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In November of last year I had the opportunity to go to Thailand, a destination I had wanted to visit for a long time, but hadn’t had the chance to until then.
After a long flight from Vancouver, connecting in Seoul, South Korea, I finally made it into Thailand, with my first stop being Phuket. It was a late arrival, and I only spent the one night (sleeping) there, before taking a ferry over to Ko Phi Phi for a few days.
I did get to return to Phuket after Phi Phi Island though, for a two day visit.
Phuket, an island in Southern Thailand, is one of the country’s most visited destinations. Beautiful beaches, cheap food and drinks, and great nightlife are some of the main draws to this tropical destination.
Patong Beach is the most touristy area of Phuket, and since I only had two days in the city, I chose to skip Patong, opting instead to spend my time in the beautiful Karon Beach, a mere 7km south of Patong, but a world away in atmosphere.
Karon Beach still has some of the allure that Phuket is known for: beautiful beaches, good bars, great restaurants, inexpensive Thai Massages, and very cheap shopping. What is mostly different is that Karon’s scene is a little more… let’s say, “relaxed,” aimed more towards families, couples, and… well, me!
On my first day in Phuket I walked around Karon district a little, trying to create a mental map of the area, and looking for a place to eat. I started by walking up and down the streets near my hotel, lined with recently built buildings (as Karon was severely damaged during the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami), which somehow still capture the essence and chaos of a Thai city.
I finally found a great little restaurant a few streets back from the beach, which typically means cheaper prices and less tourists. After indulging in a delicious seafood massaman curry, I walked across the street to a brightly coloured temple that caught my eye.
The temple (Wat Suwan Khiri Khet, also known simply as Karon Temple) is unlike anything else I saw in Thailand on my two weeks there. With an over the top cartoony feel to it, the temple felt more Disney than religious to me, but it was still breath-taking. Not being sure at the time if the temple was open to the public or not (I kinda jumped over a tiny fence to get there), I quickly took a quick shots of it with my iPhone, before heading out.
KARON: THE BEACH
With a full tummy and a craving for sun, I walked back down to the beach. Karon Beach is beautiful; I walked a large stretch of the deep-golden sand beach, admiring the natural scenery of the area from various view points. Despite being the beginning of the high season, the beach was quite empty, with only a few European tourists here and there.
After a long walk along the beach, I returned to the area closer to my hotel, and sat on one of the beach chairs available for hire. Soon, an attendant came to charge me a fee (forget how much it was, but it was the equivalent of less than CAD$0.75 to rent the chair), and after I was settled, I went to a small stand near my chair and got a beer. I spent the afternoon admiring the scenery from my beach throne, a Chang beer in hand, until the sun began to set.
…AND THEN THINGS WENT WRONG
After watching the sunset, I returned to my hotel, showered, and then went out for dinner. I was kind of in the mood to check out one of the bars near my hotel and make new friends, but that’s when things went wrong: I started feeling the effects of an intense body flu (cold / hot flashes, body aches, weakness). After I was done eating, I had to return to my hotel, hoping I could sleep it off so I’d be better the next day so that I could go check out the Phuket Big Buddha.
That night I continued to feel the effects of the flu get worse and worse. I slept very little, having to get up every so often to turn the air conditioner on and off as my body temperature commanded. By the time my alarm went off in the morning to get up for the tour, I accepted I was much too sick to go out and explore. In fact, I was much too sick to go anywhere most of the day. I finally was able to sleep in the morning for most of the day, until 4pm came along and I felt better.
Getting sick on vacation, my least favourite thing to do. The silver lining: I was staying at a beautiful, modern hotel, which I didn’t really mind spending the day in!
It was my second and last day in Phuket, and I refused to let sickness damper my holiday. So I got up, had a bath to sweat off whatever part of the flu was still in my system, and finally got the energy to get up from bed. I headed down to the pool area and plopped myself, trying to get a little bit of sun. After a couple of hours (in which I dozed off a little), I was feeling much better and ready to pamper myself.
