Expedition Vacations

Part 2

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If you are the type that enjoys the uncommon vacation and exploring areas of the world that most do not, I have some ideas for you.

How about flying into Bangkok, Thailand and exploring this fascinating Asian city before moving on to Angkor Wat in northern Cambodia followed by a visit to Vietnam.

Of course, Bangkok is well traveled by many tourists from all over the world, but you have to begin your trek into Cambodia from some place, so why not Bangkok?

Here you will want to take a city tour so as to not miss the more interesting locations. The tour will introduce you to this land’s religious beliefs. You will visit two of Bangkok’s famous temples, the Golden Buddha and the Reclining Buddha. You’ll also tour the Grand Palace, which is an ornate royal residence built in 1782.

Another day you can visit Jim Thompson’s house, a magnificent Thai-styled home containing the extensive collection of art objects and antiques. You will want to take some time on your own to do some shopping; plus be sure to book a klong boat tour which will expose you to the canals (klongs) of Bangkok where many locals live and work. This will be an unforgettable experience.

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Photo courtesy of uncommontravelot.com

Then fly on to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Here is the mystical temple complex of Angkor. You will have the opportunity to visit the new Angkor National Museum, which showcases the Golden Age of the Khmer Era.

A guide will walk you through the temple complex which is vast and set in the outskirts of jungle. Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom are former temples with carved smiling faces and detailed bas-reliefs depicting scenes of everyday life in the 12th century.

There will also be the opportunity to visit Ta Prohm, a haunting, jungle-bound temple. Angkor Thom was hidden from the outside world until the earlier part of the 20th century until French explorers found the area and put together a work force to clear the jungle overgrowth. Later other countries sent people to assist in the work. It is now open to visit for your exploration.

Angkor Wat was constructed between the 9th and 13th century. It is revered as one of the world’s most impressive temple sites.

I have had the pleasure to visit Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom twice in my lifetime and for me it is second only to the antiquities in Egypt.

On the outskirts of Angkor Wat is Angteay Srei temple, a true jewel of Khmer art. Its red sandstone walls, decorated with elaborate carvings, are amazingly preserved.

You will also have the opportunity to see Preah Khan, originally a Buddist monastery, now a temple showcasing elaborate carvings.

You can even set sail on Tonie Sap, the great lake of Angkor Wat. There are communities that live and work on the lake and you can see the population in their daily lives.

Next, I suggest your flying on to Hanoi in Vietnam. Here, you will also need to be part of an organized tour unless you choose to hire a private guide and automobile.

A guide will inform you about Vietnam’s economy, which has come up since the war. I just purchased a pair of shoes and I looked inside to see where they were made — Vietnam!

While there, step inside the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. At One Pillar Pagoda is seen Vietnamese history spanning a thousand years.

In Hanoi, explore the old quarter, revered as a jewel of Hanoi because of its idyllic setting around pristine Hoan Kiem Lake and the nearby labyrinthine streets dedicated to regional merchandise.

One night, book a seat at the famous Vietnam Water Puppet Theatre.

Another morning, drive to Halong Bay where you will board a junk boat for an overnight cruise. You can also take a sampan ride to discover a small gateway of the limestone karst, which opens into a scenic lagoon with coral reefs.

Another morning you can experience a Tai Chi lesson if you wish. Now, on to Danang and a short drive to the city of Hoi An, the 16th and 17th century trading port of Vietnam. How about taking a pedal cab tour of Hoi An to see and photograph the lifestyle of the local people and the Chinese architecture which is unspoiled since the 17th century.

Then you can drive along the coast from Hoi An to the city of Hue. Here is time to see the old Imperial City, including the Citadel and then Thien Mu Pagoda.

Also while in Hoi An, you can take a leisurely cruise up the Perfume River to the cooking school. You will be able to cook Vietnamese style when you get home. The school will show you how you can cook five traditional Vietnamese meals.

Now it’s time to visit the Mekong Delta and the agricultural region so well known during the war. Here, you can board a small boat to explore the small islands and perhaps stop at a fruit stand for a local snack.

Ho Chi Minh City is where you will probably depart Vietnam and from here, I suggest a flight to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is where everything happens and a great place to just walk the streets and snoop. Great buying opportunities as well as having some clothes made by one of the zillion tailors in the city.

Have you ever visited the remote mid-Atlantic islands known as the Azores? I did two-and-a-half years ago and was I surprised! The nine islands in the group are beautiful, mountainous and filled with character.

Portugal, located 1,000 miles from the Azores, is the protector and motherland. The cities and towns look as though you were in Portugal, but are less sophisticated. Much of the land is rural with little farms of from two to five acres bordered by volcanic rock fences about three feet tall.

The non-stop flight from Boston takes a little more than six hours and you will land at Ponta Delgada on San Miguel Island. This town of more than 40,000 inhabitants is interesting just to walk about and drink in the culture. There are tiled sidewalks as you might find in Portugal or Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The local food is wonderful and there are many little restaurants to try. Many will speak a little English so you can get around without a guide.

After two days exploring Ponta Delgada, why not see the other eight, which are close together? I suggest booking passage on the M/S Expedition ship, which will cruise the sparkling blue coastlines and spectacular volcanic vistas that characterize these remote islands.

The next day you will step on the island of Terciera where you will feel as though you have stepped back in time with historic buildings and the refreshing car-free area of Angra do Heroismo. Harken back to the period where trading ships were trading from Europe to the New World. This is one of two UNESCO World Heritage sites in the area. You can also view the fascinating 17th century fortifications of Monte Brazil.

Next is Graciosa, which is frozen in time with its quiet and relaxed communities and feature red windmills and whitewashed houses. You can explore the Fuma do Enxofre, volcanic cavern and lake at the bottom of a caldera. The coastline is a protected bird area.

On to Sao Jorge to view much of the landscape from the waters along the coast.

Pico is famous for its fortified Verdelho wine. You will have time to sample some from a local winery as you tour the island.

Sail on to Flores and Corvo on the western edge of the Azores. On these islands there are chances to hike the volcanoes.

On Faial you can visit the town of Horta to see museums and to learn about how the volcanic activity on the island has affected its inhabitants.

At Santa Maria you sail past the only non-volcanic island in the group and can spend time on a fine, sandy beach.

Next, back to the city of Ponta Delgada where you can spend another night or two in a local hotel or, fly back to Boston or continue on to Portugal.

Great photography is possible in the Azores and you will be surprised at the high mountains rising out of the sea.

Have a wonderful time exploring!

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