Monday, June 19, 2017

A Capital Time in Vientiane

June 19, 2017
Vientiane, Laos
One of the lovely sunsets on the Mekong, just across the river from Thailand
With only 760,000 people, the capital of Laos is hardly a Bangkok or Yangon, and has a small town feel for being the biggest city in the country. Besides being the biggest, the selection of Vientiane is less obvious of a tourist destination than anywhere else we have visited thus far. Not renowned for its sights or architecture, nor famous for its cuisine, we didn’t arrive with a laundry list of must-sees & -dos.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Lovely, Livable Luang Prabang

June 13, 2017
Luang Prabang, Laos


The UNESCO lotus pond at Maison Dalabua
After a couple of weeks back in Chiang Mai enjoying the relative comforts of our Nimman area condo with full kitchen and pool, we were getting restless; we were ready to move on beyond Thailand and start exploring Laos.  Our (ok, my – Scott’s) original plan had us taking the two-day slow boat from Huay Xai down the Mekong to Luang Prabang, after an overnight (or two) at the Gibbon Experience eco-tourism tree houses.  Caroline was not so keen on the tree house lodging scenario, which included hiking and zip-lining in with your stuff to a barebones, electricity-free, toilet-paper-free accommodation (you can bring your own but you must pack it out at the end of your stay), so I was going to do a quick one-nighter and meet her back in Huay Xai for the boat.




Monday, June 5, 2017

A Heartbreaking Legacy of War: Visiting the UXO Lao Vistors Centre

June 5, 2017
Luang Prabang, Laos


Examples of UXO being recovered in Laos in an effort to make Lao PDR a safe and economically viable nation
Today we visited the UXO Lao Visitors Centre here in Luang Prabang.  This modest, little museum sits on a quiet, back street not far from our hotel, but in the opposite direction from the main drag, so it’s definitely off the tourist track.  Although it is the type of sight that seems right up Lonely Planet’s alley, there is no mention that I could find of it in our guidebook.  (I did, however, find mention of it on www.lonelyplanet.com when I Googled it, after the fact, when writing this post).  I discovered it because it was listed as an attraction on the small map our hotel gave to us.  As it turns out, it was well worth a visit.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

More "Down Time" in Chiang Mai

May 30, 2017
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Monks, Malls, Motorbikes & Makeup - Spending productive & occasionally fun times in Chiang Mai
For the third time, we find ourselves hanging out in a Chiang Mai apartment after busy travel.  First, it was Tanny's condo on the south side of town after our initial Bangkok/Southern Thailand beach trip.  Then, after returning to Chiang Mai from Myanmar, we moved into Peter and Puy's Nimman neighborhood condo on the west side.  We left the condo for 9 days or so while going to Shanghai and Japan, and find ourselves back again before our final departure from Thailand.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Three Nights in Kyoto

May 21, 2017
Kyoto, Japan



A pair of would-be geishas posed for us outside the Gion Starbucks
For some reason, Japan never seemed to appear at the top of our list of places to travel. While not sure exactly why, when I think back it was probably subconsciously a few things. The high price tag, our pre-conception of the serious nature of the Japanese people, the overwhelming nature of an obligatory visit to Tokyo (if you’re going to travel all that way), the nagging feeling of inevitably committing various social gaffes in this unspoken-rule-oriented society, and the idea of more exotic destinations in the far east (if you’re going to travel all that way). 

Having the chance to opportunistically visit due to the logistics surrounding our Shanghai trip, we started to get excited about Japan. The food, the beautiful aesthetics of Japanese culture, the intriguing nature of the people, and after a few months in Southeast Asia, the order and cleanliness even started to sound exotic.  And if we only had a few days to spend, Kyoto seemed like the perfect place to introduce ourselves to Japan.

Monday, May 15, 2017

18 Hours in Osaka

May 15, 2017
Osaka, Japan

Antics in Dotonbori in Osaka
I spent much of the Shanghai-to-Osaka flight talking to Gao, a Chinese woman who has been living and working in Japan for many years.  She was extremely friendly and knowledgeable, and provided tips to help us enjoy our stay in Japan. Some we were able to use almost immediately upon landing – including how to say “excuse me” (I jotted down "smee mah sehm" phonetically, who knows if I was saying it right), and where to eat on our one evening in Osaka. 

Shanghai Surprise

May 15, 2017
Shanghai, China


Visiting friends John and Monique in Shanghai
A few years ago, we found out our friends from Michigan, John, a friend of mine (Scott's) from high school, and his wife Monique, were relocating themselves and their two kids to China for a year for John's job. One year turned into two and two years turned into three - lucky for us, since it gave us a window of opportunity to visit them while we're practically next door (a mere six-hour flight away).  

