Well it’s departure day so Kim finally convinced Marc to start packing…. The dogs were very nervous!

And we’re off…

Boston Logan International Airport

Trying out the lounge at Logan while waiting for our flight to JFK.

John F. Kennedy International Airport

Trying out ALL the lounges at JFK. The one where Kim has a Diet Coke is the Turkish airlines lounge where they serve no alcohol (but they do have a prayer room). We didn’t last very long there… 😉

And the winner is… the Lufthansa Lounge. (Air France was a close second)

Auckland Airport

Long flight, but arrived in Auckland this morning. A bit overcast and cool, but that burned off quickly and it’s turning into a pretty warm day.


Too early to check into the hotel, so taking a nice walk down to the waterfront.

First stop, Starbucks!

So, which boat should we get?😂


Victoria Park

Walked through this nice park on our way back to the hotel. Couldn’t help but stop and watch a cricket game being played at the local cricket club.

Beautiful Carousel


OK, where to go for dinner… A decision that’s going to have to be made almost 60 more times on this trip. We chose a little Turkish place that turned out to be quite good.

Cafe Midnight Express

The Sky Tower \240across from the restaurant


Oh my gosh, if we eat these kinds of breakfast every morning, who knows how big we’re going to be when we come back.

Can you tell whose breakfast is whose?

Kim couldn’t decide what to dip in the chocolate fountains.

Want some honey on your toast?

Waiheke Island

Got an early start and took a quick (40 minute) ferry from Auckland over to Waiheke Island. Gorgeous Island for hiking the cliffs along the coast.

Barge at entrance to Waiheke Harbor

One of many harbors along the hike

Yet another beautiful harbor

Vineyards are quite prevalent on the island and along the hike.

The (6 mile) hiking trail dips down to the beach. The water was perfect temperature.

When we finished the hike, we jumped in a cab and took it over to one of the many wineries on the island, Mudbrick Winery, nice snack and wine tasting.

Mudbrick Winery

Marc actually drinking wine at the wine tasting!

1 Bagshot Row, Matamata 3472, New Zealand

Went on an excursion today to the Hobbit movie set about 2 hours south of Auckland. It was all filmed on a farm Peter Jackson (producer) found from the air. The farmer reluctantly agreed to let them use it as long as they didn’t disturb the sheep. It’s now a very popular tourist attraction.

Gorgeous setting on the still operating farm

Slow drive as the sheep kept coming in the road!

Bilbo Baggins’ hobbit burrow (Bag End)

Most of the burrows aren’t real, but they’ve created one that you can actually go into.

Back at the restaurant, just in case there was any confusion… 😂

Auckland Airport

One country down, fourteen still to come. Got up early this morning to take an Uber to the airport and catch our morning flight over to Sydney. Things are going very smooth.

Waiting in the Air New Zealand lounge. Kim’s happy with her Diet Coke!


Arrived in Sydney and took an Uber to our Hotel (Langham, Sydney) in The Rocks area of the Central Business District. \240Room wasn’t ready so we took a beautiful stroll down to the harbour.

Stopped in a great pub - Lord Nelson - just a block down from the hotel. \240Definitely have to come back here this evening!

Beautiful views of the harbour and Opera House.

Had to stop in one of the many outdoor coffee shops for an iced flat white and lunch. \240There was a Royal Caribbean cruise ship (Brilliance of the Seas) pulled into port.

Got together with Michelle (sister of a very close friend) for a scenic drive around Sydney. \240she spent three hours with us taking us around, including going for a stroll on Bondi Beach.

Bondi Beach

Bondi Icebergs

View from our hotel room terrace

Went down to Lord Nelson’s for a drink and dinner. \240Tuesday was “Curry Night”. \240Great selection of beers, but not surprisingly, Kim got a (sweet) cider and Marc got a bourbon (Knob Creek 😄).

Long day!

Featherdale Sydney Wildlife Park

Got up and had our usual light (not!) breakfast and walked to the train station to head out to Featherdale Wildlife Park. \240We’ve heard it’s a good place to hand feed the kangaroos.

Half mile walk to the train station, about a 50 minute train ride, then a 1.5 mile walk to the park.

Kind of stuck right in the middle of a neighborhood. \240But surprisingly big.

Cute little wallabies eating out of Kim’s hand

They are very cute!

Lots of koalas! \240Most were sleeping, but this one was munching away

The wombat was too tired to come out of his den

Very cute little penguins

Russell (Crow) took a liking to Kim (and her cup of kangaroo food)

Although we had walked from the train station to the park (~1.5 miles), it was actually raining quite a bit when we finished, so we jumped in an Uber back to the train station.

Very easy to get around by train


Even Sydney has people sleeping on park benches

After returning to our hotel we walked to the Hyde Park Barracks, a museum of the history of the British convicts being sent to NSW.

The Barracks, next to The Mint

Walked through Hyde Park on the way back to the hotel

We were so wiped out by the time we got back to the hotel, we decided to just get yummy snacks from the restaurant and sit out on the balcony. \240Never made it to dinner…

Just stayed in and watched a movie. \240Marc was so tired, it was a good opportunity for Kim to watch a RomCom... Funny thing, the one she chose coincidentally took place in Sydney!

Definitely Kim’s kind of movie… 😄


Went for a walk after our (now typical) large breakfast. \240Our room looks down on this really cool movie theater called Mov’In Bed Beach Cinema (http://movinbed.com). \240They filled an empty lot by the water with sand and setup beds and a big movie screen. \240You buy a ticket for two or three people per bed. \240They have a different first run movie each night (tonight is Mean Girls).

Mov’In Bed Beach Theater

They have a really nice walking path along the water that goes down to Circular Quay and the Opera House. \240There are always people jogging on this path.

We had to go check out the Opera House. \240Couldn’t get in because there was a concert going on. \240Might try to go on a tour of it tomorrow.

Then we headed over to a nearby marina to join a friend of ours (Michelle, Kelly’s sister) on their new boat for a cruise of the harbour. \240Unfortunately her husband (John) is on a business trip to Naples, FL of all places, but Shane (their boat manager) did a great job skippering the boat. \240We had a fantastic time with Michelle and her cute Havanese, Cosmo.

Sydney Harbour

Cosmo loved carrots (and Kim)!

Michelle had quite a spread

These houses have a much steeper walk down to their boats than we do!

Gorgeous (empty) beaches

Michelle and Cosmo


Last day in Sydney. Plan today is to eat our customary (too big) breakfast and get ready for lots of walking. Plan is to take the public ferry over to Manly Beach, about a 20 minute ride.

I think you can tell which is Marc’s

Very funny street performer along the walk to the ferry. He REALLY gets into it!

The Harbour is loaded with ferries. Definitely want to stay out of their way. They are on a tight schedule and definitely feel they have priority over everyone else!

If you zoom in, you can see the groups of people (at the top) climbing the bridge.

We didn’t put sunscreen on today because it was going to be cloudy all day. Within minutes we could tell, even with the clouds, we were going to fry.

Really nice beach. Not very crowded and easy to wade through the water

Got a coffe and out of the sun’s rays

Very cool how the cruise ships can pull right in to Circular Quay, which is right downtown.

Stopped into Hero of Waterloo for lunch after returning to Sydney on the ferry. Very cool bar built in 1844. It’s the second oldest hotel in Sydney, second only to Lord Nelson’s that we went to on the first night.

Entrance to the pub at Hero of Waterloo

Inside of the bar

The bar has quite a history. They had a tunnel in the basement that ran out to the harbor and was used for rum-running. If a patron got too drunk, they got dropped through a trapdoor in the floor down into the basement. Story goes that they would awaken on a clipper ship after being shanghaied. There are still shackles on the wall in the basement. (http://heroofwaterloo.com.au/history/)

A little hard to see, but this is where the trapdoor used to be.

Great lunch

Well after three great nights in Sydney, it was time to say goodbye to our hotel and make our way back to the airport to fly up to Tokyo.

The staff at the Langham was phenomenal! And the location was really good too.

Haneda Airport

Flight wasn’t bad at all from Sydney to Tokyo (Haneda Airport) - 9 1/2 hours. \240It was on All Nippon Airways (ANA), so the food has already gotten interesting 😄. \240Not really sure what we ate…

Funny story - at check in there was an Australian couple with a very active (and noisy) toddler. \240They were clearly having trouble controlling him. \240Everything put in his hand got chucked down the airport. \240Then in the club, they were chasing after him as he screamed and ran around. \240We felt so sorry for whoever was going to be seated near them! \240Well as luck would have it, they were in the two seats directly in front of us! \240He screamed constantly for the first hour, but then fell asleep for the entire rest of the flight.

Landed at Haneda and had to go find the train. \240Marc had purchased tickets on the bullet train (Shinkansen) to go to Hiroshima. \240It would have been an almost 10 hour drive but on the train (which goes 150mph) it takes only 3 1/2 hours. \240But figuring out how to navigate the train terminals is a bit challenging. \240First had to get a train pass card loaded onto our phone, then get money onto it so we could take a local train to the Shinkansen terminal. \240Got it figured out and now use the pass for everything.

The Shinkansen terminal at Shinagawa station

In case you want to do any grocery shopping in the train station, there are plenty of vending machines. \240Can even buy your beef out of one of the machines.


