Sunday, December 19, 2010

Report on Visit to China

Holiday Season 2010

We are glad to be home on the boat but there has been a huge amount of rain, even well past the change of seasons and the boat is torn up and on the hard getting new wood, bottom paint and other repairs.

We need to report on our China trip and all these photos are just some that caught my eye as I went through the mass of photos that we took.

Smoggy day at the wall!

We stayed in 12 different locations all around China and have decided that for us, China is simply "not fantastic". It is pretty OK if you have extra time and more money than you might expect to pay. We were happy making our own arrangements and liked Agoda for hotels. We often took day tours recommended by cruiser folks and from Tripadvisor. We still found all of China very average, in general. With all the raving I hear I feel like someone needs to tell another side. We are not naive travelers. We enjoy a sense of adventure and don't mind if everything isn't perfect because it's another challenge. We were disappointed with much of the big attractions just being rebuilt rather than maintained to look like they used to when they really didn't used to use so much concrete! So many places looked manufactured to be tourist attractions. And the air pollution was dreadful casting an awful haze over everything.

Old style banking building in Pinghao

There were some places that were remarkable. We really enjoyed Pingao, an old walled city, Dali for it's mountain hike and old walled town and Lijiang as an example of ancient culture, even tho it was a bit touristy...especially it has a nice palace visit called “Mu’s House”. We did the usual touristy things in Guilin, Li river cruise thru steep karst[upward jutting mountains], and it was all pretty ok in the pollution. Our short waterfall hike in Dali in the mountains convinced us that rural China is nicer than the smoggy, noisy, 'overdone with tourists' big cities. We think it takes younger bodies to really enjoy the rural adventures tho..

Just us somewhere pretty!

Many natural elements were stunning but they are far apart. So much of the info at attractions is, of course, altered to go along with the current government ideas that we were always suspicious. Many tours just told us the info we could read in English if we wanted to with out giving any depth. We found that getting the headphone recorded tours was always interesting and we often wished we had chosen them over a guide.

Lynn tries calligraphy and does OK encouraged by onlookers!

Much of the archeology was very interesting and there is more variety than we expected all over China. We did like learning a lot about prehistory and early of Lynn’s favorite subjects. Chuck was more interested in military stuff and politics. China has been around for an amazing amount of time and accumulated an even more amazing number of Chinese!!! Maybe we got “Chinaphobia”!!!

Must make time for happy hour!

All this doesn't say we are sorry we went. We wanted to see China and what it had to offer. We just feel like it has been just a bit overrated. And we found the food was universally average to awful. It seems like we would have found something remarkable in over a month of experimenting as we always do when we travel ...but we didn't. The quality was just so average even in expensive restaurants and with guides to help us choose. Nothing was worth ever having again or as good as frozen Chinese food in the US!

Clear skies for mountain hike on paved path...easy!

We liked Hong Kong somewhat better but it was even more expensive, like the US....the history was interesting there but many places were just touristy sites and shopping and high up views from mountains. It was like “China-Lite”!! We didn’t think it was worth it to just shop ‘til you drop! The history museum was quite well done as were several museums all around China. We learned a lot from the better museums everywhere. We especially liked the Capitol Museum in Beijing... Good general info on all of China and architecturally stunning.

Stayed in antique 500 years old!

Lynn was not impressed with the Chinese gardens...too manufactured from concrete and unnatural....too stiff and formal and artificial. Too many things seemed like Disney had made ancient places to visit. It just didn't feel genuine and sincere but rather like tourist traps to suck money from you. She did like the calligraphy, clay and porcelain traditional arts.

Typical old house

If asked, I guess we would say if you don't expect too much, China might turn out fine but too many folks are making it sound fabulous and we worked hard, but couldn't find very much that was great. There was too much smog, smoking, yelling into cellphones, and pushing crowds [even in the off season] to make some things worth a treasured memory. We absolutely enjoyed many places but we were just not overwhelmed with awe. I also need to say that this is a very generalized opinion with an overall aspect.

