Category Archives: Thailand

Part 10: Biking with Monkeys in Thailand

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon
Part 5: Trees Galore!
Part 6: Cambodia’s Floating Villages
Part 7: View from the Top
Part 8: The Children of Cambodia
Part 9: When Politics Ruins Your Plans

Due to the political unrest in Bangkok, The Boyfriend and I decided to jump in a cab when our plane touched ground for a two-and-a-half hour drive south to a coastal town called Hua Hin for a mere $70. $70 for a two and half hour drive. Think about that. In New York City, it can cost $70 to travel 10 miles to the airport!

We chose Hua Hin for two reasons: We didn’t have a lot of options and Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. If we weren’t going to see Bangkok, I at least wanted to see something amazing and the pictures of Khao Sam Roi Yot online looked pretty amazing.

We made reservations for a daylong bike tour with Tour de Asia which I highly recommend. Sadly, I can’t remember the name of our amazing guide, but he was amazing. His English was nearly perfect, and his willingness to answer all of our questions – as inane as they were – was just as perfect. He and the drivers picked us up at our hotel in the morning and informed us that we were the only bikers that day. Essentially, we had a private tour.

When we arrived at he park, we stopped at the park headquarters for a pit stop and to get fitted for our bikes. The grounds were littered with the cutest little monkeys… until one of them attacked me, and then they stopped being so cute.

*HuaHin-08.55.03-2^

*HuaHin-09.21.01

Yes, attacked me. One minute, I was taking pictures of the little buggers, and the next minute, a monkey was on my backpack pulling me every which way. The whole incident lasted all of 10 seconds, but it scared the hell out of me. I will never look at monkeys the same way again.

After I recovered, we started biking. The scenery was beautiful, and since we were the only participants, we could go as fast or as slow as we liked.

** Hua Hin Biking2

*2013-11-29 23.11.06

*HuaHin-11.05.44^

*HuaHin-11.06.29

*HuaHin-15.32.02-1^

Occasionally, we ran into a little cow problem and the van had to create a barrier so we didn’t get trampled on. Good times.

photo[5]

I took this photo with my iPhone in my left hand while guiding my bike around the cows with my right. Pretty damn impressive.

After several miles of bike riding we ended up at the beach, where we enjoyed fresh coconut water straight from a coconut. Next up, was a short, but painfully steep, hike to an underground cave.

*HuaHin-11.41.58

*HuaHin-11.16.13-1^

*HuaHin-11.29.32

The cave was surprisingly cool. The steep descent into the cave reveals a gaping hole that allows a band of sunlight to stream through over the temple the Thais build in honor of one of their kings

*HuaHin-12.39.35

*HuaHin-12.42.03

I wouldn’t make a special trip to Hua Hin for the bike tour, but if you happen to find yourself in the coastal town with time to spare, I highly recommend Tour de Asia and Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park.

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Part 9: When Politics Ruins Your Plans

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon
Part 5: Trees Galore!
Part 6: Cambodia’s Floating Villages
Part 7: View from the Top
Part 8: The Children of Cambodia

Now, I work in politics, so you’d think I’d be used to unexpected political events messing with my plans. But not when I’m on vacation! And not when I’m in a foreign continent with a very limited understanding of the geopolitical environment.

That’s the situation The Boyfriend and I found ourselves in when I checked my email shortly after landing in South Korea and my mom had sent me an email that said something about protests in Bangkok. If not for that email, it is very likely we would have remained blissfully oblivious to the unrest in Bangkok… until we arrived in Bangkok that is.

For the next couple of days in Cambodia, we monitored the situation in Bangkok and learned way more than I ever needed to know about politics in Thailand. In a nutshell, the minority party was upset with the majority, claiming the exiled former president held too much power over the government. Thousands of “yellow shirts” filled Bangkok’s streets, while countries around the world issued travel advisories for their citizens.

We already had our non-refundable flights from Siem Reap to Bangkok booked, but after some obsessive research, we considered forgoing the flights and booking a whole new itinerary. We considered going to Hong Kong directly from Cambodia (no direct flights), hopping a plane to Singapore instead (too bad last minute tickets were $800 a piece), going east to Vietnam (visa issues)…etc.

I went into travel planning overdrive – which turned out to be the one sore spot of our trip to Cambodia. While this hiccup was certainly no terrible tragedy, I confess I found the whole dilemma  very stressful. I had spent months planning our itinerary in Bangkok and rearranging everything at the last minute with limited options, high prices and no time to plan was more than my Type-A personality wanted to deal with.

We finally decided just to continue on to Bangkok as planned and simply avoid the high-protest areas when I saw a tweet about a planned protest right by our hotel. This stressed me out even more.

FInally, we decided to fly into Bangkok as planned and take a cab to Hua Hin, a coastal town only a couple hours from Bangkok. Our flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong could be redeposited and booked anew, so we left he rest of our itinerary in flux, hoping the protests would die down over the weekend and we could sneak a little Bangkok time in.

