American Airlines

Today I am flying American Airlines from Seattle, WA, USA to Manchester, England, UK via Chicago.  I am spending 6 hours plus in the Chicago airport.. actually in the Admirals Club.. for such a long layover, well worth the $50 daily price.. feet up, wifi on, food and drinks available and a nice view of the control towers and blue skies.

Today American Airlines announced they were buying 460 new planes and taking options on hundreds more.  I guess they need to pretty much replace the whole fleet with more fuel efficient planes.  You can read more here at the Forbes article.

I think I know how they are scrimping and saving to buy these planes.  When I checked in today, I found it was a much longer process than normal.. WHY?  Well as soon as you have identified your flight info you are given an option to buy AAdvantage miles.. that woudl be $350 some or $550 some for me this round.. WOW. And then there is the first class upgrade offer, the excess luggage charge ( since I am flying to Europe I get one suitcase checked free but a second would have been $50.. the domestic charge is now $$25 for the first and $35 for the second) and just when I thought I was done they gave me ONE MORE OFFER.. I had been placed in boarding group 2.. if I would like to board with group 1 .. just $9 will do it.  And here I thought the boarding groups were for efficiency in loading.. gullible me !

It probably goes without saying that there was no free food on this flight.

My last trip was on Korean Air, this is such a shock after that experience.  Maybe it is the newer planes that allow an airlines to charge a very competitive price and still provide nice seats, good food, pleasant service, checked luggage, and a wide variety of movies, all included. (The bowing to the customers isn’t happening here at American either.)  So new planes may help.. but I think there must be other factors at work here as well.  What are your thoughts?

Bhutan – Top 10 to Know Before You Go

The items are as follows.. the details will be filled in SOON….

1- You Must Choose a Guide, How?

2 – Consider Hotel Upgrades

3 – Understand the Transportation Choices for Central and Eastern Bhutan

4 – It is not Shangra La

5 – See Travellers and Magicians

6 – No Smoking

7- Don’t Miss a Festival

8- Souvenirs

9- Hot Stone Baths

10-Temple Equititte

Trip Photo Album

Just wait a sec and the slideshow will appear BELOW. It will start going automatically. You can take over control with the forward and back arrows or just let it go. Click the little speech bubble on the bottom left (it should turn green when you do that) to see the comments for the pictures.

Kathmandu – Top 10 to Know Before You Go

Top Ten Things to Know Before You Go to the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal

We put our heads together right after we left and came up with this list for the benefit of future travelers:

1. Everest Beer – Best alcohol deal in Kathmandu.  Around 200 rupees
(most places.. saw it as high as 475 at the Kathmandu Hyatt) for a BIG bottle.  Locally brewed.  Tastes great.  Don’t wait.

2. Power Schedule – Electricity is rationed.  Hotels can supplement with their own generators, but don’t count on full service.  For instance, we had lights on generator power, but the plugs to recharge batteries and ipods, no.

3. Bring a Mask or a Scarf ! – The air quality is so abysmal that they are even putting more space between the airplanes.. you can’t even see !!  Fires, industry, too many people and vehicles, it’s a valley and all the bad air stays below the level of the winds..maybe other factors, but it is a cough-a-matic and we have never had to clean out our noses every night before… just horrible amounts of dirt.

4. Kin-de-Nah – That is a phonetic of “I am not buying”  Memorize this phrase.  You will want it.  Dah-Nay-Bhat is helpful as well.  It means Thank You.

5. Use Licensed Guides – Guides are actually very helpful and informative, but just make sure they are licensed.  (All licensed guides will carry their license)  And , of course, set the price up front.  Our guide recommendation will be added here shortly.

6. See the Rest of the Valley -There are seven groups of monuments and buildings in the Kathmandu Valley which have been recognized as as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They include Durbar Squares of Hanuman Dhoka (Kathmandu), Patan and Bhaktapur, the Buddhist stupas of Swayambhu and Boudhanath and the Hindu temples of Pashupati and Changu Narayan.  Yes, four of these –  Hanuman Durbar Square, Pashupati and the two Buddhist Stupas  — are in Kathmandu proper but, having visited all of them, our recommendation, in order, is below and priotitizes the out of town sites.

  1. BhaktapurThe Durbar Squares of Kathmandu and Patan are fabulous assemblages of palace and temples but Bhaktapur has not only the Durbar Square but a living breathing medieval city around it.  So if you have only time for one, get a guide and go see the whole thing.. palaces mixed with everyday life.  Amazing.  It makes the whole concept of a Durbar Square come to life.
  2. Boudhanath – This stupa is enourmous and it seems to have created around it an area of calm and peace.  Go for a (clockwise) stroll around lunch time and have a lunch at one of the many rooftop restaurants.  (See a few pics here.)   (The Hyatt is nearby if youare interested in high price beer or lunch on their terrace.) 
  3. Patan – This Durbar Squar is very beautiful and is just a short taxi rid from Kathmandu proper and the square is much less crowded than Kathmandu’s.  It also has a lovely museumin teh second floor of the palace and a lovely resturant in the garden of the palace.
  4. Changu Narayan – This can be combined with a trip to Bhaktapur or Nagrakot.  It is a bit out of the way, but it is a lovely site on a promontory above the valley floor.. a small hill town, reminiscent of Mount St. Michele or Le Baux with the historic temple at the top.  You will not find it thronged with tourists.
  5. Pashupati – If you have not been to Varanasi you will want to see this Hindu temple and crematory grounds.
  6. Swayambhunath has good views of Kathmandu (see picture at the bottom of this post.)
  7. Hunumn Durbar Square  – We enjoyed the other two much more, but certainly this one is impressive  (and very crowded.)