FISH SPAS and MASSAGES
I headed a block over to a place I had seen before, in which they had one of those “Dr Fish SPAs” in which hundreds of little fish eat all the dead skin cells off your feet. At a cost of CAD$5, I got 15 minutes of what sometimes felt like torture, while the fish nibbled at my feet as if they were determined to swallow them whole.
When my feet were shiny and new (or so they say, I didn’t actually feel / see any difference), I headed over to a massage parlour by my hotel, and had my first of many traditional Thai Massages. As you can read on my post about the Thai Massage, this traditional form of massage is more therapy than relax, and is at some points a little painful (especially when you’re as inflexible as I am!), so I am glad my flu pains had disappeared by now.
Feeling my muscles relaxed after the massage, I had dinner (my first meal in almost 24 hours by then), and then opted to stay in again instead of heading to a bar, as I still didn’t feel 100% and was heading to Bangkok the next day for a busy 10 days of touring around Northern Thailand.
Despite the random sickness that took a big chunk of my time in Phuket, I really enjoyed my time there. I am glad I was able to enjoy the beach a little and pamper myself. I am also ever so grateful that I was in a nice hotel in which I could relax and get better, as I felt perfectly fine after that day, and was able to fully enjoy the rest of my time in Thailand!
Spring is one of my favourite parts of the year, whether I am home or away. This year, Vancouver treated us to a dry, sunny and warm Spring that was very unseasonal (it has now started raining and gotten chillier, after two weeks of blissful weather).
During my breaks at work, I sometimes like going around for a walk around downtown Vancouver’s West End, and was able to get some beautiful shots of the area with cherry blossoms in full bloom!
The 18th of May is International Museum Day, and to celebrate, here is a list of five of the top museums I’ve visited. I chose the museums below based on different merits, in order to avoid over-lapping in geographical areas or museum types.
1.Musée du Louvre – Paris, France
It really should be no surprise that the number one spot goes to the Louvre Museum, one of the world’s biggest collections of international history artifacts, housed in a beautiful historic monument.
The Louvre receives over 8 million visitors every single year, making it the most visited museum in the world. With over 35 thousands artifacts from all through history, including some of the world’s most valuable pieces of art (including Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa), the museum is impossible to cover on a single visit.
Aside from the significance of the items housed within the museum, the building of the Louvre is fantastic: from the 12th Century initial structure to the modern glass pyramid entrance built in 1989, the building is a work of art in itself.
2.Museo Nacional de Antropología – Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico’s most-visited museum, the National Museum of Anthropology, opened in 1964 within the realms of Mexico City’s famous Chapultepec Park. The museum contains one of the most impressive collections of pre-hispanic artifacts in all of Latin America, and is one of the world’s most impressive museums of anthropology.
The architecture of the museum is impressive in itself: 23 exhibition halls surround an open-air patio covered by an enormous squared concrete ‘umbrella’ supported by a single column. From the ‘umbrella,’ a circular waterfall falls multiple metres down into a large pond in the courtyard.
The exhibition halls include archeological and anthropological artifacts from over 50 different pre-Hispanic cultures around Mexico, as well as post-Hispanic textiles and artifacts. Perhaps the most famous piece of history found at the museum is the “Stone of the Sun,” known as the Aztec Calendar.
3.Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA
Popularly known as “The Met,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest museum in the USA, and one of the largest collections of art in the world.
The main building of the Met (the one I visited) is located in New York City’s Central Park. The museum contains an impressive amount of art from all over the world, separated into various halls, by geographical area.
The most dominant permanent exhibits at the Met represent Ancient Egypt, classical Rome and Greek sculptures, European art (including famous works of art by the Masters of the Renaissance), as well as a large collection of American art. There are also large permanent exhibits dedicated to Oceanic, Oriental, and Islamic art, as well as a significant amount of modern art.
The vast amount of art from so many different places in the world and different periods in time, make a visit to the Met entertaining. There is so much to see that it is virtually impossible to see everything in one go. Definitely a must visit place on any trip to New York City.
