China Travels March 2017 (Part I – Shanghai)

China: March 2017 (Part I – Shanghai)

Many English signs and product descriptions are misspelled in China; a fun game if you pay attention

I went into the first leg of this journey having a few preconceived notions about China.  Here’s what I expected:

  • every place to be sardine-can crowded,
  • most foods to be completely obscure and (possibly) distasteful to my pallet,
  • people to show little-to-no emotion, and
  • horrendous air pollution.

I was only marginally accurate in my expectations … but, there is so much more to China than I ever considered!

Native speaking travel friends is a huge bonus when traveling in China

I have to begin by saying that our journey through the Middle Kingdom was made exponentially easier by traveling with good friends fluent in Mandarin. Yes, some businesses and taxi drivers do speak limited English, but it is very, very limited. Jeremiah prepared for the trip for about eight months working part-way through Rosetta Stone’s Mandarin program. He also created and printed a list of common phrases, pictures of important things (e.g. noodles, train, toilet, beer) in simplified Chinese characters, and pictures of hotel and train station addresses along our route … I, conversely, flew completely blind and culturally unprepared.

Shanghai is vivid, busy, and full of things to look at everywhere

Here is what I learned, in a nut-shell: Chinese are a lovely, proud people. Proud of their culture, skylines, cutting edge technological advancements, photographs, and language. The more I witness and learn, I think they have every right to be proud! There are things in China that make my brain spin (mostly in awe rather than disbelief).

One of at least a dozen nuclear power plants I saw from the train line to Xi’an

Don’t get me wrong … I am painfully aware of the obvious ecological issues plaguing this vast nation. One day in Shanghai (and worse yet, Xi’an) and my throat and eyes were begging for mercy from the chokingly polluted air. Similarly, my heart sank as we flew over heavily traveled sea cargo lanes, drove through land masses formed from compacted trash, and discarded dizzying volumes of plastic packaging during our stay. This nation is far from perfect, but their accomplishments are wondrous. I believe that more of the world’s future is influenced by China than we may want to admit (for better and worse).

Jeremiah does a marvelous job planning our flights and transportation for all of

Ctrip is a Chinese website offering great deals on airfare

our trips. Through trial, error, and word-of-mouth, he has gleaned a handful of little-known travel planning websites that are huge assets if you like to travel and save money. Preparing for this trip he used an online Chinese travel website called C-Trip to book really great deals on airfare.

Agoda is a great online discount lodging tool for international travelers

His favorite go-to lodging website is, hands-down, Agoda. Travelers of all budget ranges (hippy backpackers to high-rollers) can find deep travel discounts to fit their style on both sites. We save hundreds of dollars each year just by using these two websites!

Our Hainan Airlines direct flight from Seattle, Washington to Shainghai, China was comfortable and spacious

From the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport we enjoyed a sparsely populated direct flight on Hainan Airlines to Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport. I wish all international flights were this enjoyable (and roomy)! We arrived mid-afternoon on a breezy Tuesday feeling moderately well-rested. Greeted by friends at the airport, we were promptly whisked to the taxi queue and began the 50-60 minute journey into the heart of Shanghai.

Looking down from the 78th floor is mesmerizing and dizzying

As Jeremiah is a huge fan of exceptional views, we allowed ourselves to splurged on a room at the Grand Hyatt Shanghai for this first stop. The hotel itself is gorgeous; rich woods, countless mirrored surfaces, intriguing traditional Chinese design influences, and Hyatt’s impeccable presentation.  Our room was located on the 78th floor of this staggeringly tall building.

Even though these buildings vary greatly in height, they all tower above the city streets below

One entire window wall of our hotel room faced the Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center (affectionately nicknamed the ‘Bottle Opener’ by locals), and Shanghai Tower with the Huangpu River winding just beyond. I could have never left that room and still felt as if I had experienced something amazing in Shanghai … but we were just getting started!

This adventurous couple shares a kiss under the captivating Shanghai skyline they love.

Our travel companions have both called Shanghai home at different times in their lives, so they were excited to introduce us to their local friends and enjoy the city’s glamorous nightlife. There was no time for jet lag today!  Quickly, we settled into our room and freshened up. Within two hours of our arrival we were, again, out the door.

Hakkasan Shanghai is a beautiful stop for dinner or a quick drink before a night on the town.

We met up with an intimate group of vibrant, well-educated friends for dinner and drinks at Hakkasan. I highly recommend at least stopping here for one of master-bartender, Alan’s, scrumptious libations! I fell in love with a rosemary-infused gift to my taste buds called “Jade”.  The restaurant is comfortable yet elegant.  The dining room offers intimate seating areas decorated in rich jewel tones, supple fabrics and skirted by a stunning view of the Shanghai skyline.

Club Myst in Shanghai really knows how to rock a Tuesday night

Moving on from the restaurant, our growing group cozied up in a couple of taxis in search of someplace to get our boogie on; we found it at Myst. From the street we could barely hear the faint rhythm pulsing from inside.  We climbed the wide, black staircase to the club’s entrance. Almost as if my hesitation was expected, the neon red-lettered sign on the wall of the upper floor’s landing teased, “ARE YOU READY?” I’ll admit it now … my jet-lagged brain was NOT ready for the sensory overload that followed.

Colored lights, confetti and music on an unassuming Tuesday evening at Myst in Shanghai

The doors swung open into a gymnasium-sized room literally vibrating from the music inside. Blue and white lights pulsed over the teeming mass of dancing bodies on each of the club’s three levels. The entire wall behind the DJ booth was a digital kaleidoscope of light and color, ever changing with the beat of the music. What a party!

