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Trip Report: South Korea and Thailand – Day 4: Chiang Mai

Today was a travel day from Bangkok to Chiang Mai to start our adventures in northern Thailand. We had chosen to fly Bangkok Airways from BKK-CNX given the convenient flight times and price (~$36 per person). We took a taxi to the airport in Bangkok, which was uneventful and enjoyed use of the lounge Bangkok Airways provides for all passengers. I wouldn’t go out of my way to use the lounge but it was nice to have complimentary soft drinks, popcorn, and tea/coffee; especially considering the price paid for our tickets.

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Bangkok Airways “Lounge”

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Bangkok Airways (BKK-CNX)

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Thai Smile next door (BKK)

Flight was uneventful and soon enough we were landing in Chiang Mai. Took a taxi from the airport to the Le Meridien which we had booked using Starwood points (3,000 points per night). At the time I was a Starwood Platinum so my wife and I received an upgrade to a corner suite, pretty awesome!

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Le Meridien – Chiang Mai

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Le Meridien – Chiang Mai

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Chiang Mai, Thailand (view from the room)

After getting settled into the hotel we set out to explore Chiang Mai. The hotel is a convenient ~10 minute walk from the city center and has a number of good restaurants / bars close by (also a night market on the side street bordering the hotel).

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Walk into town from Le Meridien (notice the crazy power lines everywhere)

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Small night market near Le Meridien

First impressions of Chiang Mai are fantastic. The town is clean, compact and generally a pleasant place to wander. Lots of great food and drink so no complaints from anyone. After spending the day wandering around it was back to the hotel to refresh prior to our Thai cooking class that evening.

We had a booked an evening session (~3 hours) through Asia Scenic Cooking School in Chiang Mai. They picked us up from the hotel in a van and brought us to the cooking school in the city center. Experience was a lot of fun and engaging; resulted in some delicious food as well! The only drawback was the length of the class; the last hour seemed to drag a little bit. I would still highly recommend this outfit in Chiang Mai.

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Asia Scenic Cooking School

After our cooking class ended we had made plans to head over to the Sunday night market, which is a well-known Chiang Mai attraction. The cooking school is centrally located and probably only 1 block away from the center of the Sunday Night Market so it is ideal to do the cooking class on a Sunday evening and transition directly to the market. Had a great time wandering around for an hour or so and then decided to call it an early night as we were all exhausted from a busy day of traveling and walking.

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Famous Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market

Stay tuned for the next post detailing our 5th day in country and our visit to Tiger Kingdom north of Chiang Mai. Never in my life did I expect to get in a cage with adult tigers; still look back at those pictures and question my judgement!

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Trip Report: South Korea and Thailand – Day 3: Ayutthaya

After spending all day in Bangkok the previous day, we had planned to venture outside of the city to spend time in the historical capital of Ayutthaya. We took the public ferry across the river from the Millennium Hilton and commenced our walk to the train station (should have taken approximately 15-20 minutes). Unfortunately, we got pretty turned around on the way there and the walk ended up taking about 1 hour (did get a nice tour of Chinatown!).

As we approached the station, we were approached by a women wearing what looked to be an official vest for the rail company stating that the last train to Ayutthaya had already departed and she could provide a minibus for us for a relatively small amount of money. We contemplated and decided to confirm for ourselves within the train station only to find out she was in no way official and had been lying. Lesson learned to be on the lookout outside of the train station!

We purchased tickets for the air-conditioned train car to Ayutthaya (only marginally more expensive) and were on our way. Some pics below of the exterior of the train station, colorful Thai trains, the interior of the air-conditioned car, and the Ayutthaya station.

The train passes through suburbs of Bangkok for about half of the journey before emerging into agricultural fields for the final 30 minutes into Ayutthaya (did I mention the train is extremely slow!).

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Bangkok Train Station

Thai Trains

Bangkok Train Station

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Air-conditioned train to Ayutthaya

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Ayutthaya Train Station

Upon arrival in Ayutthaya, one is approached by a handful of Tuk-tuk drivers offering their services to take you around to the various sites as they are quite spread out. We chose the one who seemed the most sincere and after negotiating a half-day rate with him, we were off.

Can’t recommend Ayutthaya enough, it was pretty marvelous and for someone who has not been to Angkor Wat, it was quite impressive! Make sure you bring plenty of water though; it was incredibly hot.

Photos below of some of the highlights:

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Ayutthaya

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Ayutthaya (wife and I)

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Ayutthaya

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Ayutthaya

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Ayutthaya

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Ayutthaya

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Tuk-tuk in Ayutthaya (one of our traveling companions and myself)

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Bangkok slums

Arrived back into Bangkok pretty exhausted but managed to rouse ourselves up to go out for drinks on the famous backpacker road (Khao San Road). It was quite the experience!  (no photos from that night though, ha)

The next day we were scheduled to head north to Chiang Mai, stay tuned for the next installment!

Trip Report: South Korea and Thailand – Day 2: Bangkok

Upon arrival into Bangkok, your senses go into overdrive. The smells, sights, and sounds are so different from what you experience in your day-to-day life that there is nothing that can prepare you the first time you step out.

We didn’t arrive at our hotel (Millennium Hilton – Bangkok) until late afternoon due to some flight delays (air traffic control at BKK lost power for about an hour and our flight from Seoul had to divert to Da Nong, Vietnam for about one hour) and given the long-flight we were ready to go exploring.

Our first stop was the famous night flower market in Bangkok. For a first experience in Bangkok this was pretty overwhelming. This is a must-visit for travelers to Bangkok.

