Saturday, January 20, 2007

Entry #19

It was nearly one year ago that I last posted an entry here. I was in Playa del Carmen with Gordon, staying in a Las Palmas condo on calle 28 and enjoying every day. I think that's why I was so happy last year; I was really living in the moment. I woke up every day happy, nothing could spoil my mood. When I described how I felt I think I used the word "ecstatic" frequently.

After 6 weeks in
PDC, I returned to Montreal on January 10, 2006 and had two weeks to get ready for the next stage of my year off: 6 weeks in Asia with my daughter Z. We left Montreal on January 30 and our first stop was Tokyo to visit my sister. She and her family had moved there in August 2005 for her husband's work. Annie was a wonderful host: she took us out every day to see something special.

In her five months there, she learned to navigate the complex subway and rail systems and scouted out the best places to take us when we finally arrived. A few of the highlights: the Fish Market, Harajuku, an Onsen near the waterfront, Chinatown in Yokohama, Asukaska Temple, and a sushi restaurants with a conveyor belt. There was so much more! Two weeks was not enough time to see everything we wanted to, but it was a complete introduction.

From Tokyo we flew to Bangkok, where in a few days we were to join a tour that would take us to sights within a couple of hours around Bangkok before we'd fly together to ChiangMai for 6 nights. We saw everything in Bangkok that we missed the first time Z and I were there in March 2000. ChiangMai was wonderful. First because it was a small city compared to the megalopolis of Bangkok, it was easy to get around. Second, It was an important center for crafts and textiles and the markets were filled with interesting things. The Orchid Hotel was central and we were able to explore a lot on our own even at night. It would be a wonderful place to spend a month, take a cooking course or a massage course. We spent hours exploring the Night Market and the Sunday Walking Street.

When we returned to Bangkok we explored a little more on our own. We were able to fit in a visit to Chatuchak Market-- the largest market I have ever experienced! It takes over a city park on Sundays and EVERYTHING is sold there, even animals. The things we wanted to buy would just not fit in our suitcases, so we just looked but it was wonderful and wild and CROWDED.

Our next stop was Hanoi, Vietnam. We had prepaid another tour through Collette Tours and we hoped that we would be part of a group as nice as the one we had traveled with in Thailand. However, we ended up with a private tour. We had a guide and a private car with a driver. That was the good part. We took this tour primarily because of the hotel--The Hanoi Hilton which was right in the center of the city's historical district and within walking distance of everything. The local tour company Collette hired switched our hotel at the last minute and put us up at a Sheraton on the outskirts with a view of the river and the rice fields! In addition, I had eaten something at the Sunday Walking Street market in ChiangMai and was experiencing its very negative effects. The day our guide took us to spectacular Ha Long Bay, I was so sick I could only eat a little rice and not a morsel of the 13 course meal that was served to us on our private cruise of the bay. I spent the next day in bed while Z had to argue with the driver who insisted on taking her on a tour of the pottery villages which she had zero interest to see. She finally convinced the driver that she and the guide would stay close to the hotel because I was so sick. That way she was able to shop in Hanoi and take photos of interesting city scenes/ architecture. One of the highlights of the city was Ho Chi Minh's home, which we visited after we saw his preserved body in the mausoleum. He is still very revered by the Vietnamese. So, overall we found Hanoi grey and wet, and disappointing in several ways. Maybe because I was ill, or maybe because the people are just not as warm as the Thais, I don't think I will return to the north of Vietnam. We did however, look forward to returning to Thailand.

We returned to Bangkok for two more nights and then we were off again to Koh Samui for the final leg of our Asian trip. Our hotel was at the eastern end of a long bay. We could walk on the beach from our hotel to the farthest end of the town. A wonderful hot/cold buffet breakfast was included and this was enough until dinner which we ate either in town or on the beach. Grilled tuna steak with salads and baked potato cost less than $5. Internet was readily available and cheap. Some of the best deals were in massages, manicures, pedicures and spa treatments.
The only thing that was odd about our hotel was the tidal action.
At low tide in front of our hotel but not anywhere else on the bay, the waves withdrew so much that you had to walk out very far before the water got to your waist.

The airport on
Koh Samui is completely tropical: open air waiting areas & cafe, thatched covered roofs and beautiful flowering plants everywhere. It provided a perfect introduction and final impression to a relaxing week in Southern Thailand.

The flight home was long with a six hour wait in Bangkok for our flight to Tokyo, then a 4 hour layover in Tokyo waiting for our flight to DC. It would have been a 5 hour wait for our flight to Montreal if we had not been able to get seats on an earlier flight. Once home it was wonderful to sleep in our own beds again. We were back in Montreal in time to celebrate my birthday in the middle of March. I had two months to recover before the next stage of the sabbatical began: a
month in the UK.