Elephant Trek, 1/28/14

The morning starts off the same as usual.  Breakfast is followed by a brief visit to the beach and a swim.  Our afternoon is going to be a different, however.  We meet our driver at 12:30 and head out for an afternoon of elephant riding, and a little Thailand education.  We pick up another couple down the road at the JW Marriott.  They are Indian, but have lived in Rochester, New York, since 1968.  They’ve been everywhere, and it’s fun to hear some of their stories during the hour drive to Siam Safari, home of the Elephant Trek.

When we arrive, we’re organized into groups and transported to our first stop, a brief explanation about the elephants and their mahouts (handlers).   Fully informed, we load onto our elephant, and start down the road.  There is a lot of swaying as the elephant lumbers along the path.  It’s intriguing watching the mahout “steer” the elephant.  There is a balance of urging, and patience as we make our way.  The elephant does seem to have a mind of her own.  If a person were prone to seasickness, this might be a rough ride.  When I read about the tour, I thought that ½ hour was not a very long ride, but when we get off, I’ve had more than enough elephant riding.


Our group guide, our elephant, and our mahout


Chalong Bay in the background. We’re on the back of the elephant. Picture taken by our mahout.


Loaded up and riding.


Our mahout!


Swaying on down the path!

The remainder of the tour is a series of educational stops.  We walk over to an area where they demonstrate the training of some of the younger elephants.  The younger kids get to feed them.  Next stop is a demonstration of tapping a rubber tree, and then how to convert the sap into rubber.  It’s really well done.

Stop #3 is them is the making of Thai curry spices.  They demonstrate the process, and then we get to sample.  Stop #4 is the coconut.  The demonstration includes traditional ways to open a coconut, how to grate the meat, how to make coconut milk, and then how to make coconut oil.   They don’t waste much of the coconut.  We’ve had curry on rice, then some coconut, and now a little Thai coffee to finish it off.   Next is a demonstration of rice production and the use of the water buffalo in the process.  We really enjoyed the demos.  They peppered the presentation with humor, and the basic info was good.

After the last demo, our group is loaded onto a vehicle and moved into town and down to the docks at Chalong Bay.  We have a sunset cruise with a buffet meal out into the bay.  It’s an old wooden boat at first view, but after we’re onboard, it’s really very nice.  The food is good, and the view is even better.  Back at the dock, they load us back into a van for our return trip.  It’s been a full day! 

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The setting sun on Chalong Bay

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Beach Boredom! Yea!!!! 1/26-27/14

SUNDAY, 1/26/14

We wake up ready to eat (of course).  What is it about a breakfast buffet that makes a person over-eat?  I am hurting when I leave the restaurant.  We head out to the beach, find a chair and begin the vacation.  The beach is really nice and the weather couldn’t be better.  The water temperature is perfect.  The biggest problem I think we’re going to have is avoiding sunburn.  The temptation is to stay out here too long, especially on the first day.

Deck to G.zoom

Breakfast in the morning calm

Deck to Room

Looking back up toward the room

Deck to G.

We head back to the room with no sunburn, ready for a nap and whatever else the hotel might hold.  Later in the evening, we head back out to the beach, enjoying the view and the cool breezes.  I hope we can stand 9 days of this.


Mai Khao beach, looking south from the Renaissance beach area


MONDAY, 1/27/14

 Looks like we’re headed for another boring day of good food and tropical breezes.  They tell us about a beach barbeque with entertainment for the evening, so we make a reservation.  The set-up on the beach is first-class, and the entertainment is fun.  We’re getting into this vacation thing.


Phuket junket begins! 1/25/14

Yea!!! Today we travel!  We’re up around 2:30 am, and are walking out to a taxi at 4:00 am.  There are two parked out front of the apartments, and both drivers are in their passenger seat, with the seat propped back, sleeping.  I knock on the window of the first one in line, and he groggily wakes up.  After a few minutes of language struggles, we’re driving away.  There is no traffic this time of the day.  We saw a traffic accident site for the first time in Beijing on the way to the airport.  It looked like the driver might have gone to sleep and crashed into the side railing.  As crazy as the traffic is in Beijing, I’m surprised we haven’t seen more.

Airport arrival and check-in is smooth.  We make the long trek to our departure gate, through Immigration and then through Security.  We get to our gate after another long walk.  This is a really big, new, wide-open terminal.  About a half-hour before our flight is scheduled to depart, Judy realizes she can’t find her phone.  She races back so security, thinking maybe she left it there.  She returns 10 minutes later empty-handed.  They needed her passport and also wanted to see her bag.  I go back with her this time.  Her phone shows up on the “Find My iPhone” app on my phone, and the map shows it’s in the airport terminal.   Back at security, they scan Judy’s bag and check her passport.  Then they scan my bag and check my bag also.  They want to make sure it’s not hidden in our bags somewhere.  Now, the “Find My iPhone” app map shows Judy’s phone near the gate.  We’re beginning to think she put it in her coat sometime in the taxi ride.  She put her coat in her suitcase right before we checked the bag.  We won’t need coats in Phuket.  As we board the plane, the app still shows the phone close by.  The phone has got to be in the suitcase (we hope).  We’ll find out in Phuket.