4.Musei Vaticani, Vatican City, Italy
Italy is home to many of the greatest art museums in the world, but one of the most impressive is the Vatican Museum, within the walls of the Vatican City.
My main reason for choosing this museum out of any other museum in Italy is because of the impact it had on me, due to a large concentration of incredible works of arts (both paintings and sculptures) packed within the walls of the museum. To make the experience even more overwhelming, the art pieces are housed within beautifully decorated rooms and halls that are as impressive as the art itself.
The halls of the Vatican museum allow visitors to move in one direction only (there are too many visitors to the relatively small museum, to allow otherwise), guiding them from room to room; the final part of the museum is the Sistine Chapel, with its famous wall and ceiling murals by Michelangelo.
The Sistine Chapel is much smaller than I imagined, and will be crowded in any visit; nevertheless, the mural paintings are beautiful. Even without the Sistine Chapel as a finale, the Vatican Museum is impressive, and well worth the 2-hour line up to enter.
5.Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand.
Located in the beautiful waterfront area in Wellington’s Central Business District, Te Papa Tongarewa – Museum of New Zealand, is a great museum that delves into the history of New Zealand.
The Te Papa museum covers everything from the geographical formation of New Zealand, to Maori culture, to history, to modern life. There is also a large exhibition room teaching about New Zealand’s endemic plants and animals, both those that have now become extinct, and others, like the iconic kiwi, which are still part of today’s fauna.
Surprisingly, the Te Papa museum is free of charge, although a non-compulsory donation is recommended (and very well-earned). The museum Is well worth a visit to get a good introduction into everything related to New Zealand, in a short time!
International Museum Day is here, so let’s celebrate the importance of museums to our education and understanding of other – and our own – cultures.
Which are your favourite museums?
Last September (2012), I got the opportunity to visit the beautiful Caribbean nation of Turks & Caicos for the second time, for our management conference with my job at Flight Centre.
My first visit to the islands in 2009 was a conference as well, and in similar fashion, my stay was short (three days!), full of work during the day, parties at night, and a little time in between to actually enjoy the country. To read about my visit to Turks and Caicos in 2009 and more about the way Flight Centre conferences go, check my Turks & Caicos: Flight Centre Conference 2009 post.
Conference sessions and parties apart, this conference was the most fulfilling to me personally, because for the first time I got to interact with the wonderful people of this island nation (other than those who work at the resort), through our volunteer session with the Sandals Foundation.
I figure instead of writing about how fun the parties were (and they were fun!) I’ll talk about the destination itself a little more, and the volunteer experience at one of the local schools.
Our conference was once again graciously hosted by the Beaches Resort in the town of Providenciales.
I mentioned this on my previous post, but I cannot get over how beautiful the beaches in Turks & Caicos are. They are narrow, but they stretch for miles and miles.
Despite being very busy almost every one of the three days spent there, with conferences and social events, we did get to spend a bit of time enjoying the warm weather, dipping in the clear ocean, and even lounging in the white-sand beaches, getting a semi-tan.
We took advantage of every minute of free time we had, to strip down to our bathing suits and enjoy the natural beauty of the Caribbean… usually with a beer in hand, to cope with the blasting heat.
Because the population in Providenciales is so scare, the beaches are very clean and, despite being quite narrow, the beaches are usually empty. The ocean is so clear, it almost felt like we were swimming in a pool, and the sand… well, the sand is white and beautiful!
I haven’t had the opportunity to travel too extensively in the Caribbean, but as far as I have, I can say Turks & Caicos has a lot to offer to beach lovers. Having said that, there really isn’t much outside of the beach resorts, so for anyone searching for any type of culture or an urban setting, this might not be a good destination for you, unless you are planning on a quick stop over.
I personally could have definitely used a full day of doing nothing but relaxing in Providenciales, as the natural surroundings are absolutely gorgeous.
