Monday, October 30, 2006

Cape Town

It is Cape Town, Oct 30th, 68 degrees and riotous springtime.

Alot of writers have talked about the South African Spring being the world's most beautiful and they may be right on.....the roses are outdoing themslves and I have about 10 huge fulsome bushes in my "front yard" in that this glorious Mt Nelson Hotel has given me the Honeysuckle Cottage and I feel like a kept man... In ALL THE WORLD (and this is my 5th time here) I have yet to find a hotel I like better. People come here and rave about Ellerman House and the Cape Grace....well they are merely Pleasant Valley compared to "the club"....the Mt Nelson is on about 30 prime acres right at the bottom of Table Mountain and its tramway. A good 20 of those acres are in superb gardens with not only the English sights of spring, but also the many curious bits of S African flora.

I spent some of today at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront (where the highly lauded Cape Grace is located). The Mandela memorial at the ferry terminal for Robben Island is spectacularly good. I think he is my favorite person of the last half of the last century and Ataturk my favorite of the first half, (though this is hardly original).

I am off now to the bar for a glass of Cape Pinotage, one of the best wines in christendom....(I guess there are not TOO many from muslimdom). All is well. I fly to London enroute Istanbul Friday... and haven't a clue as to what Aysegul and Eyup have in store though their emails read like the Cheshire Cat's.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Johannesburg Transit

Johannesburg Airport VIP lounge...

Man, from international arrival to this place in the domestic section, I feel like I have walked to Cape Town!.

Qantas is a curious airline. The check in is BRILLIANT. Since I am riding up front, an agent dedicates himself to me from pavement arrival through check in through customs to the first class lounge...fabulous. The flight though is rather curious: MOST of their international flights are tremendously long distance and I think they have it down pat: while the champagne is vintage Dom Perignon, the food (two meals on the 14-odd hour flight in from Sydney) is not what anyone would call luxe and I think the reason is not that it would be much more expensive to have foie gras and caviar and so on, but it would bloat a person beyond reason! The first meal: my choice of a free range chicken breast with wild mushrooms...second meal: my choice of a duck confit...both delicious but not over the top. I am going to be curious to compare my two upcoming BA flights. Cape Town to London and London to Toronto.

I am remarkably awake considering. And every free computer I see simply beckons me to write something.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Canberra with Friends

Sydney, October 26th, 70 degrees mostly clear...lots of flies....I didn't remember these nasty tiny buggers....oddly they remind me of Hay River, Northwest Territories...ouch.

I had a long, wonderful thorough visit to Canberra (CAN-bra) yesterday....flew on the hourly QANTAS propjet and Andrew Schuller awaits me at their little airport.....A lot of you KNOW Andrew and he looks slightly older, has a goatee, his hair has turned from that auburn to sort of gray...but on the whole Andrew is studly looking and fit.......he drove me to the highest point in the Australian Capital Territory and almost on cue we almost ran down a huge red kangaroo. Nice welcome.

Canberra sits in a landscape which is dramatically "Marin County" without the redwoods....golden fields, lots of trees but in copses rather than forests...a planned city, a sop to both Melbourne and Sydney and vaguely in between as you all know....done by an American city planner who obviously had studied is a handsome rather than a beautiful city...most post WW2.....some imposing embassies (Andrew is involved at both the British and Austrian ones. His Grandfather was a foreign minister under the dreaded Dollfuss......). We toured more and then picked up son NICK at his private and quite imposing looking school...they thought about sending Nick to the snobby, very establishment Geelong near Melbourne where all of my Melbourne friends (as well as Prince Phillip for a year) studied....but wanted him at home....then to Andrew's house, a nice slightly rambling "50's suburban" place with a gorgeous view across the artificial lake to parliament and the golden hills beyond. I liked son Nick greatly...bright red hair like a young Andrew. He's a tad taciturn but really a charmer, all boy, all Cricketeer, learning Chinese and in the 9th grade...they grade system the same as ours....He might want to spend his high school Junior Year in the USA and we talked about Exeter, Concord and Hotchkiss.