No problems at the Bangkok airport.  We make the transfer to our Phuket flight smoothly.  No sign of any political unrest.  The flight path into Phuket comes in over water.  I was beginning to wonder if we had pontoons on our plane. It’s a small airport, with only one runway, shared by incoming and outgoing flights.  After we disembark and get our luggage, we run the gauntlet of taxi entrepreneurs.  I find one with a price close to what I understand is the standard fare, and it’s air-conditioned.  It’s definetly warmer here (around 85 degrees F).  There’s not much need for sweaters and layering now.

The ride to the Renaissance Phuket Resort and Spa is about 20 minutes.  We arrive and it’s gorgeous.  Cold face towels and fruit juice greet us at check-in.  We make it to the room, and it’s equally luxurious.  NEWS FLASH:  WE FOUND THE PHONE IN THE COAT!  We have a great view of the lobby and restaurant from our balcony.  Our first job is to rest.  It’s been a long day of terminals and flying.  The combined flight time of our two legs from Beijing to Bangkok, and then Phuket is 6½ hours.  It’s been a long time since 2:30 am in Beijing.  We begin enjoying the resting part of our vacation immediately.  We’ll explore the area tomorrow. 


The lobby area as we drive up


Our room, as view from the lobby:  top floor, 4th from the left.

Our room, as viewed from the lobby: top floor, 4th from the left.

View from the room back towards the lobby

View from the room back towards the lobby

Pre-Travel Friday, 1/24/14

Judy got off to school, coughing steadily.  She’s got some kind of a cold.  Apparently, many of the faculty at BISS has the same thing.  Judy said several of the teachers missed school today.  New Years programs were the big activity today.  Judy attended the elementary program, but had a class during the secondary program.  She said the dances and songs were all well prepared by the Chinese teachers.

NY deco

A little more New Year decorating around BISS

NY costume

Dressed for the day. All the women had red vests, the men had blue.

NY assembly

One of the elementary dances at the BISS New Year’s assembly.

 My big job today is to prep for our travel tomorrow.  I finish up the laundry, pull out the suitcases, and begin my own packing.  I walk over to the Marriott and get my swimming in.  I try to catch up syncing the iPad and both our iPhones when I get back.  The internet is so slow, it takes forever.   As I go to bed, I’m hoping there is a taxi around at 4:00 am, when we need to leave. 

Monday thru Thursday, Jan. 20 – 23, 2014

It has been a very uneventful week.  Judy has been teaching her regular classes as well as rehearsing Annie segments every chance she gets.  They have rehearsals Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, and both rehearsals go well.  Of course, they’re behind, but when has a musical not been “behind”.

The Chinese New Year Assembly on Friday is requiring a lot of time from the students.  The Chinese teachers at BISS are organizing it, and are taking responsibility for all aspects.  Of course, they’re competing for time with the students against the Annie rehearsals to prepare for their assembly.  Several students missed Tuesday’s Annie rehearsal because of a shopping excursion.  The Chinese teachers took a group after school to purchase clothes to wear in the assembly.  Since the teachers involved in the musical had worked hard to schedule this week’s extra after school rehearsals, the sudden decision to go shopping by the Chinese teachers didn’t go over so well.

My week has revolved around three activities.  I’ve been walking over to the Marriott and swimming every day.  Back at the apartment, I’ve been working on a GarageBand project for the Guitar Club at BHSFIC.  They’re working on a tune called “Jet Lag”.  It’s a really straightforward rock and roll tune.  They need a drum track to play on top of.  I’m putting together GarageBand loops and experimenting with how to add accents where needed to fit the piece.  As with anything I do on a computer, there’s lots of trial and error, and it’s time consuming.

I’m also spending lots of time online searching out travel opportunities for Spring Break, at the end of March.  We’re going to have 5 days, and we want to make them count.  I’ve been checking out sites in Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Phillippines.  There are too many places to visit, and not enough time.  I’m also trying to follow the political activities in Bangkok.  The anti-government forces have threatened to shut down the Bangkok Airport.  We fly through Bangkok on our way to Phuket on Saturday.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t get complicated.

Thursday night is the BISS staff New Years Party.  There is a bus from school to the restaurant at 5:30.  I take the subway over to meet Judy after the Annie rehearsal.  It’s a fun evening.  The food is great, and it just keeps coming.  There was a video of all the staff saying “Happy New Year” in their own way.  There were some really humorous versions.  The restaurant had a stage show, that included traditional Chinese dancing and singing.  There was also a magician (pretty good), and a juggler.  There was girl who balanced and spun big barrels on her feet while she laid on her back.  The finale of her act was a huge barrel with one of the BISS staff members (bigger that me) climbing inside.  Then she spun the barrel with him inside. 

Sunday, 1/19/14

We’re headed back to IKEA today.  We bought a few extra curtains by mistake (two panels in each bag instead of one).  It was the fastest trip ever for us.  I took care of the return while Judy picked out the replacement drapes.  We were home in less than an hour.

