Sunday, October 31, 2010

How Cool It Is

We're back at our house in time to hand out a few Halloween treats. Both Tom and Ellyn and the two of us were hopeful for bumps on our final flights but nothing materialized but full planes.

In our case, we pick up our rental car from Budget after an annoying agent in the Seattle Airport first offers to rent us a larger car for "only $13" and then makes us listen to his offer for the excess insurance on which they make some real money.

We finally escape, notice a couple of dents on the car that we report and have documented, and drive home quite efficiently, given it's a Sunday afternoon.

Suddenly we realize the weather is different here. The cab driver who drove us to the airport in Bangkok this morning turned the heater on. He'd be freezing here, but it was a pleasant day for a drive.

Tomorrow we'll get organized and probably eat vegetable soup for a couple of days, but tonight Papa Murphy is helping us make pizzas for dinner.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The No-Upgrade Blues

The good news? Tom, Ellyn, and Brian are all in C (Business).

The bad news? Kathy's upgrade didn't clear and almost surely won't from our research here in the NRT RCC.

The not-so-bad news? She has an exit row seat near the back and she and Brian will swap upper deck and 45C partway through the flight.

The not-so-good news? Kathy and Brian fly a CRJ SFO-SEA and Kathy's upgrade didn't clear either. Ah well, we're still planning to be back home tonight and it's been a great trip with Tom and Ellyn.

Early Start

It's just after 3:00 a.m. and we're up and ready to start our trip back. UA flights from places like BKK leave early in the morning, making for a long day before we arrive in SEA this afternoon.

Let's hope the promised coffee arrives before we have to leave our room.


No, the coffee did not arrive, but we find out that our breakfasts and coffees will be at "reception," i.e. the front desk. We finally each receive one small cup of coffee and one large breakfast box just as our taxi arrives. We slurp the coffee, consolidate the boxes, and taxi to the airport.

We're now in the Thai Lounge after experiencing few lineups. None of Kathy's upgrades have cleared but she's supposedly number one on the list for the first two flights. Tom is down a fair way further and it doesn't look at all hopeful. We'll just have to wait and see.

It's already feeling like a long day after that 3:00 a.m. wakeup call, but we'll be fine once we're aboard.

Tomorrow May Be Ghastly

We enjoyed our final night in Bangkok eating at a very friendly little waterfront restaurant next to the Hilton. The food was good, the live entertainment was pleasant and - thankfully - not too loud, and the service was terrific.

We're flying out of BKK early in the morning with two upgrades not cleared and messy flights all the the way to SEA and DRO respectively. We'll swap as we can and remind ourselves that hours spent in Y (Economy) on international flights only make one appreciate upgrades that much more.

As our wake-up call occurs in 2 1/2 hours, it's time to shut down and get some shut-eye.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wrapping Up Bangkok

A rip-off meal and dinner show at the Mandarin Oriental last night (more on that later) but for now we're off first to the touristy floating market by boat and then to the weekend market for our last day in Bangkok.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

CNX (Chiang Mai) Thai Silk Airport Lounge

We dashed to the airport awhile ago in our host's home tuk-tuk. It's rainy but not unpleasant and we made it through security and check-in with few delays.

We're now in the quite pleasant Thai Silk Airport Lounge awaiting our short flight to BKK on another 747.

Our destination today is the Bangkok Millenium Hilton, a nice place to wrap the last two nights of our trip with Tom and Ellyn.

Working For Bananas

We're back from a day at the elephant camp, dropped off at the Secret Garden by our guide, Lulu. It was a great day and we're now happy but completely exhausted after first learning how to ride an elephant, and then riding one up and down a steep trail for an hour. We rode in pairs and detailed information will follow on the relative advantages and disadvantages of riding up front on the elephant's neck, or farther back. We were pleased with our elephant, Man Noy ("Little Mother") but it's not the easiest way to get from Point A to Point B.

Stay tuned for photos and possibly a video in the days ahead but now it's time for a shower and a gin and tonic as we start our final evening in Chiang Mai.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Packing Trunks

We're off to an elephant camp today. The rumor is that we're going to get dirty - very dirty.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Our Cooking School: A Lot of Thai

Yesterday we took a short tour around the area, including the Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village, where we saw the "Long Neck" people. We just have to learn how to load photos with our new computer.