Our hotel in Hiroshima was right at the train station, so we didn’t need to lug our huge suitcases too far.

Saturday wound up being our day of rest… We really didn’t do much. \240The hotel was not ready for us to check in when we arrived, but the train station had a GIANT food area with probably 40 different little restaurants. \240We picked one that seemed like it had some good transition (to Asian) food, like chicken. \240But they eat all parts of the chicken. \240You could choose between heart, gizzard, tail, thigh, and “lever”. \240Didn’t really want any of those, and had no idea what part of the chicken “lever” came from, so we’d skip that too. \240Figured we’d keep it simple and just get the 5 skewers of what we though would be tenders. \240Well it turned out rather to be an assortment of all 5 parts of the chicken. \240Who knew “lever” is liver?!? \240Kim couldn’t eat the tail parts (too chewy / fatty), and the gizzards were pretty tough. \240But Marc powered throuugh all of it… 😂

We just stayed around the hotel / train station area as the weather was a bit rainy. \240There was a nice little farmers’ market going on across the street with a garden competition.

An example of a competition garden

The food court at the train station was so cool. \240There’s a special cookie in Hiroshima called the Momiji Manju (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Momiji_manjū). \240They had a cookie production line right in the middle of the food court - Marc was fascinated.

Video of the Momiji Manju production line in the food court

As I said, Saturday was our day of rest. \240Once we got checked into the hotel (at 3:15PM), we laid down for just a few minutes. \240At 9:30PM, Marc woke up…. He went down to the food court and brought back some food to eat in the room. \240He convinced Kim to wake up (at 10:15PM). \240Good meal in the room, catching up on American TV. \240Had no trouble going back to sleep at 1:30AM and sleeping through the rest of the night.

We’ll make up for doing NOTHING on Saturday tomorrow…


Today we are headed off to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. \240Taking the bus over to the museum. \240Not too hard to figure out how to buy a day pass for the bus.

Bus around Hiroshima (taking to Peace Memorial)

Pretty rainy day. \240We got to the museum just in time. \240No wait to get in. \240But when we were done, the line to the museum looked to be about an hour long (outside!).

They have done a very nice job documenting the days around August 6, 1945, and the after effects. \240But the stress is on peace going forward, and hope for no more nuclear bombs.

A-Bomb Dome - preserved in the condition of August 6, 1945.

After the museum, we headed down the road in pursuit of lunch. \240Unfortunately most restaurants were closed on Sunday. \240We wound up walking pretty far, but thanks to Apple Maps (which we have used extensively), we stumbled on a fantastic little organic lunch spot called Yurari. \240It was at this point Marc knew it was futile to go on avoiding rice - so much for Keto (while on vacation)! 😂

Yummy pork gapao

Kim got the curry rice.

After lunch we headed over to the Hiroshima (rebuilt) Castle. \240Beautiful palace on a man made island. \240Everything was destroyed by the A-Bomb, but they rebuilt the temple.

One of several A-Bomb survivors along the way.

Trees on the castle grounds

They start the kids young learning Sumo Wrestling

Fortunately they have alternatives to these “squat toilets”! (https://www.wikihow.com/Use-a-Squat-Toilet)

We went up to the top of the Hiroshima Castle for some beautiful views of the city.

View from our hotel room


Time to leave Hiroshima and head to Osaka. \240Taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) again. \240But this time we’re a little more experienced in getting around. \240As you can clearly see on the board, we’re taking the Nozomi 122 at 9:29AM…

Not a lot of English…

Video of a Shinkansen (not ours) leaving the station. \240They come in every couple minutes.

We thought ahead last night and zipped into a grocery store (the YouMe) to buy some breakfast food for the train. \240Found some yummy looking sushi boxes (and Diet Coke). \240It was PERFECT for the train!

Total cost for the two boxes of sushi and two 24oz bottles of Diet Coke was $14USD!


Arrived in Osaka, checked into our hotel, and immediately zipped out on our adventure for the day. \240First stop, find a shoe cobbler that could stretch Kim’s brand new pair of walking shoes that were not broken in. \240Found one at a nearby train station (Umeda). \240Such a nice guy that had to bring out the stretching machine to show us that it is a couple day process - no good…

View from the walkway of Umeda train station. \240Big shopping mall across the street.


Jumped on the train and headed down to Kobe (about 30 minutes south of Osaka) to go to the Herb Garden and Ropeway. \240It’s a gondola that brings you up to the top of a steep hill. \240It was VERY foggy and a bit drizzly so visibility was pretty poor. \240But still worth the trip up as it is incredibly well manicured and a beautiful herb garden.

Entrance to the Ropeway

Pretty poor visibility in the gondola as we ascend up the hillside

Pretty foggy!

The picture explains everything you (can’t) see in the distance.

As you walk down the hillside through the manicured herb gardens, there are many vegetable planting areas. \240The veggies were huge!

A GIANT turnip

Beautiful glass house in the herb garden

After walking about a third of the way down the hill (through the herb garden), you can either jump back on the gondola to take it back down, or you can be like Marc who insists on hiking the 2 miles down to the bottom on a trail that doesn’t look like it had been walked on in a while. \240(OK, it was worth it.)

Waterfall along the hike down

Snail on railing. \240I’m sure someone will grab it and cook it for dinner…

Once we (finally) made it to the bottom, we were starving for dinner. \240We jumped into a little local place that looked like it had good food. \240We were once again the only non-Japanese people in there. \240When we walked in, a worker came running up to tell us, “We have no Kobe beef.” \240We were fine with that, and she looked relieved, as if that’s the only thing Americans would be coming in for. \240They don’t take your order. \240Instead you just order on your phone as you want something and they bring it to you. \240Had great grilled (whole!) shrimp, mussels, tuna sashimi and tuna maki (and wine and whiskey, of course). \240

Kim did “okay” with the tuna…

Finally, time to head back to Osaka to get Kim to bed…



This was the one day we had a pre-booked tour planned in Kyoto, which is about 30 minutes east of Osaka by train (Kobe was about the same distance west of Osaka). \240We had to get up early to meet the tour guide at 8:15AM. \240Marc was the smart one. \240He took an umbrella from the hotel. \240Kim on the other hand thought a raincoat would be sufficient…. The rain and wind were SO heavy that Kim got drenched.

First stop on the tour, a Shinto shrine (vs. a Buddhist temple)

Everything is about money…. Followers buy (sponsor) gates. \240Cost of each gate is between $6K and $12K depending on size. \240There are over 1,000 gates at this shrine. \240And they’re made of soft wood so they only last a few years, at which point the sponsor pays for a replacement.

Cherry blossoms aren’t quite blooming yet.

The shrine is surrounded by 108 (scary looking) foxes, one for each human “feeling”.

One cherry tree starting to blossom

After the shrine, we jumped on the train with the guide to head over to the bamboo forest (still in Kyoto). \240There were so many people, despite the rain.

Cool walk through the bamboo trees

A common way to get around the area is by rickshaw. \240They can really move!

The third stop on the tour was to the Kinkiku-ju Golden (Buddhist) Temple. \240By this time we had enough. \240But we paid for the tour, so we had to stick it out, despite being drenched.

Golden Temple - cool, but we had had enough by this time.

I’m sure this looks even nicer on a sunny day

We left the tour to head over to the Nishiki Market. \240We needed to warm up a little first so we jumped into the first coffee shop we could find.

Hot coffee! \240Kim was soaked.

After warming up, we jumped on a bus to head to the market, not realizing the same bus number can go clockwise or counterclockwise, and we chose wrong…. \240We eventually got to the end of the line, short of the market. \240So we started to walk and that’s when Kim lost it…. \240She was soaked and frozen to her core, and shivering uncontrollably! \240We found the quickest (warm looking) place to jump into, which turned out to be a good little lunch place. \240By the end, Kim had warmed up enough (and traded coats with Marc) and was willing to continue the trek to the Nishiki market.

Nishiki Market

Sea Urchins, oysters, lobster tails, etc.

Kim doesn’t like house sparrows, but still couldn’t get herself to eat one….

Fish on a stick

Tempura anyone?

GIANT oysters, octopus, etc.

Quail egg stuffed inside baby octopus - “Eat Now OK”


OMG - The Best Dinner EVER!

We headed back to Kobe for dinner reservations at Kobe Misono - the inventor of Teppanyaki . https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teppanyaki. Marc had been there once before on business and always wanted to go back with Kim someday. \240We got the “Anniversary” dinner, but didn’t splurge on Kobe beef. \240Instead we just got the filet, which was unbelievably good!

The meal started out with a live lobster that had been sliced down the middle. \240We played with his claws a little and he was definitely alive, despite having some fatal injuries. \240The liver (tamalley) was cooked in butter and the tail was then sautéed in the liver mixture. \240It was incredible! \240Then came the vegetables, and finally the main course, the filet. \240After that, they served a lobster miso soup made from the carapace of the lobster.

Poor mister lobster. \240Still alive despite being sliced down the middle.

Lobster tail sautéed in tomalley butter.

Filet and (to become) garlic chips

The views are tremendous. \240The restaurant is on the 8th floor (and tiny).