As if to punctuate the festivities, confetti rained down on us at regular intervals. We took turns throwing handfuls into the air and dancing it into paste underfoot.

We finally slunk back to our hotel around 6:00am as the sun began to rise over the waking city.

Morning or night, chongqing noodles are an exciting treat in China

We awoke only a few hours later to the call for a brunch of spicy Chongqing noodles we were told would “change our lives”. These noodles originate from the Chongqing area in southwest China and are called ‘xiao mian’ in Chinese.  Xiao mian refers to a group of plain noodles seasoned with vinegar, sugar, red oil, ginger and scallion. Sometimes the noodles and broth may be topped with meat.  Noodles in northen China emphasize the soup base and the quality of noodles, while Chongqing noodles are focused on seasonings.

We taxied under the Huangpu River to West Nanjing Road much the same as we had the evening before. As we drove through this sprawling city I couldn’t help but think that all of the storefronts seemed identical. Perhaps not identical … but a succession of the same stores repeated in random order. At one such row of non-descript storefronts we exited the cab, entered an unlabeled, white facade building, and ordered several bowls of spicy beef noodles with peanuts and greens.

After this meal of spicy Chongqing noodles our group left full and happy

Upon arrival, there was nothing noteworthy about the appearance of this restaurant.  Workers sat at tables in the back corner mashing peanuts and preparing other foods; customers sat cafeteria-style at long wooden tables and hard, wooden benches; a handful of faded, framed pictures of various soup dishes lined the walls at eye-level, and we even brought our own tissues/napkins and drinks (purchased from the convenience store across the alley). The noodles, however, did make the world right again!

Chongqing noodles have a wonderful flavor and zesty broth

Our oversized bowls were served brimming with crushed peanuts, chopped greens, strips of beef, broth, and noodles hiding below the surface. The slightly oily broth was fiery red throughout, dotted with orange and red chili flecks. We anxiously cooled our dishes and then happily wept as the spice filled our senses (and sinuses). I am so glad I packed extra tissue packets! Even though we were achingly full at the end, friends still eagerly picked over the empty bowls for any morsels left behind.

Late morning gloom turned into rainy afternoon skies and chilling wind. We gathered with friends again as dusk fell and headed out to glimpse the lights of the city. We started the evening with a sunset view from the second highest observatory in the world, the 119th floor of the Shanghai Tower.

Standing on the street below these enormous Shanghai skyscrapers gives a small idea of their enormity

Fun Fact: the Shanghai Tower stands, currently, mostly empty. Yes, this 137 floor behemoth of a skyscraper (5 basement levels, 127 floors above ground and 5 podium floors) uses electricity (daily) on every floor, and only operates businesses on a few of the basement levels. Weird, right?!

The architecture of the Shanghai Tower is beautiful and intricate (even down to the details at the basement escalator)

Anyhow, we wound our way from the entry ticket counter (the price for taking the elevator to the sightseeing deck is CNY 160 per adult, CNY 90 for children between 3.3 and 4.6 feet, and this service is available from 9:00am to 9:00pm) down several levels of spacious escalators to the stark white, and very dotted escalator queue.

Friends having fun in front of the amazing view from the observatory floor of the Shanghai Tower

Entering the elevator meant passing (for an ever-so-short moment) over a howling gap filled with biting air. The ride was lightning-fast (55 seconds to travel up 119 floors) and so smooth. As we reached our stop, the car swayed and stalled in its tracks and sent all our stomachs to our feet. Jeremiah glanced down the chasm while exiting and stopped in his tracks. He held onto the door, swayed, and giggled nervously. I hate heights, so I nudged him impatiently forward without looking into the abyss between.

West-facing dusk view from the Shanghai Tower of the bustling city below

The mouth of the elevator emptied into a beautiful yet simple doughnut-shaped space ringing together an observatory deck, gift shop, gut-clenching simulated shattering glass floor (complete with sound), seated cafe area, and local-area history placards. On the north side, the evening’s storm whipped rain against the glass and only offered limited visibility. The southeast lit up bright along the winding industrial riverside. Finally, the sun went down in the west beyond the Bund area in a haze of smog and rain. Every visitor walked laps around the observatory taking in the enormity of the structure as an accomplishment … and the view didn’t hurt!

Shanghai Financial Building and River view from the observatory deck of the Shanghai Tower

I imagine that vantage probably allowed you to see for 50 miles on a high-visibility day. The Shanghai World Financial Center appeared dwarfed by the new Shanghai Tower and I couldn’t help but be amazed at how quickly the Chinese culture strives for the next great thing, even to the end of one-upping itself. I heard there is another tower being built in China now which will be taller than the Shanghai Tower … wow!

Admittedly, the sunset in Shanghai wasn’t nearly as beautiful as the colored lights that began to dazzle us from the land below.

Playful couples in spectacular cities make taking amazing photos fun!

The landscape of Shanghai at night is stunning. Bright, dazzling lights adorning buildings, new and old, in a wash of vivid color. What an amazing time to take lifestyle photographs of some great people! On the city streets of Shanghai, at the feet of these glass and steel sentinels we were (moments before) standing atop, the love for Shanghai our friends share came alive in electric images.

Young vibrant, couple under Shanghai neon night sky

We played with depth and perspective to capture the scale of the surroundings and had a blast creating a long exposure image of the couple hugging amidst the busyness of Nanjing Road (know as one of the most traveled shopping streets in the world). Across the Huangpu River on the Bund, Jeremiah was able to capture the couple’s favorite view, the whole Shanghai skyline, with them front and center.

