A full day in paradise, 6/25/15

We wake up pretty early (bodies are still running on Beijing time, an hour ahead) and are at breakfast at 7:00 am. There’s a nice view of the beach and ocean from the deck of the restaurant.


View from the restaurant

We went down to the pool/beach area for little while. When it began to get hot, we went back to our villa where we could sit either inside, or outside under a deck umbrella, or in our own pool.


Villa entrance courtyard


Villa gate


View from the entrance


Pool area


View of the villa from the living area


Pool view from the villa

I went over to the lap pool later in the morning. They have a 50-meter pool for lap swimming. I’m kinda excited to swim laps in a 50-meter pool, as opposed to a 25-meter pool I’ve become used to. I’m curious if the tedium of swimming laps is any different, based on the ldp distance. I actually enjoy the change. It seems easier to swim the extended length and not have to make so many turns back and forth. (I’m really bored with life aren’t I?)


Lap Pool area (across the road)


Hotel entrance as viewed from the lap pool area.

Judy returned to the pool/beach area later in the afternoon. She had an encounter with an employee of the hotel who was trying to setup for an evening BBQ on the beach. He was trying to set up 3 hours before the meal was to begin, and wanted her to move off the beach to the pool area. Judy, and a couple of the other patrons, explained to the guy that they had come a long way to enjoy the beach and sun, and maybe he could work around them for a little while, or setup some beach chairs for them down the beach, out of his work area. As with most problems like this, it was all about the way he did the asking, and his lack of understanding. Judy’s biggest question was if he had this problem every week, and did he handle it so poorly all the other times?

Day One at Koh Samui is a big success. We got in a lot of rest and relaxation, Judy helped train an employee, and neither of us got sunburned!

Two short hops to Koh Samui, 6/24/15

We have two short hops today. The first flight isn’t until 12:20, so there’s plenty of time for a relaxing breakfast before catching a shuttle for the airport. The check-in at the small Siem Reap airport is easy, as well as the security and immigration checks.   The flight is slightly over an hour, and the attendants did a full meal service.

At the Bangkok airport we made the long walk to Immigration and security, and then made a lengthy trek to the gate for short hop #2. The flight is slightly less than an hour. Koh Samui is another small airport, but there are a few larger planes. We offload down some stairs and then board a tram to the terminal. The luggage takes about 15 minutes to arrive, and then we taxi to our hotel. The taxi thing is handled pretty well. There’s a desk inside the terminal where we tell the clerk our destination and pay the fee. When we get outside, the taxi pulls up, loads us, and we’re off. There’s no gauntlet of drivers to walk thru, trying to figure out who’s for real, and who’ll try to scam us.

The Renaissance Spa and Resort Koh Samui is really nice, as expected. We had a “pool villa garden view” reserved. They don’t have an upgrade ready today, but will have it available on Friday. We’re available for an upgrade because of all the Marriott properties we’ve been staying in for two years. My perseverance has finally begun to pay off a little bit. We get unpacked and then do a little touring of the resort grounds. The pool area is nice, as is the beach area. We find some beach chairs and begin enjoying the view. It’s going to be rough five nights.

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Angkor Wat, Wow! 6/23/15

We met our driver today, a little earlier. Scheduled time was 4:45am. We’re going to Angkor Wat today, and one of the nice picture moments is the sun rising over the iconic Angkor Wat Temple with it’s five towers. Unfortunately, it’s cloudy, and we never saw the sun. It’s actually a blessing because the day is much cooler. We waited in the prime picture spot until our guide was sure there wasn’t going to be good photo opportunity, then we headed into to tour the temple. It was 5:30 am. That’s a really early tour.


At first light


One side of the bridge has been reconstructed.


It is truly amazing walking around so much ancient history and architecture. I find it hard to believe we’re able to walk around, with free access to almost everywhere. As the site becomes more congested with tourists, and more popular, I can’t imagine people will be able to walk next to the long walls where we stood, and touch the carvings that were done 1000 years ago. Almost every wall, pillar, or supporting column is covered with intricate carvings.

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Inside the outer walls, looking across one of the pools.


This is one of four pool areas in the main temple area.

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Some really long halls and walls.


All the walls were covered with carvings!!!



