Friday, February 15, 2008

Final Thoughts, Observations and Learnings...

As I sit here at the Coffee Bean (my first Bean fix in 3 weeks if you can believe it) reflecting on this latest adventure, I’m having a difficult time deciding what to highlight from this magnificent journey. There’s just so much more to share with you. I never did a posting on the amazing show we saw in Bangkok. It was quite a production. There were elephants and goats on stage, people flying around and even a canal built into the stage. I mean someone actually dove into the water and it was neck deep. It was wild.

I also never blogged about the amazing 4-D show my friend and I went to at the aquarium. It was one of those IMXA films and was only 20 minutes long but it was really cool. It was called Monsters of the Deep. It was a 3-D film with the kind of chairs that move and jerk. It was like a ride at Universal. I screamed more than once. The funny thing was, right before it started this family of five walked in and the dad was telling one of the younger kids that it was going to be scary. He told his son; if you get too scared just take your 3-D glasses off for a minute. I kind of smiled to myself, thinking how scary can this be? Honestly, I had to take my glasses off twice doing the movie!

Okay, I know most of you don’t have hours on end to read this, so I’ll try and be brief. I said try. Here are some of the Traveling Hillbilly’s final random thoughts, observations and learnings.

1 - The Traveling Hillbilly has never met more gracious people than those of Thailand. They truly do inspire one to be a better person.

2 - True happiness really is all about perspective. It’s about being grateful and appreciative for what you have, not something we should always be searching for. The Thai people seem to be very happy in general, regardless of their financial situation or what material things they have. They seem to have a genuine appreciation for life itself.

3 – Everyone drives scooters and it’s amazing what you can do with a scooter. It was nothing to see an entire family on a scooter, often carrying dogs, groceries or any number of items. Folks make “taxis” (tuk-tuks) and food stands out of them. In both Thailand and Cambodia, scooters seem to be used like we would use a pick up truck here. It was crazy.

4 - The Traveling Hillbilly is always so relaxed and happy when traveling. I wish I could bottle that feeling and maintain it long after coming home.

5 – I think it would be more difficult to learn Thai than Chinese or Japanese. They have 44 letters in the alphabet and 24 of those are vowels! In my time there about the only word I learned to say was “Thank You” and it still took over a week to get it right!

6- There really is no shame in “serving.” Here in the states we seem to look down on jobs that seem to serve others. A lot of folks don’t want to “work for the man.” People strive to be their own boss. “It’s an honor to serve” is part of the Thai culture and my time there gave me a whole new perspective. I am truly inspired by the way they live their lives and what proud people they are.

7 – As a non-seafood eater, the food in Thailand and Cambodia is better than a lot of places in Asia, certainly better than the food the Traveling Hillbilly had in China (no chicken feet). It is however, a little blander than the Thai we typically have here. One of the things I love about Thai food is all the spices make it so flavorful here. However, they like it spicy, as in HOT, very HOT, so I think they tone the spices down a little for us. I have to say though, no McDonald’s for the Traveling Hillbilly on this trip! Did I ever mention there actually was no McDonald’s in Siem Reap? Can you believe it? There may actually be some folks who have never tried a Big Mac! Of course 10 minutes after arriving in Phuket, we saw a sign for a McDonald’s open 24 hours!

9 – I have never seen such HUGE jellyfish as the ones in Phang Na Bay. Forget about sea snakes, the jellyfish were reason enough to keep this hillbilly from jumping out of the kayak!

10 – There were not many American tourists in either Thailand or Cambodia. I guess the 18+ hour flight scares a lot of us off. Maybe that’s why there isn’t a McDonald’s on every street corner.

11 – I’d love to see more of Cambodia. My brief time there was amazing. Angkor Watt and some of the other temples there are truly sites to see. They are unlike anything the Traveling Hillbilly has seen before. Plus interestingly enough, the cars there have the driver’s side on the right just like in Thailand, but they actually drive on the same side of the road as we do. It was a little unnerving.

12 – As crowded as some of the streets were between the people, the scooters and cars (especially in Bangkok) you never really heard horns honking. Again, I think this goes back to the graciousness of the people. They just get along, don’t complain, aren’t in a rush. It’s all very civilized.

