Vacation Highlights...Asia!

08.21.22 10:03 AM Comment(s) By Adrienne Towsen

Let's go back in time first...spring and summer of 2020. The world changed and no-one knew what to expect. We were faced with a crisis we won't soon forget, and technically speaking, it's not completely resolved now...over two years later. It was a time of great loss for many in lots of different ways. The significant loss in my family was the end of high school senior year for my younger daughter. It meant no prom, no end of senior year fun with friends and of course, no graduation. Our district did a nice job with their version of a virtual graduation, but it was still a loss. For us graduation gifts come in the form of trips, so that was not an option either. We had made plans before the pandemic and scheduled the trip of Kayla's choosing for the summer of 2020, but of course it never happened. However, I am happy to report, we finally did get to take that trip and just returned two days ago. It was an amazing ten day adventure to Thailand and Singapore!

I must admit that when Asia was suggested as where my daughter wanted to go, I wasn't sold on it right away. It seemed like such a long way to travel for something that was very much an unknown. That being said, I give many thanks to my older daughter for introducing us to travel in Europe for her high school graduation trip in 2018. We went to France and Spain, and it was the first time traveling to Europe for all of us. It was also an unknown. I did not even have a passport at the time. So we all got passports in 2018, and it blows my mind how much we have used them since then! The trip in 2018 convinced us quickly that we wanted to travel more in Europe and we have. It has been amazing to explore other parts of the world for so many reasons. I now feel familiar with how to travel in Europe, but really did not know what to expect when heading to Southeast Asia other than VERY long plane rides!

My daughter did her research and decided we would visit Thailand and Singapore. Roughly 21 hours of flying with a layover in Qatar each way. Thankful for business class on Qatar airways and an amazing lounge in Hamad International Airport where we spent 9 hours on the way there and 2 hours on the way home!

First stop: Phuket, Thailand. What a beautiful place! We stayed at Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort, and it was incredible. This is technically monsoon season😳, so it is not the most popular time for tourists. I wasn't aware of this when rebooking the trip from 2020, but we didn't have many options on available time this summer based on other travel plans and schedules in general, so we took a chance. We saw a lot of potential rain in the forecast when we looked ahead before we left, but we tried to stay optimistic. The power of positive thinking and manifesting worked for us...perfect weather for the whole trip!☀️ The resort was not crowded at all, so that was really nice too. The people were so kind and the service was amazing. English was spoken by most people we came in contact with at the hotel as well as the two excursions we did.

Our first excursion was a trip to the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. They do amazing work. It was very eye opening and sad to hear the stories of the elephants they have rescued. They have had hard lives and often suffered abuse while working or being used in shows. When they are rescued, they are usually old with various problems including leg injuries, ear issues and partial or complete blindness. They have an individual person assigned to each elephant who stays near them all day and the elephants learn to trust that person. We learned that when they flap their ears and "wag" their tails, it's like when dogs wag their tails, and it means they are happy.☺️ It was a very impressive place, and it was obvious how well they care for these elephants who have now found their forever home.

The next day we took a guided boat tour to the Phi Phi islands. Wow! This is an area about an hour away from Phuket by boat and the sights are spectacular. Several movies have been filmed in this area. Beautiful lagoons, clear water and white sandy beaches. The tour was extremely well done and we had the best guide ever. There were about 20 people total on the boat. We had two opportunities to snorkel, a lunch stop at a resort on a remote island in the collection of islands we visited, and a final stop on beautiful Bambo island to enjoy some beach time. Highly recommend this tour! Most things are pretty inexpensive there, as evidenced by a photographer on the boat who would take photos of your family all day including underwater which were then delivered by email the next day. We literally received about 100 photos and the cost for this was $45.00!!

Next stop: Bangkok, Thailand. We flew from Phuket to Bangkok with a brief layover at Samui airport located on another island called Ko Samui. This is described as another beautiful place similar to Phuket. The airport definitely had a small island feel worthy of a few photos, which was very different than the airport in Phuket which was more traditional.