Lejiang canal scene

The treatment by the Chinese people was outstanding and we can't say enough good things about them. We were surprised to find and enjoy the Chinese as being very expressive and open like the Italians and not nearly as shy and soft spoken as the other Asians. We usually stayed in 3-4 star hotels but did stay in Hostels in a few places and wished we had used them more than we did. They were more personal. I will add that all the transportation works very well and we were impressed, especially with the super high speed trains.

Mu's Residence in Lejiang

We are now getting our Indian visas now to go to the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean and they are supposed to be wonderful and sparsely populated and also with quiet anchorages...sounds fantastic after the hoards of masses of folks we saw in China. We gotta admit that it is an amazing feat to employ, house, feed, nurture and amuse so much of the world’s population in just one country.

A Wall where potential candidates are found for arranged marriages

Must include the mass of Terra Cotta Soldiers to prove we were there!

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Great Thai Elephant Adventure

CYAN's crew tries a new skill!!

One of our most special adventures has been the Patara Elephant Farm in Chiang Mei, Thailand. It’s the number one rated thing to do there on Tripadvisor Website and we consult that site often in our travels. This choice was better than we expected! It was educational and so much fun.

They picked us up early at our hotel and there were about 16 in our class of trainees. We learned about how the elephant is endangered and being abused by other tourist organizations. It seemed like we learned a lot about elephants: their reproduction, digestive health, usefulness, disposition, skin care, communication with us and us with them and of course, how to board one and get off! This can be complicated but we managed with help.

We examine the droppings for health check...[it was like shredded wheat!]

Chuck gets on like a pro!We will not show my was not a graceful sight!

Most interesting is that a swinging tail and flapping ears means a happy elephant and saying “deedee” to them mean “good elephant” while stroking under the eyes is affection! We had to write all the commands on our arms to keep track and they respond well to commands…eventually. Speed isn’t their strong point! Strength is!!! And coordination, along with warmth and friendliness! They get friendlier with you when you feed them that first basket of fruit and your hand is enthusiastically scooped right into their mouths with the fruit.

Chuck feeds his new friend!

Bath time in the river was fun but a lot of work! Skin care is important.

The elephant shower us after we bathed them

We learned to examine the sizable, but not offensive, droppings [see above] to check for health and to correctly bathe the elephants for skin care and do they ever love a good bath! They are very cooperative in the river. But, slugging through the muddy jungle takes some encouragement and that comes in the form of kicking them firmly behind the ears to go right or left and saying “bye” but more like “biii” to get them to move forward on the trail instead of stopping to nibble tasty bamboo shoots, a real favorite. We were so surprised at how well these elephants could climb over these steep trails in the jungle. Lynn who has some height issues had closed eyes a few times and we were more than 10’ up off the ground sitting on their heads rolling with each step. She kept looking for a soft muddy spot to fall but never did!

Along the muddy jungle trail!

After riding for almost 2 hours through steep, muddy but beautiful jungle we arrived at the wonderful waterfall for lunch and a swim with the “big” fun bunch. This was really a wild time as you can tell here. Lunch was great but all the leftover food including the banana leaf table cloth got fed to the elephants and they were used to it and ready for it!

These guys were like big babies in the water and we all had a blast like kids.

I’m sure the photos show what a wonderful day we had and we both will never forget our elephants. Lynn’s was Man Wan Dee and Chucks was Man Su Noy. They were both 35 years old and still in birthing years. They had both been teak log workers at one time and were “retired” now.

A tired return ride home.

Patara is a special location that takes in and cares for many elephants acquired from many sources and for many different reasons. We were so impressed with their work.

We were absolutely exhausted but what a wonderful way to end our 3 week journey in Northern Thailand.

Lynn and Chuck, who are now getting ready to go to the US for 19 days then China for 5 weeks!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Touring Bangkok and the Northern Early Thai Capitols

It'a about time for some news from CYAN. We are in Boat Lagoon Marina in Phuket, Thailand which is a great place to work on the boat. And there was a lot to be done.

We finally got the boat work done on CYAN so we were able to take off for Bangkok and places north of there. We found a gem of a hotel in the President Palace. [For those planning to go to Bangkok...don't consider anywhere else. Everything was just perfect for less than $60 a night.]
We began by seeing all the many Wats in the area. For the home folks...these are Buddhist Temples that are lavishly decorated in a vast number of different ways often with different remains of the Great Buddha himself inside a "Chedi" [sorta like a tall pyramid structure] on the grounds, too. Remains of other royal and religious folks are inside Chedis, too.