Location photography sessions in an area of significance to a couple are always special! The subjects’ familiarity and pride in their surroundings comes across in the images we create … the results are magical.

Late night bites at a no-name shop don’t get much better than this … frog, fish, and spicy green beans, oh my!

We rounded out the evening with a late-night supper of grilled frog, pickled and spiced green beans, and a whole baked fish at an unassuming roadside cafe and liquor mart.  I had never tried frog before and was pleasantly surprised.  The mild white-meat flavor of frog is worthwhile, but I did find that the little bones throughout proved difficult when trying to negotiate with chopsticks … I managed fine once I got the hang of things, though.

As the city slowly grew quiet and the glistening lights of storefronts fell dark in the late night hours, we walked contentedly back to our hotel for much needed rest.  Tomorrow we would board a fast train for Xi’an and the ancient Terracotta Warrior Army excavation and exhibit site.  Although exhausted, we each buzzed with excitement for the adventure to come.

Until next time … Safe travels,

Shaunna & Jeremiah

Love Springs Eternal In The ‘Kingdom Of Wonder’

love springs eternal in cambodia

“She enchanted him, he fascinated her.  Shyness and sadness, no longer alone in the lands.  Bound together with shared demands.  Felt by both, ‘Love springs eternal.’  A life of bliss, spirits entwined, love that is pure in spirit and mind.”  ~A. Halat

angkor wat couple photography

From the moment we set foot on the dusty red clay soil of Cambodia we understood that the land possesses magical powers.  Its cities captivate you with their vibrant and unique personalities … its magnificent and mysterious temples inspire awe … its people are forever warm and welcoming … and the energy that pulses through it all is undeniable.

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Cambodia’s intriguing natural beauty is fertile ground in which the vibrant blossom of new love blooms readily.

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While on our most recent month in Cambodia we had the wonderful privilege of photographing our dear friend, Sara, with her love on the grounds of the Angkor Wat temples.  The results are adventurous, playful, and exotic.  In other words, the images are AMAZING!!

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Let me back up a bit … after all, our story doesn’t start here.  People do not typically just call us up out of the blue and ask us to do a destination photography session (literally) on the other side of the world;  This situation is no exception.  As with several of our close friends, we first met Sara through the purchase of a local Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Groupon (click here to view the Jeremiah Andrews Photography Groupon).

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During their initial photography session, Jeremiah resonated with Sara’s zest for life and playful spirit.  The two kept in touch over the years as Sara’s path led her abroad and, finally, to Hawaii for career and pleasurable pursuits.  When Jeremiah and I traveled to Hawaii for a destination wedding we decided it was high-time to get old friends together.  The resulting visit (and boogie-boarding hijinks) still bring broad smiles and belly laughs to each of us to this day.

destination photo shoot hawaii

As we planned our most recent trip to Southeast Asia we were excited to learn that Sara, again, wanted our travel paths to cross.  She and her beau, Taylor, planned to join us for a little adventure abroad and have pictures taken to commemorate their love and the trip.

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Combining our admiration of the ancient temples of Cambodia with this couple’s love of each other and adventurous spirit made the scenes come to life.

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We spent two days traveling with the couple through several of the Angkor Wat temples in pursuit of killer images.  We covered countless bumpy and treacherous miles between temple sites on our treks.  The days were overwhelmingly hot and humid but our spirits were light and happy.  We laughed and enjoyed all the land had to offer during our time abroad together.

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Some people may not be aware of sprawling complex of Cambodian temples called “Angkor Wat” (simply translated as “City of Temples”).  Others may be surprised to learn that Angkor Wat not only refers specifically to the capital temple most commonly envisioned by travelers, but also encompasses dozens of outlaying temples varying in age and size.  What ever your understanding is of Cambodia and its temple jewels, you owe it to yourself to learn more about these Khmer gems.  They truly are among the top wonders of the world!

angkor gang

We won’t soon forget our fun in Cambodia, or the ones dear to us who shared it with us this year.  We hope to return to the “Kingdom of Wonder” for other photographic opportunities as soon as we are able.  In the mean time … we hope you enjoy our images of Sara & Taylor’s time at Angkor Wat.

Safe travels,

Shaunna & Jeremiah

 

 

Oh, the places we go …

You wouldn’t believe the number of comments we get while out and about, “You are always on the go!  So busy!  How do you find time to work?”  It’s true.  We are always on the go, but… surprise, surprise… we aren’t always just playing.

In truth, we intentionally try to find ways to bridge the work-fun gap by playing while we work.

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I know, mind = blown, right?  After all, who can actually pull off having a blast while they work?  Um…  a destination lifestyle photographer, that’s who.  Want to see a little bit of what that looks like?  Okay, come on… let’s go!

Last weekend’s mid-September shoot was an engagement session for some very dear friends, Jamie and Andrew. When approached with the idea of piggybacking their engagement photo session onto a weekend hike into Goldbug Hot Springs (located near Salmon, Idaho) we were all in!  We have been wanting to explore some of the amazing hot springs nestled on and around the Snake River and this trip was the perfect excuse… I mean, reason.

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Since this was not just a “fun” hiking trip, we had to be mindful to pack our equipment carefully into our main packs.  Yup, you guessed it… our beer reserve suffered for the cause of lightening our packs’ weight.  After all, we planned to hike, with full backpacks, the whole 3-4 miles into the hot springs and camp for three days.  We needed to bring only the essentials… and 40 pounds of “essentials” consisted of camera gear alone.  Thankfully, the late summer Idaho/Montana weather was on our side.  Bathing suits, Chocos, and sweatshirts to stave off the evening chill completed our weekend wardrobe.