Two very satisfied customers!

Lobster miso soup

And finally, dessert. \240The cantaloupe was incredibly ripe!


Left Osaka this morning to head to our next destination - Izumi - a tiny city (185K people) in the southern part of Osaka prefecture, about an hour south of Osaka. \240This is where we’re staying in a traditional Ryokan.

They have some e-bikes here so we took them out for an adventure. \240First stop, a cute little restaurant up the road called The Green Room.

These are two way roads, barely wider than a single car.

The Green Room

Funny thing relating to the menus. \240You have to order online. \240When you scan the QR code (and install and register on the required app), it actually asks you what language you’d like. \240After selecting English, you get the menu IN JAPANESE. \240The only translated text was “tax included”. \240So we wound up having to take screenshots and run them through Google Translate (no one speaks any English).

Scan the QR code

Select English

And this is what you get…

Not too far past the restaurant was an entrance to a walking trail up a steep hillside. At the top is a beautiful temple.

Entrance to the trail, bottom of the hill.

Start of the trail up

Trail was about a mile long, ascending 1400 feet.

A shrine along the way.

Video of the temple at the top. Turn your sound on and you can hear the monk chanting.

View from the top, at the temple.

After the hike, we biked back down to our ryokan. The cherry blossoms aren’t quite out. Probably coming out tomorrow or the next day. What a beautiful place! The ryokaan can accommodate four couples, each in their own little house. Breakfast is included, and hot pot dinner is optional. We did that the first night.

View as you walk in to the compound. That’s the main building straight ahead.

A river runs behind the house.

Nice Koi pond on the way to our little house.

The bedroom.

Start of the hot pot dinner. \240Veggies to make up the broth.

Then the meat came to dip into the soup. We were stuffed by the end!


We slept pretty well last night (on the floor). The beds were actually quite comfortable. Enjoyed the included breakfast this morning, but way too much food! They originally had been predicting rain for today, but looks like it’s going to hold off so we are going for a long walk to a local farmers market.

Way too much food for breakfast (but we ate it all anyway).


Entrance to our ryokan

Looking across the lawn toward our unit. Cherry blossoms aren’t quite full.

Our unit at the ryokan.

Decided today was going to be a down day. So we ventured out on a walk to town. Nice quiet streets between the ryokan and town.

The Japanese love to supe-up their cars!

Beware of raccoon dogs crossing! 😂

Finally reached acute farmers market. Very interesting local foods.

A local farmers’ market

The last stretch of the walk to the farmers’ market was on a very busy road. We decided to avoid that on the way back and instead we cut into a trail that appeared to go through the woods. I think it turned out to be more of a service road for some old, neglected orange groves. Some nice views along the way.

Lots of cherry trees almost in full bloom

Our made up trail, shown in green on the map below, looked like it was going through some private property toward the end. It dumped us out coming down the driveway of a nice house where the owner (an older gentleman) was doing some sweeping. We just walked by and said konnichiwa. He had a look of bewilderment on his face, looking back at where we had appeared, and came up to us. In very broken English, he said, “where from?“ He couldn’t believe we walked through the trail and came out there. He thought we were very lost. In the end all was well.

Map of our made up trail through the woods

On our way back through the neighborhoods where our trail exited, we passed a very large hillside cemetery. Every single headstone had fresh flowers next to it.!

Large hillside cemetary

The owner of the ryokan drove us and dropped us off at a little local restaurant for dinner. Once again we got way too much food. Had to make extensive use of the translator as the waiter thought that if he repeated his questions in Japanese slower and louder we would finally understand. \240They did not have any wine, but they did have whiskey. He came back with a water glass filled almost to the top with whiskey. In the end, our bill was just over $24USD (of which the whiskey was $3!).

Dinner. Notice the giant glass of whiskey!

Mount Fuji

Left the ryokan and Izumi this morning to head to Tokyo for a few days. \240Like the rest of Japan, the trains and subways are spotless. \240Most of the trains have a “Women Only” car (those cars are generally pink). \240This particular car was women only during specific times. \240Others are at all times.

Women Only subway car

We took local trains up to Osaka where we waited for our Shinkansen (high speed train) to Tokyo. \240Although there is LOTS of smoking in Japan, there is absolutely no smoking on train platforms or in the cars. \240But they do have a smoking room in the station…

Smoking room packed with people, and a long line to get in

We weren’t able to see Mount Fuji when we arrived in Japan and headed out to Hiroshima (cloudy / rainy). \240But today we happened to look out the train and there it was…

Mount Fuji, as viewed from the train to Tokyo

Video of Mount Fuji at 150 MPH (from the train)

On the subway to Ginza where our Airbnb is. \240Lots of Shiba Inu’s, even on the subway.

We popped into a little restaurant around the corner from our apartment for dinner. \240Turned out to be a Chinese restaurant, which was fine. \240Only sat about 10 people. \240At one point I looked over and the owner / waiter was standing at the entrance to the kitchen smoking a cigarette. \240By the end, all the tables were smoking, so it was time to leave…

Notice the 5L jugs of whiskey on the counter.

Yummy gyozas


Gorgeous day in Tokyo (Ginza)! \240Decided to start the day by going over to Starbucks for coffee. \240Walked into one nearby and got totally intimidated. \240The first floor counter was filled with breads, sandwiches and pastries, but no coffee to be seen. \240Then I noticed a set of stairs going up. \240Got up there and the ~50 tables were FILLED with people, and that’s where the coffee drinks were being made. \240But a sign stated all drinks needed to be ordered downstairs. \240Forget it - I left and headed over to a little Japanese coffee place (that had no people in it).

Entrance to Starbucks - all bread, sandwiches and pastries

All the Baristas were upstairs making the drinks

Because the weather was so nice, we decided to go on a long walk around the Imperial Palace and Gardens, about a five mile walk around. \240Halfway around the moated compound, we noticed a Science Museum. \240Leave it to Marc and Kim to not pass up a good science museum! \240So we ducked in there for about an hour. \240What a great, hands on museum!

Science Museum along the walk

Yasukuni Jinja (Shinto Shrine) and a cherry tree in full bloom

Lots of people boating (in the moat). \240Such a beautiful day - about 76 degrees.

View along the walk. \240More moat separating the palace grounds from Tokyo city.

Shinjuku City

We began our last morning in Tokyo (Ginza) by getting up early and heading over to the Tsukiji Fish Market. \240Unfortunately they closed the wholesale area to the public, but there are still many food stalls serving some very interesting food.

Entrance to the Tsukiji Fish Market

These looked much more interesting than they wound up being. \240Marc ordered a grilled squid. \240They cook it in front of you in a mix of oil and soy sauce. \240Then you take it (whole) to a little table where there are tongs and a pair of scissors for you to cut it up (yourself).

Grilled Squid

Looks better than it wound up being. \240Quite chewy!

After the fish market, we checked out of our Airbnb in Ginza and boarded the subway for Shinjuku. \240This is an old stomping ground for Marc back in his Aspect days. \240Gorgeous, sunny day! \240It was too early to check into the hotel, so we headed into Shinjuku for a stroll around. \240We went into Keio Department Store, a HUGE (10 story) department store FILLED with people. \240You would never know it was Easter Sunday!

The two lower levels were all food. \240It’s actually the largest grocery store we’ve seen here in Japan. \240It reminded us of Harrods in London - so much beautiful prepared food.

This is just one of several Kobe beef display cases.

Poile Firefly Squid (for raw consumption)

The shopping district of Shinjuku is filled with GIANT electronic stores

Once we could check into the hotel, Marc dropped Kim off for a nap and he headed back into the crazy area to play a little Pachinko. \240The area has changed quite a bit since he was last here (in 2017). \240It was explained that Covid had quite an impact on the small businesses.

Aladdin Pachinko Parlor

The Pachinko machines have gotten much more complicated since he last played. \240Now you need to aim the balls for different areas depending on what’s going on on the screen. \240And of course everything is in Japanese. \240He wound up losing about $150 pretty quickly, but then finally hit a jackpot. \240In the end, he walked out with pieces of gold totaling exactly what he went in with (which he traded in for cash - that’s how it works), and a bag of chocolate for Kim (AND TOTALLY STRESSED OUT!). \240He has had his fill for another 10 years.

Video of Jackpot on Pachinko machine

At night, we walked into a deeper part of town that was incredibly lively, filled with people. \240We were destined for sushi on our last night in Japan.

View from bridge as we walked into Shinjuku

The streets were FILLED with people, and this was at 8:00PM on a Sunday night!

We found a great sushi restaurant (recommended by the concierge), waited for 15 minutes to get in, and we were able to get seats at the bar. \240All in all, fantastic night getting totally stuffed on sushi!

First plate - Assorted Tuna Platter

Kim, who does not like raw fish, actually ate (and enjoyed) the fresh tuna!

Second plate - Assorted shrimp maki, and California Roll

Unagi hand roll (left) and salmon avocado roll (right)


Time to leave Tokyo…. We had a fantastic time here and could certainly spend more than the nine days. \240So much to see, and we only toured the southern part of Japan. \240Next time we will tour to the north.