After taking Nick back to his school (Canberra Grammar) met Jenny at the National Museum, a terrifically imposing heap with a sterling collection of Australian art (what I know about Australian artists could be put in a thimble). Jenny is I believe the head of the economics dept now at the Australian Natl University. She is VERY easy, a charmer...was born and lived as a young girl in Vancouver but came to Australia with her parents (both academics and retired). She is quite proud of her Australian citizenship. Nick has both, British and Australian....a wonderful, warm lovely day with people I care for so much.
I probed and probed with both Andrew and Jenny about the thing which puzzles me about Australia: Are they feeling PART of the world of thought/politics/culture and so on...the answer is a resounding TV channel carried the Lehrer News report daily, they have the BBC. In Canberra the whole world comes though at one time or another reminding me of what Elia Kazan told me at dinner at my house lo those many years ago: "Fred, everyone in the world will come to Little Rock at least once. Don't feel isolated". Australia is finally coming through for me a bit. It IS possible to be a part of things so far away from those things. It is NOT a vacuum at all. NOW I have to separate my thoughts about the travel wisdom of coming here: there is ENOUGH that IS different to justify the time AND money I feel... and finally I am going to be able to plan an insightful trip for people who want to come here: some takes:
YES concentrate mostly on urban places and what lies just outside them The Outback-Ayers-Rock-Darwin etc. are probably great for Europeans who have never seen such vast spaces. But they are old hat for us. I figure it costs about $1000 extra in airfare to go to Ayers Rock. It is the largest monolithic rock in the world. But I think, "There it is. Wow... What next?".

The cities are rather different one from another......Adelaide is a fine starter with that glorious wine country and hilly hinterland....Melbourne is the BEST visit of the cities, urbane, fun, delightfully user friendly with their rumbling trams and traditions. Tasmania is the one place where scenery really can bowl one over. The Gt Barrier Reef I know is very special but just because it is the longest reef in the world doesn't mean the eye can see beyond the horizon and there are many places on our earth with equal underwater fun. Sydney is very tactile, a city which is fun to touch, (though the modern architecture is curiously better in Melbourne). The people are the joy to be around: Surely no English speaking people are quite as upbeat and lilting, with a delightful regard for our language and superb turns of phrases.
OK you all will be happy that I am leaving Australia and next I will bore you with some thoughts from Cape Town.

...and life is fair dinkem!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Sydney Oct 24th, 70 degrees, overcast...

The Observatory Hotel is outstanding even though the front rooms look on to row houses and the back rooms on a semi industrial harbor. It is just above the "historic" and kicky area called THE is small, Orient Express. I am not sure what Ellison did to gild my lilly but when I arrived I had an instant welcome from the manager, the GENERAL manager and since then every soul in the hotel is calling me by name.

My large room is elegant...truly elegant which happens so rarely today....lovely touches:
hot cocoa to make with milk and a heater like the one in my flat......two lavatories, 4 different soaps, a heavenly bed, the usual VCR and CD player, HDTV, wonderful bar with one dish bar foods. Last night I had a world class Nasi Goreng which means I am not compelled to go into their grand looking restaurant and don't have to dress the part. Terrific concierge.
Sydney has changed beyond ALMOST all is smoother, more urbane, definitely more built up......I did two tours today to reorient myself....the lush suburbs on the inner harbor going away from downtown. Bondi (the water is too chilly but lots of surfers in wetsuits).....the tours are those round robin-step on step off for the guts of the city (1 1/2 hours) and the other to the Gap (2 1/2 hours) with intelligent narratives. I fly to Canberra tomorrow to spend the day with Andrew and Jennie Schuller, (old friends from Oxford), and am delighted because Andrew is going to do the full tour of the planned city done by an American early in the last century... a sop to both Stydney and Melbourne who each wanted to be the national capital.
As visual and rather sensual as Sydney is, I think I vastly prefer Melbourne and I am trying to sort out my thoughts...why? Despite seeing a couple of terrific Australian films I still feel as though I am dropping off the planet down here....and despite fabulously improved levels of cooking everything else seems just a little provincial as though the poshy shops here are full of the spring merchandise which didn't sell in the northern hemisphere during OUR spring...but perhaps I am being cynical.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


It is Oct 21, it is Tasmania, chilly about 55 degrees, a brilliant ultramarine sky with big billowy clouds.......

