It’s been a banner year for traveling to new states, and I realized it was time to update my “where I’ve been” map.
To date, I have been to 36 states and the District of Columbia. My new map:
Make yours @ BigHugeLabs.com
According to Kayak, a comparable trip from New York City to Siem Reap would cost $2951 and a comparable trip from Hong Kong back to New York City would cost somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000 a person. On the conservative side, our flights to Asia and back would cost $12,000 for two people in business class not even counting our intra-Asia flights. This is what we paid:
New York – Siem Reap, Cambodia (via San Francisco and Seoul)
120,000 miles and $57.60 in fees
The miles were earned by signing up for the Chase Ink Bold credit card (60,000 miles) and a combination of stray United miles and Chase points in both my account and The Boyfriend’s. We had to pay a $200 change fee to alter our plans to include Cambodia but I’m pretty sure The Boyfriend’s Amex Platinum will pick up the tab on that so it is not listed.
Cambodia – Bangkok
We paid out of pocket for economy seats on this hour-long flight. There are, to my knolwedge, only three airlines that fly from Siem Reap to Bangkok nonstop: Bangkok Airways (the most expensive), AirAsia, and Cambodia Angkor Air (a turboprop plane). The turboprop scared us so we are flying AirAsia.
Bangkok – Hong Kong
15,000 avios + $103.56
Using the 20 percent bonus transfer from American Express, I saved a few Amex points on the transfer to British Airways. These are economy seats since it didn’t seem worthwhile to spend an extra 15,000 miles for a two and a half hour flight.
Hong Kong – New York (via Vancouver)
140,000 avios and $320.52 in fees
I had earned 50,000 from the British Airways credit card (plus the $95 annual fee) and The Boyfriend had earned a heaping pile of Amex points though his work credit cards. I used a 35 percent Amex bonus to transfer the necessary points to my British Airways account to meet the 70,000 per person price.
Total for two business class tickets from New York to Cambodia, two business class tickets from Hong Kong to New York and two tickets for two intra-Asia flights in economy:
120,000 miles + $57.60
15,000 miles + $103.56
140,000 miles + $320.52
275,000 miles + 849.68
After weeks of trying to squeeze in a side trip to Angkor Wat from Bangkok, we reached a decision point. Either give up on visiting one of the most impressive religious sites in the world or bite the bullet and change the trip. It simply didn’t make sense to go from Bangkok to Siem Reap to Hong Kong because of the limited number of flights out of Siem Reap. So we bit the bullet.
We added two days to our trip and will now be flying from New York City to San Francisco (United), to Seoul (Asiana) to Siem Reap (Asiana). It is a long trip but it will all be in business class and we were able to squeeze the entire trip to Cambodia into a single award for a mere 60,000 United miles per person and a total of $57.60 in fees. Since I do not have status with United we had to pay a $200 change fee ($100 per person) but I put the charge on The Boyfriend’s Platinum Amex (after designating United as his airline of choice) and am hoping Amex will pick up the tab.
Our new trip to Asia:
Our entire trip from start to finish:
We plan to spend two days in Angkor Wat, which people say is not enough but it will have to do. We will hop a short hour-long flight to Bangkok, spend four days in Thailand and then off to Hong Kong.
We are two weeks away and I am psyched!
Life has been busy. Between work, planning for our big trip to Asia and way too much quality time with my dentist, I’ve neglected to post about our last two bike rides of the season.
This one took us over the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey on a dreary, wet Sunday. While the fog adds a bit of a mystique to the photos, I was a little sad to miss out on the awesome views across the Hudson we were expecting. In addition, if you attempt this route, know that the Jersey side of the trail is intermittent, especially in the northern portion and you will have to ride in the street or on the sidewalk at times.
Here is our route:
I was excited when a last minute work trip took me to New Orleans. I knew little about Louisiana’s largest city, but I like seeing and exploring new cities and getting a taste for the unique culture of a place.
I am sad to say, I have seen; I have explored; I have tasted; and I am not a fan.