We decided we had plenty of time so we took public transportation from our hotel in Shinjuku back to the airport. \240We were pros by this time. \240But what we hadn’t experienced until now was a delay on one of the lines. \240When we transferred to the second train (with all our luggage), this subway line was so backed up that the car was packed. \240Little by little, we moved deeper into the train car as it progressed from station to station, ultimately ending at Haneda Airport. \240Problem was EVERYONE was going to the airport and we were getting off at the International terminal, which was SECOND to last stop. \240Trying to get off the train car with all our luggage, past all the other suitcases that were between us and the door was a bit stressful. \240Marc just started picking up everyone else’s suitcase and passing it behind us until we finally made it to the door. \240Maybe next time we’ll take a shuttle bus directly to the airport…

Flying Air China over to Beijing. \240Bento box had some interesting stuff. \240More food than would fit on the tray table.

Arrived at Terminal 3 of Beijing Airport, the very large International Terminal. \240This is a GIANT airport, at one time being the largest airport in the world (now second to Dubai). \240But it was eerily empty. \240There were no other planes arriving. \240Turns out they built a new airport for the 2008 Olympics which has taken over much of the traffic from Terminal 3.

Marc has a 10 year visa, but Kim is using the relatively new 144 hour visa now available for people from certain countries, including the US. \240It’s a bit restrictive (e.g. can’t leave Beijing province, can’t stay longer than 144 hours, etc.), but we met all those. \240We got in the special line for this visa, behind 20 or so other people. \240TWO HOURS LATER we were finally at the front of the line. \240They had only ONE person processing these visa requests. \240They have good intentions with this new visa program, just very bad execution.

Empty Terminal 3 at Beijing Airport

Went to the taxi line to head to our hotel. \240Only takes cash or WeChat - we had neither. \240Went to the ATM to get cash - won’t work with any non-China bank. \240Finally went to money exchange counter to trade our leftover Japanese Yen into Chinese Yuan - that worked….

Went back to taxi line. \240The person directing people to certain cabs pointed to a cab for us. \240The cabbie never got out of his car. \240When I knocked on the trunk, he popped it open. \240It was filled with his stuff. \240I had to move all his stuff over so I could get our luggage in (no help from him). \240Got in the incredibly smokey cab and took the crazy ride to the hotel. \240When we got there, we went to pay him in cash and he got upset (in Chinese). \240He kept holding up a QR code for us to pay. \240Now we understand that’s to pay via WeChat or AliPay (which we now have). \240He was not happy to have to change our cash. \240And of course he provided no help getting the luggage out of his trunk. \240Phew, we were finally at our hotel (at 8:30PM)! \240Quick snack and off to sleep…


Today we have a private tour arranged to visit the Summer Palace and The Great Wall. \240We met Susan, our tour guide, at the hotel and headed on the one hour drive to the Summer Palace. \240Nice, clear day in Beijing, predicted to be in the mid-70’s. \240Upon arrival, we jumped in a boat and took a nice tour around the lake.

One of the many bridges in the lake at the Summer Palace.

Below is the Marble Boat. \240The first Marble Boat was built of wood on top of the marble base, but was burned in the Second Opium War in 1860. \240The Dragon Lady (long story about her, the sneaky emporor’s mom) ordered it be rebuilt in marble.

The Marble Boat

One of many beautiful buildings at the Summer Palace

The cherry blossoms were in full bloom - even better than in Japan

View of temple across the lake at the Summer Palace

Video of man doing calligraphy

The Chinese government puts a lot into preserving the old trees. \240Trees that are between 100 - 300 years old get a green plaque and a serial number. \240If a tree has a red plaque, it means it is between 300 and 600 years old. \240There are many old trees within the grounds of the Summer Palace, but they would have fallen over long ago if not for the support system put in place.

Supports of old trees everywhere

After the Summer Palace, we headed to the Great Wall. \240We stopped at a jade factory that had a restaurant above. \240Below is a video of an old worker making and polishing the jade ball within a ball within a ball…

Video of jade worker

After lunch we arrived at an area where we could climb the Great Wall. \240But we had to first take a chairlift up to the wall. \240After climbing, one can either take the chairlift back down, or the more fun way is to take the “toboggan” (or what we would call the Alpine slide) down, which is what we did.

Chairlift to the Great Wall. \240Notice the Alpine slide as the means of coming back down.

Starting our hike along the Great Wall

A little break along the way

Kim pausing to admire the view

There are lots of sections along the Great Wall that are falling down. \240China has chosen to only preserve part of the Wall.

After the hike, we returned to our hotel. \240By this time it was 7:00PM. \240We decided to walk around the area and find some dinner to bring back to our room. \240We stopped in a local market that had lots of fresh groceries, including fish and turtles!

Fresh turtle and eels

Tons of eggs!


Yesterday was the Summer Palace, today was a tour of the Winter Palace (the Forbidden City) and Tiananmen Square, this time with William (our tour guide).

Tiananmen Square

The drivers are crazy, especially the scooter drivers. \240This guy did a u-turn on a really major road. \240Notice his (little) passenger standing on the scooter, no helmets on either one of them, and he’s talking on his cell phone!

Crazy scooter driver and 3 year old passenger

After walking through Tiananmen Square, we headed over to a park where we could get a good view of the Forbidden City. \240Unfortunately one can only get into the Forbidden City with reservations made far in advance. \240But we could see it great from the top of a hill in a beautiful park.

Bonsai garden in the park

Everything blooming in the park

Video of the Forbidden City. \240Good view from atop this hill.

After the walk in the park, we headed to lunch (with our tour guide, William) at a little Muslim restaurant - excellent meal. \240Then we walked over to visit a local Hutong, a little village, that has been preserved. \240Once there, Kim immediately made a new friend.

Kim’s new friend in China

We jumped in a pedicab to get a speedy tour of the Hutong. \240We felt bad for the pedicab driver, who had to work really hard to get these two big Americans around the village.

Our very strong pedicab driver

Video from within the pedicab

After our tour we headed back to the hotel. \240We wound up just walking to a local restaurant to pickup some takeout (Chinese food, of course) to bring back to the room. \240It was time to watch The Last Emperor…


Today’s the day to go visit the Pandas at the Beijing Zoo. \240Unlike in Japan, we decided to stick with private cars instead of trying to figure out the subway system. \240A bit more chaotic in China! \240Just a note about hiring cars…. They don’t have Uber here, but they do have DiDi. \240On our first day here we downloaded AliPay (similar to WeChat, but we can’t get into WeChat). \240Everything is done through AliPay. \240Not just paying and receiving money, but ordering from restaurants, calling for a car, etc. \240We got really good at using AliPay (and calling for cars). \240FYI, transportation is really inexpensive. \240Like Uber, you can select the class of car you want. \240We started with “Superior”, which are supposed to be smoke free and nice cars. \240Ehh…. The car itself may have been smoke free, but the driver certainly wasn’t. \240In one car, the driver was even spitting out his window (with Marc right behind him) while driving! \240We realized that “Premium” wasn’t much more expensive (by American standards), and a really nice step up. \240They wear white gloves, have nice cars, and actually help with the luggage! \240No question, always get Premium cars!

We got an early start to try to get to the animals soon after feeding and before they went to sleep, especially the pandas! \240Even though we got there at 8:50AM, lots of other people had the same idea.

Line to get into the panda exhibit

The line moved rather quickly, but lots of pushing from others…

First stop, the indoor parts of the panda exhibit.

So cute!

And so tired after eating…

Video of panda outside

Video of panda dining privately on his bamboo

On to the rest of the zoo…

Baby African Elephant trying to get to its mommy

Good White Rhino exhibit

After spending a few hours roaming all around the zoo, it was time to move on to the Olympic Village, home of the 2008 Olympics (and the 2022 Winter Olympics). \240Took a DiDi car over to The Birds Nest. \240You actually first walk by the Water Cube, which is where all the swimming events took place (and where Michael Phelps won eight gold medals).

The charge for admission into both the Water Cube and the Birds Nest. \240But they give “senior” discounts. \240Age 60 - 64 (inclusive), it’s “half price”. \240So instead of the normal 100 RMB, it’s only 80 RMB (Chinese math). \240And everything is free if you’re really senior (over 64), so Kim was happy! 😃

The Water Cube (as viewed from atop the Birds Nest)

Swimming Pool and Diving Pool. \240Much smaller than we thought it would be.

Then on to the Birds Nest. \240This is where the opening ceremonies and track and field events took place. \240What an amazing structure!

The Birds Nest

View from within the Birds Nest

Very cool structure

The ticket into the Birds Nest includes access to the roof! \240Along the walk to the roof, you pass through the area between the ceiling and the roof. \240Good view of the inner structure.

Inside the ceiling of the Birds Nest

The Olympic Torch was part of the Birds Nest roof structure, but has been relocated to the ground.

Panoramic view from the roof of the Birds Nest. \240There are walkways along the entire rooftop.

Once back at our hotel, we headed out to find a local restaurant. \240We settled on a hotpot place. \240Rather than using translator on the menu, we told the waiter to just bring whatever he thought we would like. \240It turned out to be a really good meal!

So good!


