Agra and the Taj Mahal

Next stop, Agra and the Taj Mahal. A quick trip ’cause the Taj is the main attraction in Agra and that’s what we were there to see :o)! What made it interesting is that we drove from Jaipur to Agra. Don’t think that I was behind the wheel, there was a driver. What made it interesting was driving on what was deemed a “National Highway”, no joke. Well, let’s just say that according to American standards it would be considered a backwoods country road that has never gotten any maintenance, and that would be a generous classification!

Jaipur India

The next stop on the itinerary was Jaipur. This is not only the home to yet another *seriously* wealthy ruler of India, a Maharaja, but is also the center of India’s precious and semi-precious stone market…. Let’s just say that above and beyond the sights, the shopping was incredible. I totally lived up to the family motto, “We came, we saw, we shopped!”

We saw all the major sights… the city palace (where we saw the largest sterling silver “things” in the world. They are vessels to hold water from the Ganges and they are bigger than I am!). Also on the list of things to see was the Jantar Mantar Observatory. These are a bunch of instruments that track celestial bodies and the sun accurate to withing a couple of seconds, literally, and they were built 250 years ago! If you didn’t know that they were that old, when you walk into the garden containing them, you would think that you had just entered a modern sculpture garden. Truly amazing!

Then we went to the Amber Fort. It lies just north of Jaipur (while it might not be far as the crow flies, it takes about 30 minutes to get there due to India’s roads and driving techniques). Again an amazing place that shows not only India’s strength, but how absolutely wealthy these rulers were! While the fort and its surrounding structures were impressive, what I really liked here were the elephants. Before you freak out and go all “PETA” on me, these elephants are treated extremely well, this is India after all and they are revered as gods…. So these elephants are owned by individual families and this is what they do to get their required exercise. Their handlers (emplyed by the families) walk them to the fort where tourists pay (a government sanctioned fixed fee) to ride them up the hill to the Amber Fort. When they are at the top, they let the tourists off on a big platform (that has been used for this for centuries) and go down and do it again. Each elephant makes three round trips a day and the whole thing is done and over, with the elephants returning home by 11 am. So not a bad day :o)! The total income for the elephants is about 2000 rupies for these three trips which covers the copious amounts of fodder and water that they require each day. All in all a pretty cool thing. You can take a look and see some great pictures of the elephants and all their markings in my gallery (they get “drawn up” by their owners and handlers with chalk and little mirrors, etc. It’s really neat).

The shopping…. well it’s amazing. Jewlery that would cost you an arm and a leg in the states is actually affordable here. And not only is it affordable, but it’s actually economical. I bought way too much, with my mother asking me at one point, “Who is that for?” to which I replied, “I don’t know, but I might need it someday….” And just to show you how economical it was, she was in total agreement with me and started pinting to great stuff that I might be able to use someday :o)!

This posting wouldn’t be complete without a quick note about the hotel… Again, it was a former palace… A Taj Hotel called The Rambagh Palace. Yes it’s still owned by the royal family that ruled this area dna the queen mother still lives there. The fancy restaurant is located in what used to be their private dining room…. what an impressive place, I mean palace! The rooms were amazing, and the servicec even better. I would have to say that this was the best hotel on the trip, without a doubt. It was even better (room, facilities, food, service) than The Peninsula in Bangkok that has been rated as one of the best hotels in the world…. This place blows the Peninsula away!

Udaipur India

We flew to Udaipur and that was an adventure unto itself…. but the flying adventure gets even better later in the trip so I’ll expalin that one then :o)… anyway, we set off to the hotel, and what a hotel! It was the Lake Palace, a former palace of the Maharani of Udaipur. You may know it better as the home of Octopussy from the James Bond film. It sits in the middle of a man made lake and is pretty spectacular. What made it even more so was the room that they provided… Upon check-in they explain that they have done something very special… the room was the former room of the Maharani himself!

Took a boat cruise of that lake and saw a “party palace” that was used for the Maharana’s women so they could swim and dance in relative safety (but not “safe” from the Maharana himself :o)… ). Then a tour of his “city palace” that is built into the hill overlooking the lake… what a place! It’s so big that it has been turned into two hotels, a museum and a private residence. Why a private residence you wonder… well, the decendants not only still own it all, but they live there as well! These guys have some *serious* wealth!

