August 09, 2006

Day 13 - Bangkok to London (Just in time!!)

The flight from Bangkok to London was uneventful. The parking area was a zoo and we had to carry our own luggage up to the 3rd floor to meet our driver while he stood in line to pay for parking. It took a long time to exit the parking lot.

These travails were minor. When we woke up the next morning, we learned that a plot to bomb multiple flights between UK and US had just been thwarted. Flights were cancelled and currently no one can bring on any hand luggage other than key documents (not even books).

Had we come home one day later, we would have been delayed MANY hours if our flight was allowed to land in Heathrow at all. This is why the title of this BLOG includes "Just in time!!".

August 08, 2006

Day 12 - Bangkok Grand Palace

It is difficult to capture how ornate and vast the Grand Palace is. Wat Phra Kaew (the emerald Buddha) is also located here. One bell tower was decorated with broken tea sets of many colors. The current, longest reigning and dearly beloved King lives more simply in another palace. Kris's work team took a dinner cruise along the river, and the view of the palace at night was also spectacular.

August 07, 2006

Day 11 - Jim Thompson's House

On the way to Jim Thompson house, two gentlemen tried a scam I was warned about in my guidebooks. As I exited the tram, one man approached me and said the Jim Thompson house was closed for a special occasion. I ignored him and then halfway to the house, another man approached me and said "Don't you believe the man who told you Jim Thompson house is closed, you are wasting your time walking there". I ignored him and continued on to the house, which was of course open. The scam is to try to convince you that what you want to see is closed but the helpful conmen will bring you to an even better alternative.

Jim Thompson was an American who jumpstarted the Thai silk industry by starting the Thai Silk company in 1948. In 1967, he disappeared under mysterious circumstances while on holiday in Malaysia and his home became a museum. The tour of his home was informative(pictures are from google images).

The silks in the museum shop were beautiful. I learned later that there are several Jim Thompson shops located throughout Bangkok (including the Paragon shopping plaza).

August 06, 2006

Day 10 - Ayutthaya Thailand

Ayutthaya has much to offer. We visited the Bang Pa-in Palace, an old temple, and an elephant kraal. We were fascinated by a monitor lizard we saw at the side of the road. After lunch on the river, our host took us on a tour through Bangkok city and we saw another monitor lizard just outside the King's official residence.

August 05, 2006

Day 9 - Chatuchak Weekend Market

We walked for hours and hours and only saw a portion of the market. So many beautiful, well-made items at low prices! The airline baggage limits felt especially restrictive that morning.

I also spent quite a lot of time at the other end of the Bangkok shopping spectrum - the Paragon shopping plaza. I took one photo to demonstrate how McDonald's adapted to local culture.

August 04, 2006

Day 8 - Tokyo to Bangkok

Our first stop was to a tailor recommended to Kris. After he was fitted for his suits, we noticed a sign for massage offered in a nearby hotel. With some trepidation, we tried out the foot massage. It was wonderful and $10. Every night we returned, alternating between body and foot massages. Heaven!!

August 03, 2006

Day 7 - Kyoto Japan

We had an action packed day in Kyoto. In the morning, we visited the Nijo castle, Golden Pavilion, and Kyoto Imperial Palace.

The Nijo Castle was completed in 1626 by the third Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu. I finally got to experience “Nightingale” floors which squeak when walked upon to warn of intruders. The tiger door painting was only one of the many treasures.

We loved the Rokuon-ji Temple which contains the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku) which is covered in gold-leaf. This temple also contained gardens, the Snake Shrine, and a sculpture with many coin offerings.

The last stop in the morning was the Imperial Palace which was completed in 1855. Security was tight and I found this complex to be rather austere. The Japanese Emperor only uses this palace for special official occasions.

After lunch at the Handicrafts Center, we visited Sanjusangendo Hall, a Heian Shrine and Kiyomizu Temple - but took no pictures.

The highlight of the afternoon was Sanjusangen-do which contains 1001 (1000 standing, 1 seated) statues of the Buddhist deity “Kannon”( Juichimen-senjusengen Kanzeon).

The Heian Shrine and Kiyomizu Temple were very nice but by now we were on sensory overload.

At the end of the day, we were put on a direct Shinkansen to Tokyo. In Tokyo, we were greeted by a Sunrise Tour representative and sent to our Tokyo hotel by taxi. This two-day tour set us back by $1500 but we have to admit that we saw a lot, stayed in a great hotel, and were care of very well.

August 02, 2006

Day 6 - Mt Fuji to Kyoto

We were advised that we MUST see Kyoto. So, we chose an overnight tour from Tokyo to Kyoto via Mt. Fuji with Sunrise Tours.

We travelled by motorcoach to the 5th station of Mt Fuji which was highly commercialised.

We enjoyed a boat tour on Lake Ashi followed by a trip by "ropeway" (cable car) to Mount Komagatake. I took a picture of the shelter but not of the larger abandoned hospitality structure we found during our short hike around the area.

We were put on a Shinkansen in Odawara (picture of Shinkansen is courtesy of Japan Embassy in Hungary). Whenever we had to change trains, a person was waiting for us on the platform to get us off one train and onto the next.

When we arrived in Kyoto, we were sent by taxi to the fabulous Okura Hotel (deservedly rated highly in Trip Advisor). We enjoyed a drink at the very nice hotel bar (and saw two Geisha or Makei).

August 01, 2006

Day 5 - Edo by Public Transportation

I did not take my camera on this trip because it was a "public transportation" tour and I did not want to take any valuables. Because this tour was advertised as a "walking" tour, there was only one other participant - and she was almost 80 years old! We thought the tour was excellent, and we appreciated this approach to learning about the Tokyo public transportation system

We met at the Hamamatsucho Bus Station and were taken through a series of underground tunnels to buy a TOEI One-Day economy pass. We learned that there are different operators on different lines. Our first stop was way up to an observation tower in an "advertising building". After enjoying a beautiful view of the city, we were taken through the family garden of the Tokugawa Shogun.

We were dropped off at the famous Tsukiji fish market. The tour guide brought me to a "conveyor belt" sushi restaurant. I picked up what I wanted and really enjoyed the meal. The restaurant calculated my bill by looking at my empty plates - each design represented a different price. I got a lot of food for what I paid (at least by Japanese standards).

The tour guide picked us up after lunch and took us by public transportation to the Edo-Tokyo museum. She gave us a comprehensive tour. At the end of the day, our guide gave me public transportation directions using the TOEI line as much as possible for Tokyu Hands (impressive store but I could not afford anything) and to the hotel.