“Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.”
~Robert M. Pirsig
Every now and then, as we travel, Catherine and I have discussions about settling down. Recently, it was not for the reason many would think. Sometimes I just get tired of dealing with bad customer service. Just think we are always buying a service from someone. Be it a hotel, rental car, airline, restaurant, etc.
With that said sometimes you just want to cook your own meal, sleep in your own bed and drive your own car. I am sure it is temporary and maybe it was just because of some recent bad experiences. Nothing to write home to mom about but from time to time it does get under my skin.
In general, I feel I am pretty nonchalant when it comes to customer service. In other words, I can take it or leave it. I use to write a number of reviews on trip advisor but now I just make a note to myself not to ever give my money to said establishment again. Sometimes I think I should make others aware of the situation so that they don’t make the same mistake but that only makes me think about the experience longer and in turn eats away at me.
If I get an email from a business asking for my opinion, I always give it to them straight. I never ask for the manager, I just suck it up and move on. I did have a pretty bad experience at a restaurant in Seattle the other night and the waiter knew we were not enjoying the situation. He tried his best to make it up to us and even gave us dessert, my soup, and beer on the house. We took the dessert back to the hotel and I mused that it was the best 100 buck carrot cake I had ever had.
Back to the title, it is a good reminder to keep things in perspective. We are presently en-route to Seoul, South Korea. The destination is important, somewhat. It is really the experience of travel that I truly love. We have to be somewhere on our way to Bagan, Myanmar, (Burma) to run a Half Marathon there, Seoul sounded like a great place to stop and experience.
I am sure there will be some miss steps along the way but with that, it gives me more opportunities to learn and keep that old grey matter in tip-top shape. Use it or lose it is a term often used when it comes to exercise but in this case, I am talking about the brain. Some say it is the most important muscle we have.
I love trying to figure out the best places to stay. The best way to get there and the best places to eat when we get there. I do not like playing board or card games but figuring out the travel puzzle really intrigues me.
Right now, Catherine and I are on the move every 3-4 days, on the average. That is a lot of puzzle pieces to put in the proper place but that is the best part. Sometimes I hit a home run and other times there are foul balls. No big deal there is another day to plan right around the corner, so I just learn from my mistakes and move on. I am a glass half full type of guy so even with the horrible meal the other day I was still able to joke about the 100 buck carrot cake.
Sporting the corn rows from the ’70s
Only 3 hours left on this 12-hour flight from SEA to ICN. We went to Seattle first for several reasons. First, I needed my 6-month check on my, gut aneurysm repair, that was done 18 months ago. Everything looks good so now I don’t need to come back for a year. Second, it was actually cheaper to go ATL-SEA-ICN then ATL-ICN. Third, last time we were there Catherine got her hair done at a shop across the street from our hotel.
With that in mind, I was able to schedule another appointment with David at Gary Manuel. Once again he did a great job and she is one happy lady. The weather cooperated while we were there and with the Marriott Courtyard only being a block from the Sky Line station I saved about 90 bucks in transportation cost from and to the airport.
Boy it is getting long
Something out of the ordinary, we will probably do a couple of tours during our time in Seoul. A half day tour of the DMZ one day and another half day seeing everything else the second or third day. They have a no shopping option which I thought was a great idea. I usually hate the 1 plus hour wasted while everyone else fills up their suitcases with stuff no one wants back home. We usually just walk around and get our steps in.
After 3 days there we are taking an evening flight to Yangon (Rangoon), where there will be an odd 2: 30-hour time change. Speaking of which, ICN is 17 hours ahead of Seattle or 14 hours ahead of Atlanta.
We are on Delta now but Korean Airlines takes us to Yangon. I splurged for Delta One on this flight but doing the same on Korean Airlines was a bit more complicated. It is a 6:30 flight but the price for that flight was outrageous for Business Class.
The complication came when they offered upgrades with miles. I figured I would go that route but come to find out those were only eligible if you used Korean Air miles. Even though they are codeshare partners they do not allow Delta miles for this flight. I had to call and cancel since this was not included in the written material and only found out after I called to give them my Delta sky miles number.
The crazy part is that you had to pay extra for this option but they did give a full refund in a day and was able to go back in and buy economy seats for the flight. The things you learn along the way really wets my whistle. I have flown on them before and they do a good job so we shall see how this turns out.
Very short history lesson. In 1989 the largest nation of mainland Southeast Asia changed its name from Burma to Myanmar and that of its capital from Rangoon to Yangon- the name changes were made by an unelected military regime, and many continue to use the old names. Yangon is the Legislative capital and Nay Pyi Taw is the Administrative capital.