WOW, I love this place. It is roughly the same size at St John's (which it resembles here and there though of course it is not nearly as old)....with a lovely natural to rival the great ones which come to my mind: NY, Vancouver, San Francisco, Sydney, Rio, Cape Town, Hong Kong.. Istanbul...the place just FEELS fresh...lots of early 19th century buildings (which is the stone age here) about...

The best hotel yet in Australia is the massively inventive Henry Jones Art Hotel (expensive as it is...about US$200) a reworking of a 19th century large jam factory.... a hotel which incorporates sails and the original tin roofs...I napped a bit after arrival and there was a rain which sounded so sopoforic on my naked tin ceiling....on the flight in one is given an apple, the symbol of this island....neat idea! Qantas also did a full breakfast in 55 minutes in from

I have walked about in the town...often, deliciously fresh with a slight smell of fish (the smell I sometimes find in St John's)...ANY friend of Newfoundland MUST come to Tasmania I know alread...a smaller island albeit but with roughly the same population...a newer colony but old for Australia (settled in 1805...that's awfully early on down here)....tall hills surround the harbor...rising abruptly to about 2500 ft (roughly Mt Magazine, AR rising from the sea)...there must be 2000 yachts in the harbor and all manner of benches to squat upon and admire...the gulls here even look clean with bright RED beaks.

I troop off tomorrow to see the city and environs, then to Port Arthur the notorious convict settlement (where a few years ago a Columbine-type ghoul slaughtered 25-odd innocents while they ate their picnics).....The big monument in town lists very exactly the first 200-odd convicts brought here and no doubt their names are trotted out with pride by Hobart families with long memories.....I am reminded of those elderly people who take great pride in their ancestors (Aunt Jane coming to mind in a flash) and wonder how they would deal with convicts forebearers (rather than Episcopal clergymen)....I will try and restrain my enthusiasm until I know more about what I am writing.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Leaving Melbourne

Melbourne, Qantas VIP lounge Tullamarine Airport 745 AM Oct 21st 58 degrees and rain

It turns out that my friend Jenny is the granddaughter not only of the AGE owners, the SYME family, but also of Rider Haggard the great English writer of the turn of last century who wrote KING SOLOMON'S MINES and was one of the first people inside the tomb of King Tut. I am in good company.

I have checked in for the early morning flight to Tasmania...and have never been able to make that statement in all of the 72 years before today!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Melbourne II

I think I will wait until tomorrow to write the long "what I have done in Melbourne" blog....It has been a good stay and I like the city enormously.

There is much less "attitude" than there is in Sydney...It is the kind of city our Aunt Jane would have loved because people are talking about whose grandmother married whom....I had a terrific dinner last night with my pals Dacre (it is pronounced like "acre" with a "d") and Jenny Smyth...decidedly not Smith!...Dacre is the retired commodore of the Australian navy, Jenny the granddaughter of the Symes family which founded the AGE in 1856...she is also the daughter of Rudger (sic?) Haggard's brother...he being a prolific and wildly popular pommie writer of early in the last century....we went to a French place...a charming restaurant with terrific oysters and escargots from the vinyeards and duck and the inevitable molten chocolate dessert which seems to have swept the world sort of like those "Kilroy was here" signs of my childhood (something no doubt about which you have never heard).

Just now I am all dressed up in a coat and tie waiting for the Smyth's chauffeur to pick me up for a dinner party for 8 they are giving for should be interesting!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Melbourne Tuesday Oct 17th.....clear skies (they need rain massively!) and about 72 degrees....lovely!

I liked Melbourne more and more and it is the most user friendly big city in my experience. Examples: a central farmers' market where luxury crops (asparagus/leeks/chives even "designer" olives) are raised ON THE SPOT for sale. Fabulous old fashioned trams which, gratis, rumble about the the 20-odd block edge of the central business district. Passing about 2/3rds of the must see sights of the city with a canned, intelligent simply gets on and off....(the city is largely in a fairly regular grid and is densely served by sleek trams...the most social of all means of urban transoprt?...though there is also a subway and train service frequently to the near suburbs)......the AGE, the morning paper which Jenny Smyth's (her family name was Fairfax) started in 1856 is one of the world's truly great papers....infinitely better than the AUSTRALIAN from Sydney. It would hold its own with the TIMES, LE MONDE. the WIENER STANDARD etc....

