A Normal Vacation in Koh Phangan

Beach resorts haven’t been our usual destination, but this wasn’t our first visit to one either. Our trip to Thailand five years ago ran a circuit through Bangkok temples and included a visit to play with tigers in Kanchanaburi. This was our first visit to a Thai beach. The steps to arrive at Koh Phangan make it feel especially remote. A one-hour domestic flight from Bangkok takes you to Koh Samui, a similarly sized island in the south of Thailand that caters to foreign beachgoers. Koh Phangan is a 30-minute ferry ride from one of the piers on Samui. However, the ocean conditions around Koh Phangon typically preclude traveling to the far side of the island by boat. Once you reach Koh Phangan, you’ve got another 45-minute ride through narrow hilly passes that cut straight through the jungle and across the island to the opposite coast. When we finally touched down at our resort, I definitely thought that I wouldn’t be exploring much more than the grounds around the place on foot. Continue reading A Normal Vacation in Koh Phangan

Detour on the Banana Pancakes Trail

If you work your way from Bangkok, through Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and onward to Saigon, you’re likely to see some of the same faces: at ancient ruins and museums, on buses and trains, on the street and in restaurants, and finally at youth hostels and guest houses. Many of the youth hostels share a common item on the breakfast menu: banana pancakes. We’ve referenced this before when visiting Myanmar. Geographically, the capital Yangon would be a nice start to the “Banana Pancakes Trail,” but at this point you’re just not going to see large groups that look like they’re on a high school field trip or college spring break. I expected Laos to be a similar break from the larger tourist crowds of Thailand and Cambodia, but I was definitely wrong. Laos is far less developed and a bit less accessible than it’s neighbors to the south, but that hasn’t stopped visitors. The combination has been interesting to watch. Continue reading Detour on the Banana Pancakes Trail

It’s Going To Be Hard To Maintain Fourth Place

Bangkok… Paris… Dubai… and then, a bit further down, just ahead of New York, is Istanbul, holding up the fourth spot of most visited cities in the world. I don’t know what the security situation was like a few months ago in the tourist section (Old Town) of Istanbul, but there is some pretty heavy weaponry lurking around right now if you’re paying attention. Police have to be in an awfully difficult position after the recent bombing at Sultanahmet Square. Tourism revenue is incredibly important to the economy here, and now they have to balance maintaining security with keeping the place open and pleasant for visitors. Continue reading It’s Going To Be Hard To Maintain Fourth Place

Whatever You Think You Know About Iran…. You’re Probably Wrong.

Iran is not Iraq. It’s also not Afghanistan or Syria. That should be obvious enough, but the constant stream of tragic news from this region depicted in western media can easily blur some basic realities when viewed without proper context. Prior to our trip here, we received questions from a number of people about ISIS. The thing is, ISIS is a shared enemy of the U.S. and Iran. ISIS has no presence inside Iran. Suicide bombings are almost unheard of in Iran, and incidents of terrorism are much less common than in the U.S. With all of that being said, the relations between our governments are negative enough to certainly give pause to the potential visitor. The distinction that needs to be made though, that should almost always be made, is the difference between hostility between governments and hostility between general populations. It’s possible we often don’t recognize the difference between the Iranian government and the Iranian people, but I can tell you for certain that they recognize the difference between our government and us. Continue reading Whatever You Think You Know About Iran…. You’re Probably Wrong.

But What Do They Eat in Turkey?

Our 4-year-old niece accompanied us to the airport when departing for this trip. At this point she has what I guess is a pretty age-appropriate understanding of our travels. With video calls and such, it probably never seems like we’re particularly far away.  We just hop on a “Hair-Plane” and the next time she sees us on an iPad, it’ll be night for us while it’s day for her. She has a very strong interest in visiting Japan (pronounced “Uh-Pan” aka “Hello Kitty Land”) to an extent that it can be dangled as a behavior-altering bribe. On this departure though, Martha told her we were going to Turkey and that we were going to take her. That probably struck her as just as weird as visiting “Hungry.” She was having no part of being smuggled in our suitcase because Continue reading But What Do They Eat in Turkey?

Dracula Has a Marketing Problem

Getting to Bucharest wasn’t exactly a direct connection for us on this trip. Admittedly, this stop was a bit of an afterthought that we squeezed in after everything else was booked. We arrived after about a 24 hour transit from Jax to DC to Munich to Istanbul to Bucharest. We’ve gotten a little better over the years at getting some nap time on flights. Also, killing 6 or 7 hours at the Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul wasn’t exactly painful. Seriously, this lounge has to be seen to be believed: two stories, multiple hot and cold buffets, alcohol bars, espresso bars, every hot and cold drink imaginable, a movie theater with popcorn, an indoor driving range, video games, RC car race track, showers, laundry, sleeping suites, “massage therapists” walking around, a roving fancy dessert cart in addition to multiple dessert and pastry buffets… totally ridiculous. Continue reading Dracula Has a Marketing Problem

The Living Room of Europe

Amsterdam has a well earned reputation befitting a port town. “The Venice of the north,” the city is lined with canals between narrow cobblestone streets. Dark alleys beckon with all manner of seedy storefronts, smoky cafes venting out to the cross streets, and red hued windowed booths. Most any manner of hedonism and debauchery could be sated in this town more promptly and openly than in most large cities. At the same time, Amsterdam brims with an old world charm that lightens the shadows that lurk in parts of every city. Continue reading The Living Room of Europe

Belgian Transit Strike

After a quick early morning train ride from Paris, we arrived in Luxembourg intending to immediately pick up some train tickets to Brussels. The plan was to have a nice relaxed day in Luxembourg and move along to Belgium in the evening for the next few days. When we inquired about purchasing our train tickets, the attendant seemed to take just a bit too much relish in telling us: “There are no trains to Belgium today.” Continue reading Belgian Transit Strike

La Goutte d’Or en Paris

We’re not breaking any new ground in this part of our trip. In particular, the tourist circuit in Paris has mostly been a repeat for Martha, bringing me up to speed with her. We stayed in the “Drop of Gold” quarter near Gare du Nord. I would describe the area as a charming and multicultural hub that is brimming with character. The interwebs do at times describe this arrondissement in less flattering terms, calling it dicey and filled with gypsies, pickpockets, runaways, and refugees. In either case, it makes for an interesting transition from the swarms of tourists near all the major Paris attractions. Restaurants specializing in Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and North and West African cuisine offered some interesting alternatives to the typical French bakeries, bistros, and cafes. Our Paris visit spanned five days, so we’ve had enough time to sample a mix of things. I have certainly enjoyed the French pastries, breads, and cheeses. However, I must admit I’m going to leave this place thinking of the assortment of Indian sweets on offer in our neighborhood, particularly the malai chum chum  and gajar halwa mithai (basically a spiced carrot fudge). Continue reading La Goutte d’Or en Paris

Here, There, and (hopefully) Back