Asian Sampler Leaves Me Wanting More

Sep 01, 2015 Avatar Hilton Smith Hilton Smith
My two-week trip to Asia covered five countries, fast paced but fulfilling nonetheless. I could have stayed longer in any of them but time was limited. Each country was distinctive with its own culture, history, food and customs.

I started out in style with a ride on the brand new Asiana A380 non-stop from LAX to Seoul, South Korea. The staggered Business Class seating upstairs in a 1-2-1 flat bed design offered much personal space. The service was attentive and the truly gourmet meals presented on fine bone china and with no trays could easily measure up to International First Class. I arrived in Seoul relaxed and refreshed. It was about 75 minutes from Incheon Airport to the downtown Hotel Lotte.

I had a very comfortable Executive Deluxe room with lounge access, very modern in style on the 29th floor overlooking the city. There was a local outdoor concert happening nearby and I did some walking in a city that is clearly up to date. South Korea is often overlooked in planning Asian stops, but Seoul and the surrounding towns offer a unique culture not found elsewhere.

Then it was on to Southeast Asia and Bangkok, Thailand for a truly amazing experience. I had been to Bangkok before, and this time I decided to stay a bit off center at the Siam Hotel. Based along the river, this hotel is like none I have ever seen. The small hotel of about 40 rooms has more art and treasures than many museums.

Ming and Tang Dynasty artifacts as well as Don Chiang era finds were in cases all over the hotel.

Treasures from a sunken ship off of Vietnam, a wall of antique cameras and projectors in the media room, a traditional design and impressive landscaping all added to the ambience. There was a complimentary hotel boat service of about 25 minutes to Bangkok Center.

Bangkok is still a jewel of the Orient and it deserves attention on many levels.

Next up was about a 90 minute flight to Luang Prabang, Laos, where we obtained our visas upon arrival in about 30 minutes with a passport photo and $36.00 cash. Then we met up with our pre-arranged guide who introduced himself and the driver we would have for the next couple of days. They were both excellent and first delivered us to the outstanding Belmond La Residence Phou Vao, where we had mountain view rooms. Yes, it is about 10 minutes by courtesy vehicle to the town center, but I liked that detachment as each morning I saw only jungle and enjoyed the quietness.

Our guides kept us busy with a private excursion up the Mekong River to the Pak Ou Caves, with lunch on the return boat trip. We also had a tour of the town and an early return the next morning to offer sticky rice to the monks. Hint: Get your sticky rice first in small balls so when the monks pass you can dispense the pieces quickly.
The town of Luang Prabang is small, charming and still preserved with many temples. We and other tourists walked around with ease and we had lunch in town one day. It is hard to get lost here although locals speak little English.

Next, we took a two hour flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia, for a visit to one of the largest temples in the world, the famous Angkor Wat. We picked up a new driver and guide here and who facilitated our visas upon arrival for $20.00 and one photo each. (Keep in mind visa requirements change constantly so check before you go.) First we were taken to the very luxurious Park Hyatt Hotel Siem Reap, with large rooms and a great staff. The hotel is just two blocks from city center, right on the street. I loved the hotel, but if noise is an issue, the bit further out Raffles or Belmond La Residence is a good pick.

Of course, the stars here are in the archaeological park nearby, with Ta Keo, Ta Prohm and Angkor Tom all getting attention, but the big star was of course magnificent Angkor Wat far, which is bigger than you can imagine. These temples were all part of the lost civilization which at one point had a city population of 1 million people some 1,000 years ago. There is no way to describe the size, detail and impact Angkor Wat has when you first see it. Our guide helped it come alive with in depth history and symbolism.

Siem Reap has grown tremendously and it is a full fledged city now. It is not charming any longer, but sure has something for everybody. The locals can be more than friendly, and you can always say “no”.

Our final stop was Taipei, Taiwan, which is a full contrast away from Southeast Asia. At the doorstep of mainland China, Taipei is a vibrant growing city of about two million people, and we explored it quickly in two days. The National Museum was a must with much Chinese art, and the Memorial to it’s founder makes understanding recent history much easier. We stayed at the beautiful and impressive Regent Taipe, with a 2-to-1 staff to guest ratio.

On the Tai Pan Executive Floors, there is butler and executive services for any occasion.

I flew home on EVA Air Royal Laurel Business Class, which was equally impressive. Again the seats were 1-2-1 flat bed seats in a more herringbone pattern, and I had the best tenderloin I have ever had on the ground or in the air. Excellent service and attention to detail made the trip home from this successful Asian sampler a bit easier.
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