Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sue and Mo at Harris Beach
Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A day with the elephants
I know saying I spent a day with the elephants sounds so simple, but it doesn't begin to describe an elephant camp and how it feels to ride an elephant through the jungle for a long time... the "Mahout?" lives and breathes with his elephant for life. Our girl was 30 years old and her mahout had been with her for 8 years. Then they gave us an elephant show. The elephants are so incredibly brilliant. I filled my photo card just on elephants.

There are many opinions about these elephant camps, some say they are wrong, others say that they save the lives of elephants that would otherwise be doomed to hard labor and amphetemines in Burma. Awful stories about injured and maimed elephants. But here in Thailand, they love the elephants and treat them well. They have many hours of rest and play, and a few hours each day doing rides and yes, some silly shows, that are still amazing. It was wondeful, and for the time being, I let the controversy rest and just enjoyed myself.
Later we road peacefully on bamboo down the river for another hour watching the jungle go by, then to an orchid farm and now here at the hotel for our last dinner and to Bangkok tomorrow.
I have been truly and incredibly blessed to experience this trip.

Thailand is a wonder and I hope that every single one of you gets to see it someday.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Chiang Mai Magic and Doi Suthep

Royal Flora Ratchapuri

Don't miss the photos of this amazing event. Words can't begin to do it justice.

Today, the smog lifted a bit, and once more, Mo and I opted out of the group tour to some Chiang Mai factories and decided instead to find the annual flower show I had read about before we left the US.
There are some memories of this trip to Thailand that will stay with me always. Our day at the Royal Flora Ratchapuri was one of those memories. We used the bus, which was easy, and got to the show before it opened, to stand in line with the other local people waiting to enter. Royal Flora was mostly in honor of the King's birthday, and was beyond amazing. Royal Flora turned out to be something like a combination Disney World, Epcot, a World's Fair and the Philadelphia flower show all rolled into one. We stayed 8 hours and didn't begin to see it all. For those of you who have been to Bloedel Conservatory in Vancouver, just one display called the Shade House was five times bigger and more fantastic, than the entire conservatory, and that was only one display of hundreds. Don't miss these photos, they are beyond amazing!

Also amazing was that it was mostly Thai people, we were one of very few non-locals. That was fun, too. Everyone was incredibly friendly, and helpful. We just happened to be there when many school kids were also there in their school uniforms, in groups, all giggling and laughing. Several of the groups had been charged with practicing their English, and Mo and I were easy targets several times, while they gathered around and asked us questions, filling out our answers in their notebooks. English is taught in all the schools, and the Thai kids are encouraged to become proficient.

Family Home Visit

Families. In Thailand it was such an eye opener to see how close families remained. No one moved across the country, they didn't even move across the town. They lived in big family compounds. We visited one such family, and the rest of our group visited several others, in small groups of 6 or 7 people. The story was all the same. Mother was a public relations specialist for a big company, Father brokered coffee beans.

Their home was spotless, lighted with flourescent bulbs that are bright and dim at the same time. Two children, 20 months and three. Little girls that were the apple of their eye. Mother's mother had a pumpkin farm nearby but stayed with the kids while mom worked and Fathers mother stayed when grandma one was away at the farm. Auntie and Nephew were there for dinner as well, and lived upstairs. Various grandparents lived in the houses next door, and other assorted relatives.

