March 10 was an odd day because I arrived in Los Angeles before I left New Zealand. The International Dateline is an amazing imaginary line on the planet.
I am not much of one for numerology, but I found it unique that my flight was NZ6; it departed from gate 6, and my seat number was 6K.
The flight pushed back from the gate at 19:42 (on March 10), eight minutes early. Once we made our cruising altitude, the flight attendants began serving. The meal started with the following:
Prosciutto with radicchio salad, asparagus, grilled artichokes and blue cheese.
Roasted chicken breast with roasted cauliflower and currant couscous, green olive tapenade salsa and broccolini.
A selection of fine New Zealand cheese served with plum and tamarillo chutney and cracker selection.
After dinner, I settled in to watch a movie. I started with La La Land because of all the hype, but it did not last long. I could not get into the film. I switched to A Cat Named Bob, but I had the same result. I ended up watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a movie I have probably seen a dozen times.
Finished with the movie, I went to sleep with my other 28 roommates. It surprised me how bumpy the flight was, all through the night.
When I awoke, I asked for a cup of black coffee. It was very relaxing to drink my coffee while listening to Vivaldi. Then came breakfast:
Fresh fruit salad with a croissant.
Omelette filled with sun dried tomato and spinach mornay, roasted tomato and piccata ham.
I arrived at LAX at about noon (on March 10). That was nearly eight hours before I left New Zealand!
I checked into the Marriott Residence Inn on Century Boulevard. One thing I wanted to do was visit the In-N-Out Burger near LAX. Mr. Google was kind enough to let me know the restaurant was only about one mile from the hotel. I decided to walk.
In about 20 minutes, I was within a few hundred feet of the In-N-Out Burger. I stopped there because I was directly underneath the flight path for runway 24R at LAX. It was fascinating watching the planes overhead, seemingly so close that one could almost touch them. When I tired of that, I finished my walk to the restaurant.
In the parking lot, one must navigate through the endless stream of vehicles in the drive-through lane. Entering the In-N-Out Burger, I was instantly in a sea of people. I was soon able to discern there were three less than perfect lines leading to three cash registers. I began my wait about seven or eight people from a cash register. I used my time to review the surprisingly short and inexpensive menu. For example, for only $5.95, one could have a cheeseburger, French fries, and a drink. That was my meal of choice.
After ordering, the sea of people shifted a little to one side while everyone waited for their order. I found a small piece of real estate near the drink machines on which to stand. From that vantage point, I could see there were nearly as many employees behind the counter as people were waiting. The choreography was amazing as an endless stream of orders made their way through the galley and back to the front counter for distribution.
Soon, I heard my order number called. I picked up my order and walked out. There are several tables outside. I found an empty table on the south side that was directly adjacent to the flight path for runway 24R. I sat there enjoying my lunch, thrilled by each jet that flew by me. It reminded me of watching the planes landing at Princess Juliana International Airport in Sint Maarten (please see my St. Maarten post).
I walked back over to the flight path when I finished lunch, to watch a few more jets. That was when I saw an Emirates Airlines A380 fly overhead on final approach. For those that do not know, an Airbus A380 is a double-deck airplane, the largest passenger airplane in the world. Watching that lumbering beast approach, I found it hard to believe that nearly 1.5 million pounds (700 tons) of metal can fly. The plane appears as though it should fall out of the sky.
The second item on my to-do list for the day was to visit Venice Beach. I hailed a taxi and sat back for my $40 ride.
The taxi driver dropped me off at North Venice Beach Boulevard and Ocean Front Walk. I walked through the parking lot and across the beach. I stood there, watching the Pacific Ocean roll onto the beach.
Back on Ocean Front Walk, people were swarming and strolling along in both directions. Mostly food outlets and tourist shops populate Ocean Front Walk. I began my stroll heading north. I quickly noticed one additional type of shop, medicinal marijuana. Each medical marijuana shop had several people standing in front. As pedestrians stopped, the medical marijuana staff tried to determine what medical problems the pedestrian may have and if medical marijuana was the cure. As anyone who knows me might imagine, I kept walking.
Very shortly, I found myself standing near a garish orange building at Muscle Beach. There were a few weightlifters in the “weight pen.” I enjoyed seeing something I had heard about for so many years but never visited.
Near the “weight pen” were some benches. I sat on one of the seats and watched the other people on Ocean Front Walk. I captured photos of many of them.