13 - 4 cities is just too much to try and do in only 15 days. In order to give yourself time to truly get to know and experience a city, you need at least 4-5 days there. You don't want to always be rushing to the next destination. You need time to kick back and relax. After all you are on vacation.

14 - Would I go back? I definitely want to go back to Cambodia. I think there is so much more there to see and experience. I would like to go back and see more of northern Thailand but as I mentioned before, I don't care to go back to Bangkok.

The Traveling Hillbilly has always loved to travel. There are no ‘to do” lists, no agendas, no stress. You get to meet amazing people, try new food and learn about new cultures. I always come back a better, more enriched person. This trip was no different.

Thanks for allowing me to share this amazing experience with you. I hope you enjoyed the journey and learned something along the way.

Now the big question is, where to next?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I'm Back

Yes The Traveling Hillbilly made it back home. Final thoughts and favorite pictures will be posted very soon.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Visiting Another World

I’m sitting on the beach, still amazed at what I saw today. I took a boat out to Phang Nga Bay, about 1 ½ hours outside of Phuket. There are these enormous limestone rock cliffs jutting from the water that create more than 100 small islands. Within these cliffs there are caves and chambers to explore. It’s truly a stunning site. I can’t even begin to describe the magnificence of what I saw today.

I hop in a Kayak and we begin exploring the islands and sea caves up close. The caves are so narrow and shallow in some places you actually have to lay down in the kayak to be able to get through. A couple of times, the Traveling Hillbilly got a little claustrophobic. It was almost like being in an MRI machine, but much cooler. It was so dark in some of the sea caves; you couldn’t see a thing without the flashlight. As we shined the light on the cave above, we could see hundreds of bats napping. I must admit, they are a little creepy. But it’s worth it, bats and all.

After passing through the caves, you come out into these amazing lagoons. I mean right in the middle of these huge rock cliffs are these serene, beautiful lagoons. You come out and are completely surrounded by the rocks. There are trees and all kinds of plant and wildlife. It’s like this whole other world inside. You can’t help but feel insignificant. It truly is breathtaking.

Aside from the bats, we saw these totally cool walking fish. They actually have little gill legs and they walk along the trees that are jutting up from the lagoon. They’re kind of lizard like, but they’re still fish. They glide through the top of the water. They were very interesting little critters. Luckily we didn’t see any sea snakes.

Who would have thought that one day the Traveling Hillbilly would be exploring bat infested sea caves, in a kayak, in Thailand? It does give one a new appreciation for nature and all the beauty that’s been created in this world. This was one memorable adventure for the Traveling Hillbilly. I can’t wait to share the photos with you.

This has been quite an adventure, but it's time to head home. One more day and then it’s back to LA.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Who Works out on Vacation?

I started the morning with a great stretch class. There’s just no better way to wake up. After the class, I do some weights and then it’s off to the pool to cool off and start a day of quiet relaxation.

I’ve been working out often on this trip. It started when I went for a run in Chiang Mai the second day of the trip. It’s great to run through the streets in the early morning before the city has really woken up. I had not been on a run in ages and it felt so good. I had my new ipod on and just wanted to keep running. All the hotels have had some great gyms and amazing swimming pools. The pools have been so inviting. After a long day of walking the hot streets, a quick dip in the pool is just what’s needed. A few laps in the morning are also a great way to wake up. It’s so invigorating and gets you ready for the day ahead. Considering all the food the Traveling Hillbilly has been eating, the work outs are much needed!

A lot of people are like, “working out, you’re on vacation, work out when you get home.” But I have to say, The Traveling Hillbilly loves to work out on vacation. There’s no time schedule, no rush to squeeze a class in before work or rushing through traffic to get to a class after work. It’s all on your own time, no stress, no worries. It gives me time to reflect on the experience so far and get excited about what still lies ahead. Why I can’t I live at this pace back at home? Why can’t I maintain this stress free state of mind? Hmmm. I’ll have to think about that during tomorrow morning’s workout.

The Traveling Hillbilly highly recommends vacation work outs. They truly are good for the mind, body and spirit.

