Monthly Archives: December 2008

On My Itinerary: Oh My, Chiang Mai!

chiang maiJon and I were beaten up today by a couple of female prisoners – for only 180 baht ($6). Yes, we went to a women’s prison/ correctional institution for a full-hour Thai massage by prisoners who were in vocational training. It was recommended by Lonely Planet, which also mapped out a walking guide of Chiang Mai’s Old City, and all along the route were tourists carrying the same Lonely Planet guide with one finger stuck inside the book to hold the page on which the guide lived.

Chiang Mai is a quieter, cooler, cleaner and slower-paced city than Bangkok and much easier to breathe, even though I think my allergies have acted up because I sneeze every few minutes. It also rivals Bangkok’s number of wats which are about 160 or so. Every block seems to have a fancier wat than the last, with dragons for stairs, gold paint, intricate carvings, golden buddha statues inside and monks dressed in orange roaming about for aesthetically pleasing photos. Later we’ll be headed to ring in the new year, Thai-style, at the House for Thai-European dinner. Meanwhile, enjoy the pictures from the past few days – from Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

Self-portrait, Chiang Mai

Self-portrait, Chiang Mai

Wat, Chiang Mai

Wat, Chiang Mai

M.I.T. (Monks-in-Training), Bangkok

M.I.T. (Monks-in-Training), Bangkok

Jon the Buddha, Great Palace, Bangkok
Jon the Buddha, Grand Palace, Bangkok
Wat Po, Bangkok

Wat Po, Bangkok

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On My Itinerary: Wat’s Happening in Bangkok

Buddha, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Buddha, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Ah, Bangkok. It was a long journey that lasted more than 24 hours door-to-door, felt like more than 24 hours, and at one point in the flight from JFK to Tokyo I felt like a prisoner belted to my middle seat forced to watch terrible movies like “How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days”. In Tokyo we replenished with a bowl of requisite udon noodles and then boarded the next 7-hour flight to Bangkok where I passed out in a failed effort not to sleep during Thai daytime hours. But we finally arrived to sweltering temperatures in the high 90’s!

However, after a refreshing four-hour sleep in our hotel, we embarked upon the streets of Bangkok armed with our Lonely Planet guide, digital SLR and bottle of hand sanitizer. We rode up the river in a water bus and hit up the main tourist necessities:

The Grand Palace, a grand palace indeed. Bejeweled in mosaics of sparkly colors and gold paint, the former King’s home was very dazzling and bright. Inside contained its own famous Wat Phra Kaew (i.e. temple). I was stopped by guards who are otherwise fashion police for wearing calf-length capris, far too inappropriate than the other ladies sporting thigh-high mini skirts (apparently skirts are acceptable, but women in pants bearing skin is sinful). I donned a stylish sarong I purposely kept in the bag for this purpose, which made the visit very hot.

Wat Arun, situated a ferry ride across the river, with a chedi (pillar-like temple building) so tall with  stairs so steep it made the Half-Dome hike in Yosemite seem like walk in the park. Great views, if I didn’t have panic attacks every time I looked down.

Wat Po, home of the sitting, standing and reclining Buddhas. The reclining Buddha is enormously tall and has mother-of-pearl feet.

We also stopped in for an obligatory Thai massage while at Wat Po, where for $6US I was  prodded, beaten and knead to a pulp by strong little Thai lady (Jon by a tough little Thai man). She pulled each of my fingers until they nearly popped out, resulting in two very satisfying cracks each. Later we celebrated our honeymoon at the Peninsula hotel’s riverside restaurant, but I fell asleep halfway through the meal. Jon forced me awake by scaring the crap out of me with a “Where’s my wallet??” to check out the seedy neighborhood that makes Bangkok so famous, because we were that curious, and were invited by someone every five feet to watch his club’s sex show (we did not).

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On My Itinerary: Thailand!

Well dear readers, I’m putting on my second travel hat of the week (the first was a nice warm yellow fleece one for the freezing cold weather in New York) and we’re headed off to Thailand tomorrow morning! We will be on a 14 1/2 hour flight to Tokyo, with a nice two-hour layover where we get to enjoy a bowl of hot udon noodles, before embarking on another 7 hour flight to Bangkok. I’m looking forward to many hours of watching movies, both American and Japanese films, on the flight over. At least, it will be warm and toasty upon our arrival. Today while trying on clothes in the after-Christmas day sales, I noticed how wintry white I had become since moving back east from Los Angeles a year ago.

Anyway, I will do my best to update on the road, but it may be a few days before you’ll get to hear anything from me. Keep checking, or better yet, subscribe to this blog by clicking on one of the subscribe buttons on the upper right! Until then, happy travels to everyone!