We toured Angkor Wat until almost 8:30, then took a break for breakfast and caffeine. Then we headed out to visit two more sites. The first site was huge, and full of hallways and rooms. Our guide walked us in and out of lots of secluded areas, not visited by most of the tourists. If we hadn’t had a guide, there’s no way I would have veered off into some of the areas where we ended up. We were crawling over tumbled walls and collapsed ceiings.


This guy knew how to catch some zzzz’s.

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The final site of the day was about a half hour drive away, and smaller, but the carvings and designs were more intricate. Apparently the “designer/builder” had special permission from the king of the time to build a site where future “temple builders” could train. He had to be careful that he didn’t “outbuild” the King’s temple. They’re all impressive.


Some unbelievable carvings.

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We finished our touring at 1:30, which seemed early on the clock (but late on our bodies). Back at the hotel, we enjoyed relaxing in the room. We decided not to travel into the city center area of Siem Reap. What we had seen was pretty much like every other “market” area we’ve visited. Neither of us were in a mood to fight off aggressive vendors or barter for stuff we really don’t want or need. It began to rain hard around 3:00 and we were so glad we were finished for the day.

Angkor Wat visit, Day 1, 6/22/15

Our visit to the Angkor Wat Archeological Park begins this morning after a nice breakfast. We meet our guide, Rey, and head out to our first stop, Angkor Thom. The Archeological Park is a large area containing numerous temple ruins, most of them at least 1000 years old. They are in various states of reconstruction, a UNESCO project. The French, who ruled Cambodia for many years, did some of the early reconstruction, beginning in the early 1900s. They stopped when World War II broke out, and then again when the Cambodian civil war broke out in the 70s-80’s. After the civil war ended, UNESCO came in and began the slow process reconstruction process.IMG_3137 IMG_3149


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In some of the temples, large bricks were taken down from walls, numbered, and set on the ground, waiting to be fit together like a huge jig saw puzzle. The job is such a huge undertaking.

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We spent the morning with our guide wandering through several temples. We returned to the hotel to rest before going back out to watch the sunset from a mountain (hill), overlooking the area. We had to arrive over 2 hours early to guarantee we would make it to the top. They only allow 300 people up top, and the lines can get long, according to our guide.

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Elephant ride


We were excited to find out we could ride an elephant to the top (anything to avoid climbing another hill). The view was nice, but there were clouds on the horizon, blocking some of the potential for a glorious sunset. We did get some great colors, nevertheless

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As we walked down the hill afterward, a piercing sound kept cutting through. It sounded like a belt sander, or electric saw. The guide told us it was cicadas. These were like no cicadas we’ve ever heard. I’ve posted a short video below. There’s nothing to see, but you’ll hear what I’m talking about.



Beijing to Siem Reap, 6/21/15

UGH! 3:00 am comes really early. Our taxi is right on time at 4:15, and we’re at the airport in 15 minutes (fastest trip ever). Check-in is a little iffy? The clerk missed that we were going to Siem Reap, and checked our bags only as far as Bangkok (first stop). I caught it, but not before one of the bags got away without the correct tag. They told us “no problem”. We told them “we’re concerned”. They assured us again “no problem”. Supposedly, the supervisor was going to chase the bag down herself and replace the incorrect tag.

Bangkok is a big airport and the layover from Thai Air to Bangkok Airways was over ½ mile. I know, because the distance was marked with signage in meters, to let you know how far we needed to go to get to the “Transfer Counter”. We had plenty of time, but it was definitely a long walk. Of course, there was immigration and security to line up for again and then some more walking to get to the gate.

Siem Reap has a small airport. The plane was a turbo-prop, and the flight was about an hour. They managed to serve a meal during the short hop. Immigration and security were not a problem, since I had applied for our Visa online in advance. Both suitcases arrived!!!! We were met by a van from our hotel, Anantara Resort & Spa at Angkor Wat. Everyone at the hotel was super friendly with way too many questions about our flight and our drive from the airport. Every time we came downstairs, someone would run out from the desk, asking how we were, how was the room, what did we need, etc. I enjoy good customer service, but it was almost too much.


Descending into Siem Reap.

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We had a nice room with a balcony overlooking the pool area. We spent the rest of our evening relaxing around the pool, and having dinner in the restaurant. We’re worn out after the travel today, and I’m sure we’re going to get a lot of walking in over the next two days.


Waiting for us in our van outside the airport.