Let me elaborate: I saw a naked lady. Dancing in the street. Seriously. She was clearly drunk, surrounded by a crowd of drunk revelers, but they all had their clothing on. She did not. Not one stitch.
That was really the last straw for me.
There were a few charming touches in the French Quarter…but they were few and far between.
My colleague described New Orleans as a poor man’s Vegas, and that’s a pretty good description. New Orleans is a city people come to party, get drunk and make bad decisions, and I’m not a fan of any of those activities. Save a couple luxury hotels and cute cafes, I found the city to be noisy, dirty and generally in disrepair. The famous French Quarter was less charming and more dilapidated. And the famous Bourbon Street was just… well… disgusting. Remember the naked lady?
The man below was literally lying in the street, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. I thought I could sneak a picture with my telephoto lens but he noticed me and gave me such a look, I turned to my colleague and said, “Um, let’s get out of here. Now.”
The best thing about the trip was the fabulous club room in the Hilton we stayed at (thank you gold status) and the pretty view of the Mississippi River.
I was shocked by my disappointment. I have visited a range of cities, and while there are some I like more than others, I have never actually disliked a city. How about you? Have you ever disliked a city?
The drive to Hualapai Hilltop took us on the historic route 66 for several miles. The historic signs boast of the route’s glory days, but the empty roads and dilapidated shops are a reminder that Seligman, AZ is little more than a pit stop and a chance to take a bunch of photographs.
My favorite part was the old Burma Shave signs that cracked me up. The below photos are compliments of The Boyfriend as I was driving.
We woke up the next morning around dawn, which was felt like 8:30 a.m. for the east coasters among us so it wasn’t so bad. Packing up all of our gear was time consuming and yet another reason to sleep in the lodge. By the time we left the camp grounds it was 7:00 a.m. It was an hour’s hike to the village with all of our gear and me stopping to take pictures. Yes, it’s a sickness.
Now, I have to pause to tell you how brilliant I am. The Havasupai people fly people and supplies in and an out of the canyon everyday via helicopter. After I purchased a much needed and obscenely expensive diet coke, I took all of our rented gear — our sleeping bags, sleeping pads and tent — and hooked them together with some cheap climbing hooks. I handed them to the kind village man at the helicopter pad along with a $10 bill. For a mere $10, he flew our gear up in the helicopter and we picked it up at the top of the canyon. It was one of the smartest things I have ever done in my life. If you ever hike Havasu Falls and choose to camp out, I highly recommend it.
After eating breakfast and dropping our gear off at the helicopter pad, it was already 9:00 a.m. We were off. It was a beautiful day as we made our way through the canyon floor.
It didn’t occur to me until we reached the start of the grueling hike up the last 1.5 miles that there was a price to pay for our dilly-dallying. It was 1:00 p.m. and about 90 degrees with a hot and heavy sun beating down on us. I was also low on water, exhausted, and close to full-on panic mode. 1.5 miles does not seem like a lot of miles. But when it’s straight up hill, it quickly becomes an eternity. And when your brain starts saying things like: “I”m going to die here of dehydration and never get to brag about hiking the Grand Canyon,” you start to believe it.
In the end, I did not die of hydration. The Boyfriend gave me plenty of his water and even carried my backpack for me (he’s a keeper). As we neared the top, the weather cooled thanks to the increased elevation, and when I finally collapsed on a log in the parking lot, i felt a mixture of extreme euphoria, exhaustion and pain. It was a thrilling experience, but also a grueling one. While the elevation is not that great compared to other hikes we’ve done, the heat, the lack of water, and the 17.5 miles we had hiked in order to reach that point all played a role in pushing me toward my limit.
But all the exhaustion and pain is worth it when you get to set your eyes on this awesome sight:
One day, I’d like to return to Havasu Falls and see the beautiful blue-green waters the Havasupai people are famous for. When I do, I will be mindful of these lessons I learned.
1) Book a room at the lodge in the village months in advance.