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Merry Christmas from My Travel Hats

christmas-002

(Photo taken Christmas Eve, 2008. There’s a Travelpro luggage set from our wedding registry in there for us! Thailand, here we come – in style!)

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Cool Tools: FlightStats.com

Having a white Christmas comes at the expense of many others trying to get home for the holidays. Holiday travel is required to be tumultuous that TV stations always dispatch at least one satellite truck and one low struggling TV reporter, forced to work over the holidays, to the airport to find irked travelers to interview. And there’s always snow in Chicago, causing back-ups at the world’s busiest airport that create a domino effect around the globe that you’d think the airlines would have figured out by now to add a couple hours to the flight time in winter.

If you’re a real data buff and have a lot of control issues and a lot of issues with the airline industry, FlightStats.com is a perfect site for you. It’s  a real-time air traffic site that will check for delays around the country, flight status, and even tracks security wait times for some airports. There’s airport parking information, weather, and on-time performance records of each airline for your planning purposes. If you’re a registered user, you can join the TSA- and airline- bashing sessions with other registered users on the site. And a cool interactive map showing delays around the country, kind of like a road traffic status map.

mapThe difference, however, is that unlike the road traffic map, where you can pick alternate routes or times you would drive to your destination, this flight map only serves to depress you, since you’ve already purchased your flight and don’t really control when you’d like to fly your plane out.

Here’s a video created by scientists from the Zurich School of Applied Sciences, featured on Wired.com, using data from FlightStats.com to show every flight on Earth over a 24-hour period. This is probably the best application of FlightStats.com I’ve seen – the sun moves across the Earth and you can see all the air travel around the world.I’m not sure about the music that goes with it – maybe it’s what Swiss scientists do. Unfortunately, this video is not allowed to be embedded into this blog, so you’ll have to click here to view it. Just make sure to return to my blog afterwards.

flight-video

Of course, just checking with your own airline, the weather and arriving two hours in advance during the holiday rush is usually just as reliable, since FlightStats.com can’t really tell you much else about how to handle the wrath of other passengers, irritated airline workers and lost luggage. The news reporter, however, would probably be much happier to listen to you than the airline might, especially if texting your gripes on the “airline chatter” section of FlightStats.com isn’t the most effective way to blow off steam.

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On My Itinerary: Home for the Holidays (New York)

Destination: Westchester, N.Y.

The fun part about driving along the east coast is the speed at which one flies through each state, which never happens when driving along the west coast because you’re always in California. And with our new acquisition of the EZPass, we also skip right through each toll, which are frequent, particularly in Delaware, since the state is so small you pay the toll to enter and then five minutes later, pay it again to leave. (I will swear that I came up with the EZPass concept in the fifth grade, and someone probably overheard me and had no qualms about stealing the idea from a child). It normally takes us four hours to get to New York, and another hour to get through the Lincoln Tunnel if we’re entering Manhattan; thirty minutes if we’re just heading up to my dad’s in Westchester.

This time, it took us nearly six hours. Besides hitting some random traffic to board the Delaware Memorial Bridge and then prime time rush hour, we also had a mattress precariously tied to the top of a car (NOT part of my “packing light” agenda) with high winds blowing the plastic bag surrounding the mattress into shredded bits. Out of paranoia, we stopped at least once in each state to check that it didn’t get left on the interstate somewhere.

Now that we’re married, Jon and I are allowed to sleep in the same room at my dad’s house. However, there’s an increased shortage of beds as our family size increased with extra husbands and a kid. So we had to bring our own bed this year.  I should mention that we are upgrading to a queen size mattress anyway and needed to do something with our current bed, which is why the frame was shoved into Jon’s SUV next to our Thai luggage, laundry, brigade of Christmas gifts, and the mattress was packaged into a giant plastic bag and hoisted on top of his car. Every few miles, Jon would ask, “is the mattress still there?” and I had to crain my neck to look in my rear-view mirror to see if there was, indeed, still a bed on top of our car. Later we discovered we could just look at our reflection in a passing car to check, but we really couldn’t drive more than 60 miles an hour without risking the mattress flying across the highway and into the car behind us, and that’s a way to really put a damper on someone’s holiday spirit. We also stopped several times to re-tie the mattress and to re-tape the flapping plastic, so this wouldn’t happen. Without gloves, which was really cold, because it was about 10 degrees outside.

So since it was still that temperature when we woke up this morning, we decided to stay indoors and skip the visit to the city today to all my favorite Christmas sites that I never grow tired of since childhood. Jon still has yet to see many things in the big city, though he’s now been to New York a handful of times, but only once with his own bed in tow.

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Happy Hanukkah from My Travel Hats

When you marry someone Jewish, you get to light pretty candles eight nights in a row.

Hannukah

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