Today we had a wonderful time cooking and eating at A lot of Thai "Home Cooking Class."

We've had nothing but complications trying to get from Point A to Point B so far. This morning fellow Secret Garden guests gave us a ride in their pickup truck to the tuk-tuk stop, with Tom and Brian enjoying the breeze in the bed.

Once there, the Belgian couple negotiated a rate with a driver, but for some reason he dropped us quite a few kilometers away from our destination. Fortunately, Tom found an Internet cafe and the manager called Yui at A Lot of Thai. She and her husband Kwan set out immediately in the VW van and picked us up 20 minutes later.

From there, it was non-stop talking and cooking and eating, punctuated by a tour of a nearby open market, where we saw a greater variety of vegetables for sale than any of us had ever seen in any one location. It seems the Thais just love their veggies.

We'll add some descriptions and photos of our cooking experiences as soon as we can. At the end of our cooking day, which Yui had kindly extended to offer us our full time allotment, she arranged a taxi for us. This driver only got lost a couple of times and he eventually deposited us on the doorstep of the Secret Garden, where Peter, our genial host, was again waiting patiently and waving his arms to attract the driver's attention. Supposedly the same driver will pick us up in the morning and return us tomorrow afternoon, so we're hopeful we have the transportation finally under control.

As one of our granddaughters, Avery, used to say with a cute shrug of her shoulders when she was about three, we'll just have to wait and see.

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Visit W3Schools!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Chiang Mai's Sunday Market: In Which "Wandering" Means Getting Lost

Our flights were uneventful and not unpleasant - it's novel to repeatedly fly such short routes on large planes, including a 747 for the one-hour HKT-BKK leg - and our Secret Garden host, Peter, was there to greet and to drive us to the property. The vehicle they use is similar to the ones that ply regular routes around the city: a compact pickup truck with a canopy cover and side-facing bench seats in the bed.

Our initial impressions of the Secret Garden are positive - more on that later. Now, after a welcoming beer, it's time to head for the famous Sunday Market. Peter drives us several minutes to the closest tuk-tuk bus route and we immediately hop on. For the equivalent of $2, the four of us ride back into the heart of Chiang Mai, cross the river, and hop off about a half mile away from the Market.

We find it without a lot of trouble and spend a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours wandering around, checking the merchandise, and making the occasional purchase. Once or twice Tom bargains for all of us and we buy indispensable items at unbeatable prices.

One feature that makes these expeditions more pleasant than markets in certain other countries we won't name (all right - Mexico and Turkey for starters) is that the friendly Thais don't pursue us, harangue us, or beg us to buy their goods. A smile and a "No, thank you" elicits a similar response from them 99% of the time.

By now, some of us are hot and sweaty, and dining in an air-conditioned restaurant sounds like a good idea. A helpful vendor who'd just made a sale to us points us in the direction of just such a place. Unfortunately, either her directions are faulty or we don't follow them well, and we walk and walk and walk until we've crossed the river again, with nary a restaurant in sight. In fact, we probably set a record for walking through a city in Thailand without encountering an eating establishment on our side of the busy road.

Lights on the river a block to our left draw us in like moths and a half hour or longer after setting out we stumble into the Good View Restaurant.

While it gets mixed reviews - Frommers awards it one star while the outlook at Trip Advisor is fairly dismal - we enjoy our meal, notwithstanding a young waitress whose performance is so poor that it finally becomes amusing.

Despite the waitress's worst efforts (Brian suspects she's ditzy in Thai too), we eventually manage to order and consume No. 24, 162, 130, 73, 81, 140, 70, and 42. More details? Spring Rolls (the best we've had so far on this trip), Spicy Papaya Salada, Tom Yum Goon Soup, Pork Larb, Soft-shelled Crab, Prawns with Basil, Pork in Tamarind Curry, Duck with Basil and Lime (our favorite dish), and Fried Rice with Chicken. We enjoy the band and vocalists who start their performance about halfway through our visit. They're not too loud, and their repertoire includes hits from our younger days.

Now it's time to return to the Secret Garden. We don't want to bother Peter, who has a standing offer to pick us up at the closest tuk-tuk stop, so we manage to find our own personal tuk-tuk taxi and negotiate with the driver, who assures us he knows how to find it. When we notice him first looking at his map and then stopping along the way to ask other tuk-tuk drivers where to go, we get the feeling we're in for a long ride. After a discussion with a fellow wearing a helmet-light who's spearing frogs from a ditch and already has a bag of them, we drive off in another direction, only to return for further consultations with the frog-spearer.