The Sky Is Royal Blue

As sad as I was to leave Cambodia, I’m very excited for the relaxing days ahead. It’s been a busy trip so far and now it’s time to slow down just a bit. It was a long day of travel considering it was really only 2 hours of flight time! But after being in 3 airports, we gather our luggage, start the hour journey along the causeway and finally arrive at our final destination.

What a picturesque place. The sky is literally royal blue here. The water is sparkling and the grounds are a lush green, very tropical. It really looks like a picture that’s been doctored to make the colors seem brighter! It almost doesn’t seem real. My first thought is, I feel like I’m in Hawaii and the Traveling Hillbilly loves Hawaii! Aaaaahhhhhhhhhhh.

After checking in and being a given a welcome drink, I’m escorted to my room. As the desk clerk opens the door to the room, she mentions they’ve upgraded the room for me since I’m a club member. I step in and am like wow! They have provided me with a mini-suite with an amazing ocean view. I also discover I have a huge deck outside that overlooks the ocean on one side and the garden on the other. I could have a party on this deck it so big. This is the place to get the room upgrade! It is truly stunning. I feel like I’m in an oasis in the middle of the jungle. I’m instantly relaxed. Massage anyone?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Hard to Say Goodbye

I can’t believe my time in Cambodia is coming to an end! After a fully day of touring the temples in Siem Reap, it’s time to pack up and get ready for tomorrow morning’s flight. I will never be able to do justice to what we saw today. The temples for the most part are in complete ruins, but they are still amazing to see. The sheer size of what these people built is astounding. Most of the temples were never even finished because the kings who they were being built for generally died before they were completed. I spent the whole day in awe. A lot of the temples are surrounded by the jungle setting and one of them actually has trees growing right on top of it and even right through it. The jungle has just taken over, but somehow it adds to the splendor and mystic of it all. Angkor Watt is one of the Ancient Wonders of the World and is truly a site to behold. It is not to be missed by the well seasoned traveler. The Traveling Hillbilly was truly impressed. So far, Siem Reap has been the highlight of the trip. I can’t wait to post pictures for you all to see.

I really wish I had at least one more day here. There’s so much more to see. I’m very sad to leave Cambodia, but it’s time to head to Phuket. After several days of running around, a few days relaxing on the beach sounds great. I’ve been sick since day one so a day or two in the sun is just what the Traveling Hillbilly needs.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Even from the plane, it was beautiful

As the plane descended into Cambodia, I knew I would love it. From the muddy fields, to the green landscape, to the tiny little airport, Cambodia was exactly what I was hoping it would be. It sucks you in with its charm the moment you step off the plane. It's truly a beautiful place. After the craziness of Bangkok, the slower pace was exactly what the Traveling Hillbilly needed.

As we drive along the narrow road to the hotel, the street is filled with bicycles, scooters and even some chickens and cows. We definitely aren’t in Bangkok anymore. We pass a few road side markets with locals selling their farm goods and my heart aches just a little. I’m already wishing I had more time here.

After checking into the hotel, which is wonderful, we head in “to town” to check things out. It’s just a short tuk-tuk ride away. The town is filled with restaurants, bars, small shops and spas catering to the tourist. You can get an hour massage here for only $5 and surprisingly, they accept US dollars here. It’s going to be difficult to go home and pay $90+ for a massage at some spa.

We have dinner at the Red Piano, now famous since Angelina Jolie dined there while filming Tomb Raider II. It’s a quaint little restaurant (with red walls) on the corner and the food is great. We sit outside and watch the people go by. I’m amazed at how beautiful the women here are. I expected the Thai women to be beautiful, but wasn’t sure what to expect here, but they are stunning. The children are truly lovely too.

I can’t wait until tomorrow. The Traveling Hillbilly is really looking forward to seeing Angkor Watt!

Goodbye & Good Riddance

I really have to say I was not sorry to leave Bangkok. It was just a crazy, bustling and dirty city. The Traveling Hillbilly has been to a lot of places and of all the places I've been, I think Bangkok is my least favorite. I'm glad I went and got the chance to see it, but I really don't think I'd go back again just to visit. It just didn't seem to have much to offer. As for the the Shangri-La hotel it's totally over-rated! Look for a detailed review of the hotel soon.