Bangkok… catching up!

So here are my pictures of Bangkok! What an amazing city…. I spent 4 days there before heading to India. The things that I did… well, as stated before it all started off with a great airport pickup by The Peninsula Hotel driver. He was quite a nice guy named Domrong and intent on asking me if I was single. When he found out that I was, he also pushed for me to hire him to drive me around town and show me the sights. I didn’t do that (I got another guide), but he did go on about the women and what was “available” in Bangkok. He also made it a point to tell me that The Peninsula was one of the only hotels in Bangkok that didn’t charge and extra fee to have guests. But there was a notice in the little key-holder you get when you check-in that says “All unregistered guests are required to leave by 12 am”. I found that yo be very interesting :o)! But I should state emphatically that I did not partake in any “hotel guests” or anything of that sort…. I did go see Nana Plaza which is like a giant plaza/mall for a mans sexual appetite. And just like any mall throughout the world, pretty much anything is available. I just walked through though and a friend dragged me to go see a show…. It was kind of like going to a strip club back home but a bit more interesting (read “shocking”). While I can’t describe the whole thing in a public writing/forum, I can say that a woman was a great dart thrower and she didn’t use her hands… you do the math :o)!

Anyway, what else did I do in Bangkok? I got clothes made! I got a great deal on a butt load of shirts, some slacks, shorts and a couple of blazers. And the entire lot was less than half the price of a blazer that I had been looking at at home… so I think I got a bargain even though I am sure that they saw me coming and had “Tourist” written all over me :o)!

I also went and saw the sights… The Golden, Emerald, and Reclining Buddha (three different ones). All were quite impressive! I toured the royal palace, and even took a long-tail boat ride through the canals. That was a total trip. Basically it’s a 16 meter long skiff with a V8 engine attached to a long drive shaft with a propeller at the end. The whole thing is moved by the driver to steer the boat, engine and all. Think of it as a V8 on a stick! What a concept, and the things move, not to mention the rooster tail they throw up as you skim across the choppy river!

Most of the rest of my trip involved getting the clothes made (initial order/measurements and tow fittings, all done in 48 hours) and relaxing…. Then came the incident at The Peninsula! The rooms are totally computerized… quite cool. There is this console by the side of the bed that deal with it all. So I get back to my room one night and take a shower to get the humid stickiness off before bed (it was winter and it was 96 F during the day with about 88% humidity (rising in the evening to the 90’s)). I am naked and about to get in bed and I go and push the button on the console to turn off the lights and half of ’em stay on…. Now being the computer geek that I am, I try a couple of different things, test the wall buttons, etc. and nothing! So I push the “valet button” and wait… 15 minutes and nothing. Now I am sure that the system has freaked out! I call downstairs and they send the valet to my room who reboots that system and tries to get it to work to no avail. He then calls a guy from engineering who does the same things and more, even rebooting my room from a closet down the hall. They then explain that they have to replace the CPU card in the system closet and that will take a bit. I say OK as I sit in a bathrobe at 1 am in the morning reading my book with these guys trying to get my room to “work” (get the lights to turn off)! Well, after an hour of this, the valet calls the night manager and they have come to the conclusion that they will have to move me to a new room. The night manager (he introduced himself as Mr. Paul) wants to speak with me on the phone. I tell the valet no, he can come and talk to me in person (lazy bastard)! So he comes up and tells me that he is going to do something (and I am quoting) “very special for me”. So he moves me to a suite, all the while still telling me (even after moving me) that he is going to “do something very special for me”.