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Night Flower Market

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Bangkok Flower Market

Within the flower market on a street corner is the street food cart below which had quite possibly the best noodle soup I have ever had, the spice and flavor were beyond belief. (If you see the guy in the dark t-shirt below working the cart, stop in, you won’t regret it!)

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Flower Market Street Food

The next morning we woke up to a hazy view from our room at the Hilton Millennium hotel overlooking the west bank of the Chao Phraya.

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Bangkok view from Hilton Millennium

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Chao Phraya view from Hilton Millennium

Given my Gold status with HHonors at the time we had access to the executive lounge on the top floor, must say the breakfast spread with quite good and the views were tough to beat:

Breakfast for Two

View from Millennium Hilton Lounge

For our first full day in Bangkok we had arranged for a half-day guided tour with a private car to view Wat Pho, the Grand Palace and take a canal tour. We booked through TourwithTong and I cannot recommend them enough. Very professional and informative tour guide. The images below are highlights from our half-day tour:

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Reclining Buddha – Bangkok

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Wat Pho – Bangkok

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Wat Pho – Bangkok

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Wat Pho – Bangkok

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Wat Pho – Bangkok

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Grand Palace – Bangkok

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Canal tour – Bangkok

After being dropped back off at our hotel we were ready to explore Bangkok on our own. Using the free hotel shuttle boat, we crossed over the Chao Phraya river to the Saphan Taksin BTS station. Very convenient access to public transportation. If you are trying to cross directly over to the Sheraton, there is a public ferry that runs frequently and costs approx. $.05 USD (public ferry dock is in the distance in the below picture).

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Millennium Hilton Ferry Dock

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Street Food – Bangkok

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Street scene – Bangkok

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BTS Skytrain – Bangkok

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Bangkok, Thailand

Nothing too exciting the rest of the day, just wandered around the city and ate some pretty delicious street food. After an exhausting day, we were ready to get some rest to make the trek the next day to Ayutthaya, the former capital of Siam.

Trip Report: Christmas in Rome and New Year’s in Barcelona (Day 4)

Given that it was Christmas Day we had planned to sleep in a bit and meet my family a little bit later (10:30) near the Vatican.   Our plan was to meet outside the Vatican walls and proceed into St. Peter’s Square in order to listen to the Pope give his Christmas address. Amazingly, our plan worked.

We met outside of the walls and walked as a group into St. Peter’s Square finding it to be less crowded than we initially had feared (still about 30-40 minutes before his speech).  We managed to get within 10-15 people of the northwest corner barricade, all-in-all a really good spot to watch.  As the time for his appearance and address approached the square became more and more crowded, to the point that it was filled out to the very edges. Pretty neat to be as close as we were. (I should clarify that I am not Catholic but do find it very neat to witness events like this)

I definitely count myself incredibly lucky as this is the second time I have been able to watch a Pope deliver a religious holiday address in St. Peter’s Square. (My wife and I saw Pope Benedict give an Easter Mass on our honeymoon)

Some pictures from our time watching the Pope.

St. Peter's Christmas Morning

St. Peter’s Christmas Morning

Waiting on the Pope

Waiting on the Pope

Pope Francis Christmas Address

Pope Francis Christmas Address

Once the Pope was finished giving his Christmas address we had decided, as a family, to have a long late lunch for our Christmas day meal.  We met the owner (Frederico) the previous day and he was at the restaurant when we returned ensuring we were well taken care of.  It was a good experience and I think we all enjoyed the chance to spend a couple of hours together celebrating Christmas.

After our long meal (2.5+ hours) we strolled leisurely back towards the Spanish Steps doing some window shopping along the way.  We were surprised, but happy, at the amount of people out and about on Christmas Day.  Made for a very fun atmosphere.

Beautiful Ceiling

Beautiful Ceiling

Sorry for the quality of the above picture but the lighting was difficult to capture just how magnificent the ceiling of this church is.  We went there on the recommendation of the aforementioned Frederico and it was amazing.  The church is tucked into a small piazza behind and to the left of the Pantheon.  Well worth it to go out of your way to find this church.

Elephant statue

Elephant statue

My wife really liked this one 🙂

Christmas Day - Trevi Fountain

Christmas Day – Trevi Fountain

Alright, one more day in Rome with my family to blog and then we head our separate ways. My wife and I went on to Barcelona and the family continued onto Florence.  Hopefully, I can get our Day 5 post out tomorrow. Until then, enjoy!

Trip Report: Christmas in Rome and New Year’s in Barcelona (Day 3)

After a full day visiting the Vatican, we had planned on meeting my family the following morning in the Roman Forum.  It was our day to visit Ancient Rome (originally our day was the day of arrival but due to flight delays Christmas Eve turned out to be just fine).

Our plan was for my family to arrive a bit earlier than my wife and I as we had already toured the forum during our honeymoon several years ago.  We were going to try and meet up with them inside the forum, at least that was the plan.  Due to an inability to reach each other via phone, we had significant issues finding them.  I would guess my wife and I spent close to an hour searching for my family only to be startled to hear our names being called out from the Coliseum.  Turns out my family sees things quickly and they were already inside the coliseum waiting on us!

Some pictures from our day:

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Coliseum

Coliseum – Interior

Lunch with the family

Lunch with the family

Cool church tucked between buildings

Cool church tucked between buildings

Wife and I with niece

Wife and I with niece

Pantheon at night - Christmas Eve

Pantheon at night – Christmas Eve

Trevi Fountain at night - Christmas Eve

Trevi Fountain at night – Christmas Eve

I know these are coming out slowly but it has been difficult to find the time to put them together.  Next up will be Christmas Day in Rome, with a special guest appearance from the Pope.