A little farther along, I found Zoltar in front of some small shops. The fortune-telling Zoltar machine had a starring role in the film Big. It was a wish at Zoltar that turned a 12-year old boy into an adult, played by Tom Hanks. I do not know if this may have been “the” Zoltar, but I took a photo anyway.
There were many eclectic people on the Walk. I saw a man playing a grand piano. Hunching over the keyboard meant I never saw his face. His mopish hair also made it difficult to see his face. Not far from him, I saw a man on a tricycle decked out in full mountain-man buckskin; including a fox hat. I do not know how he stood that outfit. I thought it was entirely too hot to dress like that. He was talking with some men that appeared to want to film him for some film.
Ocean Front Walk is a pedestrian walkway. However, from time to time, a police car, a lifeguard car, or even a firetruck drove along the Walk.
By far, the oddest sight was the Venice Beach Freak Show. It is a greenish-gray building on the Walk. The signs on the building touted such things as “See the Freaks of Nature,” “Lady Twisto,” and “Giant Rat.” Sitting on the stairs to the Freak Show was a bearded lady. In front of her, on the sidewalk, was a little man. They both tried to get passersby interested in buying a ticket for the Freak Show. I opted out.
The last sight of the day was a man carrying a cross along the Walk. After seeing him, I found a taxi and rode back to the hotel.
I was at LAX early the next morning for my flight to Denver. The trip was uneventful. The plane went right by Grand Junction, my final destination. I found myself wishing I could get off right there. Regardless, it was on to Denver. As we flew, it was easy to see just how much snow was still in the Rocky Mountains.
At the Denver International Airport, I had time to kill before my final flight. I went into a restaurant overlooking the tarmac. I had some nachos and a beer, something that is very hard to find in Wellington, New Zealand (the nachos, not the beer).
After a one-hour flight, I had finally made it to Grand Junction. I had not seen Leslie since the first part of February. Even worse, I had not seen our son, Tyler, since December 2014. It was a great reunion.
I arrived at the airport in Singapore with plenty of time to spare. I cannot stand to be late. I do not like the drama that comes with being late. It was lunchtime. I opted for Sweet and Sour Chicken at Central Thai.
With my belly full, I went through passport control and then sat down to wait for my flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I was on my way to a training class. The seating area was in the concourse as opposed to at the gate. There was an unmanned security checkpoint at the gate. That meant no one could sit in the waiting area. Once the security team arrived, I went through and sat in the gate area.
While I was waiting for my Silkair flight, a woman wearing a non-descript uniform approached me to ask if I would participate in a survey. I agreed. She read the questions to me from her iPad. In total, the survey took about five minutes. At the conclusion, she gave me a box containing a very nice pen engraved with “Changi Airport,” the name of the airport in Singapore.
Onboard the plane, I found my exit row aisle seat had more legroom than I think I have ever experienced. I did find it odd that those sitting in the exit row cannot place anything under the seat in front of them. All carry-on items went into the overhead bins. The second thing I found odd was one of the flight attendants sat in the exit row aisle seat across from me. I think it is much more common to see the flight attendants sitting in jump seats. Regardless, the three-hour flight was uneventful.
The Silkair flight arrived in Chiang Mai at about 17:40 local time. I quickly went through passport control and customs. With my baggage in hand, I arranged for a taxi. The taxi boss said the cost for the trip from the airport to the Le Meridien Hotel was 200 Baht (just under US$6).
The driver did not speak English. I certainly do not know the Thai language. Luckily, the driver had a translation app on his cell phone. He spoke into the phone in Thai, pressed a button, and I heard the question or statement in English. I responded in English, speaking into his phone. He played that back in Thai. We had quite a good conversation on the way to the hotel.
About an hour after landing, I was at my hotel. Here comes the snobbish part…my room was lovely; but the room, bathroom, and entry area could have all fit within just the bedroom I had in Singapore.
The view from the room was generally to the west. The air quality was not good. Through the haze, I could make out Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep near the top of a mountain in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. Periodically, various commercial jets rose diagonally across the face of the hill; ultimately rising above the horizon.
One afternoon, a group of us decided to walk to a Buddhist temple. I thought we would walk to the temple, go to a restaurant, and then return to the hotel. Little did I know the adventures that lay ahead.
A few blocks from the hotel, we arrived at the Tha Phae Gate that allows passage through the ancient wall that surrounds the old city of Chiang Mai. The wall provided protection, and the accompanying moat added to the level of security. This gate only allows for pedestrian traffic. Other portals allow vehicle passage.
We continued west along Rachadamnoen Road. Although it was not our final destination, we stopped for a quick look at Wat Phan On. A wat is a Buddhist temple. In Chiang Mai, there are around 300 wats; literally wats everywhere.