Central Melbourne sits along the Yarra about 3-4 miles inland from a splendid bay of the Pacific Ocean...there are lovely beaches in the near-southern-suburbs.....more parkland than any city I can think of save perhaps Vancouver....restaurants which glom together on certain streets here and there offering wonderful walks to smell, look at the posted menus and choose.....and this is Australia's most ethnically diverse place.....last night, for example, I could have in a 4 block stretch Korean, new Aussie (they call it "Oz"), Turkish, Italian, Greek, French, Vietnamese, three kinds of Chinese, Malayan, Argentine (!) and McDonalds to choose from. I opted to dine at the grand old Windsor where I am staying: local oysters served with a little jelly bean sized pellet of frozen lime/vodka......on to a rolled chicken breast around ecrevisse......lemon crepes.....a local Riesling (within 20 miles of the city are major vineyards)....about US$75 served with lovely panache....

One should travel to sniff out differences rather than similarities I figure.....Some differences here: I like the spoken word in urban Australia...(and most of Australia IS urban): it is generally richer than our argot and there are certainly more beguiling twists of phrase....ABC the Australian BBC is slightly lighter than our PBS and doesn't have those annoying long commercials by sponsors who support programs....people seem much fitter but everyone says morbid obesity is on the rise....on Sunday it was as though the whole city was working out doing SOMETHING.....there is infinitely more ethnicity than I remember before....Melbourne feels as "ethnic" as New York....just the mix is different: almost no black (the Aborigines seem to prefer to live together in the north and west)...tons of Southeast Asians, Italians, Greeks, Irish, Turks and Yugoslavs.....a large and rather powerful Jewish community (owning Myer, the largest dept store in the world today I am told among other high profile businesses).

I haven't been here long enough to sense the urban prejudices though they surely exist......the new architecture is extremely exciting....a new 92 story apartment tower, the tallest in the world, has just started receiving its tennants. Those on the higher floors admit a bit of seasickness when the wind is up: it looks like a knife blade though one which curls slightly as it Gehry a bit but my take on him is that he doesn't deal much in the vertical...

I wandered in the Botanic Garden...artful, lovely spacious place with the damnest combination of tropical (many healthy palms), semi tropical (oleander and gardenias and azaleas...remember it is spring here) and temperate (fabulous roses, different pine trees)....all coexisting as the peoples of this city seem to. There is a "fringe" festival music, experimental theatre and the like. I will try to snare some tickets to something. It is difficult to rein in my enthusiasm for this quite thrilling world city. I like it FAR best of any of the Australian places I have seen.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hahnsdorf, South Australia

Hahnsdorf, South Australia Oct 11th

Yesterday at 95 was the hottest Oct 10 in the history of the region. Wow! Did I bring it from home? Trip continues well. This is a little German settled village in the midst of the glorious wine region.

NOW for me, a subject very dear to my heart....Adelaide is a user friendly, nicely situated city with the ocean to the south and west and with lovely green hills to the N and E.... I am in those hills at a little village settled by German refugees from Silesia...that province which, after the Germans wrested it from the Austrians kicked all manner of religious dissidents out. The village is in a bower of greenery...a bit kitsched up for tourists now but not as bad as Lancaster is VERY near the choicest vineyards and this has been my GREAT revalation:
the utter sumptuousness of the mostly boutique vinyeard wines of S Australia....I wrote about how cooking has had a renaissance, a change which that word does not exaggerate!

Yesterday I got up at 5:45 AM and caught the bus down the pretty Fleurieu (I hope I am spelling is right) Peninsula enroute to the ferry to Kangaroo Island.... villages with little stone cottages from the 1840s and 50s....pleasing countryside, not remotely dramatic...nothing around here is and my analogy to the Texas Hill Country is a bit apt though today in the Adelaide Hills the countryside IS prettier than that, almost up to Mt Magazine but not quite... Brad Horn told me that Kangaroo Island is an absolute must to understand Australia in that it is its own miniature ecosystem having almost all (no Tasmanian Devils) of the Australia fauna...I found it disappointing...some of the coast is dramatic in a sort of Gaspe way (but not quite) the the weather is so unseasonably hot that the animals are in hiding...did spot some Koala...some kangaroos....glad I flew back on Regional Air's 20 minute flight to Adelaide.