Come a couple days later when I am getting ready to check out, I am still waiting for that “something very special”. What can I say, a room upgrade isn’t “very special” in my world (sorry, but I’m spoiled… admitting it is the first step towards recovery, but I never said I wanted to recover)…. Anyway, I told the woman at the front desk and said since I was still waiting “for something very special” that I wouldn’t pay for the night that I was totally inconvenienced. That wasn’t going to fly with her and she didn’t have the authority to do that so she had to go check. She did and said sorry, but the upgrade was the “very special”…. Well, I kind of lost it at that point! I told the nice lady that Mr. Paul had promised something and not delivered and that the upgrade wasn’t “very special” in my world! She seemed a bit embarrassed and then went to go talk with Mr. Paul in a back room or something and came back… again not willing to comp the night, I gave her the choice, she could give me one night for free due to their room computer mishap or I would walk on the bill and they wouldn’t get anything…. Well, after that, she talked with Mr. Paul again and I got that night free! It’s not the money, it’s the principle. He said that he was going to do something and he didn’t… he didn’t even want to come to my room when the problem was going on, he wanted to talk with me on the phone. That is not what The Peninsula Experience is supposed to be about :o)! I think next time (and if you are going to Bangkok) I might stay at the Oriental…. So if anyone from The Peninsula is reading this, remember it! Service, service, service!

I am seriously behind in writing….

OK, so I am seriously behind in my writing for my travel blog, but there’s a reason… net access has been a bit flakey since Bangkok, and it wasn’t even that good there… :o(! So, what have I been up to, well here’s the list of things that I have seen and done and would like to write about, and will followup on as I continue to type….

Bangkok and my adventure at The Peninsula Hotel where my totally computerized room freaked out. I also got clothes made (what a deal) and saw the Golden Buddha, Reclining Buddha and Emerald Buddha….

On to Delhi India where I met my mom and spent two days at the Imperial Hotel before going off on a tour of Rajasthan, seeing Udiapur, Jaipur, then on to Agra, Jhansi, Orccha and Khajuraho. All of this I will write about in more detail, but some of the highlights are the old city in Delhi (Chadni Chowk), staying that the Lake Palace (where they filmed Octopussy, the Bond film), shopping in Jaipur, the Taj Mahal (amazing)…. and then the adventure started with a train ride, a drive (with a flat tire) on a national highway (more like a one lane road that is in *really* bad shape) and the Kama Sutra carvings on the temples at Khajuraho…. Oh, and let’s not forget the food, man the food… :o)! One other things that will have to be discussed at length is the airport security in India. It makes the US look like we don’t check, but then again, these guys do it so many times, but so poorly that I still don’t think it really makes that much of a difference other than to make every flight at least 30 minutes late due to loading the plane….

Ok, so as I said, I will write more about that later (most likely later today), but in the mean time, today is Republic Day in India and they are having this parade going down the main boulevard here in Delhi, attended by all the leaders, etc. It is quite a spectacle with more pomp and circumstance than you have ever seen… the soldiers marching in this high-stepping stride swinging their arms and all the military machinery. Very interesting, not only for the parade, but for what the parade has done to security in the city… armed military personnel everywhere with street closures and all of the other high security trappings

Arrival at the Peninsula Bangkok

So it took a bit of doing as my flight from Siem Reap Cambodia was delayed for a couple of hours, but I finally got here. The driver from the Peninsula Hotel was waiting for me and I said farewell to the family friends that I had been touring Cambodia with….

When the Peninsula took over, things got to a level that is near perfect. It started with the green Mercedes with the driver offering me a cool bottle of water and a towel after the flight. Then of course as I check in, it’s all done in my room and I never have to deal with with front desk. And the room is gorgeous! It’s also huge! And the entire hotel is beautiful…. So I checked in and the first thing I wanted to do was to get some clothes made. Of course the concierge was able to point me in the right direction…. Oh, and did I mention that the hotel has high speed internet access in every room? I just asked the concierge and he gave me an ethernet cable and I’m good to go!

The tailor that was recommended is top notch. They have all the best fabrics and they even have a tailor that comes to the states a couple times a year. What more could a clothes horse want :o)! Anyway, I spent way more than I wanted to, but I won’t have to buy any stuff for quite a while… I got 15 shirts, 3 pairs of shorts copied from my favorite pair, 3 pairs of slacks (again copied), and 2 sport coats. Now the question is, how am I going to fit this all in my suitcase…?

Tomorrow I am going on a tour of the city and its temples and royal palace. Should be quite interesting and beautiful… if I don’t melt first. It’s 94 degrees here and about the same humidity…. Feels like I am living in Houston all over again, and I left there and I left there and haven’t been back….

