May 22, 2005

Thailand Trip Report

Sorry this has taken so long to finally get written and posted. The photos are online at Kodak Gallery. (no, you don't have to join to view!)


Let’s just say that this vacation seemed to be starting out on the wrong foot.

Four days before Ryan and I were to leave for Asia, one of the largest ever earthquakes was recorded and followed up by a huge Tsunami. This was quite a shock to us and we were a bit concerned because our friends Markus and Susanne were already in Thailand. Luckily we were able to reach Markus and he confirmed that they were safe and that many parts of Thailand were till OK to visit. So the trip was a GO.

The flight schedule was a bit of a nightmare as well. Austin-to-Dallas-to-London Gatwick…then an 8 hour layover….then London Heathrow-to-Paris-to-Singapore….overnight stay….then Singapore-to-Phuket. Wow. That was a mouthful.

December 28, 2004
After a nice stay in Austin for the holidays, we boarded the flight to Dallas. During our layover we decided to grab some dinner. When paying for dinner Ryan realize that he had lost his debit card. Fortunately nobody had used the card and so it was cancelled without incident. This was a bummer because we had planned to use our debit cards to get cash on our trip. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to pay for everything.

December 29, 2004
No problems getting to London. The flight was OK (despite the lame old American Airlines plane) and we were able to sleep a few hours. It felt nice to get back into London and start re-packing for Thailand. Just after arriving at the London apartment I decided to set out the plane tickets for Singapore. Oh No. Ryan’s ticket has the wrong date. It shows his flight as yesterday…and mine for today. Continental forgot to change both our tickets when we asked for changes back in November. Fortunately Ryan was able to get through to Continental and they nicely changed the ticket. However they said that Ryan had to go all the way back to the Continental ticket counter at London Gatwick. We had just come from there an hour ago. Ugh. At least we had time….barely. Ryan was able to get to Gatwick only to find out that the Continental ticket desk was completely closed. What a nightmare this was becoming. Fortunately the KLM desk (affiliates of Continental) were able to confirm Ryan on the flight and said that he was good to go to Heathrow where Air France could produce the new ticket. Not sure why Continental insisted on Ryan going to Gatwick…but oh well. After a little running around we were able to get to Heathrow in time for our flight.

With all the bad stuff over….now for the good stuff…..

The flight from Paris to Singapore was Business Class. That’s right…Business Class. All our travel and frequent flyer mileage was about to pay off. Both Ryan and I had enough points for free Business Class tickets from London to Singapore (via Paris) with Air France. This is a must have for such a long journey. The flight from Paris to Singapore was 13+ hours!!! That’s a long time to be on a plane.

After a brief flight to Paris, Ryan and I hung out in the Air France L‘Espace Business Class Lounge. It was a decent lounge with comfy chairs, TV, free snacks and drinks, Internet and showers. We would have preferred to eat more than cheese and crackers, but that’s about all you can expect for free. Finally it was time to board our flight to Singapore.

Let’s just say that this Air France plane had a nice Business Class section. We were seated in Row 3, which was the first row of Business Class. The seats were great. Electronically adjustable in many ways and even included a lumbar “massage.” We had a 4-course dinner including Duck Foie Gras, Grilled Fish, Steak, Scalloped Potatoes, Cheese Plate, and assorted desserts. And no Business Class flight is complete without a glass of Champagne. Bubbly in hand, Ryan and I settled into our seats to watch a movie. Choices were not terribly great, but there were a few decent shows. Ryan watched “Collateral” with Tom Cruise, while I watched a French film (the name escapes me). After the movie we reclined our chairs and fell asleep. When your seat reclines almost flat, it is not too hard to get a good night’s sleep. After about 7 hours sleep, we woke up to the smells of breakfast.

December 30, 2004
Finally we landed in Singapore. The Singapore airport is really big and nice. Despite lots of people it never felt crowded….but more on that later. We passed through immigration, got some Singapore dollars from the ATM, and hopped a cab to the hotel.

With all my travel and hotel stays in Italy last year, I had enough Holiday Inn points for a free room at the Holiday Inn Parkview ( The taxi decided to take “the scenic route” to the hotel but it was not to bad. Apparently he did not notice we were going to the Holiday Inn and was just trying to find the street name and number. Once we restated it was the Holiday Inn Parkview he found it pretty fast. Only about 20 Singapore dollars for the taxi, which is about $16 USD. Not too unreasonable for a 20 minute taxi from the airport.