Monday, May 1, 2017

We Arrive in Hsipaw

May 1, 2017
Hsipaw, Myanmar

What could possible go wrong?
Upon disembarking our train at Hsipaw in a downpour, we were quickly approached by several young men with laminated photos of hotels, all trying to shuffle us into their vehicles to take us for a free ride to a potential lodging (for a commission, I'm sure).  We eventually relented, and climbed into a large, off-road 3-wheeler type vehicle with passenger truck bed space in the back.  The inn we stopped at was okay, but as the rain had stopped by the time we were finished looking at the accomodations, we decided to walk over to another place, Hotel Lily The Home, that we had already researched. After a quick tour, we determined Lily to be the far better option, and checked in for around $17 for the night.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Taking the Train from Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw

April 30, 2017
Hsipaw, Myanmar

All Aboard the Hsipaw (not so) Express!
Day two of our hill station trip (day one link) promised to be more sedentary, yet no less eventful, as we would be spending most of our day on the train.  Our taxi took us to the train station early so as to ensure that we got our pick of seats.  In my haste, I forgot to turn in our hotel room key at check-out. Our innkeeper called our taxi driver on his cell phone moments before we arrived at the station. I asked him if he could take it back. He agreed, and seemed confused when I gave him a tip for doing so, as I'm sure he'd have gladly taken it back anyway.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Heading to the Hills - Pyin Oo Lwin

April 29, 2017
Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar

Pyin Oo Lwin Gardens
Mandalay had been scorchingly hot, so, like those soft British colonialists before us, we decided to increase our altitude and head for the hill station towns of Pyin Oo Lwin and Hsipaw to the northeast of the city.  Both are reachable by train from Mandalay.  The train from Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin, however departs at 4am, and takes four hours to work its way up the mountain, versus 1½ hours by car.  The second leg goes from POL to Hsipaw, crossing the Goktiek Viaduct; we definitely wanted to do this section by train and it is a six-hour journey by itself.  Unsurprisingly, we opted to travel to POL by car, spend the night there, and take the train the following morning to Hsipaw.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Arrival in Mandalay

April 27, 2017
Mandalay, Myanmar

Bagan King Hotel Lobby
We arrived at the Bagan King Hotel in Mandalay at around 4 am, after taking the night bus from Nyaung Shwe in the Inle Lake area.  It was already (or more accurately, still) quite warm and muggy outside even at that early hour and we were exhausted after the bumpy ride. The night desk clerk at our modern, mid-sized, boutique hotel bumbled through our reservation a bit but eventually got us registered, informing us that the restaurant in the hotel would be open at 6 am and our room would be available at around 10 am. We sat down in the in interesting-and-ornate-yet-uncomfortable chairs in the too warm, un-air-conditioned lobby to wait.  

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

On and Around Inle Lake

April 26, 2017
Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar

Villagers paddling their way through a stilted village
We booked four nights at The Viewpoint Lodge so that we could spend plenty of time on the water and not feel rushed. On our excursion out to one of the nearby vineyards, we overheard other (much younger) travelers who did not share our opinion, wondering what to do after you've taken "the boat ride."

Well, for one, ride a bike out to one of the nearby vineyards.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Day on Inle Lake

April 23, 2017
Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar (Inle Lake region)

Cruising Inle Lake
We woke up feeling slightly better again, and made it to breakfast.  A beautiful breakfast display was delivered to our table shortly after we sat down.  They brought out a tray shaped like one of the local, flat, Inle fishing boats, topped with a variety of recognizable and “new to us” foods.  Additionally, we got a lovely basket of clearly locally-baked breads, including delicious croissants.  I’m pretty sure this is a Swiss-owned property, so of course they have tasty croissants.  And the coffee – a super bold Arabica grown in the nearby mountains – the best I’ve had in Asia so far.  If I was feeling 100%, I would have had more than the two cups that I drank.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Riding the Struggle (Mini)Bus to Inle Lake

April 22, 2017
Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar


The food-born illness that we've been tip-toeing around finally caught up with us. Yesterday started benignly enough.  Scott woke up early to watch the sun rise before heading for a hike up the hill on the southern border of town - traveling alone, as Caroline was already not feeling 100%.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Cooling Off in the Mountains of Myanmar - A Day in Kalaw

April 20, 2017
Kalaw, Myanmar

Someone helping Buddha stay warm in the cave temple of Shwe Oo Min
Per our hotel front desk’s suggestion, we walked to see the bamboo temple (but never found it) and the “small" cave temple Shwe Oo Min. It seemed quite substantial to us, with its winding pathways and multiple entrances/caves. Between the “Disco Temple,” bamboo temple, and cave, this town has a bit of a roadside attraction feel. Caroline says no more temples until Angkor Wat, as she's beyond templed out. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Ancient Temples of Bagan