A half-hour later we finally persuade our driver to call Peter, and after another ten minutes standing by the side of the road, the driver directs us to climb back in, we drive almost literally around the corner, and there is Peter, standing outside the gates as he told the driver he would be.

Peter apologizes to us quite unnecessarily for the inconvenience, we apologize to him for disrupting his evening and waking up his sleeping dogs (although fortunately it's still only about 9:30 p.m. or so) and we head back to our rooms and sleep.

Kathy and Brian are now awake after a good night's sleep, and it's time to start a new day.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lounging At HKT - Phuket Airport

We get off to a bright and early start this Sunday morning, leaving the hotel at 7:00 a.m. and riding across much of the island to reach HKT, the Phuket International Airport. Although it's Sunday morning, it's still an exciting drive, although this time it only takes about 45 minutes.

We check our bags with a friendly agent who finds us some exit row seats and head for security. Security isn't too onerous, in part because, like IST (Istanbul) for example, everybody undergoes an initial screening to enter the airport. Once we flash our boarding passes, we put our carry-ons on the belt (no need to take out computers) and walk through the magnetometer. Kathy is even allowed to swig a few last gulps of water from one of our bottles after she passes through and puts the empty bottle back in her bag for future refills.

We're now sitting in the Thai Lounge. There is great coffee and a selection of sandwiches. As of 8:40 a.m., we're still the only inhabitants and Tom and Ellyn each have a computer to themselves, while Kathy and Brian busy ourselves on our netbook and iPod. Our flight isn't due to depart until 10:00 a.m. and this looks like a pleasant place to spend some time while we wait.

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A Great Stay At The Hilton Phuket

It's been a great stay for all four of us at the Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa.

From the time we arrived and were escorted personally to our rooms, we've been made to feel very welcome by the friendly and attentive employees in the Executive Lounge and throughout the entire hotel.

Our ocean-view rooms on the seventh floor of the Lotus Tower are lovely, with the biggest King-size beds we've ever seen.

The pools have been great, the buffet breakfasts in the Sails restaurant have offered a lot of variety, and the hotel itself is set on a large and beautifully landscaped piece of property.

As we ready ourselves to check out early Sunday morning, we all agree that this is a place we'd like to visit again.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Best Meal So Far: The Red Onion In Karon

Today was leisurely. After an excellent breakfast in the Hilton's buffet dining room, we walked over to a nearby strip mall to drop off some laundry that we'll pick up tomorrow. We ventured a little farther along the street to a modest downtown area where we found an air-conditioned store to buy postcards for grandkids. Kathy and Brian retreated to the coolness of the hotel and Tom and Ellyn wandered around a little longer in the heat.

We got together to play spades in the afternoon and spent considerable time researching dinner. We do have our priorities. Finally we chose a nearby joint called the Red Onion after looking at favorable reviews in Trip Advisor.

After cocktails and appetizers in the lounge, we rode the shuttle to the front gate, picked up a taxi, and 200 Baht later were dropped off across the street from the Red Onion. It's an open-air establishment, like many of the restaurants in this area, and the air was quite warm this evening. Despite the heat, the atmosphere was great and we all agree it was the best meal of our trip so far, even without counting the fact that a terrific dinner for four cost us about $40.

Our meal included spring rolls and deep-fried prawns for appetizers, and for the main course pad kee mao, tom yum soup, Panang curry, and larb (or laab), all washed down with quantities of bottled water and Singha.

The dishes came out one or two at a time, all piping hot, and the service was efficient and friendly. We topped off the evening by returning to the hotel entrance with our first ride in a tuk-tuk, a good way to cool off.

We will do our best to maintain the same type of relaxed schedule tomorrow, before packing up for an early departure for Chiang Mai via Bangkok Sunday morning.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pool Time In Phuket

Phuket (pronounced poo-KET) is a busy island with a multitude of activities. Still, we're at one edge of the monsoon season and our research has included accounts of other tourists who experienced seasickness and general unpleasantness on their outings to other islands.