All sharing common values and common lives, picking the papayas and bananas from their compound trees, eating fresh vegetables, taking food to the monks at 6am.We sat on her floor and made pyramid cakes, special food that the monks loved. Father had been a monk for several years. It is expected in Thailand that men will serve as monks for at least some time in the lives, from months to years. As monks, they learn the proper way to live. They learn the 8 precepts of Buddhism, and how to live in peace and equanimity. We asked how the women learn these values since they can't be monks, and were told that all people are taught from childhood the peaceful, calm, gentle way of the middle path.
The pyramid cakes are made from a paste that is kind of grayish purple, a bit like poi, but made from sticky rice flour and palm sugar, about half as sweet as american sugar. You brush oil on a perfectly cut banana leaf, form a patty of the paste, put in a spoonful of shredded deep fried coconut that has some kind of other stuff in it, and then wrap it perfectly with specific folds that end up in a perfectly folded little package. Amazing. They are then steamed for 15 minutes and served up warm for dessert or saved for the next mornings offerings to the monks.
I thought about my family, and how scattered we are, and this very different way of living and how good it felt, how close they are, how strongly they support their families. If I were Thai, I would have taken my grandmother and dorothy into my home, I would have cared for them no matter what it took. I couldn't do that, and I don't expect my kids to do that. And yet I wondered at what we have given up with all our independence. That kind of family and community.
The back side of the lack of conflict is the lack of self expression. It is considered uncouth and totally unacceptable to speak poorly of your family, or to raise your voice. Conflict is avoided at all costs. What is lost in this is really having any idea what anyone really thinks. Can these people be any different than all the rest of us, with anger and frustration, and grupmy thoughts about all the expectations? Probably not, but you would never know it.
Sitting in a huge gridlock traffic jam that Bangkok is well known for, I saw that calm and peaceful demeanor of the Thai people. Bikes and trucks and even a cement truck pushing in for space, people not exactly getting cut off, but gently pushed as the gridlock got tighter and tighter. No horns honking, except that little toot to let someone know you may be a quarter inch from their bumper

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

To Chiang Mai

This morning we had breakfast at the hotel, put out the luggage and boarded our bus for the drive to Chiang Mai. The trip was incredibly beautiful, winding through the mountains, with more teak forests, farms, rice fields, flowers everywhere. We stopped for pie and coffee at a lovely resort on the river, than again at a dragonfruit farm. The dragonfruit grows on a plant that looks somewhat like a very large Christmas cactus, but they weren't blooming this time of year. We then stopped for lunch at a truly beautiful new resort that had developed a magnificent botanical garden. Lunch was a bit boring, but the gardens were amazing, especially the palms. Mo and I spent every possible minute at this stopover walking and seeing as much as we could before we needed to board again for the rest of the trip.

It seemed like a bit of a long day, though, and we were glad to arrive at our hotel in Chiang Mai, the Empress. Chiang Mai is a mountain town as well, and somehow I imagined it to be cleaner and fresher, but once more the exhaust from all the deisel engines makes the air rough and my eyes burn constantly. In the distance, from our hotel room, we can see the Buddha at Doi Suthep. I know this is a beautiful city, but at the moment it just felt big and dirty, with lots of traffic and bustle. Especially after the beautiful trip through the mountains to get here.

This evening I tried to write to my daughter about our travels, but looking back at the email, I can see how tired I was, and a bit overwhelmed with so much input and so many images. Sometimes on these trips, with so much to see it is hard to find down time. Time to regroup and let things settle a bit. Something to keep in mind.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Golden Triangle

Again, words seem to falter, and only the photos remind me of all that I experienced on this day. Traveling through what is called "The Golden Triangle" (a corner of Thailand where the border is shared with Burma and Laos) was long and fascinating and left me with complex images in my mind.

Burma (Myanmar) is very different from Thailand, even just across the border in a small border town, that brought to mind images of Tijauna when I used to visit as a child. Poverty and squalor. We were allowed in the border village only, since the rest of Myanmar is basically off limits to westerners. We saw incredible poverty, truly a third world country here and we were the rich tourists gawking. It felt strange. The market was noisy and incredibly smelly with fish, and the waterways between houses ran with garbage and fresh sewage.

I actually tried to chew betel nut, more adventurous than most of the group, and it somehow reacts in your mouth and creates huge amounts of saliva. Ick. Not a good experience, but I'm glad I did it. There were women in dirt floored hovels, with old sewing machines making things and Ray introduced us to one of his friends. Here the young boys were all monks, but in Burma, they beg constantly, something not encouraged, as it is quite different from the genteel gifting to the monks in Thailand.

It’s amazing how different the people are even so close to each other. It was the same in Laos, a country I barely know anything about at all. My greatest treasure is a heavy dark stone from the Mae Khong River. I carry so many mental images from deep consciousness and stories of Viet Nam, Cambodia, and hearing these names on the news as a young girl. It was rather incredible to be riding on this river as we crossed the border into Laos.

