Marriott Renaissance Phuket

The Marriott Renaissance Phuket is a lovely property on Mai Khao beach, somewhat north of the more commonly visited Patong area.  Its reception area (at the top left) is visually stunning, and arriving to the lobby even at midnight after a full day of travel was a fine way to kick off a memorable vacation.

Singapore Airlines SFO-ICN

A rare lapse in Singapore Airlines inventory management last year allowed the booking of business class award seats via Star Alliance awards on 777-300ER and A380 aircraft.  Choices from the US west coast include Hong Kong and Seoul, and we booked a trip involving both.

The pork with fennel and green beans dinner choice was excellent, as were the seat, bed, and service.

7.2 tons of fuel

A friendly captain invited me to tour the cockpit of N452UA, a 14-year old A320 operated by United, prior to a San Diego departure for San Francisco.  I jumped at the chance, expressing the interest of the 10 year old boy that lives inside me.  Sitting in the captain's chair, the first officer asked if I had any questions.  I asked the quantity of fuel on board, and he quickly pointed at the gauge showing 14,400 lbs.

This was our third trip aboard this specific airframe.  Both of the others were Chicago to Seattle.

Spring Snowshoe, Commonwealth Basin

Another trip up Commonwealth Basin, this time in sunny and warm spring conditions.  More serious folk were hiking their skis up the steep slopes of the sides of the basin, and we watched them struggle up as we enjoyed lunch on snowy hillocks in a clearing.

Perfect Residential Grid

The blocks just south of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco offer a perfect grid of homogeneous housing.  Homes are nearly identical, as seen from the street.  Most were built in the 1920, 30s, and early 40s, and have at most 3 bedrooms / 2 bathrooms.

Bagan Balloons

For those not wishing to cycle around Bagan, a balloon ride might be a fine alternative.  Prices are steep (>$300 a head) and demand is huge.  It would certainly be a lovely experience.

On the early morning I watched the balloons depart, there were 7 of them launched side by side, all full of happy tourists.  Unlike in Egypt recently, none have crashed.

Thanaka -- natural sunscreen

This Burmese youngster was wandering about the cafe where I stopped in for a cane juice.  The yellow sunscreen on his face and ears is thanaka, a paste made from tree bark.

I relied on high-SPF commercial sunscreen instead, as thanaka is typically worn only by women and children.

Cycling Around Bagan

For anyone who loves a bit of exploring abandoned structures, I highly recommend Bagan, Myanmar.  The top sights are well maintained, require a ticket for entry, and deliver the experiences as promised in guidebooks.

Sprinkled around the 25 sq km zone containing these marked sights are an endless array of secondary temples/stupas/payas, many of which contain buddha statues and images.  Some have narrow staircases offering roof access, others sport more vegetation than sound bricks, but most are completely unattended.  I spent a full day exploring perhaps 60 or 80 of them -- and there are thousands.

Shwezigon Paya, Bagan

Dawn greets the Shwezigon Paya in Bagan.

I spent the day on an inexpensive rented bicycle, and covered perhaps 30km exploring the expanse of both maintained and abandoned temples in the area.

The government has succeeded at preventing settlement of most areas where temples are nearby, and so many of the 800- to 1000-year old structures are unmolested.

Burmese Kyat

A stack of cash from the currency-exchange counter on arrival in Myanmar.  Total value is US$250.

For unknown reasons, the central bank hasn't issued sufficient large-denomination notes to cover demand.  Most transactions are made with 1000 kyat notes, worth $1.13 each.  Purchasing anything of value requires many of these notes.

Crumbling Colonial Architecture, Yangon

One of thousands of crumbling buildings in Myanmar's colonial capital.  (The modern capital is a recently invented greenfield site in the interior of the country).

This three-story shop with residences above was built in the late 1800s or early 1900s, and has not been particularly well maintained since then.  Plants grow wherever seeds can germinate, and there's evidence of structural problems.

The most heartbreaking sights are grand estates owned by the government, occupying numerous city blocks, and falling apart through disuse.

Public Water Jug, Myanmar

Throughout my travels in Myanmar, households and businesses freely provided a water jug accessible to anyone passing by.  The jug was typically unglazed pottery like this one, to keep the contents cool.  It was always covered, to avoid contamination.  And a cup or two was offered to allow for taking a drink.

Novice Monks, Yangon

A fleet of novice monks, a few of them perhaps as young as 8 or 10, cross a side street in urban Yangon.  In haste, one has spilled his shopping bag, and will have to collect his goods before traffic can pass.

Buddhist monks were ever present for my visit to Myanmar, performing all manner of daily activities: catching the bus, smoking, cycling, shopping.  And occasionally praying.

Taunting, Broken 787

A shiny, alluring model of a 787 Dreamliner model taunts me from ANA's lounge in Tokyo Narita.  A row of sulking full-scale 787s is visible out the window on the tarmac, grounded since January 16th, and waiting for Boeing to dream up a fix for their incendiary batteries.  I've now twice booked flights on 787s, and both trips have seen substitute aircraft.

Straying into North Korea

This is the interior of the UN Command Military Armistice Commission Conference Building (T2), straddling the border of the two Koreas.  The border runs down the length of this conference table, with the microphone and UN flag at the exact boundary.  I'm taking this photo from North Korea, on the right side of the table -- tourists visiting can wander through the building as they like.

The Republic of (South) Korea soldier here is holding an aggressive Tae Kwon Do stance, and wears dark Ray Bans to avoid conveying unintended facial expressions to soldiers on the other side.