Decided to head down to Tianjin today, a “small” city (of 14M people) about 100 miles southeast of Beijing. \240It is historically the port city of Beijing. \240Many years ago they hand built canals from Tianjin to Beijing for ships to carry goods. \240We took a car to the Beijing Railway Station and bought tickets on the bullet train to Tianjin. As with all transportation in China, it was very inexpensive. \240This was a 16 car train with a small business class section. \240Tickets in business class were a whopping $25pp. \240Turns out there were only five business class seats on the entire train. \240And they were even lie-flat seats!

Beijing Railway Station was as big as many airports

Bullet train to Tianjin. \240A few bugs on the front!

Only five business class seats on the entire train. \240Includes waitress service, snack box, private bath, etc.

Bullet train is spec’ed at 350km/h. \240Actual speed - 217MPH as recorded on phone (350km/h).

Walked over to “Italian Town” in Tianjin

Walked past a little park (more like a plaza with fake grass) along the way where the kids were playing a game of baseball.

Italian Town is a district in Tianjin that was setup by some Italians back in 1901. \240The buildings are of European style, and they have some nice European restaurants worthy of stopping in for some beer…. Of course all ordering must go on via the AliPay app. 😂

Nice resting spot

View from our seats at the restaurant

Took a nice walk along the river after lunch. \240Couldn’t avoid taking pictures of some of the locals.

View from the Tianjin train station

The bullet train is such a nice way to travel around China. \240The 100 mile trip from Tianjin to Beijing took just under 30 minutes. \240And they even have a nice business class lounge to wait in while waiting for departure. \240In Beijing (but not in Tianjin), they walk you down to the train, even to your seat, bypassing the massive amount of people heading to the train.

Once back at our hotel in Beijing, we took a very nice stroll along the river behind our hotel. \240Such a nice night! \240Off to Taipei tomorrow…

Timelapse video of the river behind our hotel


Our last morning in Beijing. \240It sure was nice to stay in a single hotel for five days! \240And the staff (at the Four Seasons) was phenomenal!

The fruit is on an actual bed of sprouts

Marc had soup for breakfast (and a Latte)

We formed a relationship with Shuangshuang (“Sharon”), one of the managers at the hotel. \240She gave us gifts most mornings - a stuffed panda when she heard we were going to the zoo, a beautiful dessert this morning, etc.

Our friend at the hotel

Taipei City

Easy flight from Beijing to Taipei, only a few hours. Took an Uber (yes, Uber works here) to our hotel, which is right next door to Taipei 101. \240Supposed to be cloudy with some rain for the couple days we are here, but we will make the most of it. At least we could see the top of Taipei 101.

Really cool to read about how the “tuned mass damper” helped Taipei 101 survive the recent earthquake so well (https://www.cnn.com/2024/04/04/style/taipei-101-earthquake-design-intl-hnk/index.html). It’s a 660 ton counterweight hanging between the 87th and 92nd floors. The building was built after the last massive earthquake to hit Taipei in 1999. They seem quite pleased with how this earthquake countermeasure did its job.

Taipei 101 - was the tallest building in the world until 2007 when Dubai built one taller

Didn’t have much energy to go around town looking for dinner so we went to the food court in Taipei 101. Many restaurants to choose from.

Marc’s dinner at the food court in Taipei 101

Taipei City

Looks like it’s just going to be cloudy today without any rain. Can’t see the top of Taipei 101 this morning, but good proximity right next to our hotel.

We had gotten lots of recommendations from a good friend, Avery Chang, who grew up in Taiwan, on where the best places to go in Taiwan were.

Today we’re going to go for a little hike up a nearby “mountain”. Should get some good views of the city from there.

Taipei 101 in the clouds, next to our hotel

Taipei is such a big change over China! The streets are clean, people are out walking their dogs, super friendly, everyone tries to speak English, and they actually give right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks – much different than China!

These two dogs were super friendly. Loved getting attention from us.

Start of Xiangshan Trail (Elephant Mountain)

There were lots of people out on the trail – good day for it. Not too hot (77° F) but quite humid! Worked up a good sweat. The trail was well marked.

Quite busy in spots

So much natural vegetation. Even papaya trees along the way.

Beautiful, lush trail up the hillside

Once at the top, a really good view of the city

Having just come from China, we were accustomed to chaos when it comes to scooters and bicycles. Total opposite in Taiwan. The rental bikes are lined up perfectly. The scooters are all individually parked in marked spaces. Contrast that to China where they were lining the sidewalks on both sides and when those were full people just left them in the middle of the sidewalk. And rental bikes were piled on top of each other.

So neatly organized

It’s such a surprise to see scooters lining up at a red light, and all the drivers wearing helmets. Contrast that to China, where no one wore helmets (we were told because it messes up their hair) and they seem to have right of way over everyone, including pedestrians. They will hit you! And they go the wrong direction on the roads too, right in front of police cars that do nothing about it.

At the entrance to Taipei 101, there’s a LOVE sculpture from Robert Indiana. we know him fairly well as he has a connection to Maine and one of his sculptures is at the art museum in Portland.

Funny how they got the spelling of his name wrong.

Credit to “Rober” Indiana

It was time to do laundry again. We had last done a big load of laundry at the ryokan in Izumi, Japan. Kim took a nap and Marc took all the laundry to a local laundromat. Thanks to Google Translate, the laundry was done a little over an hour later. For fun, Kim calculated how much it would’ve been to do at the hotel versus the laundromat. Total for the load at the hotel would’ve been just north of $200 USD. Total at the laundromat was a grand total of $4.50 USD, including detergent.

Headed to a local night street market for dinner.


Headed down to Jiufen (Old Street) this morning, about a 45 minute Uber ride east of Taipei. \240It’s an old gold mining town near the coast. \240Lots of food stalls and small gift shops lining a narrow pedestrian street. \240It is way up a hill with lots of switchbacks (and big buses coming the other direction). \240Not a great weather day down in Taipei, and we really went up into the clouds in Jiufen.

Not a lot of people in Jiufen. \240Probably helped that it’s a Monday.

Beautiful view of the sea (😂 - on a clear day - not today!)

The cloud lifted briefly and we caught a glimpse of the sea

Hmm, so many choices.. What to get for lunch???

Maybe a whole chicken??? \240(No!)

After passing on all the food, mostly because we were still full from yesterday, we went to a recommended tea house. \240It was a great experience. \240You pay for a table (TWD 120 / person ($4 USD)) and then you choose one type of tea and you pay a set amount for that - we chose an Oolong tea. \240They ask that you limit your time at the table to no more than three hours. \240We lasted about an hour and a half. \240It was very nice.

The pot of water sits on top of a pile of coals. \240Periodically someone comes by to refill the pot of water, or add more charcoal.

The pot sits on top of a pile of coals

View from the tea house. \240We sat inside and stayed nice and dry.

In China, most of the public places only had “squat” toilets. \240But in Taiwan, especially at nice places like the tea house, you get options…

You choose which type of toilet you prefer. \240Surprised how many people were choosing to squat!

We went into a little shop along the road and met “Jimmy” - super nice guy. \240Although he grew up in Taiwan, he trained in Japan for a number of years engraving stamps in agate. \240He is working on one for Kim now. \240He will design one based on her name and birthdate and then cut the design into the end of the piece of agate. \240He said it will take about a month and then he will ship it to the States.

Jimmy - now designing a stamp for Kim. \240Expect to see it on next year’s holiday card envelope… 😀

Kim decided to take her chances and get a trim. \240We met a woman (“Kathy”) standing outside a salon yesterday when we were searching for a laundromat. \240Her salon was just a few doors down. \240She seemed confident so Kim decided to give it a go…

Kathy - cutting Kim’s hair

Kathy did a great job, but the jury is still out… 😃

Kathy, Kim and Meghan (Kathy’s friend)

We had a credit we had to use up at the hotel so we just went down to the restaurant and had a nice dinner.

Beef short rib soup was excellent! \240And Kim’s curry was delicious.

Hong Kong

We were very impressed with Taiwan - had a great time. \240But it’s time to head off to Hong Kong today for a few days.

Funny story about getting to the airport. \240Yesterday we met “Steve”, our Uber driver to Jiufen. \240A fairly young, and apparently very lonely guy. \240He “talked” to us the entire 45 minute drive to Jiufen. \240But this was all done by speaking Chinese into his translator app, reviewing the translation, and then handing us the phone, all while negotiating Taipei traffic! At the end of the ride I agreed to reach out to him for a ride to the airport in the morning. \240We negotiated a fare that night over WhatsApp. \240Not only was he 20 minutes late picking us up in the morning (we had plenty of time), but I now have at least 20 messages from him in WhatsApp talking about how fate brought us together with him. \240😂

So what if it’s only 11:00AM in Taiwan, it’s nighttime at home…

Got to Hong Kong without issue, checked in and went for a nice walk along the Avenue of Stars. \240We are staying on the Kowloon side - felt there was more to do over on this side, and it provides great views of the island side.

A little drizzly and foggy, but still a pretty view across the harbor looking at Hong Kong Island

Just walked around this afternoon. \240Marc found a tailor he has used in the past here (Charm’s Tailor) and made arrangements to come back in the morning to order a couple shirts. \240They looked him up and said he hasn’t been in since 2006!