April 18, 2017
New Bagan, Myanmar

Looking east from the top of Shwesandaw Pagoda
The cover photo of the Lonely Planet Myanmar, amongst other travel guides, pictures a hot air balloon floating over an endless landscape of ancient temple ruins at sunrise. The grandeur, mystery, and other-world-ness coaxing travelers to come explore. Few travelers who come to Myanmar, who aren't just visiting the big cities of Yangon and/or Mandalay, miss out on Bagan.  So it was obviously a requisite stop on our tour.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Shwedagon and the Start of Thingyan

April 13, 2017
Yangon, Myanmar


Diving right into the Thingyan water festival
Today was the first day of Thingyan, the Buddhist New Year celebration in Myanmar. It's also known as the water festival, since a major part of the celebration is "throwing water" on each other, symbolizing washing away the past year's bad, and starting with a clean slate. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Exotic, Friendly Yangon

April 12, 2017
Yangon, Myanmar

Buyers waiting for their made-to-order leaf-wrapped betel nut packets, outside of the Thein Gyi Zay market
Yangon - first impressions:
Everyone looks so different. From Thai people, from each other, and definitely from us.  The variety of cultural mix was evident the first time we walked out the door. India, China, Southeast Asia – it’s all there, everywhere we looked.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Travel Planning in Chiang Mai

April 10, 2017
Chiang Mai, Thailand

The moat and wall that wrap all the way around Chiang Mai
We passed a pleasant and relatively uneventful week in Chiang Mai after returning from our road trip to the Golden Triangle in northern Thailand.  Much of our mental energy this week was spent planning.  We had our Myanmar trip to think about, our time in Thailand after our return from Myanmar, and a quick visit to see the Sajans, our friends in Shanghai, to coordinate.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

"Crashing" an Akha Wedding in Chiang Mai

March 30, 2017
Chiang Mai, Thailand

The farangs (that's us), with the happy couple in their traditional wedding finery
[Scott] Waking up early for a change today, at 6:30am, I went out for a walk before the heat moved in. While rounding the corner near our condo building, I noticed that they were setting up for a wedding, with tents, tables, pink and white balloons, and a "curtain" of photos of a happy couple in combinations of western and hill tribe wedding costume.  I snapped a photo of the setup, then headed back to the condo to start our day.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Silly Farang! Or Getting Settled in Chiang Mai

March 27, 2017
Chiang Mai, Thailand


In case you're wondering where we've been lately, these last three days have found us getting settled in Chiang Mai, located in northeastern Thailand.

We arrived at our Chiang Mai AirBnB rental at sunset. It was 102 degrees F. It is hazy here, as the farmers are burning the fields in preparation for the coming rains but it was still a lovely sight from our balcony. It didn't come out in the photo, but the sun appeared as a perfectly round, bright red ball - simply gorgeous!

After a couple of weeks of moving at a reasonably speedy pace while island-hopping, we came north to the small city, popular with western expats, in order to take care of the necessary business of life and to plan our next steps.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

Magnificent Railay Beach

March 18 - 20, 2017
Railay Beach, Thailand

Railay's two shorelines from above, at the top of a jungle hike/climb
After a long and trying day getting from Koh Tao to Railay Beach, we were rewarded with a magnificent karst landscape, perfect turquoise waters to swim in, amazing jungle hikes to viewpoints and hidden lagoons, macaque spottings, delicious food, a beautiful hotel, and a most gorgeous sunset.  There's no point in trying to get around a run-on sentence when describing even the shortest visit to Railay.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Travel Day: From Koh Tao to Railay Beach


March 18, 2017
Koh Tao to Railay Beach, Thailand

How we got from Koh Tao, in the Gulf of Thailand, to Railay Beach, on the Andaman Coast.
Three pick-up trucks arrived at our hotel, the Montalay Beach Resort, on the island of Koh Tao at 8am, to take us and several other guests across the island to the ferry pier. One truck was loaded with everyone’s luggage, as all of the tourists piled into the other two.  The tower of luggage was piled so high in the back of the one truck that we had to wait some time while the taxi crew searched for a string to tie around some of the bags.  Not quite sufficient, the employees piled a few of themselves on top of the bags to keep them in the truck on the extremely steep (twenty-something percent) incline over the middle of the island.


Departing the Montalay Beach resort in a taxi pick-up truck

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Everybody Else Was Doing It...

March 16, 2017
Ko Tao, Thailand

If all of your friends were jumping off a cliff into jagged, coral-filled water, would you?  Well, in this case, sure.  Maybe it was that I’ve given up coffee (as of today – it’s soo bad at this hotel!) that I needed a shot of adrenaline to replace the caffeine.  Or maybe it was because it just looked fun.