7. Do Whatever it Takes to See the Mountains – You may catch glimpses from Kathmandu – the smog breaking up would help.  But two options that worked for us are 1 – the Buddha Air morning flight to see Everest.  If they don’t  have a view, they don’t even go and you get your money back, as long as you have used a reputable agent to get the ticket.  It is just wonderful flying down the whole length of the mountains from Kathmandu to Everest.. and you even get to go up front to the cabin for an expanded view ( they call you up one by one.)  and 2 – Drive or hike out to Nagrakot.  The drive is about 1.5 hours. You can spend the night at one of the hotels so you can catch the early morning view ( this view does not include Everest, but it does include a nice long view of the high mountains.)   Maybe you are going elsewhere in Nepal to see the mountains, but from the Valley these are your best options.

Our last three recommendations are about shopping.  There are excellent values to be had in the Kathmandu Valley.  These are our recommendations of what to shop for where.

8. Bodhnath for Thangkas – We found some excellent paintings at reasonable prices.  Be sure to ask to see the artists.

9. Tamal for Jewlery and Hiking Gear –  The Tamal is also good for bars.  If you find jewlery you like but it is not quite right, just ask for a custom piece, it is not hard to find someone who will do it for you.

10. Patan for Wood and Metal and Rugs  The rugs are at the Tibetan Refugee Camp on the edge of town.  The wood carvings ( like the windows) and the statues are in town.

Kathmandu from Swayambuthnath (click to see the whole panorama).

A Bhutanese Love Story

We were told that this is the ruins of the house of  a beautiful young Bhutanese girl named Galem.  This story takes place is the early to mid 1800’s.  At that time the Governors of the Dzongkhag ( the district ruled from the Dzong) were “all-powerful”.  This house is near the Punakha Dzong, and that is the location of this story as well.

Galem was a sweet girl and she fell in love with a young man named Singay who worked for the Governor of Punakha. 

Unfortunately the Governor noticed the beautiful Galem and claimed her as his own future bride  She demurred, but of course, eventaually the Governor noticed that the real problem seemed to be her interest in Singay.   So Singay was sent off to Gasa – at least week’s travel away.

The Governor’s pursuit of Galem continued, but she pined only for Singay.  Singay was tring to return, but having problems.  Galem’s parents pled with her, not wanting to lose their farm or house.  Not being able to take it anymore, but not able to bear being the xth wife of the old Goernor, Galem threw herself in the river and died. 

Singay finally made it back, just in time for the cremation of Galem.  He tried to fight his way to the bier, but the crematin grounds were thronged with mourners.  He had brought back a special thin-skinned walnut from Gasa.. he threw them in the air and people scattered trying to get them.  While they were distracted he threw himself on the bier and died.  And noone has wanted to live in the house Galem came from ever since.

True love in medieval Bhutan.  A popular story and most likely has some roots in truth.   Not sure I believe that is the house, though.  I don’t think that constuction would have lasted that long without maintenance.

Here’s a YouTube Video of the love song of Singay and Galem – very sweet.

Long Day Goodbye Bangkok

Our plane does not take off until 10:30 pm and we have to check out at noon, so we took our time getting up and packing. After stowing our luggage we headed for the Jim Thompson House where we could experience some nature, some history, some shopping and even eat!
It was very interesting, the man who initiated the post WW2 Thai silk industry, built a beautiful haven inside Bangkok with old Thai houses he had brought in and then filled with art, and then went for a walk in the Cameroon Highlands in 1967 and just disappeared.

Back to our hotel to change clothes and catch our 6:30 pm ride to the airport of smiles.

We got there so early that we had to wait 30 minutes or so for the check in lines to even open. We watched as the Korean Air agents had a meeting, went to their stations and got logged on and then all came out in front and bowed to all the waiting passengers before opening right on time (3 hours before flight time). It was very nice. Seoul early tomorrow morning.

Bangkok Temples and Spa

Our first unplanned day in three weeks!!! No guide, not even much in way of maps. Of course we had “our” river view to entertain us as we rested in the am after our breakfast on the porch.

In the afternoon we headed to the neighboring pier and the cross river ferry which put us near The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The structures in this complex can hardly be described and pictures don’t seem to capture it. Gleaming, gilded, mosaic encrusted, all apply.

Again, better pictures on our other cameras, but they still won’t capture it all.
We then walked down to Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. He is 46 meters long.

We then returned to the river and took the express boat to the Orient Hotel – a splendid affair – where we had lunch/dinner riverside and did some people watching before taking a quick cross river trip to the Orient Spa and our glorious signature massage with oils infused with plant extracts.