On to Bangkok!  We stayed at another wonderful place called the Athenee Hotel located downtown with great views of the city from our room and a really cool "lagoon pool" located on the 4th floor. This is a big city with some historic areas, but there is also a lot of traffic and "hustle and bustle" comparable to any big city in the US. Our first day there was a Sunday, so we were lucky to be able to visit the Weekend Market which is the largest market in the world! There are countless vendors selling all types of authentic food and merchandise. Later that day we went to the Grand Palace (of the royal family) with many exquisite buildings on the grounds. Lastly we visited Wat Pho, a temple which is home to the gold plated reclining Buddha...quite a sight to see! We ended the day with dinner in Chinatown which was a bit of a crazy place!

The next day we went on a guided tour to Ayutthaya, about an hour drive from Bangkok and home of Bang Pa In Palace which is the summer palace of the royal family. We visited numerous temples as well. We had a wonderful guide and ended up being the only family on the tour. We went to the summer palace first and explored the beautiful grounds while getting an amazing history lesson from our tour guide. Next we went to several different temples all with rich history and often there were native Thai people at the various temples actively worshiping. We had lunch at a little restaurant our guide selected with the most amazing fried rice I have ever tasted. She also stopped at a street vendor along the way and picked up ingredients to make us a Thai dessert (the name escapes me now, but it was delicious). 

Next stop: Singapore...Magnificent!! Starting with the airport, it was one amazing sight after another. This hotel had to be one of the highlights of the trip. We stayed at the very famous Marina Bay Sands. It was incredible. We were on the 41st (of 57) floors in tower 3,  and the view from our room was breathtaking. This is the most beautiful (and clean) modern city I have ever seen. The hotel and nearby Gardens at the Bay, which we visited, are featured in the movie "Crazy Rich Asians" which I had already seen but forgot that it was filmed mostly in Singapore. I then watched it on the plane on the way home (along with 3 other movies!), and it was so cool to see all the places we had just been in various scenes of the movie. Our first day we explored the hotel which is huge and attached to an amazing upscale mall. There are many high end shops as well as some restaurants and a great food court which was our first stop. We enjoyed tea and dessert at TWG Tea which is a brand established in Singapore. Then we headed to the 57th floor of the hotel where you find the rooftop festivities including an infinity pool, a couple of restaurants, a nightclub and an observation deck. The views are unbelievable and the pool stays open until 11pm, so we took advantage of that and enjoyed the amazing views at night as well.

And the nighttime views...perhaps even better!

Gardens at the Bay is a huge place near the hotel with all types of different experiences within it including amazing flowers, a waterfall and the "super trees" with a sky walk between them. A lovely but very hot afternoon. We then had an amazing sushi dinner and went to a night safari at the Singapore zoo.

Our last day was spent exploring the downtown area. It is truly beautiful. There is no litter and gorgeous buildings. There are some very cool places right along the water. The famous "MerLion" statue was another highlight.

Overall this was an incredible experience and we loved both Thailand and Singapore. Before going, I assumed it would be a once in a lifetime trip for me, but I would not hesitate to go back at some point in the future. I would return to Phuket and maybe visit Ko Samui as well. I do feel like there are many closer places with beautiful beaches, but I would still consider another trip to Thailand. I feel like there would not be a need to return to Bangkok. It was great to see all the palaces and temples, but otherwise as far as cities go, I would much rather return to Singapore. 

It was amazing to travel with my adult daughters and spend some quality time together before they move on to new exciting phases in their lives. In just over a week my older daughter will turn 22 and will be starting her first job as a television news producer soon after that. My younger daughter will turn 20 in early September while she is studying abroad for the semester in London.  Happy High School Graduation to my college junior!!☺️💗

My advice: Take the trips, go new places, explore the world, make the memories... live in the moment and take advantage of any time you can with your older will be more difficult to do as time goes on.

Adrienne Towsen

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