Since the Hilton is a fabulous property, we've decided to spend most of our time here. Yesterday we walked along the beach adjacent to the property for a mile or two and dipped our toes in the warm ocean water. With red warning flags flying everywhere, even Tom decided against venturing out too far and challenging the undertows. Tom and Brian are comparing the relative pinkness of their faces after a couple of hours in the sun, and today will be a day to slather on the sunscreen.

We ate in the hotel's Thai restaurant (good) our first night and at the special seafood buffet (okay) last night. Tonight we'll probably grab a taxi and venture to one or another restaurants a little further away.

We'll also play more Spades, especially since Ellyn overcame her trepidation at partnering with Tom, one of the world's best Spades players, to defeat Kathy and Brian handily. In fact, our loss was ignominious but we're not ready to concede the entire tournament yet.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bangkok To Phuket

Yesterday was one of those funny travel days during which it feels like a much longer journey than it actually is.

Our Thai Airlines flight was on an Airbus 300, a fairly large plane that holds 267 passengers, with 2-4-2 seating in the Economy cabin. Kathy managed to change Tom's and Ellyn's seats to an exit row so we sat a fair distance apart. The plane itself was pleasantly decorated in purples and other complementary colors.

The service was excellent, particularly given it was only about a 75-minute flight. The impeccably dressed crew members first handed out a little box containing a sandwich and a juice, then followed up with tea and coffee. They were genuinely friendly throughout, and we counted something like four traditional Thai bows, the Wai, from the flight attendants as we left the plane at Phuket. Incidentally, we don't Wai back because we don't want to violate the protocol involved - we just tip our heads and smile. To make a stereotypical generalization, we find Thai people to be sweet, gentle, friendly, and quick to smile. Not a bad place to spend a couple of weeks...

What a place Phuket is to fly into, by the way! After several days of observing flat landscapes around Bangkok, suddenly we see rolling hills and a whole collection of steep little islands poking out of the water.

The airport was mildly chaotic, not dissimilar to our arrival in Tahiti earlier this year. There were people selling transportation services everywhere, and we made a beeline for the taxi stand, only to find out they had no taxis large enough to seat all four of us. It was no trouble to find a private van to the resort for 1000 baht, about 34 US dollars. It sounded pricey but it turned out to be money well spent.

The drive from the airport to the hotel took at least as long as our 400-mile flight, and it was pleasant to be sitting in a large van when we realized how aggressive the driving is. The trip was lengthened as we stopped at the headquarters of this outfit long enough for the manager to try to sell us a tour during our stay. We managed to gently say "not right now" but we did pay a deposit and set a time for return transportation to the airport, which appears to have been another good decision, compared to what the hotels charge for similar services.

We passed through quite a lot of urban sprawl during our drive, a variety of somewhat rundown looking shops vaguely reminiscent of business neighborhoods we've seen in Turkey and Mexico. The drivers like to tailgate (ours at least) and to zig and zag. There's a fair amount of driving on the shoulder when rooms permits, and two-lane roads become three or even four lanes. As well, there are lots of motorcyclists on the road with as many as four passengers (Dad, Mom, and two kids). The ones that raised our eyebrows were ridden by obviously Caucasian tourists. Good for them but you won't catch any of us venturing out into that kind of traffic.

We saw a lot of uniformed school children walking home. Once we zoomed past a school as students were milling around outside - no school zone speed limits here. We also noted that many, if not most, of the women are wearing hijabs, confirming our understanding that many Muslims live in the southern part of Thailand..

Toward the end of the drive, we ascended a steep and curvy hill and at the summit suddenly saw the ocean. Are we there yet? No, we descended and in a little while had another hill to climb. Only toward the last few minutes of the trip do we find ourselves in the beautiful setting in which the hotel is located.

Once we arrived at the main entrance, an open bus transported us to the main lobby. In a few words, the Hilton Phuket Aracadia Resort and Spa is a magnificent property, we've been welcomed royally, and more details of that will follow.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

BKK Thai Airlines Domestic Lounge

Although the nice folks in the Conrad told us it was "complicated," we and our rollabaords made our way from the hotel shuttle to the Skytrain to the new Airport line without difficulty. Because of the promotional prices, the entire trip cost about $5-6 for all four of us, not a bad deal.

We found the Star Alliance Gold check-in line, saving ourselves some queuing, and are now sitting in the Thai Airlines Domestic Lounge, nibbling on dim sum and other similar goodies while awaiting our flight to Phuket.