2013-11-28 13.51.33

This picture sums up what I saw of Bangkok from the window of our cab. If you look closely, you can make out Bangkok’s famous elephant building. I got so excited when I saw it, I had to take picture as the cab sped down the highway.

Of course, that did not happen, and after a couple of days in Hua Hin, we decided to go to Hong Kong early, which worked out well because we absolutely fell in love with Hong Kong.

In hindsight, we probably could have gone to Bangkok with no problems, but at the time, we did not feel comfortable assuming the risk. I’m still  disappointed we didn’t get to see Bangkok (unless you count the drive from the airport to Hua Hin) and hope one day I’ll have the chance to go back there.

Finally, while many of my friends roll their eyes and laugh at my miles obsession, it was points and miles that allowed us to have a modicum of flexibility. The SPG hotel in Bangkok was fully refundable and for only $80 I was able to redeposit my British Airways miles to my account and rebook our flights to Hong Kong on an earlier date. Had I paid cash for those flights, we would have lost way more money.

The moral of this story is: Points are awesome.

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How Much Does It Cost to Travel the World In Style?

Excellent question.

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

$368
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
$368
15,000 miles + $103.56
140,000 miles + $320.52
___________________

275,000 miles + 849.68

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Change of Plans…

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:

Trip to Asia2

Our entire trip from start to finish:

Trip to Asia and back2

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!

 

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BANGKOK HERE WE COME!

Our big once-a-year trip is coming up. Well, tecinically, it’s still four months away but I am really excited. In the past, we’ve done one summer trip and one winter trip, but this year we’re using all The Boyfriend’s vacation days to go to Asia, so I am long overdue for a vacation already. Needless to say, I am a tad overexcited…

I’ve been devouring the forums on FlyerTalk. Bangkok offers a plethora of hotel options, it’s hard to know where to start. Compared to Europe and big American cities, Thailand’s capital is still pretty cheap. Since we’re sitting on a over 100,000 Starwood points and the SPG hotels have received very high reviews, I knew I wanted to go there. And boy are there options. Here is a self-made map of the SPG options under consideration:

BKK - Hotel options SPG 2.tiff

My awesome map

The Le Meridian (in yellow) and the Sheraton Grande (red) received the best reviews for the money/points on FlyerTalk. The Le Meridian is a newer/more modern hotel and slightly cheaper being a Category 3 (7,500 points per night). The Sheraton Grande is one of Starwood’s luxury brand hotels and a Category 4 (10,000 points per night). Notice the adorable little trains I placed on the map because one of the most important criteria when choosing a hotel is proximity to one of Bangkok’s two public transportation systems. The Royal Orchard Sheraton (in purple) got rave reviews for beautiful vistas overlooking the river, but it’s distance from public transportation knocked it out of the running immediately. In the end, there were a couple of reasons I chose the Sheraton Grande:

  • Ease of getting to both Bangkok’s Sky Train and Metro system
  • Probability of getting an upgrade due to The Boyfriend’s Platinum status
  • The mildly disturbing number of posts about people being solicited for… (you can fill in the blank here) in the Le Meridian neighborhood. In all fairness, posters said that kind of thing happens all over Bangkok, but there were an inordinate number of “stories” in the Le Meridian forum.

Plus, the Sheraton Grande looks beautiful and luxurious. Here are some pictures from the website:

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Around the World in 14 Days

Our next big trip is in the works.

[Pause for jubilant cartwheel.]

After our trip to Paris and Brussels last New Year’s, The Boyfriend and I both agreed that it was time to move on from Europe. Not that we have seen everything we want to see – not by a long shot. But we are ready for something new. Different. So… we are going to Asia.

[Pause for jubilant cartwheel.]

Yes. Asia. In business class. We leave New York in late November for Bangkok, via Frankfurt. We’ll spend some time in Bangkok and the surrounding areas, and then head to Hong Kong so The Boyfriend can marvel at the tall buildings. And then, we head home via Vancouver.

I was mapping out the trip the other day, and I realized: HOLY CLICHE BATMAN, WE ARE LITERALLY GOING AROUND THE WORLD! How cool is that?

Around the world in 14 days!

Around the world in 14 days!

Here’s how the award tickets break down:

I used 120,000 United miles (a combination of United miles and Chase points) to book two business class tickets to Bangkok via Frankfort from New York City. We fly United to Frankfort and Thai Airways to Bangkok. The cost in dollars: $70.

I used 140,000 British Airways avios (thanks to the American Express 35% bonus transfer) to book two business class seats on Cathay Pacific. I’ve read many a blog post about Cathay’s wonderful business class seats and I’m excited to try them out. Cost: $320

Asia, here we come. Off to turn some more cartwheels…

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