The island is one of those places which probably reveal itself slowly and then becomes utterly beguiling: I may be giving it a bad rap.....but today I went to a terrific wildlife sanctuary in the Adelaide Hills and saw everything much more up is NOT a zoo....and is very well is lunch time...everyone on my tour is chowing down on German victuals and I am typing away. My hay fever is making me flow like the Hochstrallbrunnen in Wien and I don't even HAVE hay fever usually...the tours are intelligent, mobbed mostly with local tourists, Kiwis and Japanese....As you can see I am doing nicely, feeling pretty good except for my whitewater Melbourne tomorrow...the Hilton has been great to me: free happy hour, a cooked lovely breakfast and a major upgrade.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Fred Poe's Arrival in Sydney

Sydney monday morning Oct 9

I have arrived Sydney on very peaceful flights. Does First Class ever make sense. Uneventul flight LIT-DFW...but high drama from DFW to LAX...a passenger in coach (I never saw him) had some kind of violent health attack and we were forced to land in lovely El Paso...the medics came running and we sat for a long time...the patient was taken off through a cargo door and the word is that he died...pretty macabre eh?

The Westin at LAX was nicely salubrious (good beds if you like soft and cushy)....then Qantas on Saturday which is Sunday here of course: one checks in in a rather soignee first class area (there are only 14 seats), the agent then walks with bags to the bag drop and one then is shown to the First class security clearance hidden up an a lovely lounge.....I am feeling like I have my money's worth.

Upon boarding, I find my super super artfully turns into a full sized bed for heavens sake....full sized....and pajamas are distributed.....the meal service (the flight left at 1:00 PM) is not that truly gala....rather old shoe I thought...but entirely appropriate and the staff on board (3 for the 14 of us...plane full in all three classes) terrific...little hot canapes, a delicious leek and artichoke soup, a crusted filet mignon, an outstanding cheese course of Australian cheeses...very pretty Viennese-type desserts....and a serious wine list of ONLY Australian wines save for the Bollinger vintage champagne...terrific romps all over Australia with the wines....then a long SLEEP....they have like 90 movies to choose from...I don't like movies on airplanes...but did watch Sophie Scholl about the White Rose victims of the Nazis in Munich...then a supper prior to landing here.

It all didn't seem like 141/2 hours or a full bed sure helps alot!....Kingford Smith Airport hasn't changed since Tony and I were here 20 years ago: 300+ people get off the plane and the terminal feels sort of like it should be in Des Moines...slow slow slow but everyone hearty and is sprinkling, about 50 and San Francisco-feeling, terrific.

Mercure Airport hotel could also be in Des Moines except everyone on the TV channels sound like they have marbles in their mouths. I am feeling terrific....If I had flown coach I think I would be the next evacuated corpse from an airline.

Last Day in Bangkok!

We spent the morning doing some last-minute shopping. Took the gleaming new sky train to the upscale Siam Square district, where most expats choose to live, and where the GIGANTIC shopping centers are. We checked out the staggering Siam Paragon, which features lots of international luxury boutiques, an exotic car dealer and a top-end department store.

I wouldn't bother mentioning it except to say that on one of the upper floors there is an arcade of Thai products, ranging from textiles to furniture, fixtures, housewares, gifts and more. ALL of this stuff is of premium production value - incredible craftsmanship abounds! We could have spent the whole day there! I'm particularly impressed with what I would describe as a new Thai organic aesthetic, blending traditional styles with edgy contemporary design. It is innately appealing. I could happily live surrounded by much of what we saw.

We headed back to pick up our new clothes at the tailor and pack before going on for our evening flight. A few words to the wise about this monstrous airport: You might want to stock up on any sundries (no liquids as of today) for your flight. Inside the terminal there are only premium brand designer stores, duty free and, odly myriad cofee/juice/ice-cream stations. NO newsstands at all! Luckily I had stocked up on newspapers before leaving our hotel. I'm just a news junkie and get nervous if I don't have my reading material lined up for long flights. Also note that there are no services beyond security the security checkpoints. Only gates. So spend your remaining baht BEFORE you go through security!