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The hike in was challenging… and breathtakingly remarkable.  So worth it!  Goldbug’s hot springs did not disappoint; there must have been almost a dozen tiered pools with varying combinations of hot and cold rushing spring water.  To say that sitting on the top of a mountain, basking in the warm summer sun, eating fresh foods/drinking local beers, and taking pictures of a beautiful couple full of love is “work” is not 100% true… but it is truly a perk to my profession.

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During the photo session we needed to be mindful of all of the things that go into producing beautiful images for the couple, as well as keeping water out of the cameras… very, very careful.

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Jamie and Andrew were wonderfully spontaneous and fun, fun, fun!  Their personalities shone through so easily.  We didn’t have to coax kisses or love out of these two.

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Now that the weekend is over and we are back to day-to-day life we get to reflect on the wonderful benefits of being a destination photographer.  We really do get to see some amazing sights… and, oh my, the wonderful places we go!

We should mention, the support system we have at home is unparalleled.  Our friends, family, and even grown children rally around us and help keep everything from falling apart while we embark on our photography journeys… we know we couldn’t do all of this without all of them!

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So what’s to be learned from this?  Maybe, sharing our adventures will prompt others to get out and explore.  Perhaps someone will realize that “jobs” don’t have to drain you, they can feed your soul too.  Whatever the case, we hope that our images and exploits bring enjoyment and laughter to all they touch.  Go on… live every moment… laugh every day… love deeply… and take lots of pictures!

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~Jeremiah & Shaunna

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Day 3: Exploring the Roads Less Traveled in Bangkok

DSCN0032Day three started much the same as day two.  The bright, beautiful morning sun greeted us over the concrete jungle sprawled below.  Oh, and that lovely, savory soup awaited us atop the building.  

We expected that breakfast would be served in the same location.  Unfortunately, upon arrival at the Sky Lounge the room was dark and a single attendant stood ready to usher us onto another elevator.  Seems that this large, completely empty restaurant is not suitable to serve the same purpose two days in a row.  Nope.  We need to find a new spot for this morning’s shindig (sarcasm implied). 

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I can’t decide if the shell-game hotel management plays with the morning food is some cruel joke, or a logistical strategy so I shut my mouth and just climb aboard. 

Our food was just as varied and flavorful as the day before.  We even had a system for gathering complimentary foods in fewer trips…and the soup!  I wish I had a pot of this stuff on my stove at all times. 

IMG_4327Today, Jeremiah is a determined man.  A couple we met had given us their hi-tech map of the area (complete with more street names and fewer pictures of temples) and explained the waterway transit system.  This waterway thoroughfare leads right to within walking distance of the Siriraj Medical Museum.  Remember?  The same Siriraj we spent half of the prior day walking the streets of Bangkok searching for. 

DSCN0252We learned that approximately one mile from our hotel was a depot, of sorts, for this local, riverboat commuter transit.  All we had to do was navigate our way to the tributary and pay the fare; creepy forensic museum here we come!  But first, the dreaded streets of Bangkok. 

A vast sea of humans and vehicles all pushing in different directions, and each vying for priority.  We mentally braced ourselves as we exited the elevator on the ground floor.  The contrast between the quiet, solitary elevator and the sardine-packed lobby is absurd.  I have never been surrounded by so many people in my life! 

DSCN0142We, again, leave the taxi queue area and head west toward the river.  The first half-dozen streets crossed were not terribly hectic, but still crossing made us anxious.  We watched in wonder as the locals fearlessly stepped into oncoming traffic to cross the roads unharmed and without incident. 

I was fascinated with the behavior and watched closely.  I noticed a trend in pedestrian protocol.  Pedestrians stop at a convenient location along a road and wait for an adequate number of ‘reinforcement’ pedestrians to also stop at the same spot.  As passing vehicles lose momentum, someone will spearhead the crossing effort. The hand facing traffic goes down at a “V” angle (we were told not to point directly at someone as it was considered rude) and you step out into the wild beyond.  And when one goes, so does the reinforcement group that had been forming as you waited.  How so much movement comes to an unspoken stop, all in harmony, is beyond me; but it does. 

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At the riverboat depot we boarded to the back, left of the vessel.  I sat next to the water and looked at the riverbank overrun with plastic debris and trash of all sorts.  (We saw so much natural beauty ruined by man’s waste and ignorance to the impact of the handling of the waste.)  The boat sat virtually empty for several minutes and then, as if on cue, a swarm of commuters shuffled down the plank and quietly onto the boat. 

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The aging man two rows ahead of me tugged on a rope which ran through small pulleys up the side of the boat.  The rigging was attached, finally, to a plastic shield off the side of the boat.  The shield was raised as needed to keep the spray from passing riverboat traffic off of passengers.  The engine roared to life and the anchor tossed aside. 

DSCN0172Once moving on the water the air cooled and the tree canopy allowed us some reprieve from the climbing midday sun.  The homes alongside the river were no more than twigs for frames, uneven plank boards for flooring, and corrugated plastic or metal serving as roofs and siding.  For some dwellings tattered curtains were the only shield from the elements.  More often than not, the Buddhist shrine in the courtyards glistened richly with golds and reds while the hovels beyond lay decaying. 

photo 3We recognize little glimpses of hope and beauty hidden in everyday life; potted flowers lining the entries of faded doorways served as subtle reminders of the resilience of the people in this region. 

When the boat finally reached its last stop we climbed the adjacent stairs to the walkway along the street above.  Jeremiah and I took turns reading the map and leading the expedition toward the museum.  I can only assume how foolish we looked while we buried our noses in the map as we walked, pointing and looking confused; often the only white people on the street. 