Leaving Cambodia, Next Stop Bangkok

So I am leaving Cambodia today and heading to Bangkok. What can I say about Cambodia other than it is an amazing place and I will definitely be back to bring other folks so that they can experience what I have. This is a place that is striving to not only make itself better as it moves into the modern world, but the people are actually interesting in your happiness! If you are planing and adventure, Cambodia is should be on your “short list” of places to go!

As for Bangkok, I will be there for four days and staying at the Peninsula. Yeah, I know everyone says that I should stay at the oriental, but I got such a great deal on the room that I just couldn’t pass it up. And it got better ratings in all the most recent travel magazines :o)! See, I can rationalize almost anything… :o)! And to top it all off, the GM of the hotel here in Siem Reap Cambodia (The Raffles) used to work with a gentleman who is now at the Peninsula, so he is going to contact him and let him know that I am coming…. What can I say, it’s all about networking….

Tonle Sap Lake

Went for a boat ride on the Tonle Sap lake, the largest lake in Southeast Asia. Very interesting once you can get past the smell…. You start on a small river/tributary to get to the lake and it’s not the cleanest thing in the world. Kind of reminds me of the canals in Venice… :o). As you are going by, you can see someone rinsing their toothbrush in it and then brushing their teeth/rinsing their mouth… and that is considered clean. But I guess it’s a good thing that they’re brushing their teeth.

There is a village and folks that live along the river and lake in floating houses. Very interesting…. Even the schools were floating and had enclosed play areas for basketball, etc. Pretty cool….

Even neater were the little kids that were floating in what we would consider a wash tub. they just sit in the large plastic basin and float around and paddle their way to where they need to go. One girl was floating along with her pet monkey, it was totally cute…

Later today we are going to see some silk production and then go for a balloon ride and see Angkor Wat from the air….

Banteay Srei

Went to Banteay Srei and it was amazing…. I know that I keep saying that it’s all amazing, but it is. This location especially. It isn’t very popular with the tourists and is located about 20-30 minutes away, but it is well worth it. The temples detail is still intact and all original, so if you look at the pictures that I took, you can see some beautiful carvings, etc.

What can I say, everywhere I turn I am more and more impressed with what I came here to see. This is definitely a “must see” of things to do!

Angkor Wat

I am a bit behind…. Today was such an amazing day…. It started with Angkor Wat at sunrise, but that meant getting up at 4:30 am and being out of the hotel by 8. Then we ended the day with Angkor at sunset. So to say it was a full day would be an understatement :o)!

So I also took far more pictures today than I have on other days. Because of that, I need to go through and filter a couple of ’em out so that I don’t post the ones that are out of focus, etc. But believe me, it will be worth the wait, the images are amazing! I’m gonna stop typing now and get to editing photos and uploading so that you all can see ’em. worst case, they will be up and available tomorrow.

In the Mean time, I have to get some sleep :o)!

Ok, so here it is… I have time to upload the pictures…. there are a lot of ’em so bear with me :o)! We went to Angkor Wat early in the morning so that you can catch the sunrise. It’s pretty amazing to watch. The sun comes up and changes colors as it casts its light on the temple. It is crowded for sunrise with lots of tourists, many of them making noise when it feels as if you should be quiet and experience the sunrise. So you take a bunch of pictures from just inside the main gate (after using the causeway to cross the huge moat). If you are quick about it, you can then move up the causeway (inside the compound) and get some pictures looking over the lotus pond.

Then you go inside and walk around…. There are relief carvings that go all the way around the temple with towers in the center. Climbing the to the upper levels is a real trick. The stairs are so steep that you can touch the stair in from of your face as you are climbing… its only about 2 feet away. On the way down, there is only one staircase out of twelve that has a railing and that isn’t the sturdiest. But it is a real treat. Such an amazing sight.

Then we went back for sunset at Angkor Wat. Another awesome experience. The light is phenomenal and you can take pictures over the other pond that has no lotus and get a great reflection of the temple in the water. The one thing that you need to deal with both at sunrise and sunset are the mosquitos. I got eaten alive :o)! But that is why you take malaria pills ;o)….