Entering the wat compound, one immediately sees a gilded chedi. A chedi is a burial structure. Those buried in the chedis are in a seated position. The chedis become a place for meditation. The chedi at Wat Phan On is directly across from the main temple. We took a quick look at the temple and left to continue our journey.
Our 2.5 kilometer (1.5 miles) walk concluded at the wat we sought, Wat Phra Singh ( วัดพระสิงห์ ). I included the Thai spelling because it is such a beautiful and unique alphabet. The wat dates from the mid-14th Century. It is one of the most revered wats in Chiang Mai.
The beauty of the wat is stunning. One of the things that immediately caught my attention was the gilded dragon (nāga) at the entry to the main temple (viharn luang). The level of detail and ornamentation are incredible. An interesting point about this dragon and others I saw during this trip; they emanate from the mouth of another dragon.
In the main temple, the gilded Buddha was huge and imposing. I must admit I do not fully understand the Buddhist religion, so a lot of the items and décor in each wat left question marks above my head. Regardless, the beauty was such as I had never seen before.
When we left Wat Phra Singh, we began walking east. I thought we were heading to dinner. I was wrong. Along Arak 5 Road we found Wat Inthakhin Sadww Muang. The wat is very small. That did not deter the decoration. Although tiny, it was beautiful inside. At this wat as well as at many other locations in Chiang Mai, one saw portraits of Rama IX Bhumibol Adulyadej the King of Thailand. The King died on October 13, 2016. The country was still in mourning during my trip. I believe the period of mourning lasts for one year.
At Ratvithi Road and Ratchapakhinai Road, we came to 48 Garage. It was like a German beer garden plopped in the middle of Chiang Mai. My mates and I ordered a beer. While we sat there, a woman came to the table holding dozens of woven fabric bracelets. Those on display were country names; like Canada, U. S. A., and Sweden. However, she also twisted by request. One could select nearly any word or phrase, and she would weave it into a bracelet. Her work was fascinating. She completed a bracelet in about ten minutes. I did not get one. Many others did get bracelets with words and phrases that I will not bother to list here.
Besides 48 Garage, there were several other bars and street food vendors. A couple of my favorite names were New York Pizza and Tacos Bell (yes, there is an “s”). Some of the guys ate various fare from the food vendors. I opted out. I had no desire to have a run-in with a runny tummy.
We went into a bar across from New York Pizza. What drew us in was the live band. Of all things, it was a Reggae band. The group consisted of three guitar players, a keyboardist, a trumpet player, and a drummer. They played very well.
Leaving the bar, several of my mates spotted a bar touting a “Shot Gun Beer Can Competition.” Much like the bracelet incident, I opted out. The bar employee willingly prepped beer cans for anyone wishing to compete. The preparation was putting a small hole on the side of the beer can, near the bottom. The competitor places their mouth over the small hole while holding the beer can upright. Then, pulling the tab open, the beer shotguns through the small hole and into the mouth in a matter of seconds. For those keeping score at home, the U.S.A. is in the lead with 322 cans downed. Several countries; such as Cyprus, Gambia, and Armenia, are tied for the last place with one can each. This is a popular sport. The leader-board tracks a total of 64 countries.
Continuing in the general direction of our hotel, we ended up at the Tha Phae Gate again. This time, the plaza on the east side of the gate had a didgeridoo band playing. Much like the Reggae band, they played very well.
About a half-block down the road from the plaza, we found the THC Rooftop Bar. THC is one of the chemical compounds in marijuana. I was a little worried that we might encounter a marijuana haven. We did not.
Had I been by myself, I am confident I would not have gone in, but… The front door to the stairs had a low head height. Many of the flights of stairs were a long way from OSHA safety standards. Regardless, we made it to the level below the bar. There, we found something more akin to a ladder than stairs. Making this all the dicier was the nearby sign; “SHOES OFF PLEASE If you have expensive shoes, take them upstairs with you! We take no responsibility! THANK YOU.”
In addition to the sign, there was some wild graffiti on the walls. One of my mates and I stayed at that level for a few minutes. One of our other mates came back to the top of the stairs/ladder and coaxed us up. As I took off my shoes and climbed the very uncomfortable stairs/ladder, the horror of completing my walk to our hotel in my stocking feet continued to play over and over in my mind.