After touring a variety of Wats and other sights in Bangkok and environs, we're looking forward to some serious pool time at the Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort and Spa.

Ayutthaya: Getting There - And Back - Was Not Half The Fun

Ayuthaya, the capital city of the kingdom of Thailand between 1350 and 1767 and now a UN World Heritage Site, was our destination yesterday.

We took a hotel shuttle to the Skytrain, and connected to the MRT. We took that to the end of one line and the Hua Lamphong train station. So far so good.

We gathered from helpful employees who proved not to be touts or scammers that we had a choice of what they described as "standing" (could they mean seats not reserved?) and air-conditioned or not. That made our decision easy and we bought reserved tickets for the next air conditioned "special express" train that stops at Ayuthaya.

The train was upwards of a half hour late, but when we climbed on it we found that, although shabby, it was indeed air conditioned. After further delays on our way out of the station, we eventually started to move. The trip was described by one guide book as "scenic." Unfortunately, we could see very little of the countryside through the incredibly filthy windows, other than some flooding that's recently been disastrous in large parts of the country. Along the way, we politely declined the small trays of food and glasses of water offered by a train attendant, and we arrived at Ayuthaya about 45 minutes behind schedule.

We hired a car and driver to take us around to the main sites and found it all quite interesting. You can see some of what we saw (and maybe some sights we didn't see) by clicking the link at the top. We also negotiated to have the driver return us directly to the Conrad in Bangkok at the end of our tour. That 30-minute drive became closer to a two-hour trip after we got caught in a snarl of traffic less than a mile from our hotel. We barely moved for a half hour, as we inched forward sporadically toward an intersection with no traffic lights clogged both by traffic and pedestrians.

We finally made it back to the hotel, learning that there is no one surefire way to travel around Thailand without delay. At this point we don't regret our decision to fly to Phuket and Chiang Mai rather than traveling by train. We'll see how Thai Airways looks after us today as we fly to Phuket.

We're trying another form of transportation to the airport, the quite new Airport Train. Given yesterday's little adventures, Brian at least will argue for an early departure to the airport.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Along The Klongs

Other than a stop at the dismal snake farm, and a much more pleasant stop at an orchid farm, we spent 3 1/2 hours in a fascinating tour through some of the major klongs yesterday.

We were surprised to find out that, due to the high water, we entered and left the klongs via locks. It's truly an amazing trip through people's front yards. We saw tiny shacks looking as if they'll tip into the water at any moment, and we also viewed magnificent mansions. We saw huge amounts of garbage (as well as a couple of defunct dogs) floating in the water, and we watched people fishing and swimming in the same water.

We'll be posting some photos as soon as we get the technology of our new netbook figured out.

We moved from the Hilton to the Conrad yesterday afternoon. The Hilton is a lovely hotel with a great river location, and the Conrad likewise is a magnificent facility and our view is of a multitude of high-rises. It's definitely downtown and an impressive setting. We were welcomed hospitably and before long we were enjoying some terrific appetizers in the Executive Lounge before going out for, believe it or not, an Italian Thai restaurant.

Today we'll plan to look around this area of Bangkok, a new one for us.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cruising The Klongs Of Bangkok

A highlight of our visit to Bangkok last year was a cruise along some of the klongs of Bangkok, in the company of our friend Brendan. With memories of that tour still fresh in our minds, we're looking forward to another klong cruise today with Tom and Ellyn as we sip our morning coffee in the Executive Lounge on the 31st floor of the Millenium Hilton.

Don't Jump, They Yelled! How Far, She Replied?

The title is a completely unfair description of Ellyn's stunt as we boarded a ferry this morning on the Chao Phraya River . The public ferries arrive and leave as quickly as people can get off and on, and Ellyn hopped on the ferry before the crew had actually secured it against the dock safely. They started to yell, she turned around with a slight look of panic, and jumped off the ferry across the gap back onto the dock, much to the amusement of the passengers.

Our day has given us a feel of Bangkok along the river. We rode the public ferry quite a way upstream. We stopped off to visit the National Museum along the way and took a quick walk into one end of Chinatown. That's enough for the first day. It's been cool for Bangkok and the rain held until after we'd returned to the hotel.

We're going up to enjoy some appetizers in the Hilton Lounge in awhile and then try out the Queen of Curry Restaurant, a joint close to the Hilton that gets excellent reviews on Trip Advisor.


