocks and a foot scrub. It was in an open tent by the pool with sheer curtains, but by that time I really didn't have a care in the world. I literally had to be helped up from the table of torture, and I'm writing this the following morning wondering if I can do another.

The pool is a large salt-water pool where the water runs onto another area as a water feature. There were a lot of people there when I arrived but only a few when I left. I made my way to the restaurant and was surprised that no one was there but me! It was very nice and on the pond on the property, so I'm excited to have breakfast there to see what it looks by day. I got a thai dish, beef basil with rice and was so happy to be back in chopsticks! lol. While I likely won't eat beef in Asia much, out of fear for what mystery meat it could be, I figured a resort like this is safe and enjoyed it. I also got a mango sticky rice for desert, as I was told it's a must have. I took that back with me to my room and munched on it last night. Yum! I forgot to take a picture so will have to try it again, but it consists of a cut up mango, some very sticky rice that is almost blue in color, vanilla ice cream and what I believe was coconut cream. The combination made for a chewy, sweet and creamy mouthful. Yum.

I passed out pretty early-- just before 9, and woke to the sound of a distant but non-obtrusive rooster calling out at around 6. I'm enjoying laying here, and just be-ing. My back is a bit tender from the massage and I apparently have a matching set of blisters, but oh, I'm here!

I forgot to mention that when they guy brought my bags to the room (Son, my go-to guy for everything I need while I'm here), he kicked off his nice black shoes at the door and went in the room in socks. The room I had just traipsed in, in my sandals. Whoops. I forgot about that local custom.

Still trying to determine what to do today-- I have a sunset cruise tonight that I'm really excited about. It starts with a pickup in town at 1:15. I'm debating on going to the beach, going into town, or having another massage and laying by the pool. We shall see what my body is up for! Before then, I need to get up and head over for breakfast at the pond. Ahhh.. this sure is nice. And while the hotel isn't expensive by any means, the $180 I spent is a lot for the area but so well worth it! The room is incredibly appointed-- the usual stuff, of course, along with a robe and slippers, sandals, a nice thatched bag with a beach towel in it, an umbrella, water bottles, and a local snack of dried plantains.

Today is expected to be cloudy with a high of 89. I'm hoping the sun will make somewhat of an appearance for the cruise, though.

Alrighty-- my pics didn't update on my laptop from my phone, so will update this after I have access to them. I'm not in the mood to fix this now!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

California Coast Adventure

Note: This trip was done the week of Labor Day weekend. I have been a lazy butt and hadn't finished this until now. :)

I have been to parts of California a number of times--living in Arizona makes that easy. My cousin reached out and was interested in seeing San Francisco, San Diego, and driving the coast. So I heartily agreed, all excited to see some of the areas I haven't yet seen.

My cousin is from Philadelphia so we don't see each other often. For several years, I was able to plan work trips to New Jersey or Philadelphia. Now we just have to plan a little harder! We found out my brother and sister-in-law are also in San Francisco and though they were driving north, we planned to meet up for breakfast.

We flew into San Francisco at night. My flight was 30 minutes late and his 20 minutes early so we got in minutes of each other. We got to our hotel and settled after midnight, but we were quite amped up and excited for the trip. We stayed at the King George Hotel, a small boutique hotel two blocks from Union Square in the Tenderloin district. The area is a bit patchy but the location was really great and convenient for getting around.

We got up fairly early and met my brother and his wife at a nice little organic breakfast place on Beach Street, near Fisherman's Wharf. We took a trolley up, and my cousin was checking off his bucket list. The line runs a block from our hotel. Our time was short, but it was great seeing them.

We left to go to pier 33 to pick up the ferry to Alcatraz. I had been but my cousin hadn't, and it's such an interesting experience that I was happy to go again. The ferry takes around 30 minutes and you arrive. It's a small island very close to the coast of San Francisco. It seems so close, however, the currents are fierce and the area has lots of sharks swimming around, so escape was quite treacherous. We did the audio tour and walked around. Even the second time, it's just amazing to see the tiny cells and to walk through the halls, imagining the life of the residents.

One of the remaining living former inmates was there for a book signing. He looked like a cute old guy and like someone's grandfather.

We took the ferry back and headed over to pier 39 to see the sea lions. There are a dozen or so little docks where they lay playing, fighting, tanning, sleeping. Some are apart from the others and most are laying on top of each other. They are like the pitbulls of sea mammals, with no boundaries and they must be on top of each other. :)

We grabbed a bite to eat at a little Italian place then headed to see the painted ladies. There was a large gathering of probably 200 people on the park across the street sitting and looking at the houses.

We headed back and chilled out at the hotel for a short bit. I should say that the area hit record temperatures that were over 100 during the day. It's pretty much unheard of and usually San Francisco is significantly cooler than inland. Thankfully we knew and dressed accordingly, but it was hot and humid.

We hopped the trolley again and headed to Chinatown. We went to a place the hotel recommended, but there was a family coming out when we went in and they said to absolutely not do it. So we trusted their judgement and looked elsewhere. We ended up at another place with a short line, which we took as a good sign. We got to talking to a couple who has lived in SF for 40 years but they are from the Ukraine. It ended up that a large table opened, and they asked if we would be ok sitting together. Sure!

