I had always wanted to circumnavigate the planet. The prospect of buying a ’round the world’ ticket had been in the back of my mind for decades. My wife Patricia and I had spoken about the topic frequently over the years. Seeing the world is one of our favorite pastimes. Although we had traveled to many countries from a variety of different directions , only recently were we able to complete the task in one continuous circle. When the confluence of time and finances came together we pounced on the opportunity to plan our trip to be as wild and as concise as our experiences and travel budget allowed. Both of us had been harboring secret whims as to where we wanted to go next, the debate went on for weeks. We decided that we would accomplish our journey around the world in thirty days.
Slowly, over romantic dinners and evening walks ‘the plan’ had coalesced into what was perfect for us. We wanted to visit some old favorites and add destinations that we hadn’t already seen. We didn’t want to spend our entire trip discovering new ground, sometimes that can be a time waster, sometimes it leads to fantastic discoveries, we chose a balance of the two concepts. I prefer spending a few comfortable days here and there where we can kick back and revisit a perfect moment or two from our past or just spend time going sideways from a cool vantage and doing nothing but watch the world go by. Going back to a favorite restaurant or some special neighborhood in a city far away can have a soporific effect that only reclaiming an old haunt can bring. I also know I need spontaneity in my life so some off beat travel is always ‘part of the plan’. When we do visit a new place I like to spend a few days digging in, pretending that I live there.
We think travel is about relaxing first and working at traveling second. Next, we like to be comfortable when we’re on the road. As much as I enjoyed the year long backpacking travails of my youth over every third world surface , these days I like to cut back on the days out and focus on the essential creature comforts an adjusted budget can bring to the table. In essence, a shorter holiday on the same budget but with better accommodation and travel treats.
Don’t misunderstand me, I owned the lifestyle of the die hard routard. I have slept in European parks, Thar desert caravansarai and raw jungles in my time. I crashed in railway stations and have taken a 33 day long bus ride across entire continents when I rode the ‘Magic Bus’ from Paris to Kabul in 1973. The rail trip I took across India from Bombay to Madras ( now Chennai) took several days of living on the rock hard wooden bench chained to the wall of a jam packed third class sleeper car , the memory is still one of my very favorites. The landscape and visual’s were dreamy. The bathrooms on the third day were a ‘special’ experience which I will choose not to describe here. This is a personal choice.
Our route would begin in our home port Vancouver Canada, we would fly west to Hong Kong, then on to Singapore , Beijing, Bangkok, back to China’s Shanghai airport as transit passengers to catch our flight to Helsinki ( with a ferry boat side trip to Tallinn, Estonia), London and finally New York to cross the continent to Vancouver exactly thirty days later. How can I describe a month of airports, hotels and strange food besides exhausting, exhilarating, fantastic, childish fun .
We had a blast ! Knowing our way around big cities and airlines as we do, we have learned to pack as little as possible and ‘top up’ essentials along the way. Whenever we need fresh clothing we go to the local market and purchase what’s new and trendy. However you cut it, the international markets are forerunners to anything you’re going to find in Vancouver, so why not collect the styles your local stores won’t carry for at least two to three years into the future? Seriously, pack light, shopping is crazy good in the Orient.
We note that many of travelers carry far to much ‘product’ with them. I’d like to point out that every personal and toiletry essential can be easily acquired, twenty four hours a day, in any major city in the world. My advice is, don’t pack heavy shampoo’s, conditioners, extra toothpaste etc because it all adds to weight of your bags, and that means less ease of movement as you pass through the airport. Check out this article for some overview (https://jwesthardin.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/common-misconceptions-about-traveling-to-thailand/). If you’re going to pack a hairdryer, electric shaver, curling iron, or lap top computers make sure you bring a set of adapter plugs with you to fit the international configurations. If you forget, the front desk usually has a ‘loaner’ you can use for a small deposit. I bought a set of plugs by ‘Samsonite’ years ago and they work great.
Checked baggage is a losing proposition. Pat and I are in a cab and enjoying the scenery by the time most people are still waiting at the carousel playing baggage roulette. Our travel motto stands, ‘If it doesn’t fit in the carry on, it’s not coming”. We specifically chose to live in close proximity to the airport. The housing style we chose also accommodates easy travel. With a townhome you just lock the door behind you and trundle into a taxi worry free. We’ve planned our lives around travel and wanted to make it as efficient and inexpensive as possible. Our first leg was YVR to HKG, Vancouver to Hong Kong. Pat booked an overnight flight leaving the west coast at ten o’clock so we got a good rest on the thirteen hour flight across the Pacific.
Hong Kong has always been one of our favorite cities . I have been traveling there for over thirty years and Patricia spent her early days in the Happy Valley district on ‘Hong Kong Side’. I loved the old days when Kai Tak airport in Kowloon was still operational. The jumbo jets flew past residential towers close enough to wave at the people in their apartments and a five minute cab ride got you right downtown.The shops and cafe’s are like old friends. We recognize people in the street markets and they wave back, surprised to see us again, it’s nice. The Temple Street Market area of old Tsim Tsa Tsui on the ‘Kowloon Side’ is made for wandering and eating fresh seafood under the stars until late into the evening. Every time we visit Hong Kong we take a ride across the harbor on the ancient Star Ferry. It reminds Pat of her childhood.