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Persistence paid off!  Not only did we find the entrance to the museum, but a wonderful street market lined the road just outside. 

photo 5We must have made a dozen stops on that road before we ever made it inside the campus.  Decadent cakes, beer, gooey hazelnut crepes, several varieties of kabobed meat, clothes shopping, more beer, and so much people watching.

DSCN0218The Siriraj Medical campus was buzzing with activity.  All along the open air hallways and green spaces between buildings people milled about reading, talking, and laughing.  No one we stopped spoke English, so we found a campus map and made our way to the forensic building. 

DSCN0190The entrance was unmarked and unmanned; it’s a fluke we found it at all!  We knew we had arrived, though, just by the corridor’s appearance.  Fluorescent lights hummed overhead and filtered light through specimen-filled formaldehyde jars.  Several tiny ceramic figurines sat vigil next to the base of one such jar; a touching yet eerie reminder of the life-force that once inhabited the body of the baby inside. 

DSCN0214The room we entered housed row after row and aisle upon aisle of human anatomy specimens.  Curiously enthralled, we crept our way past remarkable oddities in the human body, early stages of anatomy mapping technology, and the wonderfully preserved lacework of the human nervous system. 

photo 3Although not for those with weak stomachs (#nuffdeadbabies), the forensic museum was fascinating and well worth two days of effort to get there.  Another visitor we happened upon in the exhibit explained to us that there was a whole other area we had missed.  Jeremiah was giddy! 

DSCN0222Back down the wide, curved staircase, across a courtyard and into an identical whitewashed building; oops!  This had to be where we were intended to begin our tour.  A curved wall guided us to a ticket counter and, beyond, highly interactive display rooms.  This part of the museum housed a creepy display of parasites and related afflictions (I seriously could have lived all my days without sharing space with a life-size mannequin plagued with testicular ringworm).  On the other hand, I was intrigued by the naturally mummified cadavers; fascinating stuff folks!  We both appreciated this up-close and unfiltered look into the human body.

DSCN0182Surprisingly enough, we were hungry again!  We left the orderly confines of the campus for the harried Bangkok streets in search of food.  Conveniently, we found a taxi with little trouble.  We hopped into the back seat and named our destination.  The driver nodded and we drove on.  A block into our ride we asked what the price would be.  We knew it should not be more than 80 baht.  When the driver told us his price was 200 baht we refused.  The nerve!  We may be tourists but not stupid ones; we tried to negotiate to 100 baht.  After all, there had to be a happy middle-ground.  Irritated the driver pulled to the side of the road and shooed us out of the taxi. 

There we were again, dejected and walking to our hotel halfway across the city.  Luckily, we were close enough to the waterway transit to make our way back.  We stopped at a rooftop cafe, cooled down with another few beers and ate an early dinner.  The water sparkled as brightly as the golden temple rooftops on the opposite bank.

DSCN0253This was a good day.  We had managed to successfully navigate our way from one end of this gigantic city to the other; we were proud and contented.  Although this was the last day we planned to spend in Bangkok we found ourselves wishing we had just a little more time to explore, a theme that would become common to us along this whole adventure.  We laughed at our mishaps so far and planned a trip to the night market later for foot rubs.

DSCN0230As the sun cast an orange-red glow across the Chao Phraya river we dreamed ahead to jungle temples and exhilaratingly dangerous Cambodian lands.  We had seen so much, had our senses and comfort zones assaulted, and eaten some of the most remarkable foods already…could it get better?  Were we at all ready for this?  I think, yes!

Day Two: Unintentional Walking Tour of Bangkok

IMG_0189We woke early with the curtains drawn wide.  The day was starting off a bit hazy, like our minds.  We aren’t so much tired as we are disoriented in our surroundings.   City rooftops and massive roadways covered the landscape like body armor.  Only small patches of the natural, living planet below the armor are visible.

DSCN0141The hotel offered a complimentary buffet breakfast in the Sky Lounge atop the building.  Um, yes please!  We were extremely hungry and a multinational buffet sounded amazing.

 DSCN0033As the building is actually managed as three hotels and a restaurant/night club, we were unsure as to the navigation of the exchanges between the sections.

What we learned is there are two independent elevator systems which only run to certain floors.  It did get confusing.  But wait, there’s more!  Beyond the two main systems ran a third short elevator shaft up to the Sky Lounge and observatory.  It took us a couple tries to find that little side trip, but we made it and the buffet was glorious!

DSCN0139The room was a ring of silver clad food offerings at its inner point, and tables with window seats looking out over every direction of the city-jungle that is Bangkok.  We took turns scouting out culinary finds and returning to our table to share the spoils (and the view).

IMG_0129Jeremiah happened upon the pho station and brought back what would become my favorite dish served at Baiyoke.  Who knew I would love hot, spicy soup for breakfast? 

Jeremiah and I lingered at the table, sipping espressos and broadly smiling at the prospects of the day before us. 

We left the restaurant and headed for the staircase to the observation deck above.  The hallway was poorly lit and had a strange antiseptic smell to it.  In a short amount of time we became accustomed to, and even enjoyed, the smell as it was so much more pleasant than the sewage odor out on the streets.  The glow of the light at the observation deck’s door was blindingly strong against the black star-scape painted on the interior walls’ facade. 

DSCN0016We blinked hard as we stepped out into the daylight and onto the metal grated floor of the deck.  I looked toward the outer handrail and beyond to the miniaturized size of the city below.  My head spun and I retreated to the safety of the inner edge, happy to hold the rail behind me and look out (and up).  Jeremiah, on the other hand, was in heaven!  He walked along the outer edge giddy and observant. 