VOLUNTEERING AT THE SCHOOL
One of my favourite parts of the Flight Centre conferences, is that I get to volunteer in a project that helps the local community move forward.
In my previous visit to Turks & Caicos in 2009, I helped rebuild a local conch farm, which had been devastated by a recent hurricane.
At my conference in Whitehouse, Jamaica in 2010, I was in a leader-less group that was meant to turn a barren field into a park for old women to come together. I came out of that experience feeling upset at the fact that 40 people were given no instructions as to what we needed to accomplish and no instruments, and wasted three hours without accomplishing absolutely anything… not to mention I had mutant-fire-ant bites all over my legs and hands, which doesn’t help make my memories of that volunteer experience any better!
This time, I can safely said my volunteer experience was magnificent. I really felt like I made a difference, despite only helping at the school for a few hours in the afternoon.
The project I was assigned to consisted of visiting a local school and talking with the kids about conservation of their forests. I was in a group of three “teachers” in a class of about 25 children aged 11 to 12 years old. After brainstorming with the children about the importance of trees, reasons for deforestation, and ways in which we could help preserve the forests, we divided them into groups and helped them create posters to put around the school, to teach other children about being mindful of their natural surroundings, and learn to recycle.
Yes, the experience was short, but we got to interact with the children and the teachers, which was awesome. This interaction, although not lengthy, taught me so much more about life in Turks & Caicos than anyone merely visiting a resort in the islands will.
The children were a joy to work with as well, and they seemed to enjoy the experience as much as we did, even wanting to stay behind after school was over to finish up their posters!
As we still had time to spend after the children went home from school, all the groups of “teachers” helped paint one of the buildings at the school, which was in dire need of a make over.
All in all, this was by far the best volunteer experience in any of the three conferences I’ve attended… In fact, it’s been one of the most memorable parts of any of the conferences I’ve attended.
And well, the three nightly parties were pretty memorable, too!
The 25th of April commemorates all the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who have lost their lives serving their respective nations.
Here are some photos I took of the ANZAC memorials in different cities I visited during my Australia / New Zealand adventure in 2011 – 2012:
ANZAC Memorial at Hyde Park in Sydney, Australia:
Shrine of Remembrance at King’s Domain, in Melbourne, Australia:
Memorial to the Fallen at ANZAC Park in Nelson, New Zealand:
After seven days aboard the Sapphire Princess cruise, my friends and I docked in Whittier, the cruise port about an hour’s drive away from Anchorage.
We had opted for a late flight leaving from Anchorage just past midnight, so that we could have the day to explore Anchorage. Being Alaska’s biggest city by far, Anchorage was full of promise to keep us entertained for the 12 or so hours we’d have there… unfortunately, we found the city to be very underwhelming, and a little boring!
True to the typical way of building American cities, most residents live in the suburbs, while downtown serves as a hub where people come in and out mostly for business. As we visited on a Sunday, the city was short of a ghost town (restaurants and department shops did have some patrons, but the streets were eerily empty!).
The city itself is also not photogenic in the least. I tried taking a few shots, but there was nothing really to photograph, so most of my shots ended up being of random things. Architecture is not unique nor beautiful; neither interesting nor paying homage to “The Last Frontier” feeling of the rest of Alaska.
We spent the afternoon walking around the city, visited a mostly empty summer market, spent a couple of hours drinking locally made beer and having lunch at Humpy’s Pub (which was kind of the highlight of our visit!), and then “shopping” in a department store. After realizing we still had the bulk of the day to go, we took a taxi to a nearby suburb to go to the cinema, to help pass the time.
After the movie we went back to downtown for dinner, and then we finally decided to just go on to the airport and wait for our flights back home.
As we took off from Anchorage just past midnight, Alaska said goodbye to us with a show of Northern Lights! I’d never seen them before so I was very happy to see the beautiful light display in the sky through the plane window, as we bid farewell to Alaska.