We had lunch in some farm village after a rough ride in a farm truck over dirt roads. I loved it. The lunch was BBq chicken and pad thai and rice in banana leaves, and as usual, was beautifully arranged and presented. The countryside reminded me of movies I have seen of Viet Nam and other places, that were probably filmed right here in Thailand. We drove through mature teak forests and rice fields that were dried up for the season.

The air was not very clean either, since they were burning the rice straw all over this part of Thailand. I am beginning to miss clear air. Somehow this was a full, and somewhat challenging day, with mixed emotional responses to all that was around me. But it was also a day that I hold in my memory in a different way than some of the other parts of this trip, and I'm glad we took the extra time and money to include the Triangle in our tour.

Gliding down the Mae Khong River we saw a huge golden Buddha along the shoreline that dominated the entire skyline. Something about the huge size of the Buddhas adds to the mystery of the landscape. Maybe because a giant statue of Buddha isn't something that you see often along a river in the US.

Home late to rest a bit beore our shared dinner at the Chinese restaurant in the hotel, another break from the local Thai food but certainly not memorable. This time, however, we drank beer.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Hill Tribes

The days are running together, my travel journal is becoming more and more abbreviated. It seems that words are failing me, and for this day it really is worth the side trip to the Picassa album

Today we traveled into the mountains to visit to the hill tribes and villages, including the Yao, the Akha, and the Longneck Pad Gung. We had lunch in the high moutnains very close to China at Doi Mae Salong. Riding the vans through the mountains was wonderful. Many mixed feelings about the hill tribes in Thailand, since it seems that they are exploited considerably for the tourism trade, especially the longneck women. But the countryside was beautiful and the villages fascinating.

I bought a lovely silk shawl that was woven by a village woman, the real thing this time, and the people seemed very happy to have us in their village taking photos. It seemed a bit incongruent to me that a lovely woman with her neck rings weaving in her hut was decked out in very good western makeup.

The skies were lovely, lunch was another group family style meal of good Thai food which I love and Mo is getting seriously tired of eating.

Home late to dinner at the coffee shop on our own. for an American style meal. We ordered white wine and salads. Wine was 200 baht (about $20 us) for 2 small glasses. Beer is definitely the beverage of choice while in Thailand, and I have learned that although I am not a beer drinker, I truly love the Thai Singha beer.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Exploring Chiang Rai

After breakfast this morning at the hotel buffet, we went for a walk across the river bridge north of the hotel . The early morning light was humid and misty and it didn't seem too hot for a change. We are in the mountains now. It felt like we really were in something foreign and magical. We walked along the Koh River and picked up rocks and watched people in their yards and dogs here and there. It was good to get some exercise and have a chance to explore on our own as well.

Back to the hotel for the group tour of the town, including the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phrae Kaeo. The gardens there were so lush and lovely and the buildings much more simple that in Bangkok. We then went to the museum “Baan Ono Kam” with a beautiful private collection of Thai artifacts. The sculpture was wonderful, especially the elephants.

We asked to be dropped off in town, on our own again, and Mo and I explored some and had good beer and pizza for lunch. The town wasn't too impressive, but easy to get around in. Back to the hotel by 2 to spend a couple of wonderful hours at the magnificent swimming pool. Palms, flowers, Thai skies. The water was surprisingly cold, but floating there looking up at the clouds surrounded with palm fronds and flowers was magical.

A short nap and then a bus trip to another resort for a Thai cooking lesson where we cooked pork soup (awful) and pad thai (great) and stir fry chicken. Dinner was another round of family style food with our co-travelers, that we are getting a bit tired of. Some of our travel mates are so piggish about passing the dishes, and there seems to be a bit of cliquiness going on, the down side of group travel. It isn't really that troublesome for Mo and I since we are pretty independent, but I can imagine it might be a problem for some people. We enjoy our own company more than most anyway!