We really began to enjoy the different styles of temples especially in Bangkok because they were decorated with richly painted murals all over the walls telling stories of religion, myths and what life was like in ancient days. We hadn't seen that in other SE Asia locations. There are literally hundreds of Wats but tourists try to see the significant ones with specific artistic value. In total we have seen at least 35 to 40 in just Thailand alone. And that's in detail, walking all around! We are about to become Buddhist by saturation!! I hope they have a sense of humor!!!

Marble Wat in beautiful!

example of story telling painting on walls

One meaningful experience in Bangkok is visiting the Grand Palace and grounds. I am impressed that the present king...Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), who is the longest serving monarch in the world and the richest being worth more than 30 billion dollars according to Wikipedia. It's all quite complex and we were glad to have a guide on our tour the day we toured the palaces. No photos were allowed inside and it was a shame because we really enjoyed the visit and walked ourselves to exhaustion over more than 15 buildings.
Detail at Palace grounds

Needing a break next, we decided to go to cooking school and perfect some needed skills and it was such a great fun morning: educational and so entertaining and really filling.

Are we having fun or what?

We sought out some more obscure tourist locations to visit like the Jim Thompson House and the Suan Pakkad Palace Museum. Jim Thompson was an American who had developed a big silk trade in the 60's and built quite an elaborate home complex and art collection with lovely garden [for Lynn]. We just loved seeing all of it and would recommend it highly. We learned about him in the mountains of Malaysia when we were there in June because one day he mysteriously vanished from there and has never been seen again. Big Asia Mystery!!!

this is a typical Thai home on the grounds

The Suan Pakkad Palace Museum was very interesting. It was a collection of 7 old Thai buildings moved to Bangkok to house the beautifully done display of an extensive archeological expedition in northern Thailand and many other pieces of art work.

After a bit of shopping we were ready to board the train for Ayutthaya an ancient capitol of Thailand from 1250 to 1760. It had many ruins and, yes, more Wats, to visit and we hired a tuktuk to drive us to the best selection to visit so we would feel like we got a good view of it all since we both were still recuperating from this darn H1N1 flu and hacking away. It was well worth the look around.

The below in Ayutthaya is the famous head left by thieves that a tree grew around and is considered sacred now.

We definitely thought going to Sukhothai was more exciting, though. It was more trouble to get there. We had to take a 5 hour train ride from Ayutthaya and then take an hour bus ride to the town near the ruined remains of the ancient, elaborately designed showplace that was the capitol of the northland in Thailand fighting off the Burmese in 1100-1250. It was surrounded by moats and had all kinds of water features and temples with unique designs. We think no trip to Thailand is complete without seeing this fabulous place.

The train ride to Chiang Mai was quite attractive through the mountains going north but it was 8 hours and we only brought snacks. We didn't much like the rice and spicy tofu they served! We were ready to relax and enjoy Chiang Mai which is actually another capitol of Thailand...the Lanna area...the very north and has a rich history of it's own. We have just loved it here and have seen such a thick concentration of Wats and monks all one on every street kidding! But they all have something interesting to offer and we still actually find something good to look at...can't believe who gets bored so easily!!! Buddhism is actually pretty cool...even for good Episcopalians...we can respect all this. These people are so sweet and calm and helpful. they sure don't understand excitable people!!!

We do the big Elephant adventure tomorrow and I will give that it's own page. This is long enough. For more photos and info check out Lynn's Facebook page at
all my photos are open to everyone and aren't repeated here.

On the road to yet another Wat way up on a mountain overlooking Chiang Mai on a clear Day

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The rest of the Tour, SE Asia, 2010

Our new 37th Anniversary
Elephant Rings from Laos..

the elephants rotate cute!

Soupmaker on the street in Hue

We must mention the food in Vietnam because it is so good everywhere we go and the healthiest in the world with little use of fat and starches and so many herbs to flavor the soups and banana wrapped goodies. We have just loved it and will learn to make much of it....especially after the boring, spicey food in Malaysia. We have also taken up having massages at the reasonable prices and are enjoying the spas as we travel around. Chuck has decides he really wants one of these talented massage girls to crew on the boat but I say only if she can cook the food too!!! They sure don't take up much room!!! Chuck has gained weight and I have lost...I just love that...the beer is too cheap and I gave up drinking and coffee and it has done me good!!!