From time to time I see quotes like the one in this title on the internet and others people send me, as in the quote makes them think of Catherine and I. The following is later but unfortunately I do not remember who sent it to me. I love to give credit where credit is due so if someone reading this sent it hit me up so I can give you the much-deserved credit next time around.
“Traveling carries with it the curse of being at home everywhere and yet nowhere, for wherever one is, some part of oneself remains on another continent.”
Since we have run at least a half marathon in all seven continents and embarking on our 74th and 75th country visited that a lot remains spread out around the world.
There were a number of things that we learned during our 3 days stay in Seoul. Black taxi’s cost twice as much but no one tells you this before you arrive. We hopped into one and the meter was racking up KRW’s, South Korean Won’s as fast as it could. The traffic was horrible and the driver decided to employ the time-tested trick of going the long way.
I usually pull up the transportation page for the Marriott we are to stay out and it said the fare was going to be about 60 USD so when that equivalent came up on the meter I pulled at my map app and put in the location to find out that he had passed one of many bridges to cross the river to where we were staying.
I pointed it out and he assured me this was the quickest and then caught the next bridge over the river. No big deal since we were enjoying the sights along the way. We ended up passing two of the thousands and thousands of high-rise buildings. These two had Trump on the side of the buildings and turns out he sold his name to the construction company and they pay him for that privilege.
85 bucks later we were at the hotel and no tip for the driver. The Marriott Courtyard Seoul Namdaemum was very nice and with them having an executive lounge with all you can drink wine, beer and spirits I forgot quickly about the taxi ride to the hotel. The hotel was centrally located so getting around was a breeze.
The Namdaemun area is a very famous part of Seoul with South Great Gate), officially known as the Sungnyemunthe, one of the largest underground shopping areas, outdoor street market and YTN Seoul Tower and commonly known as the Namsan Tower or Seoul Tower nearby.
The tour of the DMZ is a must visit and the history is extensive so I won’t bore you with the details here. I will say, however, that the North Korean leadership is very determined to take over the south. The south on the other hand still believes there is a possibility of reunification. I find that doubtful as we toured the DMZ and one of the four tunnels that were dug from the North to the South.
On another occasion, troops were sent over the nearby mountainside in an effort to evade the royal palace. No telling what the North has up their sleeves for the overthrow in the future. You read about such things in history books but really getting up close and personal really causes those facts and figures to sink in.
The train station to the North
The second day half day tour took us to see City Hall, Gwanghwamun Plaza, Jogyesa (Temple) The Royal Guard Changing Ceremony, Gyeongbok Place, The National Folk Museum, and The Presidential Blue House. Both days we were picked up and dropped off at our hotel and for the money, it was well worth it. With the N Seoul Tower within walking distance, we had to make the trek up the mountain to see and experience the observation tower.
It was quite a hike up to the base and we elected for the tram back down.
That is a lot of locks
I don’t know the story about this
I noticed a bus stop within a few blocks of the hotel and for 25 dollars the bus left every 15-25 minutes for the 90-minute trip back to the airport. I was not surprised to see a taxi at the bus stop and the cabbie explained that for an extra 10 dollars he would take us right away. That seemed like a bargain to me but was not surprised to ask for more once we arrived at the airport. Most folks there could speak very good English but I pretended I did not understand that he wanted more for the highway toll.
It was very annoying to hear the beeping of the onboard system letting the driver know that he is 20 KPH over the speed limit and them constantly going 40 was a bit unnerving. Overall the stay was worth the stopover and it helped us to adjust to the time change prior to meeting up with the group in Yangon.
The Korean Air flight was okay and the immigration process was streamlined. We did have to go online prior to the trip and get Visas. My sister, Gwen was on the same flight and once again we arrived a day early to further help with the acclimation. This is when I noticed that there is a distinct difference between those that travel while still working and those that travel in retirement.
People like ourselves, go out of the way to the final destination and arrive plenty early whereas those that are just on vacation must get it all done in the time they have off from work. They usually arrive the night before after traveling the most direct route continuously. They look like hell and sometimes they arrive without their bags.
I might have bitten off more than I can chew this time around. I have not written anything since we arrived in Yangon and I presently back on a Delta flight back to SEA and that was 12 days ago. You know what they say about how to eat an elephant, one bite at a time.
The Melia hotel, that we stayed at for two nights was only an 8 USD taxi ride away and was next door to a mall and across a street from a lake where many people jog and stroll. They had a great gym and lovely pool so getting in some exercise while we were there was a breeze.
This was the first time we have done a Marathon Tours booked a trip without a Marathon Tours representative with us. This trip is with Albatros Adventures Marathons. We had done a trip with them last year to Petra Jordan but then we did have a Marathon Tours representative with us. No big deal since this is there 6th year doing this race so I am sure it will once again be great.