Walked back through the subway tunnels. \240It’s such a great way to get around the city. \240The streets are very busy and it takes a long time to get a green walk signal (nobody J-walks!). \240The subway tunnels avoid all that, and most even have motorized walkways (but we need our steps!).

Didn’t need much for dinner so we went to a nice little Indian restaurant (Gaylord’s) around the corner from the hotel. \240Yummy food, but a little noisy.

Delicious Indian food

Hong Kong

Went back to the tailor this morning with a sample of Marc’s favorite (Singapore) shirt. \240Went through the (very painful for Marc) process of picking out fabric / pattern / buttons, etc.. \240“Danny” says he’ll have the two shirts ready for pickup tomorrow at 6:00PM - amazing!

Danny taking Marc’s shirt order

We then loaded up the Hong Kong transit card (Octopus) onto our phones and jumped on the subway over to Hong Kong Island, destined for Victoria Peak. \240Near the Central Station is Hong Kong Park, a beautiful, hilly park with nice gardens and fountains. \240It is also home to the Tea Museum, which we stepped into for a quick peek. \240They take their tea very seriously here!

Tea Museum

Walk through Hong Kong Park on our way to the Tram up to Victoria Peak.

For unknown reasons, “Olympic Square” is located in Hong Kong Park

Got to the entrance to the Tram - pretty long line. \240So we jumped online and bought the tickets. \240This allowed us to skip in front of about 100 people and get on the next tram. \240It’s a funicular tram so there is only one that goes up while the other comes down (counterbalanced on a single cable). \240They only run every 15 minutes. \240It ascends 1,400 feet at up to a 30 degree incline.

Video of the two trams crossing

Kim needed food. \240She was very happy to find a McDonald’s at the top, which offered a good break from local food.

Ah, a Big Mac and a Diet Coke - Kim’s happy!

View from the McDonald’s deck on Victoria Peak

We walked around a little at the top and then decided to head back down to venture over to a “Nunnery” that was recommended to us by our good friend Richard Leung. \240We were pretty proficient at the subway system by this time. \240Only needed to change lines once to get to the Chi Lin Nunnery. \240What a beautiful place! \240The monastery is on one side of the main road and they have a gorgeous park (also part of the nunnery) on the other side, connected by a bridge of course.

Chi Lin Nunnery

There were a number of monks sitting in the park - such a peaceful place.

Chi Lin Park - view from the bridge that connects the park to the monastery

We took the subway back to the hotel. \240Along the way we passed the Hong Kong Space Museum. \240As luck would have it, entrance is free on Wednesday! \240So we had to jump in for a quick tour around. \240Then we noticed a show was about to start in the planetarium - Antarctica 3D. \240So we bought tickets (half price if you’re 60+ 😄) and quickly got seated. \240There were wireless headphones in each armrest and you could set to the desired narration language. \240The 3D and the English narration was great - really well done!

We were beat by the end so we went back to the hotel room. \240Kim rested while Marc ran out and picked up some fantastic Chinese food to bring back to the room. \240It was really nice just staying in, eating takeout, drinking wine (and bourbon) and catching up on some of our sitcoms we’ve missed back home…

Lantau Island

Our last day in Hong Kong…

We decided to head out to Lantau Island to visit the “Big Sitting Buddha”. \240It’s about a 30 minute subway ride and then a 25 minute Ropeway ride in a glass bottom gondola. \240The gondola ride is really cool. \240They do a great job narrating the complexity of the Ropeway, involving three angle-changing houses where the gondola transfers to a different cable loop. \240Gorgeous views of the airport (built on a manmade island) and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, which is the longest “bridge-cum-tunnel sea crossing” in the world, measuring 34 miles long! \240It connects Hong Kong to Zhuhai and Macau.

View of Tung Chung, the start of the Ropeway to Tian Tan Buddha

The glass bottom was cool!

View of Big Buddha from the (25 minute long) Ropeway ride

Even Big Buddha needs his Starbucks!

Funny thing - once we arrived in Ngong Ping (the village where the Ropeway exits) we saw a big pile of what we thought was horse poop. \240How rude that the owner didn’t clean up. \240Then we noticed a bull off in the grass. \240Then another! \240Turns out they have feral cattle on the island! \240They were clearly used to humans as they didn’t complain when Marc walked up and started scratching one of them.

He was very friendly!

In our defense, we didn’t notice the “Do Not Disturb / Do Not Approach” sign until after…

300 stairs leading up to Big Buddha

Worth the trek up!

Great views from the top of Big Buddha. \240There were a number of monks visiting.

You can actually walk up inside the Buddha

Marc had seen something about a fishing village on Lantau Island. \240Turns out there’s a local bus (#21) that can take you from Ngong Ping (where the Buddha is) to Tai O, the fishing village. \240Crazy bus ride down the hill to Tai O! \240We were definitely the only non-Asian folks on the bus!

15 minute bus ride down to sea level and into the fishing village of Tai O. \240It is known for its “stilt houses”.

Tai O fishing village

We walked through the alleys of Tai O. \240There were many vendors of dried “stuff”. \240We looked up what the dried tubes were (thank you Google Lens!). \240Turns out they are Fish Maw (fish bladders). \240We accidentally walked behind one of the buildings and there they were, drying all the fish parts…

Any dried fish part you can think of for sale…

That’s our hotel on the left (kidding!)

We took the (crazy) bus back up to Ngong Ping, then the beautiful Ropeway back down to Tung Chung, then the subway back to Kowloon. \240Made it to the tailor a little before 6:00PM and Marc’s shirts were ready - they look great!

We have reservations at the hotel for dinner tonight as we have to leave fairly early in the morning for the airport to catch our flight the Bangkok…


Time to leave Hong Kong and head over to Bangkok for five days. \240Had a great time in Hong Kong, making the most of the three days here.

Got to the club and Marc decided to get in an hour or two of consulting…. 😂

This is how Marc likes to work!

On the flight to Bangkok, we met a United flight attendant (Petch) from Thailand (he has lived in San Francisco for the past 11 years) who was heading home to his family for a long weekend. \240He informed us that we were getting to Bangkok at a great time - it’s their New Year celebration for the next three days! \240Should be fun.

We landed and were immediately hit by the heat and humidity as soon as we walked off the plane and into the jetway! \240At least the weather is going to be pretty consistent while we are here - consistently hot! \240But not to worry, it will get down to 84 at night.

Prior to our arrival the hotel had reached out to Marc to see if we had any special requests. \240We didn’t, but he told them we’re looking forward to spending our 35th wedding anniversary trip at their hotel. \240He neglected to tell them our anniversary isn’t until the end of May…

Nice little present in our hotel room

The hotel is just down the road / river from an upscale shopping mall, ICONSIAM. \240The hotel has a free river shuttle that runs every 30 minutes, so we jumped in and headed to the mall. \240This is clearly where everyone goes on “New Years Eve” to celebrate. \240It was crazy! \240

Video of our arrival at ICONSIAM

We were warned at the hotel that people celebrate New Years with water and that we shouldn’t be surprised if we get sprayed by water guns as we walk around. \240They even offered to provide plastic bags for our cell phones. \240Yes, there’s been a lot of water being sprayed around!

Water show at the entrance to the mall

As we were walking toward the entrance, we had to pass through a mob of people. \240Turns out a T-pop boy band was just coming out for an interview and everyone was going crazy. \240We actually thought we were going to get trampled at one point. \240We pushed our way through and made it into the mall.

T-pop boy band - Proxie

The mall was packed with people, especially on the ground floor where the food court was. \240Everyone was having a great time!

This girl drew attention with a small marmoset monkey on her head

This is just one small section of the massive food area

We had gotten a recommendation on a restaurant from the hotel concierge - KubKao’ KubPla on the 5th floor. \240ICOMSIAM is really a gorgeous (high end) shopping mall. \240It even has car dealers (with cars on the showroom floor) on the 2nd floor - Maserati, Porsche and others. \240No elevators. \240Need to traverse the maze of escalators to get up the five floors to the restaurant.

Once we got seated in the restaurant (20 minute wait), we VERY quickly learned our limits on number of peppers 🌶️ we can handle! \240We are NOT 🌶️ 🌶️ people, which is what the first dish was. \240Marc, who doesn’t drink beer, needed three beers to get his mouth under control. \240Now we know… 🤣

Everything was delicious, but most of the dish in the back (ground pork) was left uneaten - too hot!!!

After dinner we headed back to the hotel. \240Our room had a really nice balcony overlooking the river and the city. \240At night, once the temp drops down into the 80’s, it’s actually not too bad.

View from our balcony. \240Lots of party boats going back and forth

Tomorrow, we have a 10:00AM reservation for a river / canal longtail boat tour.


We got down to the hotel dock at 10:00AM and our longtail boat and “guide” (who spoke absolutely no English) was waiting for us. \240The plan is go down the Chao Phraya river, turn in on a canal, tour the canal system and wind up back on the river a little ways north of the hotel, at the Grand Palace.

There’s just no graceful way to “slide” into the boat!

Marc was intrigued by the engines on these boats. \240A car engine on a pivot that the pilot(?) moves with a big arm. \240Connected to the output of the motor is a long shaft with a prop on the end. \240The pilot can engage and disengage the prop with a lever. \240They all seem to be made exactly the same way.