Next thing was just a short bus ride to Hue where we had the nicest hotel and we just relaxed for several days before going on to Hanoi. Besides Lynn came down with strep throat and needed a break. This is a town with 5 Universities and is also the place where Hoi Chi Minh whent to high school. We went to the museum that was all about him and it was actually quite interesting. There is a huge walled area in the old city called the "Cidadel" that was a fortress and if a commoner entered he was earlier times, of course. We visited the tombs of earlier emperors which are actually beautifully landscaped parks that take quite a while to walk around. By now we are half way up the coast of Vietnam and we are ready to fly to Hanoi because there are really no real tourist attractions to see until there.

Here are shots of an old temple in a lake in mid Hanoi

This was a surprise because so many had told us that they didn't like Hanoi and it was just a big city. We found many things to like after learning our way around. Our hotel was on the edge of the very ancient "old town" and it was always exciting and not threatening to walk around. It was just too tempting to shop for small fun items that were great buys. They have great copies of everything from Rolexes to Iphones and Ipods. We were advised to try and take in a symphony but there was the ballet of Carmen opening instead and with some new friends we went and got 3rd row tickets. We found it to be really a great performance in dance and costume with only the set needing some flair but that's just us...we are glad we went. We also met for lunch with some folks we'd met earlier in Singapore for a nice visit.

Opera house where we saw the ballet was based on the one in Paris

The Hanoi Stock Exchange, Chuck just had to take a photo


We took the night train to Sapa but without planning ahead only got what's called a hard sleeper but it was OK and we slept away the night. We'd planned over 4 days in Sapa with plenty to see but only got in 2 days because we both got dreadful stomach flus like we hadn't had for 20 years or so with Lynn getting knocked down first. so it was good that our tickets and hotel were so cheap. The other days were like in slow motion in a haze of nausea drugs. We took another night train down to Hanoi and a flight to Luang Prabang, Laos, on Wed March 24, the day after our 37th anniversary. We are in a nice remote resort outside of town, still doing some recovering. We bought cute matching elephant silver wedding rings for our anniversary. Chick hasn't worn a wedding band since heleft his in the safety deposit box when we left. That was sentimental.

Scenes around Sapa

Some of the Ethnic Hmong peoples around Sapa


We really enjoyed relaxing for 6 days at this reasonable resort in LP, Laos and Chuck needed time to recover from what ever hit both of us in Sapa. We had leisurely strolls into the village, ate yummy french food, saw a vast number of varied temples, pretended we got up at dawn to see the traditional walk of monks down main street being fed sticky rice by the residents, a centuries old tradition. We can imagine it. Besides it seems sorta peronal to me and photos are not allowed but most took them and that's offensive! LP was a nice visit and we should have stayed there and not wasted our time with the capitol of Vientiane for 3 days. We are sorry we took the time because it was quite boring but not un attractive, just no redeeming value to speak of. We did find an example from the mysterious "Plain of Jars" where stone age jars were carved from stone quite interesting []. We were also fascinated by the Ethnic Market that everyone calls the witchcraft market where you can actually buy elephant tusks if you want to risk it and have the conscience.

Monks in Luan Prabang

Lynn with a jar from the Plain of Jars, repaired, and Chuck with a temple dog!
Below are items, herbs and effigies from the witchcraft market.

Then on April 3 we headed to KL, where Chuck bought his Ipod Touch and we bought luggage for China in September. We also got to go to church on Easter Sunday with folks from so many countries in their native dress, India, Malaysia, Africa. It was so impressive at St Mary's Anglican Cathedral. On April 6 we were off to Penang for some dental work and medical tests and minor surgeries before going back to the boat.

Best of all was how good the nachos at Chili's tasted along with the Wendy's burger and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Just had to have some home food after all this time!!!

PS.Lynn is doing great not drinking alcohol or coffee or citrus or soft drinks any more...and proud, she is!!!