Having risen those last few feet, we were at the bar level. Much to my chagrin, to get to the final level, we faced one more stair/ladder. As if that were not enough, once I reached the last level, I saw dozens of small tables about 18 inches above the floor. To use the tables, one sat on pillows on the floor. As I squatted down and left my fate to gravity, the next horror show played in my mind; wondering how would I possibly get back to my feet.
When we prepared to leave, somehow, I made it back to an upright position. My mind was not on the very uncomfortable rungs, but rather on the actual location of my shoes as I descended my favorite stair/ladder. I could not have been happier if I had won the lottery; my shoes were still there!
From the THC Rooftop Bar, we began our walk again. Surprise, we stopped at yet another bar; the Baba Bobo Music and Restaurant Bar. Luckily, I recognized the street was the same one on which our hotel was located. Since it was well past my regular bedtime of 20:30, the entertainment value of our trek was waning. I decided to hit the eject button and walk the final 800 meters (one-half mile) back to the hotel.
Later in the week, I decided to walk to Wat Chiang Man. It is one of the oldest in the old city, dating from the late 13th Century. My planned walk was about four kilometers (two and one-half miles). On my way, I walked by Wat Mahawan. I walked through the wat quickly and went on to Tha Phae Gate.
That day at the gate, there were many sights; tuk-tuks waiting for fares, a divey looking bar (probably one of the best places in town), and monks walking through the plaza.
After passing through Tha Phae Gate, I walked to Wat Phan On. For those keeping track of what’s wat; Wat Phan On was the first wat I visited during this trip. It is the first wat I had ever seen. On my own, I had much more time to wander through the wat compound. It is beautiful. A few items I saw there that I had not seen in any other wat included small brass bells near a chedi, two large gongs near a chedi, and several inspirational signs. The signs are in both Thai and English. I think my favorite is “Self-winning is pretty good.”
It was a warm afternoon, so I was hot when I arrived at Wat Chiang Man. At the main temple, as was the case with all the other wats, one had to remove one’s shoes before entering. At this temple, there was a guard dog of sorts. Actually, “guard” may be a bit of a stretch. The dog lay on the marble, not paying much attention to shoes or people. Odd, but at the temple, I did not have the same feeling of dread with leaving my shoes behind as I had at the THC Rooftop Bar.
I thought the Chedi Chang Lom was fascinating. It is the oldest structure at Wat Chiang Man. That means it was built in the late 1290s. The many elephants emerging from the chedi at the base are all full-size.
The small side of the temple had two very beautiful dragons alongside the stairs. They are every bit as ornate and beautiful as the dragons at Wat Phra Singh.
I walked back to my hotel and took a nap. Shortly after waking up, a friend and his wife invited me out for dinner. We went to a food court about two blocks away from the hotel. I did not do any of the ordering, but I certainly helped with eating. The main course was a huge seafood boil served on some new paper used for printing newspapers. Rubber gloves helped one stay somewhat clean while eating the boil by hand. It reminded me of the meals I have had in Louisiana. To say it was delicious does not do it enough justice.
While I sat at the table with my friend, his wife and her friend continued bringing different fare from the various food vendors at the food court. If I had known the Thai street food was so good, I would have joined my buddies eating during the night of the “death march” and shotgun beer competition. I enjoyed every morsel of food I tried that evening; and best of all, no runny tummy!
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped for some shopping at one of the tourist bazaars. I found a wood-carved dragon that I had to have. I think it cost US$10. I bought several other gifts; such as embroidered bags, and various small, painted, ceramic elephants. My friend’s wife is Thai. That made it easy to “negotiate” with the vendors. They all spoke some English, but I am sure the back and forth in Thai helped make things easier.
For my last afternoon in Chiang Mai, I decided I would see something different; the Flower Market. I set out from the hotel on a sunny afternoon. Before going too far, I walked by Wat Upakhut. It was not “different,” but I am glad I decided to go in and explore.
In the main temple, two or three monks were wearing plastic gloves. They were mixing something in some large metal bowls. I am not sure what it was, but it must have been edible. From the ceiling hung what must have been donations. Ribbon-like holders were hanging from the ceiling. They each contained varying amounts of Thai baht. Each also had a card at the bottom with something written in Thai, possibly a prayer.
I took some interesting photographs in the compound. I think one of my favorites was that of two men working on restoring one of the dragons at the entry to the main temple. I enjoyed watching their handiwork in plaster.
I walked on to the north. As I approached the Flower Market, I found several gold shops. There was so much gold jewelry for sale; it was hard to see the individual pieces because of the bright glare.
The Flower Market was in a structure that one might liken to a department store. The flower vendors were on the Ping River side.