The trip back to the states is pretty grueling so since we really don’t have to be anywhere I am piecemealing it to see how it works out. We finished the tour on Inle Lake with a morning flight back to Yangon. Got a day room at the hotel for 8 hours and hit the gym and got a nap. Next, we had another Korean Air flight back to ICN that left at 11:30 pm and a 7; 30 am arrival where we were able to get about a 2-hour nap.
This was a first for us as we stayed at the airport transit hotel for the 10-hour layover and was able to get a few more hours of sleep and a shower. The terminal is huge so it was pretty easy to get in our 10,000 steps. Now on a 10-hour flight back to SEA with an 18-hour layover then back to ATL for 4 days.
Another puzzle piece was how to stay warm. 50’s in Seattle and Seoul and 90’s in Myanmar. It was a bit chilly on the lake but more about that later The smaller planes around Myanmar had a weight restriction so I left some of the warmer clothes at the Yangon hotel which I did wish I had with us on the lake.
There were several different types and lengths of tours available and we choose the 8-day tour, hot air balloon ride, and Inle Lake extension. We did have a small world experience along the way. During the packet pickup, I noticed a lady, however, I was not sure exactly where I had seen her before. Someone said hello Doctor to her and then it hit me.
Back in 2015, we did the China Wall half marathon and during the very rocky portion of the run through the village, Catherine fell and cut her knee really bad around mile 10. That did not stop her but she did have to get stitched up at the finish. It turns out that was the same doctor that did stitch her up.
We were to do a marathon in Copenhagen the following week and we went by her clinic there to have her remove the stitches. There were also 4 other folks at the event that we have done races within the past.
This was our fifth trip together
Our tour began with a city tour of Yangon in an air-conditioned coach. Our first stop was one of the most iconic symbols of Yangon, the Shwedagon Pagoda which is considered by many to be the ‘heart of Myanmar’. The pagoda is believed to be more than 2,500 years old and the central stupa is surrounded by dozens of intricately decorated buildings and statues. Next, we paid a visit to the Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda to see the magnificent reclining Buddha. From there we went to the floating Karaweik Royal Barge and enjoy the quiet settings around the lake. After lunch, we headed to the airport to catch our flight to Mandalay.
Next day we headed off for more exploration of Mandalay and its surroundings. Starting from the ancient royal capital of Amarapura, we went to the world’s longest wooden bridge that was built in 1782, the U Bein Bridge, which spans 1.2km.
We also paid a visit to Burma’s largest Buddhist monastery: Mahagandayon Monastery. It is home to more than 1,000 monks and monks to be. Our journey continued to the highly revered Mahamuni Pagoda where we will also see the work of local craftsmen. followed by a visit to what is known as the world’s largest ‘book’, the Kuthodaw Pagoda, which houses the entire collection of Buddhist scriptures.
Over 1000 monks lining up for their last meal of the day at 10:30 am
On the next day our group drove to the Irrawaddy River, where a boat took us on a relaxing 8-hour journey to one of southwest Asia’s finest treasures, Bagan. While underway, we witnessed life along the river and cruise past cities, monasteries and pagodas. We arrived early in the evening, just in time to witness a beautiful sight – golden rays light as the sun sets over the 42 sq. km. grassy plains of Bagan and it’s more the 3,000 historic Buddhist temples.
We explored the ancient area of Bagan. We started with a visit to Old Bagan, the center of the ancient kingdom. Here we took a closer look at the Bupaya pagoda, which offers great views to the Ayeyarwaddy River and nearby mountains. We continued to the Shwezigon Pagoda, built in the 11th century by King Anawratha. Still an active place of worship it stands today as one of the most astonishing and well-kept pagodas in all of Bagan. We finished our sightseeing with a visit to the lesser visited pagodas at Tayok Pyi Paya and the village of Minnanthu, both part of the running course.
The next day was race day and it was like nothing I had ever experienced before. The route took us around and through the numerous Temples, Pagodas and other religious structures. We ran alongside goats, ox-drawn carts and gave high fives to many of the village kids. The terrain was relatively flat but we did experience all sorts of different surfaces including rather deep sand.
The race started with a beautiful sunrise with balloons floating by outside the Hti Lo Min Lo Temple. After the race, we enjoyed some snacks on the steps of the iconic Hti Lo Min Lo Temple but no well-deserved beer.
Bob’s wife Chris did the full marathon
On the next day began with an early ride from our hotel on one of the vintage buses dedicated to the journey, and upon arrival at the location, snacks, coffee, and tea were expecting us. As we enjoyed the refreshments, we were able to witness the preparation process of the balloons being inflated. This was followed by a safety briefing and then, at dawn, it was time for taking off!