DSCN0012Eventually I decided the whole thing wasn’t going to fall out of the sky if I let go and I moved across to the outer rail for a better look.  As the observation deck slowly rotated around the body of the hotel we tried to make mental note of the direction we would travel this day.  We knew we would be heading toward the river but we didn’t know the exact route or duration of our journey. 

Bangkok-Tourism-106Bangkok is an enormous city and we had places to see; The Siriraj Medical Museum to start!  We had a vague understanding of the direction to travel for the museum, but the map was lacking.  It showed temple locations as primary information and all other streets were unimportant.  Bummer. 

No bother, we figured we could at least point to our map, nod, smile, and be whisked away to our destination.  The taxi transaction would then end in an exchange of baht (Thai currency).  Right?!  After all, many travel sites boast of Bangkok’s English-friendly ways.  Ok.  Ready, go! 

IMG_4314Back down the exchange of elevators and out to the city streets teeming with life and activity below.  We pass the tourists waiting at the hotel’s door and travel down to the next block.  There we approached the back, curbside door of a hot pink taxicab and open it.  Jeremiah smiles and states the name of our sightseeing destination to the driver.  The driver smiles and says only, “temple” with a nod.  “No.  Museum.  Siriraj Museum.  Prannok Road.” Jeremiah said slowly and deliberately.  “Look.  Here.  On map.”  He pointed to our circled map reference.  The driver glanced up, smiled and shook his head and hand in union saying “No.”  We backed away befuddled and the driver drove forward.  We tried upwards of 15 variations of the same exchange … all ending in the same result.

There we stood, deflated and hot, for a quarter of an hour until finally one driver nodded when we stated the museum’s name while pointing to the map.  We hopped in the car with no further questions asked; and away we sped!  

DSCN0135Down wide and narrow concrete byways, and through the hordes of people walking every which way.  At no time could we make out the direction of the water or find a recognizable street name on our pathetic map.  We were 100% dependent on our taxi driver to know the way to go from a glance at our tourist’s map.  As the car slowed into side street parking we knew that dependence had 100% bitten us in the ass.

DSCN0132The driver deposited us at the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles.  Well, at least he  heard “museum,” he just missed the small detail of which museum we were aiming to tour.  We decided to find a place to collect our bearings and situate ourselves with our map location.  We also decided that this place needed to serve beer.

We ate lunch at a little streetside cafe offering free wi-fi and overpriced iced coffee.  We ventured a try of a green curry and eggplant dish and a version of the tom yum soup with milky broth and shrimp.  Both were exceptional! 

IMG_0141It turns out we are on Ratchadamnoen Nai Road just outside the Grand Palace.  Wait, what?!  We had no intention on touring the Grand Palace.  We had never even Googled it!  It also turns out that we are several miles (and a boat ride) from our intended adventure.  Oh well, time for a new plan. 

DSCN0036We made our way back to the street and navigated around halted tour groups, street beggars, merchant tables adorned in brightly colored linens, hanging baubles, and shiny trinkets for sale.  The grounds of the Grand Palace are surrounded by a formidable whitewashed wall, and every visitor enters and exits through massive, rich wooden gates flanked by guards. 

DSCN0066Before you are granted entrance to the Palace grounds you must be dressed appropriately.  My (below-knee) capris were, surprisingly, a fashion no-no, and Jeremiah was required to cover his tank top and shorts, STAT.  
 
DSCN0069Luckily, there is a service for the wayward, ignorant tourist experiencing just such a ‘costume malfunction’.  You may borrow (from unkempt dressing rooms) skirts, shirts and pants to cover your own fully-functional-yet-unacceptable clothing.  You pay a fully-refundable 1000 baht deposit, are handed a little yellow receipt (don’t lose this … no ticky, no money), and enter the Grand Palace temples assured that your are in dresscode compliance.  We were both boiling hot in two layers of clothes, but glad to have a shield of fabric between our skin and hundreds of other peoples’ sweat.  
 
DSCN0076My brain and eyes were not ready to process the amount of stimulation I encountered that day.  The temple rooms within visually stimulate so much that you can become overwhelmed.  Everywhere I looked was another beautiful, opulent, intricate, offering to the Palace and the care of its grounds.  
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Peaks and domes glisten golden in the early day’s sun.  We couldn’t believe our eyes…  So.  Much.  Gold.  Thousands upon thousands of tiles are leafed in it and throngs of religious statues embellished richly.  
DSCN0071Restoration efforts are noticeable and ongoing around the grounds.  Of all the many throne rooms, prayer rooms, and courtyards a handful of buildings were cordoned off and surrounded by wooden scaffolding.  Upon that scaffolding perched pointy-hatted workers methodically removing decayed areas. On another section workers install replica pieces that show off the original grandure of the structures.  At one point we even came upon a replica of Ankgor Wat temple from Siem Reap, Cambodia.  We couldn’t wait to see the temples of Cambodia!  
 
DSCN0085After a few hours of meandering about the grounds (while sweating and drinking copious amounts of water) we were physically spent.  We left the Grand Palace and crossed the busy intersection in hopes of finding a taxi back to our hotel.  After the morning’s mishap we were skeptical but we needed to figure this taxi thing out.  
 