We ferried across to the river, followed the GPS on Kathy's iPod Touch, and ended up in the street where the Queen of Curry is allegedly located. No success, despite walking around the block several times and asking patient Thais, most of whom are quite approachable.

We then wandered back with a general feeling of defeat in the general direction of the Hilton boat that ferries guests back and forth across the river. In the midst of walking through a variety of lanes and streets (one route led us several minutes to an absolute dead end), we noticed a pleasant enough looking restaurant named the Mango Tree. In we went and enjoyed quite a good dinner on a quiet Sunday evening.

Now that we're back at the hotel we've checked it out in a couple of sources. First, it gets two stars in our Frommer's Guide to Bangkok.
Second,in Trip Advisor it's no. 45 of 732 restaurants.

Furthermore, we learn in IgoUgo that "other outlets at Bangkok’s new airport and in London, Tokyo, Korea, and Malaysia have since joined Mango Tree in downtown Bangkok." Nothing succeeds like success.

It appears the restaurant gods took care of us after all, and we're ready for bed and Monday that is scheduled to include a boat tour of the canals and a move to the Conrad.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Back in Bangkok

After a surprisingly bumpy flight, but with a pilot who keeps Channel 9 Air Traffic Control on throughout the flight (especially nice when the ride is rough), we breeze through Immigration and Customs at Bangkok's magnificent airport and find our way to the empty taxi queue.

A taxi for the four of us costs 700 Baht - sounds like a lot until you find out how much a Baht is worth. It's a drizzly but quiet 3-40 minute ride to the Hilton in what they would call a big SUV (about the size of our RAV 4)with a friendly driver who speaks no more than a word or two of English.

We check in and find out they'll only upgrade one room to the Executive level - cheapskates. It turns out we can upgrade the second room for a surprisingly modest rate and that's what we do.

Now it's off to bed at about 1:00 a.m. local time, or 11:00 a.m. yesterday back home.

Narita Oasis: The Red Carpet Club

After a terrific flight on the upper deck of the LAX-NRT 747, we're sitting in the Red Carpet Club and showing Tom and Ellyn the wondrous beer machine, which we've highlighted before.

We board our NRT-BKK flight in a little less than an hour. It's a 777 in the old configuration but we have bulkhead seats and we'll do just fine.

In the meantime, a little beer and sushi make for a pleasant afternoon snack.

Friday, October 15, 2010

About To Thai One On

In a few hours we climb on a big silver bird (actually a fairly small CRJ) to fly 954 miles SEA-LAX. There we'll meet Kathy's brother Tom and his wife Ellyn and spend some time in the Red Carpet Club before boarding a 747 at 12:45 p.m. to fly 5440 miles LAX-NRT (Narita Japan), crossing the International Date Line and scheduled to arrive at 4:15 p.m. Saturday. We transit through security again at NRT, try to spend at least a few minutes in a Red Carpet Club or other Star Alliance lounge if time permits before our flight to Bangkok departs at 6:30 p.m. We fly 2880 miles NRT-BKK, scheduled to arrive at 11:10 p.m. local time after flying 9274 miles, crossing the Date Line, and landing in a country 14 hours ahead of our home time zone, after about 24 hours of travel.

Fortunately for us, all of our upgrades cleared and, once we complete our 2 1/2 hours in UA's surprisingly comfortable F bulkhead CRJ seats SEA-LAX, we'll be in Business Class on the upper deck of the 744s.

From there it'll be a taxi to the Millenium Hilton and a sound sleep before starting our Sunday in Bangkok.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"50 Secrets Your Pilot Won't Tell You"

An interesting feature in the new Reader's Digest can be found here.

Okay, most of those secrets are neither secret nor earthshaking to frequent flyers; in fact, it won't "change the way" we fly, as the sub-head breathlessly claims.

Somebody borrowed the expression Gate Lice from where we think it originated, FlyerTalk. If you don't know what they are, maybe you should read the article, or at least read this.

Country Counting

What exactly is a country?

The Travelers' Century Club, established for those who have visited 100 or more countries and want to, well, flaunt it, says of the 320 "countries" it lists, "Although some are not actually countries in their own right, they have been included because they are removed from parent, either geographically, politically or ethnologically."