2) Bring plenty of water – even if you think it’s too much.
3) Wear super thick hiking socks that will (hopefully) prevent blisters.
4) Bring less food.
When we arrived at the campgrounds, we continued walking until we found an empty spot on high ground to pitch our tents. I happily dumped my backpack on a picnic table and emptied out all of our gear. Then came the obvious problem: I had no idea what to do with it.
I’ve slept in a tent once in my life. I was 11, maybe 12, and it was an overnight summer camp trip. I’m fairly positive I did not pitch my own tent. Needless to say, I was useless. So I stood around taking pictures while the rest of the gang got to work.
I did manage to help a little bit. Here is me using a rock to drive a stake into the ground.
Here are my thoughts on sleeping in a tent: It’s not that special. Given the fact that we had to rent the equipment, we didn’t actually save any money over the ramshackle lodge in the village. And the lodge has a shower — which I badly needed — and AC — which I badly wanted. Plus we had to carry all the equipment, which weighed a ton. The thing that bothered me most about the tent was not the hard floor and the occasional heat, but the suffocating heat. I didn’t use my sleeping bag, except as another layer between my back and the floor, and still, I woke up the next morning drenched in sweat.
Finally, stumbling around in the dark with a headlamp, looking for the outhouse is not the most fun activity in the world.
I’ll confess, despite all my grumbling, camping in the Grand Canyon is one of those off-the-beaten-track experiences I’m glad I have under my belt. It’s a story to tell at cocktail parties (if I went to cocktail parties). But it’s not something I will make a habit out of doing.
If you missed part 1, check it out here.
There is a major reason people hike 10 miles to Havasu Fall: The stunning blue green water unique to the Havasupai reservation. This is what Havasu Falls normally looks like:
Breathtaking, right? Well, this is what the falls looked like when we got there:
WHAT THE WHAT?!?!?! That was my reaction plus or minus a few blasphemous words. I quickly learned that we were hiking in monsoon season and the massive amount of rain the night before pushed the red canyon mud into the river, turning the water a lovely red/brown color. I was disappointed, but still managed to take a bunch of pictures.
And here’s the crazy thing. As we were hiking out the next morning, I was stunned by the color of the water. It was starting to normalize!
A hiker standing next to me pointed out that if we stayed one more night, we’d probably get to see the stunning blue-green waters Havasu is famous for. Alas, it was not in the stars. We were off.
After we parked the car and I oohed and ahhed over the sprawling Grand Canyon before us, I lugged my massive backpack out of the car and managed to hoist it on my back.
That moment was a rude awakening. We had rented our camping equipment from REI and divided up the tent, two sleeping bags and two sleeping pads between the The Boyfriend and myself, and despite all the advice about how “you’ll get used to the weight,” let me tell you – you don’t.
It hurt. A lot.
Our hiking companions assured us that we weren’t wearing out backpacks right. Well, there are only so many ways you can wear a backpack. And they all hurt.
But we were at the point of no return. So I groaned and moaned and set out into the canyon. It is an 8 mile hike from the trail head at Hualapai Hilltop to the Indian village of Supai, where you have the luxury of a bathroom, a water fountain, a small cafeteria and a general store. If you are smart, you will have booked a room in the humble lodge in the village. If you are pretending to be adventurous, like myself, you will continue another 2 miles to the campground, passing three beautiful falls along the way.
The first mile and a half is a series of switchbacks that take you down 1,000 feet in elevation – which isn’t so bad, until you remember that you will have to do the reverse on the way back. But we quickly banished that thought from our head and enjoyed the gorgeous views. And they are truly gorgeous.
After 1.5 miles, the trail flattens and we walked for 6.5 miles through Havasupai canyon along a rock-filled bed. While this is relatively relaxing in comparison, the path is filled with rocks and they did a number on my toes and feet. I had some lovely souveneirs the next morning in the form of several blisters.
Next up: The waterfalls and how not to pitch a tent…Stay tuned.