Up next? Cambodia!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

A Wild & Crazy Night in Bangkok

So the big night was finally here. What to do in a city with so many options? Well how does a nice Italian dinner sound? I know Thai would have seemed much more appropriate considering my location, but hey you can only have so many Thai meals in a row. I mean when I’m home, I don’t have Mexican or Italian every day. So off we went to this Italian restaurant that came highly recommended by our hotel concierge, as well as, a British girl (who lived here a few years ago) we met on the Sky Train.

The recommendation proved to be a good one. Dinner was fabulous, plus they had a great wine list, a major selling point for the Traveling Hillbilly. After our dinner, it was off to see the nightlife. We walked over to the Banyan Tree hotel for a drink. The bar is outside on the 61st floor and offers stunning views of the city. It truly was beautiful. As some of you know, the Traveling Hillbilly is afraid of heights so when the wind started to pick up, I have to admit, this hillbilly got a little spooked. However, I still had a great time.

Then it was off to the Night Market, which is in the “red light” district of Bangkok. Now this is an interesting area but I won’t go into to detail. If you want the real scoop, post some questions on the guestbook and The Traveling Hillbilly will email you the real scoop. Luckily we didn’t encounter anything too seedy, aside from the names of some of the bars (many of which I don’t want to print on this blog). At least I can say I went.

Then it was off to The Dome at the top of the state tower, another place for great views of the city. It was actually on the 63rd floor! But it was a little more enclosed so there was not as much wind. Plus they had some great couches to lounge on. This is the place I mentioned that had an issue with “plastic bags.”

So it wasn't truly a wild and crazy night, but all in all, a great way to celebrate the big day. I had a fabulous dinner, drinks at two of the places offering the best views in the city, all spent in the company of good friends. This is truly one lucky hillbilly.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Snow Flurries in Bangkok

What better way to start a birthday celebration than a massage and facial? I tried the reflexology massage and it was still less only like $20 for both! It was so relaxing I think I actually fell asleep for a bit. At one point during the facial, there was suddenly very cool air on my face. It was like I was sitting right in front of an air conditioner. But then I realized there was no air blowing. It was very interesting and it took me a moment to find a way to describe it. It actually felt like little snow flurries on my face. I’m honestly not sure what it was, but given the heat and humidity here, it was a nice treat.

Other Random Thoughts & Observations

1-The lack of cell phones here. You seldom see cell phones being used here. It’s actually quite refreshing.
2-The smoke is not as bad here as I expected. For some reason, I thought everyone here would smoke, but that doesn’t seem to be there case. What a nice surprise.
3-The Thai people are truly lovely. The have amazing patience and are so sweet and gracious. It’s quite inspiring.
4-Jack Fruit – I finally found out the name of the fruit I love so much.
5-The cars are much bigger than expected. I mean there aren’t SUVs everywhere, but there aren’t a bunch of those tiny little cars you see everywhere except the United States. Plus I think Toyota must have at leas 70% market share. Toyota’s are everywhere.
6-Dogs are everywhere. There are so many homeless dogs roaming the streets of Thailand. It makes me want to bring them all home.
7-There’s an odd disparity in this city.
---Where else can you get an hour massage for $10 and pay $30 bucks for a glass of wine? A cheap wine at that.
---There is such pretentiousness here. Given the graciousness and sweetness of the people, it seems to go against the culture.
---I just can’t seem to figure out the dress code here. A lot of bars and restaurants have a “smart casual” dress code, but that seems to mean something different at everyplace. Given the culture, I would think they would be more formal and maybe even more modest, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Jeans, t-shirts and sneakers are okay, but opened toes shoes aren’t. Short skirts are okay, but no dressy/long shorts. A strapless dress or spaghetti strap dress is fine, but not a sleeveless shirt. There are things I would wear to work in LA that you can’t wear even in the hotel’s restaurant. I understand the code for temples and such, but I just can’t figure out from day to day what “smart casual” means. At one place, they told my friend they didn’t allow plastic bags in the bar. They gave her a free “paper” bag to put her stuff in. She just had plastic bag with some stuff from the drugstore. So it seems to be okay to look like a hooker or homeless person as long as you’re in a dress or jeans, closed toed shoes and aren’t carry a plastic bag. Odd. Odd. Odd.