Nice views of the city while we were on the river. \240Once we entered the canal system, we definitely got a glimpse of the poorer side of Bangkok.

Nice boat to run through the canals

At one point it looked like we were on a collision course with another little boat. \240It took us a bit to realize it was an old woman looking to sell (us easy tourists) things we didn’t need. \240Not surprising, we bought things from her, including the (rather expensive) beer she talked us into for our pilot!

Selling anything you can think of

Beer we bought for the pilot, which he will probably return next time he sees her… 😂

At one point he pulled up along a bridge, pointed, and said “Crocodile”. \240It’s actually an Asian Water Monitor (thank you Google Lens), but close enough. \240Turns out there’s a park in downtown Bangkok that has a Water Monitor infestation and Kim definitely wants to go there on this visit! (https://completecityguides.com/blog/bangkok-lumphini-park-monitor-lizards)

Asian Water Monitor taking a snooze

As we were nearing the end of the canal, approaching the Chao Phraya river, we came upon a big sitting Buddha (at Wat Paknam).

Big Buddha of Wat Paknam

The boat then pulled up to a dock and dropped us off at a temple to walk around for 20 minutes. \240We hand signaled to each other and we think he was saying he would return in 20 minutes… Well we hadn’t paid him anything yet, so we were pretty confident he would return. 😄 Because it is Songkran (New Years celebration), the temple was very crowded, and quite a bit of water being sprayed around!

Wat Arun

As promised, he was back at the dock 20 minutes later. \240We then headed across the river over tot he dock by the Grand Palace. \240Lots of people, water guns, and heat! \240First stop, buy a pair of “elephant pants” for Marc to cover his legs so we could go into the palace. \240But after walking over to the entrance, neither of us could take any more of the heat. \240So we grabbed a photo of one of the entrances and then moved underground to cool off a bit.

Looking in at the Grand Palace

We decided to join the masses underground by the palace to cool off a bit

We have to get back to our hotel (and air conditioning). \240Instead of taking a Grab (like Uber), we decided to buy a ticket on the public transportation boat. \240Much quicker (and cheaper!) than dealing with the bad traffic on the roads! \240Tickets on the boat were 16 Baht each ($0.43). \240It was fun! \240It dropped us off at a public pier just south of our hotel where we could grab the hotel ferry back up to the hotel.

Public transportation back to hotel

Once back in our hotel lobby, there was a woman making / serving little snacks. \240We each grabbed a piece of steak on a skewer. \240Turns out she was making them all out of bean paste and painting them with food coloring. \240Really cool!

Everything is made from bean paste and painted

Once back, we jumped on a shuttle boat back up to ICONSIAM to grab a light / late lunch. \240No spice this time!!!

New woman in the hotel lobby, preparing the carved melons for the buffet

In the evening we decided to checkout a shopping center down the river, called Asiatique (https://www.asiatiquethailand.com). \240The hotel has a ferry to the public pier just north of Asiatique, then Asiatique has their own ferry down to the mall. \240Very cool place where they have converted warehouses into little local shops. \240Kim was unsuccessful in finding any clothes she liked, but made an appointment to get her nails done. \240We then jumped into a little restaurant for a couple drinks and snacks (Marc finally found Pad Kra Pao, which he loves). \240When Kim headed back for her nails appointment, the woman was really unprofessional and told her it would still be a while as everyone was still working on the same woman they had been working on earlier. \240So she said forget it and rejoined Marc at the restaurant - great time!

Asiatique Market

Asiatique Market - converted warehouses with local shops and restaurants

Marc having a nice conversation with a couple locals…

Everyone has waterguns for Songkran (New Years). \240Fortunately this guy didn’t spray us in the restaurant!


(Sorry it has been so long for any entries! \240Definitely fallen behind.)

Today’s plan is to head into Chinatown and check things out. \240The hotel is so nice, it’s always hard to get going in the morning. \240But we have to do it…

Every day includes a beautiful breakfast with all the specialty coffee drinks you want, but Kim still orders her Diet Coke (for $6!) 😂

Took the water shuttle across the river and picked up a Grab car to Chinatown. \240Although there are a lot of people, it’s still pretty quiet since it’s Sunday.

Not too crazy in Chinatown

Every electrical pole in Bangkok looks like the jungle of wires below. \240This one is actually quite tame compared to others. \240It’s this way everywhere you look.

Typical view of wires above the street - what a jumbled mess!

We walked around Chinatown, checking out all the different alleys. \240When walking down one of them, we approached a few teenage boys walking toward us. \240Just as we passed, they each poured a cup of (ice cold) water over our heads and down our back. \240We had been warned - it’s Songkran, expect to get wet! \240It actually felt kind of good, but definitely took us by surprise.

When we had taken the water shuttle from our hotel across the river earlier, it pulled into a dock that services just our hotel. \240We needed a landmark to return to so we noted “Jack’s Bar” next to the hotel dock. \240We’ll use that as our return point.

Entrance to “Jack’s Bar”

Upon returning from Chinatown, we decided to step into Jack’s Bar for a beer and a glass of wine. \240What a hidden gem! \240A bit of a dive bar, but just what we were looking for. \240Seems like it’s a common place for ex-pats to hang out. \240And by the looks of it, they hang out for a long time. \240We wound up staying for an hour or so, but it’s definitely on our list to return to tomorrow.

We headed back across the river and got a little rest at the hotel. \240Tonight is our night for dinner at the hotel.

Walkway to the outdoor (waterfront) hotel restaurant

It was a very nice buffet dinner with all the expected stations, including carved tomahawk steak, chateaubriand, etc. \240As has been the case with the entire vacation, we grossly overate!

Tomorrow will be a down day, or at least the first half of the day. \240Hang out by the pool, then we have a “Midnight Bangkok Street Food Tour, by Tuk Tuk” scheduled for the evening…


Last day at this hotel…. This afternoon we will pack up and transfer to a hotel in the city to get a different perspective on Bangkok. \240But not before soaking up some sun at the pool (after a huge breakfast of course).

Entrance to the pool area

Not too many people in the pool

Even at 84 degrees, it felt pretty cool compared to the 98 degree air!

Kim even got into the pool. \240(But not the hair! 😂)

Once we were done with the pool, we got cleaned up and decided to grab a quick drink and snack back over at Jack’s Bar across the river. \240One last time while in this part of town…

Water side of Jack’s Bar

On to the next hotel…. This one is more in the center of Bangkok. \240It is located right across the street from a small golf course / horse track (that runs around the golf course). \240It appears to be caddy-mandatory as we never saw a golfer without someone pushing his or her bag around.

Upon checkin, they let us know they have a ceremonial champagne on the (12th floor) patio every day at 6:00PM. \240So that’s where we headed…

View from the (12th floor) lobby patio

Daily champagne toast at 6:00PM - wouldn’t miss it!

Had to quickly get ready for our “Midnight” Tuk Tuk tour - meeting the group at 6:50PM at a nearby subway station. \240So we called for a Grab car and headed over. \240 There are Tuk Tuks everywhere! \240They have seats for two people comfortably. \240Three people can fit OK. \240This one we passed had eight people!

This was our Tuk Tuk for the night

Preme was a great tour guide!

Everyone got into their respective Tuk Tuks and we took off. \240The streets were pretty crazy. \240It was the last night of Songkran and everyone was trying to get it out of their system until next year.

Video of the crazy streets

Our group of eight, all armed with squirt guns. We were told to expect to get quite wet. \240That was an understatement!

It was hard to go anywhere without getting into a water fight. \240We would stop in traffic and someone, even old ladies, would run over with buckets of water to throw at us.

Video of getting doused with water

Video of Marc coming to Kim’s rescue

Video showing the bands of people and their water supply

After stopping at a couple great restaurants (this is a midnight food tour after all), we walked through the flower market. \240The flower market is open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Want some orchids?

Video of the flower market. \240Keep in mind this is at 10:00PM. \240It’s a 24 hour market.

Everyone got a lotus blossom and was taught how to properly open it.

The flower market leads into the vegetable market where they have truckloads of all the vegetables you can think of, including lots of different peppers.

Need any Thai chilis?

Two girls painstakingly cleaning birds nests

Chinatown was packed

Fortunately this is the last day of Songkran. \240We are very tired of getting soaked. \240On the tour, (literally) buckets of water were thrown at / on us. \240We were completely soaked by the end of the night. \240It’s also customary to smear wet white “stuff” on people’s faces and car windows. \240Marc got “smeared” across his face… ick!

Video of us saying goodbye to Preme, our fantastic tour guide.

At the end of the night (just before midnight), we had our Tuk Tuk driver drop us off right at our hotel. \240We were happy to get out of the wet clothes and dry off!

Need some good sleep because we have a Thai Cooking Class scheduled for 8:00AM tomorrow morning!


Time for our Thai Cooking class. \240We met the group at a local MRT station. \240The tour and class were being led by “Gift” (whose Thai name was too long to pronounce). \240It started by walking through the market and picking up all the vegetables needed for the class. \240She spent quite a bit of time describing the different vegetables and what to look for. \240Then we walked over to the cooking school and got set for the class. \240First dish, Tom Yum Goong soup.