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Gone for good (at least from the apartment), 6/20/15

Today is our official “get out of the apartment” day. We have reservations at a nearby Marriott Courtyard, but we thought we better have someplace to rest and relax after we finally “pull out”. Judy has a haircut appointment and while she’s gone, Lynn comes by to pick up some of the items she’s taking off our hands. She has arranged for someone to pick up our dryer and take it to her family in Chongqing (about 900 miles). The dryer is small, but it ends up only costing 150rmb ($25) to ship it. Unbelievable!

When I finish with Lynn, I take several of our suitcases and taxi over to our hotel to check-in. Then I taxied over to Dragonfly Spa for my final “foot massage”. I didn’t want to leave China without enjoying this one last luxury. Afterward, I meet up with Judy and we go over to the bank to transfer the funds. One of the important pieces of paper was the “tax statement” showing how much income we’ve paid tax on. They don’t want money “escaping” without proper taxation. We didn’t have any trouble, but it took a long time (almost 45 minutes) while we worked through the process. As we walk out of the bank with the account depleted, I’m hoping I estimated correctly how much cash we’ll need before we actually get out of China permanently.

Back at the apartment, we gather our remaining suitcases and bags, take one last look, and get on the elevator. As we leave, both of us are remembering that first trip up the elevator to the apartment as we arrived, beat and worn out, and not really sure what lay ahead.


Last look, as we exit!

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We get fully moved into the hotel, and then walk over to nearby Taj Pavilion for dinner with Shannon and Dom. We’ve grown to enjoy Indian food, and will be looking for some good spots when we get back to DFW. During dinner, we discuss when our next chance to get together might be. It looks like they’ll be making a trip to the US next summer. We’re also beginning to plan an Australian trip in two years to visit them, and see the country. After dinner, it’s back to the hotel, where we get ready for our trip to Siem Reap and Cambodia, early (4:15 am departure) tomorrow.

More apartment clearing, 6/19/15

Another morning walk over to McDonalds for breakfast. Gotta have some caffeine. We’ve got plenty of Diet Coke around here for Judy. We did a little more sorting through our suitcases and stacking stuff for our ayi to take home. Many of the small items (pots/pans, etc.) she can use or give to Lilly, her daughter. We also had some misc. bedding, towels, etc. we won’t be carrying back to the US.

She arrived earlier than expected and went to work on the final cleaning. It’s not much out of the ordinary since she’s been cleaning the apartment thoroughly three days a week, anyway. Lisa, our apartment agent (assigned by BISS to arrange housing for many of the school employees) comes by to make her final look at the place and then returns our deposit (basically one month rent). When we first arrived, there was lots of talk about people not getting their deposits returned. We haven’t had any trouble, and it’s very smooth today.

Judy leaves in the middle of all the activity for her final trip to Lily Nails. It’s raining intermittently so there’s no table tennis for me today. I kill time reviewing our finances. I’m trying to decide how much money we’re going to try to transfer back to our US bank from Judy’s account at Bank of China.

We think we have all the necessary paperwork, but exactly how much is a constantly shifting figure. We want to move out as much as we can. There are several more payments from the school coming at the end of June, July, and finally in August. All of the money will have to be withdrawn through ATMs using “Union Pay”. Wells Fargo Bank will accept Union Pay, but of course the fees add up with each withdrawal. Once we leave China, there won’t be any way to access the money, except through the ATM. We do have online access to look at the account, but “looking” is all we can do. There is no way to do bank-to-bank transfers, except in person, in China.

We had dinner with Lynn and her fiancé, John. Lynn is Chinese (from Chongqing), and John is from the US. They are getting married in early October. Lynn was in the room next to Judy at BISS and they were the co-teachers for a daily student “Home Room” last year. She was a huge help to Judy with translations and learning Chinese phrases, etc. Judy would ask her for help, and Lynn would write down the Chinese characters, the Pinyin, and work with her on pronunciation (tone direction, etc.). Judy appreciated and enjoyed her help and friendship during our time here. They took us to a restaurant just outside our apartment complex specializing in food from the Xinjiang region (far west). The food is great, but very different than what we’ve had in the past. There are just too many regions and too many styles of food for us to get to all of them. Let’s face it, China is just too big for a two year visit!