We approached drivers with the name of our hotel, and they shook their heads.  We walked another block or two and asked again.  Still no luck, and our tourist map was of no use.  The blocks started to blur together and before we knew it there were no more taxis to hail.  We ended up walking several miles (some of them were walked in circles).  We aimed our feet in the general direction we believed our hotel to be in and prayed as we walked.  Ok, yes.  We may have even lost our tempers a wee bit along the way.  It was a lot of walking aimlessly; the heat made us cranky.  
 
DSCN0041Eventually we did flag down a taxi that safely delivered us to the only familiar place in this land, the Baiyo.  The sun was just beginning its descent as we made our way into the hotel room.  The view beckoned us to sit and relax while the sky put on a color and light show that we enjoyed as if we were the only two people on the planet.  
 
That night we went in search of “Thai hot” food; easier said than done.  Jeremiah and I love hot food.  I think Jeremiah is excessive in his zeal at times, but he loves me anyway.  
We were discussing the lacking Scoville heat over pad thai that evening when a local man overheard us and chimed in.  He said he knew of a lady with a reputation for turning up the heat.  He coaxed, “I will take you to her if you are serious.  If you really want Thai hot!”  Jeremiah took the bait.  He jumped up and we followed the young man in hot pursuit.  We zigged and zagged for a couple of blocks down a trail of identical alleyways.  The lady-of-the-hour stood in front of a green food cart with an open fire wok at her side.  Our guide exchanged a few words with the chef and a couple of laughs before he patted Jeremiah on the back and said, “She will make something special for you, my friend!”  He then walked back into the crowd and disappeared.  
 
We returned our attention to the food preparation. 
This little woman ground several ghost and Thai chilis with her mortar and pestle.  She added this ground hell-fire to fine pad noodles, assorted vegetables, broth, and shrimp in the wok and wove her spicy voodoo magic.  Finally, we received: one bowl of steaming goodness, one fork, and one tissue to share between us.  
DSCN0140We were directed to sit at the solitary bistro table behind the cart (which hovered precariously in the entryway of a laundry service).  I can tell you that the spice that woman used was mind-blowing.  I had to tap out early.  My nose had long since used up our single allotted cleaning tissue and I was on fire from the inside out.  Let’s just say it wasn’t my prettiest moment.  Jeremiah was a glutton for punishment and ate heartily.  He laughed through the tears.  I assumed it was a good thing.
After this chaotic, beautiful long day didn’t know what else Bangkok could throw at us, but we knew two things for sure:  #1. We needed to invest in a real map.  #2. Antacid had to be found before bed!

Day 1: Compression Socks Rock

The days leading up to our departure were a blur of checked tick marks on to-do lists, last minute necessary travel supply purchases, and crazy domestic mishaps. 
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With three children, two homes, four animals, and a couple of businesses to keep running smoothly in our absence many, many loose ends needed to be tied up before we (ok, I) felt free to shed day-to-day responsibilities for the unencumbered posture of a world traveler.  By the time we even lifted off from our first airport I needed a vacation from our vacation preparation!
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Don’t be fooled, we have done our fair share of daydreaming too. Jeremiah spent countless research hours pouring over maps of far-off places we hoped to visit (most of which had names we couldn’t come close to pronouncing), and I often scanned the web for insider tips on how to make the most of our time in Thailand and Cambodia.  We thought we were prepared; we thought we knew what to expect.  We were wrong.  We were simply freshmen about be get schooled on everything from temple etiquette to cultural misconceptions.  
 
The first day of our trip started early…like the day before early.  I know it may seem strange to consider the start to our trip occurring before departure, but this was the longest trip either of us had embarked upon and we wanted to be comfortable and safe.  
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Seasoned, long-haul travelers warned us to expect leg discomfort and poor rest during and immediately following the extended flights.  This was bad news for us!  Jeremiah is prone to suffering from restless legs anyway, and we knew our immune systems and chipper dispositions would suffer greatly if we became sleep deprived; not a good recipe for a spectacular holiday.  We were determined to take preventative measures where possible.  
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Our fatigue-battling arsenal consisted of baby aspirin, vitamin C, compression socks, ear plugs, inflatable travel pillows, and low-dose sleeping pills!  We each took one baby aspirin and 500 mg of vitamin C the morning and evening of the day prior to departure as well as the morning of the trip.  We donned knee-length compression socks as soon we boarded our first flight and didn’t remove them until we prepared for landing in Bangkok.  While in flight from Seattle, Washington, to Seoul, South Korea, we created personal sleep cocoons with our travel pillows and ear plugs.  To top it all off, we toasted with a cocktail of a tall glass of water and a sleeping pill (okay, yes, and a whiskey or two.  Who’s counting?).
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The combination worked like a charm!  Not only did we sleep for the majority of the trip, but Jeremiah’s legs didn’t get the antsy feeling he was afraid would plague him following travel.  Of course, we did walk the aisles of the airplane and stretch often when we were awake mid-flight, but the fatigue we expected did not grab hold of us.
 
I guess, for due diligence’s sake, I should offer the disclaimer that we are not medical professionals and cannot advise anyone to take any medication without consulting his/her own physician.  Come on people, use your noggins!  This is a tongue-in-cheek article not a medical journal.  Proceed accordingly.
 
Anyhoo… 
 
Travel Tip:  Buy quality compression socks (my preference is the long, over the knee style) and wear them!  Embrace the fact that you look goofy as hell in them and ride the wave of leg and foot comfort all the way to your flight’s destination. 
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I digress.  We were finally underway at daybreak.  We bundled our sundries into our packs and said our tearful, hug-filled goodbyes.  and Honestly, the first 14 hours of our first day’s travels was a blur.  So many broken segments of sleeping and waking time you lose track, and it could be any hour outside those shielded airplane windows.  
 