The food was good and we really enjoyed talking with them! It made for a really fun night.

On Sunday we got up and picked up our rental car right across the street from our hotel and headed out to the Golden Gate Bridge, and then stopped in Sausalito for breakfast before heading north. We planned to see Muir Woods and the redwoods. However, the traffic was backed up five miles so we gave up and drove on. That is the second time I had a failed attempt to go there.

We went to downtown Sonoma and walked around a bit. I did a wine tasting at Zina Hyde, which I enjoyed. We stopped for some yummy ice cream before heading to Napa. We went to V Sattui, one of my favorite places as the buildings and grounds are so beautiful. I did a tasting and then we headed to Raymond, a French winemaker that someone I know who works and lives in Napa recommended.

The grounds were nice and had some interesting touches. The wine was very good overall, and we met a lovely couple that moved to Phoenix a year-and-a-half ago! We really enjoyed our conversation and I shared my contact information with a plan that we'll meet up soon. We then went to Hess Collection, where the gal I know used to work until recently and she hooked us up with free tastings. The gal who took care of us was wonderful and poured us extras based on what we said we liked. I left with a bottle of Artezin Zinfandel, enjoying the 30% friends and family discount.

We went to downtown Napa and put our name in at a Spanish tapas place called Zuzu. We walked around a bit until our table was ready and what a great meal! I was a bit, well, 'happy' but it was great. There is an heirloom tomato tapa that had me licking the plate, and I liked it so much I got a second. We got some paella, ceviche and several other dishes. The service was good and it was a really nice dinner.

On Monday we started our way south, first stopping in Monterey. I had been there once before to go to the aquarium, but don't think I've seen the town. We drove through the historic town center and parked in Cannery Row to walk around. Maybe I missed the attraction, but I didn't think it was a pretty town in the least.

We then went to Carmel, which was in my top two to see. We walked a bit and then went to a mediteranean restarant. It got 4.5 stars on Yelp, but besides the hummus, I didn't think it was that great. My shawarma definitely wasn't in the list of the best I've had. We walked around a bit and realized we had to hoof it on down to Hearst Castle to catch a tour before they close.

Unfortunately, Big Sur is closed, or much of it, due to landslides. Big Sur was my #1 thing to see on the drive but it wasn't meant to be. I'll go some other time. We took the freeway down to San Simeon then toured Hearst Castle. Wow. It's gorgeous and truly amazing with the ancient artwork. Every inch of the place has a tapestry from 500 years ago, a sculpture from 1,000 years ago, or a mosaic. It's opulent, and amazing. It rivals the artistry of any of the palaces I have seen in Europe. And I think that was the idea.

We drove to Morro Rock to take some pictures, amazing by how large it is. We stopped in the town to grab a bite at a small local BBQ place, then checked into our hotel. I asked the lady helping us if she has a corkscrew, as I bought a bottle of nice wine at Hess and really didn't want to check a bag on my return. She did! Yay. When we were leaving, a couple of girls came in and also asked for a corkscrew! I laughed and handed it over, and decided to uncork my wine right away in case anyone else needed it. Turns out they are from Hannover, Germany, here in the US for three weeks and touring CA and going to Vegas before heading home.

I unfortunately bailed on my blog at this point, so will see what I can add from memory and pictures!

We continued down the coast making a stop at Pismo Beach, then headed to Solvang, a beautiful little Dutch town.


Then we went on to Santa Barbara, the lovely Santa Barbara.


Our next stop was Venice, where we spent the night. We walked out to the pier to watch the sun set and it was amazing!!

We continued our drive, down through Malibu and looked out on the amazing cliffs. We didn't stop to take pictures, though it's beautiful. We hit a massive traffic jam and got stuck for a good hour. Hilarity ensued as we saw a couple in the car behind us having quite the row. They were clearly screaming at each other then started hitting each other and the poor guy was clearly getting the worst of it. Actually, it was funny until they came screeching forward and we were worried they would hit our car! Soon enough, maybe an hour later, the traffic opened up and we were on our way. Best of luck to that poor couple.

We stopped in Laguna Beach for lunch. Wow. Double wow. I wished we had some time to really check it out. The beach was stunning and we went to a restaurant that looks over the water and is so amazing! The food was great and the view...!!!

We then left and made our way through LA traffic. It was steady but not too bad, and at 11 am. Pretty amazing when you think of it. We drove directly down to San Diego to get to see it some before I had to fly back home. We wandered around the Gaslamp district, which is really cute. We saw a Cat Cafe and had to go in for a coffee and some kitty snuggles. Dave had found a couple of interesting bridges when he looked at things to do and I hadn't done that before, so why not? One was a wooden bridge and the other a suspension bridge.

I flew back and left Dave for one more night, with guidance for him to explore Coronado. He did and enjoyed it!

Well, that's all folks. I wanted to get this done before heading on my next trip, so mission accomplished! :)