ALASKA WILDLIFE CONSERVATION CENTER
Surprisingly, the best part of Anchorage wasn’t in anchorage at all. We bought a transfer from the cruise port which stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a refuge for orphan / injured wildlife to be rehabilitated back into nature, which proved to be outstanding.
The Conservation Center is a non-profit organization which serves two purposes. The main purpose is to give shelter to orphan local wildlife, and heal animals that have been injured. The second purpose is to act as a sort of zoo, where visitors get the chance to see and learn about the animals of Alaska. Depending on age and health, most of the animals are released back into the wild after they have been rehabilitated. Those animals that would not survive the wild anymore are kept in the Conservation Center permanently.
We only spent an hour at the Conservation Centre, looking at the animals, but that was definitely the best part of Anchorage for me… I am a big fan of zoos though, so maybe that is why!
Maybe it was the combination of waking up at a ridiculously early hour to leave the cruise, the rainy weather, or the fact that we were in Anchorage on a weekend, but my impression of this northern city is that it has little to offer to visitors. If it was up to me I could have entertained myself at the pub drinking more Alaskan beers, but not everyone I was with is a drinker, so that was out of the window.
Altogether I could have easily skipped Anchorage on my trip to Alaska, but at the end of the day I was with great company, so it wasn’t a total loss.
One of the definite highlights of the Alaska Cruise is Glacier Bay National Park.
We woke up early this day to cruise around the Glacier Bay National Park, allowing us to see many of the area’s glaciers. Thankfully, the weather was sunny once again, which made it perfect for viewing the amazing scenery of the area.
Not much to say about this day, as pictures are much better than words:
After two rainy days in Alaska, we woke up in Skagway to be greeted by clear blue skies and a wonderful shining sun. Sunshine aside, Skagway was my favourite stop in Alaska due to its small-town feel, natural scenery, and a large number of affordable activities to fill up the half-day visit.
Originally a thriving gold-rush town from the 1870s to the early 1900s, Skagway today is beautifully preserved just as it looked back then. Western-style saloons have been revived as popular pubs, wooden store fronts are now souvenir shops, and the waterfront now has a beautiful sea-side walkway.
Skagway is great because it offers many activities for visitors. My friends and I participated on two of these activities, which were very fun (and very different) and affordable: a Skagway to Yukon bus ride, and the “Days of ’98 Show.”
Road to Yukon
There is a very popular train ride that takes passengers from Skagway, just across the Canadian border into the Yukon territory. The ride is scenic, and comes with a hefty price tag of USD$130 per person for a 1.5 hour experience. I was ready to pay the price, seeing as how it was such a beautiful day, and I really wanted to experience the scenery, but then my friends found a ugh better alternative.
A little tour shop in Skagway offered a similar ride aboard a coach instead of a train, about 2 hours for both directions, and only a fraction of the cost at USD$30 per person. The coach stops at multiple spots along the way, allowing the passengers to get off and take pictures of the beautiful scenery. Like the train, the bus barely crosses the Alaska/Yukon border and then turns back, allowing a great photo-op at the “Welcome to Alaska” and the “Welcome to Yukon” signs.
The scenery truly is magnificent, and in a clear day it was outstanding. Even in the middle of summer, with the sun shining down, the temperature was cool. Definitely worth doing if you’re visiting Skagway for the day.
If you’re interested in going on a bus tour for 1/3 the price of the train ride, contact the tour company at:
ONE STOP TOUR SHOP
P.O. Box 1357
Skagway Alaska 99840
DAYS OF ’98 SHOW – With Soapy Smith
The “Days of ’98 Show – With Soapy Smith” is a popular cabaret-style show depicting the real-life story of one of Skagway’s most notorious criminals during the Klondike Gold rush of 1897-1898: Soapy Smith.
The show follows the story since Soapy Smith, an infamous con-man from Colorado, arrives in Skagway, setting up one of the biggest band of thieves and criminals. Meanwhile, he creates legitimate businesses, including saloons and brothels, and even helps fund Skagway’s first church. After less than a year of reigning over Skagway, Soapy Smith is finally assassinated in retaliation to one of his previous crimes.