We went to the food market before dinner and the night market afterward. Enjoyed the night life that seems to really start up in the country after dark in the markets. More Thai "stuff" including a paper dragon for my granddaughter and a few other small knick knacks, but most of what is available in the night markets seems cheap and made for big consumption. Lots of fake Rollex watches, and cheap clothes, and here and there a bit of art that is nice, but in the midst of everything else it is a bit overwhelming. It is also incredibly crowded, with thick throngs of people milling about on the streets, and lots of noise as well. The night markets are supposed to be one of the fun things to do in Thailand, but we weren't that impressed with them overall.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

To Chiang Rai

We called our dog sitter, Bobbie, to check on Abby and then went down for our last breakfast at the hotel, where we both decided to have American style omelets and bacon.

After breakfast I bought silk and cashmere pashiminas for my daughters for 20 each and a truly lovely beaded one for myself for 40 american. I later learned that these were not from Thailand at all, but were marketed by middle eastern merchants to unsuspecting naive tourists like myself. They were still lovely, though.

We then finished packing and got the bags out and identified and went walking downtown a last time for some coffee overlooking the street while we waitied for our airport transfer.

The Bangkok International Airport (Suvarnabhumi) is huge but doesn’t have enough bathrooms, at least according to Ray. Check-in was uneventful and while we waited for our flight our co-traveler Terry, a nurse from Southern California, entertained us with her massage stories. They are probably a bit too risque for this blog, but suffice it to say that when having a massage in Thailand, it is important to be VERY specific about the kind of massage you want, even if you are a woman.

The flight was beautiful and Thai Airways is gorgeous, with great service, and interesting, un-named food. We even had window seats for the one hour flight. We arrived at the Chiang Rai airport and were whisked off to our hotel on the Kok River. It’s a truly lovely hotel with a view of the hills to the west and a light down comfortor in a cotton duvet on a very comfy bed.

As we arrived on our bus, there was a group of Thai girls from a private school visiting as well at the hotel and they were a delight to watch, giggling and sweet in their very proper uniforms. We are looking forward to new adventures in a new town after a good night's rest.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Bangkok Lumpini Park Downtown

Today we decided to skip the included tour to the floating market and instead spent the day on our own. After another wonderful breakfast in the hotel, we went walking to Lumpini Park. Crossing streets in Bangkok is rather terrifying but once in the park it was tranquil and lovely. We ran into some fellow travelers and took photos of the kodo dragon lizards under the bridges along the canals.

We walked from the park to Siloam Road and boarded the sky train to ride to all four end points. It was a fascinating trip and a great way to get a view of the city and how really big it is. The train was clean, quiet, and fast, and the people were very polite (of course!) and not loud or pushy. The girls were modestly dressed and sat properly, in their working high heels and proper skirts and blouses.

Home in the afternoon for a rest and a swim in the pool. There were a lot of people around but it was still nice.

Dinner at the hotel in the coffee shop was the International Buffet and one more time I had all sorts of amazing things. Best was the pumpkin-crab fritter with some kind of sweet sauce and the veggie springrolls. After dinner we went to the Internet café to wrote a long letter and then home to bed. I'll include the letter here since it talks about about the "feeling" of Thailand for me.

I am in Bangkok tonight, and after five days am ready to head for the mountains. It has been amazing, of course, but did you expect any differently? Tonight it is hot, it is always hot, but in that great way that tropical places are hot, with all the smells and humidity that go with it. This place, Planet Out Internet Cafe, is right on the main red light district in this part of the world, and it is safe and crazy, in spite of the wretched trade that goes on here. It's a tourist thing at the moment, and if you don't pay attention, you may not have a clue what it actually is. There are night stalls full of "stuff", but all hasn't been just these two streets in Bangkok, where our hotel is nearby. Today I thought of you Jeanne, and you Stacy, because I had food that I hadn't a clue what it was, in a really nice streetside restaurant that served vegan food and "smoothies". I had mango spring rolls and a mango and "jelly" smoothie, at least that's what I thought I was getting, but it had all sorts of crazy lumps in it and flavors I couldn't begin t figure out. Fun. and really really good! Yesterday I had papaya salad, and I suppose anyone who has been to a lot of Thai restaurants would know what that is, but I didn't. It was incredible as well.