Upon leaving Bangkok, I reflect on the old Bangkok vs. the new. I used to refer to it as a human cesspool - a labyrinthine jumble of humanity and chaos. Today, the city is absolutely transformed! There is of course much of the "character" of the old days, but now it is a fascinating, dynamic metropolis, thrusting itself headlong into the 21st century. In spite of the notorious traffic, it is utterly managable and non-intimidating. What particularly struck me was the quality of air. It is noticably better these days - even on a Monday - thanks in part to government incentives to fuel tuk-tuks and trucks with propane combined with fantastic new public transportation - which actually seems to be easing the traffic! I wax rhapsodic.

I look forward to returning sooner than later and really getting to know this place. Watch. Bangkok will really emerge as a destination in the next few years!

Grueling flight to Los Angeles, arriving one hour after our departure of course. Crashed at the Ritz-Carlton Marina Del Rey - as Ellison calls it "The best airport hotel at LAX". Our first meal back in the states? Pepperoni Pizza and a Cheeseburger of course!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Bangkok Day 2

We were up relatively early for morning sightseeing to the usual spots. The Royal Palace, Wat Pho, the Golden Buddha and the weekend market. The weekend market is a riot. 30,000 stalls selling everything under the sun. The Royal Palace is impressive as much for it's painstaking construction (200 years ago) as it is for the merciless maintenance requirements. But the"Emerald Buddha" housed here has been fought over and moved around the region for centuries. It's only been here a short while! And let's be honest. The stupas and decorative adornments around the complex are just a little tacky, okay? Sorry King Bhumibol. It's true.

Still, the city beckons! After a light lunch we said goodbye to our excellent guide, Tukkie. The rest of the day we meandered, stopped by the tailor for another fitting and relaxed at the hotel.
We repeated the Bamboo Bar - Sky Bar combination before heading over to the Four Seasons to meet Dennis one last time. After a liquid dinner and some snacks we said "see ya later" to him and made our way to the infamous Patpong Road - or, as Laine so affectionately calls it, "Ping Pong Road"! That just slays me. Good thing we were lubed up too, because it would have been ghastly otherwise. We were in just the right humor to haggle with the street vendors selling all the crappy knock-offs! Thankfully, being with Laine mostly kept the pimps-cum-vultures away. We capped the night with a riotously over-priced tuk-tuk ride home. These guys know how to work it and it doesn't help a bit when you tell them the destination is the Oriental Hotel!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

On to Bankok

We were up early for checkout and transfer to Bangkok. Luckily, Saturday morning affords light traffic coming into the city. I can't believe how much the city has changed. It is actually clean now. Infrastructure is absolutely first rate. We got to town in time for lunch before heading to the tailors! Regarded by many to be one of the best in the world, World Group has been around the corner from the Oriental Hotel for 38 years. They just moved into a gorgeous new space literally next door to the hotel. We both had suits made and I got a few extra shirts copied from one of my favorites. Perfect!

Checkin at the Oriental was like coming home again. I hadn't stayed here in well over 15 years. Updates have been made to keep the rooms fresh, but the lobby is exactly the same - as it should be in my opinion. Luckily we got to stay in the garden wing, (I still call it the Old Wing), with it's famous split-level rooms overlooking the pool and river... and now the towering Peninsula on the other side! I showed Laine around before we freshened up for drinks and dinner with my brother-from-another-mother, Dennis Tan, and his wife Nung. Of course we had to sneak one in first at the Bamboo Bar! Still the same!

We headed down the street to the new (to me) State Tower, which has a restaurant and couple of rooftop bars on the 64th floor. Needless to say, the view is stunning. Bangkok has metamorphosed into a sparkling metropolis! I can't believe it. Dennis is fantastic as always. Nung is gorgeous and charming - a perfect complement to a man who is the definition of "class act"!

We eventually made our way to dinner at a swell Thai restaurant somewhere around Siam Square called Baan Kahnitha. We proceeded to gorge ourselves on a multitude of unpronounceable dishes from every region of Thailand. Fish, curried duck, prawns, pork, eggplant, and on and on. We even had a couple of bottles of actually drinkable Thai white wine which was a great accompaniment to the food! Dynamite meal! Highly recommended.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Spa Day!