Thursday, 6/18/15

Our day starts off with a walk over to McDonalds for breakfast. My coffeemaker has a new home with Alexis. I survived yesterday without coffee, but two days in row would be tempting fate. We both had a sausage biscuit and I had several cups of coffee. Back at the apartment, I went to a swim session, and Judy straightened up a little, although everything is pretty straight already. It’s one of the benefits of a really good ayi.

After lunch, I rode the bike over to get my last Beijing haircut. I’ve gotten spoiled to the shampoo/head massage before the haircut, and then again, after the haircut. I don’t think I’ll be able to afford this type of haircut when I get back to the US. After the haircut, I decided to make a trip over to the TT park. It was really slow today. None of the regular players were around. I sat for almost forty-five minutes until someone showed up wanting to play. I played hard for 90 minutes, before heading home. I have to get home in time to meet Shannon and Dom for dinner.


View from the Great Leap deck.


We rode with Shannon and Dom to Great Leap Brewpub for dinner. It’s a popular spot for people for BISS folks, although this is our first trip. We get to sit out on the deck and it’s a gorgeous night. The pizza was good, and we had a great evening. We’ll miss these “deck nights” in Beijing.

MOVING DAY! 6/17/15

MOVING DAY! The movers arrived right on time and went to work. They were done in two hours. It was an easy process for them with all the work Judy did in advance preparing our stuff. All our clothes were pre-folded (thanks to the ayi), and wrapped in plastic bags, ready to be boxed. They finished up with 39 boxes. We had an estimate of 6 cubic meters to ship and it was close. The insurance ran our costs up considerably. I probably set our prices high, but I didn’t want to get short-changed if we do have a problem when it’s delivered. BISS had prepaid a large portion of the shipping, but the balance came from us.


Before the shippers arrive.

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We were beat when they finally left, but our ayi was coming in for the afternoon to clean up. We couldn’t really relax too much without getting in her way. Everytime she comes in these days, we’re pointing out things for her to take, and what stays.

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The “foodie” group from my school was meeting for dinner at the Taco Bar near Sanlitun. I left early enough to go by the bank and get some more currency exchanged. Dinner was so relaxing. It was a beautifully cool and clear night (it had rained really hard in the afternoon). We ended up with 6 in the group, sitting out on the deck. Lots of discussion of summer plans from everyone as well as goodbyes. Every time I leave a location these days, I’m reminded I probably won’t be back. I try to savor every moment as we exit our home of two years.


As I walked over to the train, after a rain, the river was WAY up. This is highest it’s been since we arrived in Beijing.


Last trip to the Taco Bar. We’re out on the deck, which sits next to the Homeplate BBQ deck.

Pre-shipping prep day, and a late kite trip, 6/16/15

The shippers come tomorrow, so everything must be sorted and ready when we finish up today. We laid out our suitcases and packed everything we’re planning on carrying with us. Everything else is stacked in “easy-to-figure-out” stacks. There’s always the chance that language issues may get in the way.

We spent a long day of thinking through what we must have before Sept. 1, when our shipping will most likely arrive. If it comes earlier, I’ll be surprised. If we need it, we’ll have to carry it around the world. I don’t want to get somewhere and realize I really need something that’s sitting on ship in the Panama Canal.

We’re also meeting friends who are taking some of the items we’re not bringing back to the US. The apartment is beginning to empty out.

We made a trip to the bank to exchange currency for our summer travel. We’ll be on the road 3 ½ weeks. We’re allowed to exchange up to $500 each per day in US dollars. The info on Cambodia and Thailand is that US dollars are the best currency to carry. It also exchanges easily in Europe. The process takes about 15 minutes, once we get to a bank clerk. The wait for a clerk was 45 minutes. Banking is a slow, tedious process here, compared to the US. It’s the opposite at the doctor’s office where our experiences here have been very quick, and the back home, it’s slow and frustrating, usually involving numerous trips and different locations.

At the last minute, I decided I really wanted a kite from a Chinese kite maker here in Beijing. They’re handmade from silk and paper in several different patterns. I called, and they were open till 10:00. He was about to head out for dinner and told me to meet him at 9:30. I arrived early at the shop and waited till he returned, right at 9:30. I perused several of the kites, checking the prices and settled on a couple of nice kites. He had to give me a lesson on how to assemble them. Part of his design is the ability for them to come apart and transport easily. I’m excited to get home and try flying them. He also published a book on Chinese kites. I bought a copy and had it signed and got a few pictures.


The kite maker and author, Liu Bin.

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