After all of my walking over the last few days, I was tired. I spent very little time in the Flower Market. When I emerged, I flagged down a tuk-tuk. I took my first ever ride back to the hotel. It was entertaining.
That night, I went back to the food court by myself for dinner. I arrived a little early, so I partook of a Thai foot massage. At times, it was much less than relaxing. A 30-minute foot massage was 120 baht (US$3.43). In Auckland, the only other place where I have seen Thai foot massages advertised, 30-minutes go for NZ$45 (US$32.64); ten times the price!
For dinner, I tried some of the grilled items. The pork and chicken on a stick were delicious. I had two of the pork on a stick and one of the chicken on a stick. To wash it down, I had one liter of Leo beer (a Thai beer). The total cost of my dinner came in at 220 baht (US$6.29).
On Saturday, I caught my 200 Thai baht taxi back to the airport. From there, it was back to Singapore for another rest stop before flying back to New Zealand.
Auckland, New Zealand – August 8, 2016
We landed in Auckland after an uneventful flight from Wellington. We checked into our hotel, the Stamford Plaza, shortly before lunch. The room we had faced Albert Street. Across the street was a shell of a building. No doubt, the owner is hoping that a buyer will come along to redevelop the site.
After lunch, I went to work.
When I returned to the room, we discussed where to go for dinner. We settled on Harbourside. We departed the hotel to walk about two blocks to the Ferry Building, overlooking the ferry docks.
We began at the bar, which is unique. The bar has four sides. One entire side of the bar displays nothing but tequila, including several sugar skull bottles of tequila. The bar on the side we chose had several types of alcohol, including rum. Suddenly, much to my surprise, I spied an old friend. There, on the shelf, was a bottle of El Dorado Rum. Our introduction to El Dorado happened while we lived in Georgetown, Guyana. Our drink of choice that night was wine, but I made a mental note for an after-dinner drink.
While sitting at the bar, we enjoyed a starter of Smoked Snapper Pâté. It was smooth, creamy, smoked snapper pâté, with lemon juice, smoked paprika, and served with crispy spelt bread. It was delicious.
From the bar, we moved to our table. Leslie opted for the Roasted Merino Lamb Rump. It came with potato boulangère, honey spiced beetroot fondant, baby beets, burnt onion purée, hazelnut, panko crumbed sweetbreads, and herb yogurt. I chose the Ora King Salmon Fillet, served with smoked leek vichyssoise, charred baby leek, oyster mushroom, samphire, apple, cucumber, diamond clams, and crayfish essence. I cannot put into words just how good it tasted.
The following night we decided to try the Lumsden Free House Bar. It is not as flash as Harbourside. Regardless, it has a friendly atmosphere.
One day at work, on the way from one home inspection to another, my colleague and I stopped at Mount Eden. It is a nearly 650-foot tall dormant volcano. It provides a stunning view of Auckland. At 160 feet deep, the bowl-like crater is impressive.
Saturday morning, Leslie and I took time to visit the Kelly Tarlton Aquarium. Uniquely, the entire aquarium is underground. A moving walkway transports one through several aquariums. The sidewalk is very similar to the one at the National Aquarium in Napier; however, it is four or five times longer. By far, our favorite exhibit contained a lone, fist-sized octopus. The octopus sat still and quiet in the display until we approached.
Suddenly, the octopus put on a show just for us. It was very entertaining to watch the octopus move around. Leslie decided she would like one as a pet. I moved her along so we would not get in trouble.
We took a taxi back to the hotel, grabbed our luggage, and headed to the airport.
Roughly translated, talofa lava means hello in Samoan.
I arrived in Apia at about 20:15. When I finally retrieved my bags, I went to customs. Since my bags took so long to make it onto the belt, the line was quite lengthy. I did have some drama with customs because I brought two oil filters for a generator. Regardless, I finally made it through and to my transfer vehicle.
As is typical, it took nearly an hour to drive from the airport to the hotel.While I was in town, it was very cloudy and rainy. On Thursday, much to my surprise, I discovered the reason for the lousy weather…a cyclone! Cyclone Amos was on track to Fiji, but it turned and headed toward Samoa. As soon as I discovered that, I began to worry about my flight back to New Zealand.
Luckily, as I headed to the airport, Cyclone Amos appeared to have slowed. Once at the airport, there were even some breaks in the clouds, allowing one to see some blue sky. I was pleased to lift off the ground, knowing I was heading home as opposed to being stuck in a dangerous cyclone for an unknown amount of time.
The flight to Auckland was uneventful.