The balloons were piloted at no more than 15mph by skilled professionals with years of experience, who also enjoy narrating the speed/direction strategies of steering the balloon. This experience provided an ever-changing perspective of the archeological sites and beauty of Bagan you won’t be able to seize otherwise. After a graceful landing of the balloons, staff was waiting for us with fresh pastries, fruits, and a glass or two of sparkling wine to conclude this excursion with a celebration of our flight.
The Captain took pictures of the group while in flight that could be downloaded at no cost. I have done balloon rides before but never in a 16 pax basket. The experience was remarkable and was were worth the very early wake-up call.
Later that day we went to tour very new observation structure and nearby Temple. In the late afternoon, we met and the rest of the evening was dedicated to celebrating our achievements of yesterday. A festive dinner and awards ceremony will lead to an unforgettable evening. The evening began with another sunset boat ride to a secluded island that was transformed just for us for the highly anticipated celebration.
The next day is when the group of over 200 of us split up for the different extensions where after we checked out we flew to Heho. En route to Nyaung Shwe, we visited the Shew Yan Pyae Monastery. Then we strolled through the local morning market before sailing by long boat to Inle and check in to our hotel, Serenity Resort.
Inle Lake is famous for their special leg rowing technique, the Inle people are one of several hill tribes living in and around Myanmar’s second largest lake. The beautiful floating gardens dot this vast lake and make up for a meditative landscape to sail around. Onshore crumbling stupas at the foot of the mountains enhances the dreamlike scenery and it is almost as if you are on a different planet.
We woke up to the serene surroundings of the lake. Today we enjoyed a full-day boat tour on the lake. Its calm waters are dotted with floating vegetation and fishing canoes. We experienced the lake’s unique ‘leg rowers’ – the Inle fishermen. Using a special technique, they row standing up with one leg wrapped around a single oar, leaving their hands free to work the conical fishing net. We stopped at Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, the holiest religious site in southern Shan State.
We visited a traditional silk-weaving workshop which uses wooden handlooms and a blacksmith’s forge. We passed endless floating gardens, where Inle lake dwellers grow fruit and vegetables. We continued by boat to visit Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery, one of the oldest on the lake, where we saw exquisite Buddha statues which are more than 200 years old.
They pull this floating Budha around each year and it sometimes takes as many 200 boats.
The next day we took a long-tailed boat across the lake to Indein, at the western end of Inle, for one of the most scenic trips on the Lake. Passing through the busy village of Ywama, the largest on the Lake, with many channels and tall teak houses on stilts; enter a long, often tree-lined canal, either side of which farmers cultivate their land against the backdrop of the Shan Hills. We disembarked at the jetty and walked for 15 minutes through Indein village to reach the 14th – 18th-century pagoda ruins of Nyaung Ohak. A covered walkway popular with souvenir stallholders leads up to Shwe Inn Thein Paya, a complex of weather-beaten 17th – 18th-century zedi; some newly reconstructed.
The Serenity resort was very nice but there were two things that I did not expect or account for. The first was that two bats decided to pay a visit to our bathroom for about an hour. I have always been scared to death of bats but was very thankful that they left and did not return. The second was that the temperature really dropped overnight and even though the A/C unit had a heat option but for some reason, it did not work. They say that you sleep much better when there is a chill in the room but it does make it difficult to get out of bed in the morning.
The entire 19-day trip was very memorable but I think we will skip going to back to Asia next year. We visited the area once in 2015, and 2017 with this being our second trip here this year. By taking small bites at the elephant both going and coming proved to be more tolerable on the old body. You can read about our last trip to Bhutan back in May, here.
Albatros Adventure Marathons did a great job and I understand they will be adding another adventure Marathon next year and will announce in January of next year. They say they are all about taking running to another level. Their philosophy is to offer challenges in places of exceptional natural beauty and historical significance with varying terrain. The focus is on great experiences, pushing limits and achieving something extraordinary. No telling where that new adventure might be.
Our last sunset
We are presently on the descent back into ATL for a 4 day stay there before we head out to Charleston SC for another half marathon on Kiawah Island. As you can see we love to travel and the destination is just a reason to do so. As year four comes to an end looks like 2019 is going to be just as great with many more destinations and opportunities to travel are just around the corner.
Lisa hurt herself during the Marathon in Bagan, Myanmar when she was attacked by a herd of goats, her story. That did not stop her from continuing her streak of running at least a mile every day for the last 6 years. We bow down to her 250 marathons under her feet.