The subway tunnel is fast, but nothing says Hong Kong like the view from the cheap seats and rickety wooden floors of the ‘Star’. A walk down Nathan Road is like time travel to me. When I first visited as a back packer I was staying at the eclectic Chung King Mansions, famous for it’s derelict aspect and truly other worldly character of mixed industry and resident commercial ventures. Nowadays I stay at the Nathan Hotel, we’ve become friendly over the years and they treat us like returning family. Gone are the days of pigeon hole sized rooms in hotels. Hotels like the Nathan have learned that customers visit more often if they’re comfortable. They have completed a renovation and added in many perks for us, a library, self serve coffee machines and internet/business center as well as the free Wi-Fi in the room. Quick visits to the markets of Mong Kok and Wan Chai from Jordan Station on the Metro are minutes away and always pay dividends if you are out for souvenirs or cheap clothing to take home. Two days in Hong Kong and we’re off again.
We absolutely adore Singapore. Many people report that they have a difficult time acclimating to this equatorial city until they talk to us and learn about what they’re missing. Singapore is a layer cake. There is one Singapore above ground and one below. The locals and a few savvy travelers know that you can walk across the entire distance across Singapore city underground in super cooled air conditioned luxury inside the underground maze that lies unseen below the street. There is at least as much to see below ground as there is up. We love to walk along the steamy Esplanade at night and sit to perhaps listen to a free concert or other free entertainment on the harbor side venue with a meal in hand from Smugglers Cove popular food courts.
The Esplanade sea wall with it’s massive spiky surreal durian shaped roof is a place where Singaporeans congregate and enjoy the spectacular views of the famous Merlion fountain and the newly built spectacle of the Marina Bay Sands Casino, the roof of which is shaped like an ancient Arab Dhow plying the waters. Singapore, unlike Vancouver, has taken full advantage of it’s waterfront by developing it into a long stretch of commercial outlets and bistro’s that give everyone the opportunity to bring their friends or family and have good safe fun, food and entertainment. I stay at the classic and chic Mandarin Oriental where perfect service is a given. As we have been guests before , we are always given an upgrade free of charge. The world renowned Mandarin breakfast is a Singapore institution. The matire d’ Chris is a Canadian from Montreal. No trip to ‘Singers’ would be complete if we didn’t visit Serangoon Road in the cities Indian quarter for a Masala Dosa and a walk through the world famous Moustafa department store. You have to see it to believe it. Shopping along Orchard Road is world class.
It was our first trip to Beijing and of course we wanted to do everything, so we did. We headquartered in the Wangfujing district, central to everything. This is within easy walking distance to all the traditional tourist sites and shopping area’s that anyone could want. I stayed at the Wangfujing Hilton, surprisingly inexpensive for the level of luxury this hotel offers. Great rooms, very spacious and well decorated. We had free Wi-Fi internet, satellite TV, a gym, a spa and a very large swimming pool. I have to say it was very cool swimming in a glass encased pool atop a hotel overlooking the city of Beijing. Our first morning we walked past Tienanmen Square to the Forbidden City and spent the entire day there, it’s mind boggling proportions beggar description. The size of the place is larger than we had imagined. It is in pristine condition throughout. The squares were packed with Chinese tourists who had come from the far flung regions to taste the delights of the capital. Westerners fascinate Chinese, we are still quite a novelty.
Older ladies wanted to stroke Patricia’s blond hair, men would befriend me for a photo op, groups of young people would titter shyly until they built up enough courage to rush in and get a picture taken with the ‘foreigner’ . My favorite things were the people and the grandeur of it all. The people there give you the impression that they are aware that history is unfolding around them and they are proud to be part of something big.We were a little put off by the official stranglehold officialdom has on the people. This aspect of China is hard to avoid noticing. Soldiers posted everywhere have no reluctance to pulling peoples coats open or turning out their pockets looking for god only knows what.The police left us alone physically but still made us stand in the security lines for processing.
We decided to visit Bangkok because we just love Thailand and wouldn’t think of visiting the region without a stop here. Accommodation here is generally reasonable, the food is great, the furious pace of the city makes it a must see for anyone who hasn’t visited before. We have been, stayed, visited, stopped, lived in Bangkok so many times that we do absolutely nothing when we are here except find a favorite spot to sit and watch the world go by. What makes a great city better is to have friends and know your way around which we do. Go for dinner late in the evening as is the Thai custom and surround yourself with the cultural ambiance of a country and a generous, spirited and thriving people. For people who want a direct shot of Bangkok in a very short time frame I would suggest a hotel like the Sri Rambuttri on Soi Rambuttri in the Banglamphu District. This is right in the middle of the heavily touristed Khao San Road area. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, it isn’t available anymore. Pat likes Bangkok for the eyeglasses, she can buy premium glasses here for a tenth what they cost in Vancouver. The styles are way cool.Time to travel on.
End of Part one..look for Part two ‘ around the world in thirty days’ coming soon.