The Holiday Inn was a nice hotel. Probably the nicest Holiday Inn I’ve ever stayed at. It was more like the European Crown Plaza’s we have seen. After a quick check-in we made our way out onto the streets of Singapore. Just as we were told, Singapore is a very clean city. I guess when there are strict littering laws, no gum chewing and no spitting allowed, you are bound to have a clean place. It’s not like it felt as though there were an oppressive amount of rules, but since people followed them it was a clean place. The hotel was located near the famous Orchard Street area where all the good shopping is. Everything you can image is there. Zara, Borders Books, Esprit, Marks and Spencers, etc. We were surprised to see all this stuff. In addition there were many street vendors and small local shops. Ryan was interested in finding a Pearl Tea vendor on the street and it didn’t take long to find one. As you can see in the pictures, the Christmas decorations were still up. We were starting to get tired from the jet lag so we decided to grab some food. After searching for a while, we settled on a Ramen place in one of the many food courts. Ryan ate some Ramen with Fried Dumplings and I ate the Vegetable Ramen.

As expected we fell asleep fast and hard once we got back to the room. Woke up early and headed down to the breakfast buffet. We really got our money’s worth at this buffet, which is unusual for us. Omelets, fruit, cereal, bread, rice, juice, and tea. It was raining bad outside so we just kept eating. I think the previous 2 days of airplane food was catching up with us. After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and then went to the spa. Ryan got a reflexology massage and I got a manicure. Ryan said the massage hurt quite a bit. He didn’t know that the reflexology massage is pretty rough. I could see the pain in his face sometimes. My manicure was pretty good and I selected a basic clear polish to finish it off. The polish was not going to last long anyway with the upcoming scuba diving.

We left for the airport a bit early due to a misread of the tickets, but this gave us plenty of time to wander before our flight to Thailand. The Singapore airport is very nice. They have a swimming pool, spa, gardens, restaurants, observation deck, shops and other things to keep you busy. The best find was the free Internet. This allowed us to check email for the last time before we were without. After a light lunch we boarded the plane….all 20 of us.

That’s right. It was not a very full flight. This was a small flight stopping over in Phuket on the way to Bangkok. It was New Years Eve so the flight attendants wanted to play games to make for a happy flight. They decided to have some drawings. The main one for a free flight, Ryan and I opted not to play. They wanted a form filled out that included your address (for spam) and your passport number. We didn’t want to give out all this info. The main flight attendant teased us about this, and eventually made Ryan select the winner from the “pot.” After this they put together a small raffle that was based on selecting a number. Everyone was a winner. The prized ranged from a “care package with toothbrush to a bottle of wine. Ryan won a package of Cashew Nuts and I won a whole box of Coffee Sugar packets. It was a funny game and made everyone laugh. That was the goal….happy flight!

Finally we were on Thailand! Markus and Susanne met us at the airport with their rental car. After getting cash (Thai Baht) from the ATM and some tea and toast for breakfast from Seven-Eleven, we drove over to Rainer’s house. Rainer is a friend of Markus’ and also the person helping us with accommodations and diving. He owns the Aqua Divers center in Thailand. There are 4 shops, but only one survived the tsunami.

We stayed in bungalows, which are like a small, stand-alone, efficiency apartment. There were 3 bungalows on the property. There was a small pool and a nicely manicured lawn and plants. Each bungalow had a good size refrigerator (bigger than our refrigerator in London!), small little breakfast bar area, sink, electric tea pot, queen size bed, dresser, brown wicker chairs and coffee table, bathroom with shower, toilet, sink, and towels, front patio with bamboo chairs and table. Each day, the maid would come and clean the kitchen and bathroom and make the bed.

New Year’s Eve was not terribly exciting for us. We ate at Rainer’s house. His wife, who is Thai, cooked vermicelli noodles in broth with chicken. Markus, Rainer, and other guys from the dive shop sat around talking about the cleaning efforts from the tsunami. A few days earlier, they had dove in a lake to pull out bodies, a truck, and other junk. Markus was not feeling so good. He wasn’t sure if it was something he ate a few days ago or if it was from diving in the lake. So, he wasn’t eating much. We were tired from our journey, so we went to bed early.

January 1, 2005
We did a check dive this morning with Oli, a Swiss guy who spends his time here in the European winters (or Thai summers). We saw some random junk that had been swept to sea: a beach umbrella, a coffee mug, a basket, but nothing weird. Markus and Susanne went to Khoweo Island to check out the diving conditions there. Next door to the dive shop is MaiTai Restaurant, where Ryan and I went after the check dive. I had forgotten to bring my log book, so they gave me a new one. By now it was about mid afternoon, so we went back to the bungalow for a nap. Before dinner, we checked out Nai Yang beach, next to Nai Tong beack where we were. The Nai Yang beach is where one of Rainer’s dive shop was. There were people at Nai Yang, but it is still in clean-up stages.