Back at the apartment, we finish hanging all the drapes, and a few other sundry items that needed placement.  The changes look great.  Bit by bit the apartment is becoming upgraded.

Two items are really big in the news in Beijing these days.  I read in the paper that fireworks are going on sale Saturday, Jan. 25.  From what we’re told by the “old-timers” at BISS, it’s a crazy time.  They tell us we can expect to hear fireworks (big commercial type fireworks, not firecrackers) going off 24/7.  It’s supposed to last for two weeks.  Since we’re leaving town the day the fireworks go on sale, we may miss a lot of the activity.  There have already been a few nights when we heard big fireworks in the neighborhood.

The second subject getting a lot of talk is the discussion of the “human migration” that takes place during the Spring Festival (New Year).  It’s a tradition for everyone to go back home during this holiday.  The news outlets are saying that over 3 billion train tickets have been sold for this holiday.  That’s a lot of people.  Apparently, many people can’t get tickets, and there are reports of false ID’s being used to purchase tickets and then scalped.  The online ticketing process is not functioning as smoothly as needed under the pressure   Standing-room only tickets are also being sold.

Saturday, 1/18/14

The weekend is here and we’re headed to IKEA.  We’ve decided to get some new curtains, and a different cover for our sofa.  We’re there when they open and ahead of the crowds.  It takes a while to find what we need, but we make it out of the store by 11:30.

Back at the apartment we sort out a few things, then head out again for Solana Mall.  Judy needs a full length “puffer” jacket (down coat).  She spends time everyday outside with a 15-minute recess group.  They haven’t missed many days outside, yet, and we know the cold weather is coming.  We find some great jackets and they’re on sale for half-price at Uni-Qlo.  We follow up the shopping with a great pizza at Tube Station Pizza.  I’ve posted some pictures of the Solana Chinese New Year decorations below.

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Even our apartment is beginning to decorate for the New Year.

Back home, the rest of the afternoon and evening is spent taking down the old curtains, and putting up the new ones.  If you’ve done it, you know it can take time getting it right.  When I get to bed around midnight, Judy is washing some recorders, getting ready for classes next week.  It’s been a long but fulfilling day.

Pool & Pub, 1/17/14

More swimming for me today, and Judy has another “regular” day at school.  I posted a few pictures below of the pool area at the Marriott.  I’m still trying to nail down travel details for our future fun.  I meet a delivery lady from our local travel agent, who’s picking up payment and delivering receipts for airfare and hotel rooms for our trip to Amsterdam.  I still have a lot of planning to do on other segments of our travel.

pool1 pool2

It’s Friday, so it’s Bluche for the BISS group after school.  After a week of swimming laps and spending an exorbitant amount of online time on travel sites, I’m ready for some human interaction.  It’s a fun evening of listening to holiday visit stories, and discussion about Chinese New Years destinations.  These discussions are great for learning about good and bad places to visit.  I also get to hear a comparison between the Australian and British retirement systems.  I don’t understand all of it, but it’s a treat to hear about it from the people that are living it. 


Some views from the pool area at the Marriott. Our apartment is the gray building, far off in the distance, just over the top of the brown building in the center of the photo



Smogopolis, 1/16/14

Smog is the center of attention today.  I woke up at 1:00 am, and noticed how “foggy” everything was outside.  I checked the “CN Air Quality” app and it read “605.”  That’s the highest rating we’ve seen since we’ve been here.  We hadn’t seen anything over 500, and only then for an hour or two, before a front blew in and dropped it below 100 six hours later.  When I woke up later at 6:00 am, it was down around 550.  The pictures below were taken around 9:00 am from our apartment window.  The smog count was around 480.  I also posted some “before” pictures, taken when the smog reading was below 100.  There is lots of talk on CNN and the local CCTV about the smog.  It’s not going unnoticed.


Apt.4 Apt.2

Apt.3 Apt.1

The rest of our schedule is pretty much the same as the rest of the week.  Judy is working hard at school.  I’m eating, writing, planning travel, etc., etc, etc.  I brought home food from “Avocado Tree,” a Chipotle copy.  The burrito bowls were great, and I even brought home some chips and queso.

On the travel planning, I’ve confirmed our summer airfare.  We’re going to end up flying around the world.  We’re leaving here and flying to Warsaw/Amsterdam for a cruise.  After the cruise, it’s Amsterdam to DFW.  After a good visit in Texas, we’re flying back to Beijing for Year Two on our Asian teaching adventure.

Wednesday, 1/15/14

We’ve really settled into a routine these days.  Judy heads off to school each day, where she’s busy finishing up end of semester reports, rehearsing “Annie” segments, and planning for the rest of the year.  My schedule involves breakfast, writing, checking in on family using Facetime, travel planning, lunch, swimming workout, search for a different dinner location, “West Wing” episode with Judy back at the apartment, and then sleep.

I found a new place to eat this evening.  As I was walking home from the Marriott, I came by Kro’s Nest, a pizza place I’d heard about, but hadn’t tried yet.  It’s a huge place with some unique decorations.  They advertise the “largest pizza in Beijing”.  I didn’t test the boast this trip.  The food was good, and cheap.  Judy will definitely need to try this place soon.