After sleeping in again until 8 we began the day with a woogie-woogie treatment by a Canadian woman named Rhonda, called a "rain-drop" therapy. (I'll try anything once....especially on the recommendation of the Pieter) This involved a very gentle process of dropping about 8 very pure essential oils on one's a precise sequence all along the spine. The idea is to draw out toxins while listening to next-generation Enya-type hoo ha blah de blah. I prefer getting beat up during a massage. I'll try anything once.

In the afternoon, we went ahead with some more terrestrial treatments including chalk and coffee scrubs, massage and, for me, a coffee scrub along with an Indian head massage. The last cured me of a head cold I'd been carrying for a couple of days... seemingly within minutes!

We took it easy for the rest of the day, if that makes sense at all. After dinner at the comfy "living room" pavillion in the hotel we went back to our villa for one more moonlit swim.

That was when the call came from my sister, Ellison Poe, back home that our itinerary to New Zealand had WON the vote for NBC Today show's couple, Molly and Jason, just minutes before! What a fantastic reward at the end of a stress-free day! They would be heading off on their grand adventure in mere hours!!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Relaxing Day in Hua Hin

Slept in today until 9:30! That was glorious. Went for breakfast and checked out the Earth Spa at the Hideaway. It's a series of earthen structures variously enclosing steam, massage, yoga rooms and a pillow-lined "chill-out" room. It was in the chill out room where we mulled the spa menu for what we'd do tomorrow...

In the afternoon, I dutifully headed out to make a site inspection of the Chiva Som spa resort in town - definitely worth it. This is a property focused entirely on cleansing and rejuvination. Alcohol and smoking are strongly discouraged. It's a first rate sanctuary with world class facilities. I met with the GM Paul, who gave me lots of insight. Chiva Som is a place where one goes to detoxify using an organic approach incorporating legitimate scientific support - all in ultimate comfort. I'd love to come back for three weeks!

In the evening we met the GM of the Hideaway for a drink before making our way into town for dinner. Stopped at the Sofitel Resort for a quick look before dinner at a swell Thai-Western fusion restaurant on the beach called Let's Sea. The owners were feverishly completing a modest hotel complex off the beach in time for high season, so there were almost no guests at the restaurant. Excellent meal. We headed home for another solid night of sleep before our spa day!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Transit to Hua Hin

Got up painfully early at 6 for our flight to Bangkok. Both Laine and I were hurting pretty badly. She indulged in a foot massage at the airport - witch I ought to have! Should mention the scam the Cambodian authorities have going - $20 on-site visa issuance on arrival, yet there's a $25 exit tax! Huh?

We were met in BKK by our fantastic A&K guide, Tukkie! She whisked us away (facilitated by our nameless driver) in a swell black Benz sedan to Hua Hin, some three plus hours away. We chatted about lots of things along the way including, of course, the recent coup, changes in Thailand over the last 15 years, etc. We stopped along the way for lunch at an authentic Thai restaurant catering to local tourists from Bangkok - spicy!

On our arrival at the Evason Hideaway we were shown to our Villa Suite where we unwound before dinner. After dinner (at the end of a very long day) I made my way to the library to write a press release which turned out to be most timely - about the Today show honeymoons I put together. That paid off in the next days because our New Zealand itinerary won a couple of days later!


Up at 5:30, coffee and off in our black Amansara tuk-tuk "limo"! Our guide, Sen, was "sensational"! Ho ho ho.

First we headed to Angkor Wat before it got too hot and crowded. The worlds largest religious building is as intricately designed as one can imagine. The scale and precision boggles the mind. I'm sure lots of people have written gobs about it which I could never match. Definitely worth the trip - though I'd do it in low season next time. I was surprised at how much access we had to the entire structure, surely incurring more erosive damage to the sandstone masonry. Bas relief miraculously preserved for ages as if brand new....simply a must-see for anyone even remotely interested in archaeology.

We moved on to the "jungle temple" which has been completelely engulfed over the ages by creeping jungle, moss, lichens and it crumbles before our very eyes! Spectacular. A sculpture literally under natural construction by way of it's own destruction!