The setting of Days of ’98 is one of Soapy’s saloons/brothels, in which he and three “female entertainers” tell the story in a musical-style production. A pianist plays the only music, and the audience plays a crucial role in the show, as they are asked to participate at various points during the show (anything from being asked for a nickel, to an old man being taken by the “female entertainers” up to the second story of the stage, only to be returned to his seat after a session at the brothel).
What’s really cool about this production is that it is interactive and campy and fun, a good time full of laughs, for a low cost. The show has been running since cruises started making a stop in Skagway in 1923, and locals wanted to capitalize from the influx of tourists. After the show is over, viewers can take pictures with the cast!
After our bus trip to Yukon and an afternoon watching the one-hour Days of ’98 show, we still had plenty of time that afternoon to walk around the town and the harbour a little longer, and visit a few shops, before having to board back.
Skagway may be smaller than the other Alaskan ports we stopped at, but for me it was definitely the most rewarding!
Ran into this little guy outside a shop in downtown Juneau last Summer, during my cruise to Alaska in August 2012.
The second stop in our cruise to Alaska last August was at Alaska’s capital city: Juneau.
With a population of over 32,000, Juneau is much bigger than Ketchikan, but still feels like a small town in comparison to other cities. Buildings in Juneau’s downtown are mostly low-rise and date back to the early 1900s, giving the town that feeling of being stopped in time.
Juneau, greeted us with a downpour that lasted for most of the day. Prepared with raincoats and umbrellas, we set out to explore the town, and make the most of what we got. We skipped Juneau’s biggest attraction: a tramway that takes visitors up the mountain, as it made no sense at all to pay the hefty USD$29 fee considering there was zero visibility from above! A sunny day would be worth the price, as the views from above are said to be quite beautiful.
The stately Alaska State Capitol building is beautiful, and the downtown core is quite pretty, but other than a few shops (most of which, again, all sell the same souvenirs), Juneau didn’t have much more to offer.
Tired of the rain, we went back to the cruise and went to one of the jacuzzi tubs, in which we could be warm and enjoy the scenery (that’s one ting I’ll give Juneau: the mountains and coastline are beautiful!).
After a couple of hours, the rain stopped, and Ryan and I went back out into the city for another walk, window shopped, and it ended up being a very cool day after all!
The first stop in our Alaska cruise last August was the small city of Ketchikan, Alaska’s southernmost city. With a population of just over 8,000 residents, the city is quite small and compact, but it is quite beautiful.
Our visit to Ketchikan was grey and slightly rainy and it is not surprising: Ketchikan is notorious for being Alaska’s rainiest city, so visitors are more likely to encounter clouds than sunshine in this stop. The fog covering the tops of the mountains somehow added to the beauty of the city though, so I kind of enjoyed it. The rain was minimal, and at least it was still warm enough to not need a jacket.
Ketchikan has a beautiful waterfront setting, and is a major stop for cruises to Alaska every summer. Most of the shops in the town cater to visitors in these cruise ships, offering all sorts of souvenirs. Ketchikan is also known for its salmon, so there are a few salmon markets in the city.
A main point of attraction in Ketchikan are totem poles, including an enclosed park said to have the largest collection of them, and available at a low price – we decided not to pay the entry fee as we have more than enough free totem poles where I live in Vancouver, but I guess that’d be a nice place to visit for people who are not used to native West Coast art. Many free totem poles can also be found around the city though!
For me, the most beautiful part of the city was the dock-like Canal Street, the city’s original red light district which has now been transformed into a very pleasant shopping district. We also took a funicular rail car up the mountain, and hiked around the area, which is very pristine!
Ketchikan is small, and most cruise stops only allow about five hours visit to the city, but believe me, that is more than enough. We walked around the entire area, went up the mountain in the cable car and hiked back down, and still had plenty of time to visit various stores and galleries, and grab a tea at a local cafe before it was time to board back into the ship!