Private China Tour - Yunnan Province

Always Asia with Explorient–Thanks for a Great Trip

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I owe deepest thanks to Kervin Yu and Explorient for an incredible 22,000-mile, 8-flight trip to Beijing, Bangkok, Chiang Mai  and Singapore.  Traveling as a 71-yo solo traveler would have been impossible if Kervin had not “had my back” for months before in a few hundred emails of encouragement and advice.  I had read reviews of how he evacuated travelers stranded at the Bangkok Airport during the 2010 protestor shutdowns and decided he would be the perfect travel agent.  Explorient’s prices were also much better than the “big name” agencies who tended to be rather snobby. One suggested I take the very pricey Orient Express at my age and avoid mingling with the locals or having “hands on” experiences in the jungles. Below: Ricksaw ride, Legendale Hotel-Beijing lobby, cloisonné factory-Beijing, Choy Lee at anchor in Phuket, Thailand, cockatiels at Jurong Bird Park-Singapore.

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Not only was this the trip of a lifetime, but I owe Kervin a great debt in advising me to try local charm in boutique hotels (U Chiang Mai was wonderful).  I probably didn’t follow his “but that’s wayyyyy too much to do in one day” advice as carefully as I should have, but my Guides with one exception were A+ and helped me keep a vigorous pace.  Kervin said to allow for spontaneous surprises–he didn’t reckon I would choose to sit next to a very large tiger for a pix in Phuket’s Tiger Kingdom or play with two cubs there!  But he was right–local Guides had extra ideas that led me to the oldest Tea House in Beijing to sample tea from a 400-yo tea tree, find monkeys near the Sea Gypsy Camp in Phuket, and find monitor lizards on a Bangkok longboat ride. As for budget, I confess I overspent on grandchildren–at the cloisonné, silk, jade, and pearl factories in Beijing mainly.

We started trip planning in late Nov. for a 2-wk. Mar. trip, but I would start earlier if I had a redo.  Asia is such a vast region with such tangled histories, languages, and cultures that I wish I had done more research.  I did launch a medium-size Weebly web site (password-protected) to store my itinerary, contacts, household/pet sitter info to help folks in Atlanta follow along.  I also took Kervin’s advice to use T-Mobile’s Simple Choice Plan. That was fantastic; I was able to text and send phos to GC and friends as well as post on Facebook during the trip for pennies, as well as call a few times to surprise my 97-yo dad.  It made it easy to contact Guides also when needed and get updates on flight/hotel info. It also made it easy to email Kervin late on a Sat. night or early on a Sun. AM with a question–he ALWAYS responded quickly. Below: monitor lizard on long boat ride in Bangkok, panorama of Clarke Quay in Singapore, Jurong Bird Park in Singapore.

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Tips for Seniors:

  1. Consult your Travel Medicine specialist before going. Be sure to get correct vaccines & meds; consult the CDC country list. The senior body doesn’t recover as fast as your grandkids’ would.
  2. Avoid street foods like the plague, no matter how good they look.  A stomach illness will confine you to your hotel if untreated.
  3. Never ever drink anything but bottled water.
  4. Watch the heat for signs of illness–Chiang Mai was 104 degrees. Use iced towels the Guides usually provide, drink lots of water, and stay out of the sun in peak hours. Stop and rest if you feel dizzy.
  5. Your bones will not mend as easily as they did when you are younger and you can’t afford to fall in a foreign land. There is NOTHING in Asia that is level! There are cracks and bumps and hidden steps everywhere. Use your Guide’s arm or a handrail. Walk slowly & carefully. Take an extra pair of glasses. Get really good walking shoes–1/2 size wider as your feet will swell. Sign up with the US State Dept. STEP program; it’s worth a few minutes in case of problems in the country.
  6. Take along 3 electrical adapters–even 5-star hotels may have only 1 Western plug. You’ll need them for camera, cell & video.

Highlights of my trip were the rickshaw ride in Beijing through the Hutong villages–another great idea by Kervin. The Siam Safari in Phuket was a 10-star on a scale of 1 to 5!  It includes an elephant and water buffalo cart ride & demos of rubber tree tapping, curry and coffee making, coconut cracking, rice paddy harvesting, and a baby elephant painting show. They have won many awards for their elephant care.  Seniors at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing inspired me–out doing their exercises at dawn; others playing old instruments or dominoes; yet others selling handmade crafts. Below: baby elephant show at Siam Safari, oil tanker in Straits of Malacca near SG (highest piracy rate in the world),  monkey colony near Sea Gypsy Village in Phuket, Tiger Kingdom cubs in Phuket

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China has the most World Heritage sites; the beauty of the Forbidden City is overwhelming–that it’s walls were crafted to be strong from egg whites is beyond genius.  Yet beyond the obvious beauty of world-class sights in Asia such as its magnificent temples, look for small beauty too–in the faces of children bouncing in their mother’s arms, the milky drops of a rubber tree, the shapes and colors of orchids prolific everywhere.  I found beauty in tiny things such as an old woman binding grass to a stick to make a broom as it is the Third World and most people are impoverished. I also recommend reading local papers on-line such as the Bangkok Post and New Straits Times to get a feel for current issues. Bangkok protests became violent and it was tricky to plan around them, but Kervin was undaunted.

Thanks again, Kervin and Explorient, for all your hard work and good advice. I could never have done this alone successfully at any age. As a footnote, 5-star hotels were well worth it when one toured so far from home–the incredible breakfast/dinner buffets at the Legendale in Beijing; the Anantara Riverside in Bangkok; the Katathini in Phuket; and the InterContinental in Singapore introduced me to many, new local foods as well as the comfort of old stand-bys at the Egg and Noodle Stations. I came home with not only a love for the expected–the Grand Wats, mountains and seaside, but a love for all things Asian, from monitor lizards to the mighty elephant that built those countries and served in their wars.  I am humbled by all the history I had never known and am beginning to understand Asia’s role on our planet.

Comments (1)

  1. Kervin Yu April 4, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Awesome post, Linda. Very insightful and entertaining. Thanks for traveling with us and for sharing those amazing experiences!