How many countries have we visited? Updating our September 2009 count of 73, we have now visited a total of 76 on the Century Club's list. But, as we've said before, who's counting?

Pacific Ocean
Hawaiian Islands
New Zealand
North America
U.S. (continental)
Central America
Costa Rica
South America
Antigua & Deps. (Barbuda, Redonda)
Cayman Islands
Dominican Republic
Leeward Islands, French (St. Martin)
Puerto Rico
St. Barts
St. Kitts
St. Lucia
St. Maarten (formerly Netherlands Antilles)
Turks and Caicos Islands
Virgin Islands, U.S. (St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas)
Virgin Islands, British (Tortola, etc.)
Atlantic Ocean
Azores Islands
Cape Verde Islands
Europe and Mediterranean
Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Minorca)
Czech Republic
Ireland (Eire)
Ireland, Northern (Ulster)
Turkey in Europe (Istanbul)
Vatican City
Senegal (plane refueling)
South Africa
Middle East
Indian Ocean
China, People's Rep.
Hong Kong
Turkey in Asia

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lady Gaga's Safety Demo

Actually, it's the safety demo on Cebu Pacific Airlines of The Philippines, carried out to the music of Lady Gaga, that's gone viral.

Watch it here.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mileage Running For Fun And Profit

MILEAGE RUN: A series of flights taken in a very short amount of time, solely for the purpose of accumulating frequent flyer miles, with a blatant disregard for the destinations.

The mighty Wall Street Journal runs the latest article explaining why mileage runs can make economic sense.

You can read it here.

We're only highlighting it to confirm that our travel patterns are not necessarily eccentric (okay, make that crazy). Best of all, it's running in the WSJ Smart Money section.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving

There weren't any Pilgrims. It started off as a Protestant religious holiday that had, goodness gracious, pro-British and anti-American overtones. In 1957, Parliament passed legislation to make Thanksgiving an annual holiday celebrated on the second Monday of October.

A somewhat scholarly but certainly readable account of the history of Canadian Thanksgiving can be found here.

As for us, we're on our way to Chilliwack for a turkey dinner with Jake and Taegan and their parents - that adds up to visiting all seven grandkids in their homes on three consecutive days for us - so we'll simply say Happy Thanksgiving.

Rainy Days and Itchy Feet

The closer we got to the little Northern Mediterranean micro-climate known as Birch Bay yesterday, the rainier it got. Saturday's traffic on I-5 was nothing to celebrate either but here we are.

It's time to get serious about packing for our upcoming trip to Thailand - that couple with the rain make for the itchy feet.

We fly from SEA Friday and will meet Kathy's brother Tom and sister-in-law Ellyn along the way. We're looking forward to returning to Bangkok and showing them around, but we'll all be on new territory in Chiang Mai and Phuket.

We have two new computers in our arsenal, an Asus-made ZT Affinity 7509Ma Desktop, and a Toshiba NB305 Netbook, to which we've added a 2GB memory module. This will be our new travel computer, now that our six-year-old Dell mini finally bit the dust, and we're looking forward to trying it out on its first road trip.

Friday, October 8, 2010

No, EAST Wenatchee

Now that Kim and her family are nicely settled a couple of hours across the Cascade Mountains from us, we really need to get that straight. Yes, Virginia, there is an East Wenatchee, and it's a separate city from Wenatchee.

Now that our GPS has straightened us out on that for address-finding purposes, we really enjoy wandering around the area, and of course visiting with a couple of really cute grandkids.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Victoria To And Fro

We're just back from a quick trip to Victoria to visit family and also to see a former student compete in the Vancouver Island's Got Talent contest. Karissa sang one of her own songs beautifully and we weren't surprised one little bit when she was selected for the next round.

Independently owned toy stores are as hard to find as independent restaurants, but they can be as worthwhile. We found one in the Oak Bay Village, Timeless Toys, and picked up some great surprises for grandkids.

Good news: We managed to make this morning's 7:00 a.m. ferry sailing from Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island to Tsawassen on the Mainland, much better than our two-hour wait Sunday when one of the ferries was pulled off due to mechanical problems.

Not-so-good news: The southbound Peace Arch border crossing is still "under construction" and that probably contributed to our 40-minute wait. Still, we're back home for a bit and packing up to distribute some timeless toys to grandkids in Wenatchee and Issaquah over the next few days.