All The Fish In The Sea: Snorkiling on Koh Tao, Thailand

March 16, 2017
Koh Tao, Thailand

Lovely Tanote Bay on Koh Tao. Sorry, no silly pic of me/us in snorkel & mask. :-P
Our first full day on the island kept us busy with snorkeling and travel-planning.  Scott's co-worker/replacement Jacqui was spot on with her advice - the snorkeling right off of the beach immediately in front of our hotel is amazing! 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

An Island Boat Tour to Ang Thong National Marine Park

Ko Pha-Ngan, Thailand
March 11, 2017


The view from the first lookout point on the hiking trail in Ang Thong Marine Park
After two completely lazy days of lounging around on the beach, we decided to take an organized tour out to Ang Thong National Marine Park, which is located about an hour-and-half's boat ride away from Ko Pha-Ngan.  Promptly at 8 AM, an enclosed, air-conditioned van (fancy!!) came to Pingchan Hotel to collect us and take us to the boat dock.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Taxi!

Bangkok, Thailand
March 8, 2017

Riding the canal - Bangkok's best attraction!
We have fallen in love…with the water taxi boats that ply the canals of Bangkok!  Bangkok is huge.  Really, really huge.  Typically, we love to explore on foot, but it's just not possible in this expansive city.  And while we love our neighborhood, it is not especially well-served by the underground or above-ground trains here in the city, making it necessary to take a taxicab or tuk-tuk to get around town.  While admittedly inexpensive, those two modes of transport have been a cause of frustration for us, as the drivers tend to try to overcharge western tourists (or maybe they try to cheat everyone who climbs aboard!).  Even more antagonizing, however is the fact that none of them use GPS of any kind and never have any idea where our hotel, or any other destination, for that matter, is located.  As such, Scott, the expert problem-solver, went in search of a better way. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Errands in Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand
March 7, 2017

One thing about being "homeless" while traveling is that there's never any reason to wait to get home to do something - such as errands. Which means if you think you need a haircut, go find somewhere to get a haircuts. If you need to do laundry... you get the idea.

This can sometimes prove tricky, as you have no "go-to's" that you know you are reliable.  But, it almost always proves to be an interesting and sometimes rewarding experience.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Street Eats in Bangkok's Chinatown

Bangkok, Thailand
March 5, 2017

Eating street food in Southeast Asia seems to be one of the primary draws not just for Western travelers - with their steady diet of food, travel, and food travel TV shows - but for other Asian travelers as well.

Being in the biggest city in food-crazed Thailand, we had any number of places to go for a sampling.  On Saturday we spent the better part of the day at the gigantic Chatachak Weekend Market, where there were quite a variety of food offerings, in addition to just about anything else you could possibly want to buy. We opted for lunch in a sit-down 'pop-up' place specializing in Tom Yam Kung, a spicy and sour soup served with giant prawns.


Spicy Tom Yam Kung Soup

Seeing the Sights in Bangkok - Wat Phra Kaew, Grand Palace, & Wat Pho

Bangkok, Thailand
March 5, 2017

On our third full day touring Bangkok, we decided it was time to see the requisite sights where all tourists are directed.  The famous Grand Palace compound, including the ornate temple complex of Wat Phra Kaew, and the nearby giant reclining Buddha at the Wat Pho temple.  Our hotel, situated in the 'Old Bangkok' neighborhood of Banglamphu, was well situated to easily access both of these popular attractions that reside on the man-made Rattanakosin Island on the banks of the Chao Phraya River.  Our hotel offered a free tuk-tuk ride to these sights, which we took advantage of at the earliest scheduled hour we felt we could commit to, 9:30am, with vague fears of jetlag still in our heads.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

One Night in Bangkok (To be Followed by Many More!)

Bangkok, Thailand
March 2, 2017

Tuk-tuk ride to our hotel, the Villa Phra Sumen
Hallelujah! The flight that I had been dreading for months was finally over!  After almost exactly 24 hours of travelling, we arrived in Bangkok.  The 16-hour flight from New York JFK to Taiwan was far less unpleasant than I had feared and even Scott proclaimed it to be even more fun than he had anticipated. (Fun??? Really???  What a weirdo!).  

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Start Spreading the News. No Longer Gonna be a Part of it....

New York, NY

It must have been last winter, after one year down on the lease, that we started thinking of next steps after New York.  Going in, we figured NY would be a one to two year experiment, then on to..... Asia? South America? Europe? with Nestle. As busy as a first year as it had been after the Nestle transfer to NY, we started re-thinking the idea of an expat assignment with Nestle.  If the point of working abroad was to explore far flung places, how much time would we really have to do that with such a busy work schedule?