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 We did attempt to sleep in larger segments of time in alignment with our arrival time zone, which seemed like a logical move to combat jet lag.  After the short hop from Spokane to Seattle we boarded Korean Air bound for Seoul, South Korea.  Korean Air was a wonderful surprise in their service and amenities.  We really lacked for nothing to eat, drink, or entertain us while in flight.  Personal monitors meant that watching a movie with your honey was played out using earplugs and simultaneous video play.  Functional, not sexy.  
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After a lovely flight flanking the sun forward in time, we landed in Seoul, South Korea.  We had no time in the city, but I was impressed with the enormity of the Hangang Bridge on the Han River.  It seemed to span almost horizon to horizon over water.  Pretty cool!  
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Anyway, back at the Seoul airport we were left to wander undirected down a long corridor toward international customs.  Much to our dismay, we learned we had to endure the whole bag opening, liquids segregating, passport studying examination we had in Spokane, Washington.  Strike ONE.  
 
As the exceedingly long, gangly line of people funneled down into a one-lane human traffic jam, tempers flared and arguments erupted.  All in all, the dirty cheaters who thought they could cut in line didn’t get any farther any faster.  We all came to a dead halt 100 people deep and with only 15-20 minutes to board our connecting flights to Thailand.  Strike TWO. 
 
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Upon successful exit from the human funnel that was international customs, we old-lady-mall-walked our buns expeditiously a long-ass way.  So far.  So fast.  Carrying full packs.  It was as close to “The Amazing Race” TV show style action as I ever expect to get. 
We rounded the corridor corner which led to our boarding gate and waved a hasty goodbye to our hometown friends.  A yard or two farther and Jeremiah grabbed my arm mid-stride and cursed aloud.  This was never a good lead in.  He realized he had left his liquids bag containing his contact lens case and solution as well as all our bug spray back at the customs area.  We froze.  Return and risk missing the plane or continue and risk not having sight in water?  We chose to board the plane and leave the fate of Jeremiah’s contacts and our bug bites in the hands of Thai drugstores (which are pretty rad, FYI). 
 
The lobby was completely empty except the two gate attendants waiting for us to board.  Apparently we were holding things up and they didn’t much care for it.  Even though we quickly boarded and took our seats, the plane ended up sitting idly on the tarmac for over 30 minutes.  We shook our heads at the irony and passed the time with a travel sudoko book.
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Once in Bangkok we easily converted our money and made our way toward the mass transit elevated train line which would take us to our hotel for the next two evenings.  Baiyoke Space Hotel.  Baiyo (pronounced: by-yo), as we learned to abbreviate it, is the tallest hotel in Thailand and the seventh tallest in the world.  You see, my husband has this “thing” for staying at least one night in an excessively tall hotel when he travels.  It helps me work on my fear of heights.  I guess we both get something out of it.
 
Fatigued and giddy we arrived at our train stop, stepped from the air-conditioned car and straight into the wall of humid heat we would battle for the next 21 days.  Tonight the warmth was welcome and exotic.  We hurried down the train platform and through the poorly lit alleyway toward the towering fluorescent beacon of our hotel.  At this point we were fueled by the last burst of energy we could muster, and the repugnance of the aroma from raw sewage running down the roads and pooling in crevices and pits throughout.
 
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After a refreshing shower we threw open our room’s wall-to-wall curtains and fell, exhausted, into arm chairs facing the twinkling cityscape below.  We raided the minibar and toasted the day’s successful travels with strawberry wine coolers.  We fell asleep gazing at the same city lights, satisfied and excited to experience the land around us.  Tomorrow we ride!  But, first, sweet slumber.

Prepare For Take-Off

How do you retell an adventure? I am glad to share the experiences Jeremiah and I had on our trip through Thailand and Cambodia this past month … but how to start? Well, let’s lay out a map of Southeast Asia and I can better visualize the travels, ok?

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After all, 20-someodd days of living life on the other side of the world is long enough to forget a little bit; and if you know me, it’s long enough to forget what happened yesterday.

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I can tell you that the bright-eyed (if not a bit groggy) people who set out on this adventure were in no way anticipating the journey that would come to pass. But isn’t that the way life goes? … Plans have a way of changing mid-flight.

We intentionally, painfully, liberatingly planned to: travel light, travel cheap, and let the experience lead us.

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In hindsight, we did alright on the ‘light’ and ‘cheap’ points, but we excelled at letting the experience lead and change us! I know we both can say implicitly that we have grown individually and as a couple by leaps and bounds. I have always mused that you really get to know your partner during projects and travel … that theory was tested during our month apart from the people and life to which we are accustomed. You cannot help but change.

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As we settle into being home, hang out with family, spend time with friends, and jump head-long into the mounds of ‘adult to-do’s’ we end up often mentally slipping back to the days and weeks we spent in a land made of red dirt and lush greens. A layer of rubbish, plastic debris, and dust was prevalent in most of the places we visited, but the beauty and magic of the land is undeniable … and the spell has been cast. If you sit long enough with either Jeremiah or me you will likely be told a story from our trip. We can’t seem to help ourselves, please do be patient with us.

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Over the next few weeks I will share some of the memories we have made and try to take you to the unforgettable sites we have seen. We hope to spark your interest in Thailand and Cambodia, and in international travel of all kinds! We will offer the feeble advice recently acquired from a ‘learned it the hard way’ perspective. And, finally, we will show you some marvelous images photographed by Jeremiah Andrews Photography (not to mention, a few snapped by little ole’ me).

trip-376I am excited to get underway in the next few days … stay tuned!