Food has been wonderful here, a real adventure. Even the flight wasn't as bad as I imagined it might be, with 12 hours to Tokyo and then another 8 hours to bangkok after waiting around a tokyo for a bit. The plane was an airbus 330 with actual leg room and best of all, video solitaire at your seat. I played till my eyes bugged out. so much for knitting! Arriving in bangkok after midnight on very early Wednesday am and we started right in on Wednesday looking at temples. Ok. so maybe I'm just a provincial wuss from the western side of the US, but I was bedazzled. melody? you want to talk about racoon? you have never, and I mean NEVER seen such sparkles in your life. The prangs and chidras all go up, way up, and they are all covered in gold and jewels and mosaics and mirrors in ways that make them sparkle in the sunlight as if they were lit up electronically. It's a wonder to watch. The Grand Palace was the most amazing, I guess, and the Buddhas. The reclining Buddha is 150 feet long and 50 feet high and all gold, and the golden buddha is made of 5.5 tons of gold.

There is so much food here as well. As usual for these kinds of tours, we went to the market. I guess it's a given when you are traveling to go to the market, but I certainly can see why. Imagine bushel baskets of cilantro, and buckets of ginger and huge bags of garlic and hot peppers in big bins and on and on. the smells were incredible. and jasmine. Jasmine chains that I thought were bracelets and I bought one for 30 cents or something and found out later that they are actually offerings for the Buddhas.

Best part so far was actually a really touristy thing, the evening boat ride on the Chang Praya river on some kind of open boat with tables and candles. We floated down the river past the temples and then all those mirrors really DID look like Christmas lights. We ate things that had no names, and I really loved the curry that was all limey and coconutty and hot. Poor Mo isn't so sure about that stuff, but she's doing great and enjoying the food as well. As we floated down the river, the moon came out over the Wat Arun, a major temple along the river. the moon was partially covered by clouds and looked as though a dragon was eating it. I don't think I have ever been quite so enthralled as I was at that moment. Mo said, gee, it feels like were on a Disneyland ride or something, only out of the imagination could come such really magical stuff.

There are lots more things, lots of amazing sights, but we are now heading for dinner. Tonight will be simple, dining in at the hotel, and then up early in the morning for the buffet breakfast which is actually wonderful. I am addicted to Thai pancakes and Thai fruit. oh my gosh, the fruit!!!! the watermelon is dense and red and always sweet and dark. The pineapple is so sweet and fresh, and then of course there are all the others with names I can't remember, and dragonfruit and mango and who knows what else. and sticky rice and hot chili oil and Thai omelletes with more rice and hot chilis. gee I am talking about food again. guess you can see that I am not worrying much about my diet. LOL where was I.

oh yes, back to Lumpini park. today we walked there, and believe me, walking in Bangkok is a major undertaking. Getting across the streets is on the same level and Jeanne's kayak stories!! But in Lumpini park things were tranquil, a huge oasis in the midst of the frenetic city, and we got pictures of huge kodo dragon lizards lying around in the water under the bridges. Later we boarded the skytrain for riding all over the city. It was a big surprise, since our hotel is in one section, and we have been driven around by buses to some of the others. Until we got elevated, we had no clue that this city was so huge and full of really big big skyscrapers, and lots of them. Funny thing is that they are everywhere, not just in a district as we are used to seeing in the US.

I have taken more than 400 photos so far. Good thing there is an internet cafe so I can download them to the flash and take more! Ok. time to head back for dinner. Hope you are all doing fine. Send emails to this gmail address. i'll be checking in soon. Thanks for the text messages as well, Melody and Deanna. Good connection to home.

Love to all

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Bangkok and the Grand Palace

This day started early with another buffet breakfast at the hotel and on the bus by 8am. Our first venture was a trip to the Grand Palace. From the entrance gate, I could see the Phra Si Ratlana Chedi and thought, gee that’s pretty.

Nothing prepared me for what it was like to actually walk into Wat Phra Kao. The complexity of the art, the buildings the gilded figures, all of it, was overwhelming. And the sparkle! It’s hard to explain how all the mirrors and gold sparkle in the sunlight. No picture could capture it because it is related to your own movement as you walk around the grounds.

Everything soars upward, the chedis (where relics of the Buddha are held, the prangs which guard the grounds and even the buildings, everything requires that you look "up". The ‘bat’ holds the sacred emerald Buddha, but the jade sculpture was so surrounded by complexity that you could barely see it. I sat on the floor with some Thai girl scouts and thought of my friend Shera who passed early this year and eased her passing with Buddhism.