We took a noontime break for a shower, swim and lunch before heading back out in the waning heat of the day to see the city of Angkor Thom, including some of the less visited sites away from the crowds. We ended the day atop one temple where our friend Donald met us with a sundowner bottle of Tattinger - not bad at all....until we were gently asked to leave by the ever-diligent police! No harm done. It is just a requirement that civilians leave the complexes by dark!

We made our way back to the hotel for another shower before meeting our friends, photographer John McDermott and his wife, Narissa at John's world-class gallery. They then took us for dinner at an amazing, otherwise nondescript, restaurant (the name of which eludes me) in a part of Siem Reap which is undergoing a renaissance by the minute! Call it contemporary Cambodian with hints of western influence. After dinner, we walked down the street to check out their soon-to-be-opened gallery... which will be special. Somewhere along the line we indulged in multiple night-caps darting between a cool, styly bar and another gallery across the street which is topped by a cool, much-touted one-room hotel (!), entitled "One Hotel".

Needless to say, we tumbled (or stumbled) into bed for a long nap before our early departure in the morning back to Thailand.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Transit to Siem Reap

Slept in 'till 8:00 today before breakfast, site inspection of La Residence (fab spa), breakfast and transfer to the airport for our flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia.

It was a long day of traveling which would be otherwise uninteresting, except that we transited through the new airport in Bangkok. Luckily our baggage made it through, inspite of the newsworthy problems they had been having. Most notably, asside from confusion at every level, there are no ATM's, no banks with credit card swipe machines - though these are promised in the near future. That was a and the fact that past security there are no services made it a little frustrating and unnerving. No big deal. Just beware when in Bangkok that if you have electronic banking needs you should take care of them before you go to the airport. Oh yeah, it is a beautiful building - an engineering feat. Still, we were glad to get through unencumbered.

Arrival at Siem Reap's new airport was at first exciting, but the visa-issuance and customs hall was utterly chaotic. These irritants quickly faded into memory upon our arrival at the stupendous Amansara hotel, where, true to form, the manager and friend, Donald awaited our arrival. This might be one of the most perfect hotels in the world - certainly in my jaded experience. We got in fairly late - 8:00pm or so. So, we showered, enjoyed a few glasses of champagne and snacks before collapsing into bed early in anticipation of our one full day of sight-seeing beginning early in the morning.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Luang Prabang - Day 3

After a (late) breakfast we headed out to numerous villages - this time by some very bumpy roads. Again, each village is known for it's individual agrarian produce. Coriander, Ginger, Watercress, Green Onions, etc. Along the way we passed some of the slash/burn fields we might have seen on the flight in, where large plots of pineapple plantations and "mountain rice" were growing.

We also stopped at a couple of villages situated literally at the end of the road which are inhabited by the Hmong, who immigrated to Laos from Mongolia ages ago. These villages were most notable for their obvious lack of initiative. These villages were notably silent. Apparently the Hmong are better known (with obvious lack of Lao respect) for opium smoking and procreation. Children were running rampant, gleefully chasing ducks, goats and chickens for entertainment. Humbling to be sure. Being at the end of the "road" also got me charged up to come back and go trekking further afield to see what we might encounter. Alas, the time premium holds us back....for now!

On the way back to Luang Prabang, we diverted to a tiny weaving village to check in on some of the most elaborate silk work imaginable. We watched one woman finishing up one of her weavings and were quite taken with it. She was an apprentice and couldn't believe it when we asked if we could purchase her just-finished work right off the loom! I won't quote, but it was embarrassingly inexpensive. Gorgeous, intricate silk work which I cannot validly describe.

When we got back to town, Phoung met us again to take us for an introduction to a fascinating place right next to the L'Elephant restaurant, called OckPopTok. The gallery-cum-foundation was established six or so years ago by a bright young British expat and a local Lao weaving legend. The idea is that they are training locals from weaving villages to improve their techniques and market their products to the West. Very cool!

I made several hotel site inspections before we made our way back to the temple for another dose of the etherial chanting! We meandered through the night market for some shopping before dinner at the Villa Santi and then off to bed.