January 2, 2005
At late morning or noon-ish time, we all went for a dive at Khoweo Island, which is just a slow boat ride away and south of the Nai Tong Beach. Not too eventful of a day, we took a nap as usual and ate dinner late.

January 3, 2005
Ryan and I dove with Markus today. We did a shore dive and had to swim with our equipment a long ways out. Susanne wanted to relax on the beach. After lunch, Markus, Ryan and I went to the Lotus Tesco; basically, the mother of all Tesco’s and is bigger than the Super Wal-Mart’s in the US. I wish I had my camera with me because there was raw meats in big plastic containers, open and not refrigerated, for you to scoop as little or as much as you like. The health police of the Western countries would have a hay-day here. After picking up some snacks, we went to Patong, a tourist hot-spot. This is where you, if you are a male, can go sit at a bar by yourself and have a Thai girl approach you for some money in exchange for her time. This is also where you, if you are a girl, might find lots of old men and streets full of imitation Louis Vitton and illegal copies of DVD’s for about $2 a pop. But really, we went to Patong to check out the destruction. Markus took the beach route back and that is where the destruction was. In the city of Patong, it was business as usual. The knock-off vendors typically line the boardwalk, but they set up on the main road of the town now. Most of the destruction photos you see in the photo album will be from the drive from Patong back.

We had dinner at a shack-like place called “Old Grandad’s Restaurant”, which is on the way to the airport. The food wasn’t fantastic. Though, the waitress spoke to me in Thai. She must of thought I was a local.

January 4, 2005
Ryan and I dove with Markus at the Tin Mining Wreck. There is so much aquatic life around these wrecks, but because it is a mining wreck you have to be really good with your buoyancy and not touch anything! There were lots of scorpion fish here. We were joined by a sucker fish who swam up and down Markus’s leg. Not sure of the proper name of it, but this slender fish hangs around big fish and nibbles whatever debris it can find. After lunch, we went to check out the progress at Nai Yang Beach again. There is a little neighborhood market on the way back. We stopped there and was a bit grossed-out by the fish vendors who weren’t bothered by the millions of flies on their fish. We went to a Swiss restaurant for dinner, but it just so happens they were not serving the Swiss menu tonight. After dinner, we went to the Pearl Village Resort (which backs into Nai Yang Beach) for some drinks. Mai Tai’s anyone?

January 5, 2005
We dove at Khoweo Island again, but this time the north part of it. Then we dove the Naithon House Reef which had really good visibility. We came back to the bungalow after lunch because Ryan’s stomach wasn’t doing well.

January 6, 2005
Our last dive today, except Ryan couldn’t join us because of his stomach. So, Markus and I dove. Khoweo Island again, but this time it was magnificent. Since Markus is a dive master and I was his dive partner, we went our own path. He brought the video camera with him this time and filmed the dive. The ocean must have known he brought the camera because a gigantic school of yellow colored fish swam all around us. Realistically though, I think the ocean is healing itself and I think the fish are back from the tsunami. Good news!

Tonight we had an incredibly good dinner at a fancy Thai restaurant in the Pearl Village Resort.

January 7, 2005
We left for Singapore today. Markus and Susanne went to Bangkok for a couple of days. In Singapore, we ended up eating at a conveyor-belt sushi place. I think we’re spoiled with the great sushi we get from Matsuri in London that make this place’s fish look aweful.

January 8, 2005
Our flight back was not until late in the evening, so we strolled around town. We even took the Singapore underground to see the Chinatown and Arabic town areas. It was definitely rain season because it seemed to rain really hard for a bit every day and the humidity is high. We left the hotel around 7 and got the airport 20 minutes after. Unfortunately, we couldn’t check in until 2 hours before the flight. So, we hung out a bit at the airport.

January 9, 2005
We had a long 6 hour layover in Paris. There were no open seats in any of the earlier flights. I tried and tried, but no luck. The Charles DeGaulle airport is horrible. You cannot do anything and there are no good restaurants inside. We hung out in the Air France lounge for a quite a good. Thankfully we had that. We arrive in London after 9 PM. It’s good to be back.


Posted by oneray at 2:06 PM

May 5, 2005

Weird May Weather in Zurich

Weather here has been off and on. For example, I arrived in Zurich on Monday and it was HOT! I changed to a tank and 3/4 cardigan. Then Tuesday, it rained. If I am at the (omitted customer name)'s office when it rains, the view is spectacular. The walls are ALL glass. I have a spectacular view of the houses on the hills on the West side of the city. When it rains, the rain almost look like snow against the glass.

I'm staying this weekend, so I'll get put some photos up. Promise.

Here they are! The photos!
The weather wasn't fabulous during the weekend, so Ryan and I took a 3 hour train ride south to Lugano. These are some
beautiful pictures from the trip and of the city.

Posted by oneray at 4:12 AM