Later in the day we went to the klongs, the canals of Bangkok. We walked from the palace down to the river where we boarded a long boat for a tour. Bankok used to be a city of water and the klongs were the main form of transportation. The ride up the river in the daylight was very different from the magical romance of the night before but fun nonetheless. Then we motored into the main klong going west into the Thon Buri side of Bangkok. Here we saw the intricate network of canals and scenes of everyday river life. There even is actually a “bank boat” that goes up the river to service people at their houses. We saw the Royal Barges and many houses of an amazing variety.

Lunch was at a restaurant near the waterfront and then we were taken to the Gems gallery to see the sapphires and rubies that Thailand is so famous for. It was a bit overwhelming, a little impressive, but just a thinly disguised way to get us to spend big bucks. The one small piece that I looked at was $2500.

Back to the hotel for a good nap and then downstairs for a "cultural discussion". It was only ok, but a little bit interesting. More talk about the king and how wonderful he is and a bit about being a proper Thai girl. The people here are very modest and proper. Ray was a Buddhist monk and he often dispenses Buddhist teachings while we are on the bus.

Mo and I then braved the streets of Pat Pang to find some dinner where we ate Pad Thai and San Miguel beer and watched all the people at the night market. We also went to the Planet Internet Café and checked email, and home to sleep after I downloaded all our photos to the flash drive. It seems I am taking a lot of photos, and everything is filling up fast!

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

First day in Bangkok

Our hotel is really quite lovely and the room pleasant enough, with a nice bath and a view of the Montien Plaza. We are on the 12th floor. We woke after some sleep and went down to breakfast and our first day of adventuring.

Breakfast at the Montien Hotel is a great buffet with Japanese, Thai, and American food. The watermelon is truly incredible, dense and sweet, and dark red, and the pineapples incredibly sweet as well. Thai omelette with rice and hot chile oil is a treat, as well as dragon fruit and mango and papaya. The coffee is really good, too, strong and full of substance but not bitter.

We met for our orientation at 10am. Ray is our trip leader, the group is a mix of people but there are some younger people along as well the older folks so that is nice. After the meeting we walked around the hotel a bit, changed money at the bank, and found the internet café.

Our first exploration was a trip to Wat Traimit in Chinatown. It was actually somewhat tacky but is the home of the Golden Buddha made with 5.5 tons of gold. Our first venture into Bangkok traffic and the smell of deisel exhaust was an experience as well. I think the exhaust was the most difficult part about being in Thailand, since the TukTuk's all run on deisel, as do the many motorcycles and taxis and busses that make up traffic in Bangkok.

We then went to the local flower market where all the good smells and sights of Thailand begand to appear.
I bought a fragrant jasmine bracelet which I found out later was for an offering to Buddha, but it smelled wonderful hanging in my room later.

There were huge baskets of gorgeous fruits and vegetables, ginger root and long beans, garlic, onions, and bushel baskets of cilantro. The smells were so exotic and stimulating. Ray said the market was mainly for wholesale purchases and the grocery stores buy from there.

We drove next to Wat Po and the home of the Reclining Buddha. On the way, Ray spoke about Buddhism in Thailand. The kindness and tolerance of Buddhism is in such contrast to the stark harsh violence of some other religions. The wat was our first exposure to the amazing Thai style of temples and the incredibly complex mosaics made from broken china and mirrors.

The reclining Buddah is really huge, 150 feet long and 50 feet high. The smell of incense is everywhere. It was so amazing to see it for the first time, but was just a tiny taste of what the Grand Palace held in store on the next day.

Home to the hotel for a short rest, and we set the alarm since we were so tired and didn’t want to miss our dinner cruise. I wore a skirt and sandals and Mo wore her long black skirt and we took the bus to the river for our dinner cruise. I may be naïve and underexposed to the wonders of travel, but for me this was incredibly exotic and magnificent. The boat held just about 40 people for dining and dinner was all buffet style with MaiTais. Now I know where they come from, all that pineapple, one of the best parts of Thailand for me.

We boated up the river while eating strange foods and watching the lights and temples of Bangkok slide by. It was incredibly beautiful and at one moment Mo said “I feel like we are at Disneyland on some exotic ride”. It was as though the reality of this world could only be a fantasy made up somewhere. Then at the perfect moment, the moon came partially out from behind the clouds and shined through the towers of Wat Arun. All the mirrors on the temples glitter and sparkle like twinkling lights as you move past them. It was simply magical. It still surprises me when I go back through my photos that I didn't try to catch this moment. Somehow I know that something like this can't be captured, it has to be experienced. I guess that is why we travel rather than just look at photos in National Geographic.

It started raining then, and the crew dropped the boat curtains and the wind blew and we all got wet. It was warm and humid and yet cool at the same time. I loved it.

After dinner, Ray gave orchid leis to all of us and we picked our way back to the bus through the dark streets. I even fell asleep on the bus and once at the hotel fell into the bed and slept like a stone.

The rest of the photos for this day are here:

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Sunday, December 3, 2006

Flying to Thailand

Flying to someplace as far as Thailand was a first for me, if not for Mo. I was so excited and it was hard to figure out just what to take. I had packed several times, but still spent the last day before our departure trying to figure out what I really needed. I am still not a very good international traveler I am afraid, I think my one checked bag was a pound or two under the limit. That is one of the nice things about not having to haul my luggage around all the time alone. We are traveling with Grand Circle Travel, the same company we went with last year to Malta. They do a great job of getting us around a country without a lot of hassles, but we still manage to stay somewhat independent and do our own thing as well.

We left Jamestown at 11:45 and drove to SF via 108, 120, 280 and in to San Bruno. Found our Super 8 hotel with ease, unloaded and checked in, then decided to go to Union Square. Parking was 2.50 for 20 minutes so we didn’t stay long, but still had Irish coffee at O’Doule’s and went to the 5 story Williams Sonoma store, my favorite! The lights in Macy’s were gorgeous! Huge wreaths in every window of the skyscraper. The main window had really magical displays that told the story of Beauty, Wisdom, Peace, etc, with magnificent puppets. It was a great way to enjoy the Christmas season a bit before traveling to a country where Christmas might not be such a big deal.

Early Monday morning we tried to sleep but of course I was too excited to sit still so we called the taxi a bit early. A very large, very friendly, and very talkative and smelly guy took us to the International Terminal in his beat up cab. Once there we sailed through all the check points in spite of the new regulations for security. Ate a great breakfast of foccacia bread and coffee while we waited for our flight.

We left San Francisco at 12 noon with seats in the center so we could have an aisle. It was nice getting in and out but I really missed the view, although most of it would be over the ocean and in the dark. We flew 12 hours to Tokyo, but it didn’t really seem as long as I thought it would. I knitted a lot, and sometimes tried to watch tv, but the most fun was the electronic solitaire game on the seat back tv's that we played till our eyes bugged out. Finally arrived in Tokyo which was actually pretty boring, at least in the part of the airport where we were able to see. Not much there, but the security police looked very smart in red uniforms and white gloves. We had to go through security again and wait about an hour for a change of planes.

My eyes were burning horribly from the airplane air and all the solitaire, so I tried to find some eye drops. Tokyo is expensive, I am sure, but the airport is worse. Reading Japanese is not something that gives you any visual clues about what you are seeing whatsoever, so I finally found a tiny bottle of something that the clerk told me was eye drops and dropped about 1000 yen for it which turned out to be something like ten bucks! I think the cure was worse than the problem, though, I felt as though I was dropping acid into my eyes. Note to self: carry eye drops in those ziplock backs of liquids on the plane!

Funny thing. When we finally got on, it turned out to be the same plane. We were on United Airlines, and our plane was an AIRBUS 330 and really quite comfortable even in coach class. The flight to Bangkok was 8 more hours. Early on I thought I was going to be really uncomfortable, but it actually went fairly quickly, with the help of solitaire, of course. Arriving in Bangkok at 12:30 am and the Montien Hotel at 2 or something in the morning, a bit worse for wear, ready for some sleep and to thankfully close our eyes at last in a real bed.