(If anyone is interested, the recipes from the course can be accessed at: https://www.houseoftastecooking.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/E-recipe-House-of-Taste.pdf)

Gift, talking about the fresh vegetables we were going to use

Marc prepared his Tom Yum ingredients very nicely… 😂

Kim cooking her soup

Yummy Tom Yum Goong soup - first course

Next is Pad Thai

Kim made a killer Pad Thai

Yum! - Second course

Video of Gift demonstrating the proper method of preparing curry paste

Third course - Chicken curry with jasmine rice

And finally fourth course - Mango with sticky rice and coconut cream

After class we headed back to the hotel and got ready for a walk to Lumphini Park. \240It was nearby the hotel and was known for Asian Water Monitors “walking” around the park. \240Kim HAD to check this out…

Please note, “this animal is dangerous if bitten”. \240OK, we now know not to bite them…

Video of a Water Monitor just roaming around. \240They really are everywhere, and definitely not afraid of humans.

“You’re cute!”

“Aww, you’re cuter…”

People were laying on the grass, and the Water Monitors just go around them.

Video of Kim’s new kitty….

Then she found another kitty to pet….

The park was only a mile or so from the hotel, so we walked back and got ready for dinner. \240We had some credit to use at the hotel, and we were leaving pretty early in the morning for Singapore, so we just ate dinner at the hotel. \240It was a prix fixe menu and we each got the Asian option - very good.

Headed to Singapore early tomorrow morning…


Up early in the morning to catch an 11:00AM flight to Singapore. \240We will grab a Grab car at 8:00AM.

View out our bathroom of the golf course / horse track across the street

Uneventful flight to Singapore. \240Pretty quick flight. \240Marc had arranged for Vincent to pick us up at the airport and bring us to Marina Bay Sands, where we’re staying for just the first night. \240Vincent was Marc’s driver on his two prior trips to Singapore and they had become good friends. \240We’ll be seeing a lot of Victor on this trip.

Since we’re staying for just one night, we splurged a little on the room. \240This is a video of the entrance to the room.

Coincidentally, friends of ours from Vapotherm (Exeter, NH) were just finishing a business trip to Singapore. So we got together with David and Adrienne at the rooftop bar (57th floor) for a quick drink before they headed for the airport to return home. Great to see them both.

David and Adrienne (Vapotherm) join us for a drink

Video of the nighttime Gardens By The Bay view from our balcony

We went for a walk around the bay in the evening (9:00PM), just in time to catch the nightly light show that goes on in the bay. Really pretty, and lots of music.

Video of light and water show in the bay

We really weren’t hungry at all, so we decided to just stop for a “light” dinner. \240Found a Lebanese / Turkish restaurant on the canal (about a mile from the hotel) for a beer / wine and a couple apps - perfect spot!

When Marc was last at Marina Bay Sands (MBS), it was during Covid so access to everything was heavily controlled. \240For example one needed a reservation for a very specific time slot to go to the infinity pool. \240Now, one can show up at any time. \240So that’s where we headed when we got back to the hotel, even if it was 11:00PM (they close the pool at midnight).

Infinity Pool on the rooftop (57th floor) of the MBS

Panoramic view of the Infinity Pool. \240Not many people in the pool at this hour (just before midnight)

Tomorrow we will hang out around MBS and then transfer to another hotel (Shangri-La) in another part of town. (Orchard).


Headed up to Spago for breakfast, which is located right next to the Infinity Pool on the roof of the hotel.

Definitely more people at the pool compared to midnight

When we walked by the pool after breakfast, it was completely empty. \240Turns out there was a lightning warning, so everyone out of the pool…

It’s quite hot and humid in Singapore right now. \240So we took it slow as we went for a walk around the Marina Bay.

View of our hotel from across the Bay. \240The pool occupies the middle section of the “boat” up top.

We only spent one night at MBS (needed to preserve some of the “budget”). \240Vincent was picking us up at 2:30PM to bring us to our next hotel (Shangri-La in Orchard), and then to a small village so Kim could get a hair trim and toenails painted. \240Turns out she wasn’t totally satisfied with the hair trim she got in Taiwan… 😂

While checking out of MBS we noticed they were changing over one of the (many) flower arrangements in the lobby. \240Turns out it takes eight people to change the flowers!

After Kim’s hair trim and nail salon visit, it was time to meet another friend of Marc’s for dinner. \240Marc worked very closely with Roger and his company during his prior two trips. \240Roger was kind enough to take us out for an incredible (endless food!) seafood dinner. \240Very nice evening!

Fantastic dinner with Roger (left) and Vincent (right)

We were so stuffed by the end - endless food!

Tomorrow we head over to the new Vapotherm (Marc’s previous company) office to say hi to the team and see their beautiful new office.


We had so little appetite for the buffet breakfast at the hotel. \240There was just no more room for food after last night’s dinner.

Vincent picked us up and took us to the new Vapotherm office.

Great seeing the team, including Ada (left) and Alvin (he heads up the Singapore team)

We had a great time meeting with the Vapotherm team. \240They have built out a very nice office and have a great team of engineers working on the new products. \240Really great to see how much they have accomplished since Marc retired.

Of course a visit would not be complete without going out to lunch (eat, eat, eat!). \240Once again there was too much food. \240But it was just great to have a casual outing with the team.

They do like their dishes hot!

After the Vapotherm meeting we headed over to visit with Roger again (from last night) to see his new office space, not too far from the Vapotherm office. \240Didn’t spend too much time there as we just needed to go lay down and try to digest some of the massive amount of food we’ve been eating.

After resting a bit we took a Grab car over to the local mall. \240Just seemed too far to walk there at the moment. \240And where did we head? \240To the food court of course…. Amazingly we bought absolutely nothing. \240After all, there was no more room to fit anymore food!

Marc’s favorite - Mala. \240You pick your ingredients and they stir fry them in a spicy (“numbing”) sauce.

Even Five Guys has made its way into Singapore, and they’re quite busy!

We wound up walking back from the mall to the hotel. \240It was a beautiful evening - quite a bit cooler once the sun goes down.

Tomorrow (Saturday) the only plan is to head back down to the MBS area to visit the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome.


Vincent’s uncle has a roast duck restaurant on the western side of Singapore. \240When Marc was first in Singapore (November, 2021), Vincent had made a special trip to Marc’s hotel to drop off a serving of duck. \240Well he was so kind and did the same on our visit this year. \240He showed up at 11:00AM at our hotel to drop off an incredibly delicious order of his uncle’s famous (actually has a Singapore Michelin Star) roast duck!

Vincent’s uncle’s famous roast duck

After eating breakfast, and then nibbling on whatever little bit of duck we could fit in our stomachs, we jumped in a Grab car and headed down to the Gardens by the Bay to visit the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome. \240It was just way too hot and humid to try to walk there!

So cool in the Cloud Forest!

After walking around the bottom, everyone takes an elevator up to the top (6th floor) and traverses their way around the forest. \240Even though it was very humid inside, it was so nice and cool!

Gorgeous flowers around the forest

View of the gardens side of the Marina Bay Sands from inside the Cloud Forest

A cloud actually forms at the top

Once we were done there, we headed to the second dome, the Flower Dome. \240Although not the same climate as inside the Cloud Forest, it was still a relief from the hot and humid outside air!

Olive trees brought over from Spain in 2011 - some estimated to be over 1,000 years old

A view from above in the Flower Dome

Things are so busy in Singapore right now! \240After the Flower Dome, we took a (very) slow walk over to the Art & Science Museum, a really cool museum on the bay. \240We went to buy tickets only to find out that they were “Sold Out” for the day. \240Not letting anyone else into the museum. \240Oh well, we’ll head back over to MBS and go up to the observatory (the bow end of the ship on top). \240Nope - sold out until 7:00PM. \240 OK, let’s get in a Grab and head over to Raffles Hotel where there’s a really nice Macallan tasting room that Marc has been to before. \240Rejected! \240Turns out they were having a private event and not letting anyone in. \240OK, but while we’re here, we’ll jump into The Long Bar (a very famous ex-pat bar at Raffles Hotel, known for developing the Singapore Sling back in 1915) for a drink to cool off. \240Once again, rejected! \240The line waiting to get in wrapped around the second floor and clearly would take hours to get in. \240Things are certainly busy this time of year in Singapore!

But Marc knew of one last place he could possibly get us into…. Breitling had just opened up a new Boutique across the street at Raffles City Shopping Centre, so across the street we went.

We finally got a cold drink…. At Breitling!

Absolutely no pressure whatsoever to buy a watch. \240Just come in and have a cold drink, that’s all. \240We felt kind of funny just sitting at their bar talking to Emily (the sales associate) and not trying on any of the watches. \240So Kim suggested she try one on to kill some time. \240Sure, just to kill some time, what harm could there be in that??? 😉

Beautiful Breitling boutique, complete with a bar!

Well we got out of there without buying anything and headed back to the hotel. \240We had absolutely no room for anymore food, but we had a hotel credit we needed to use. \240So we just went down to the lobby bar for some snacks.

Ngong Hiang - delicious!

We wound up talking to a couple nice older (than us!) gentlemen from Singapore at the table next to us. \240One was an electrical engineer, the other a computer engineer (and entrepreneur). \240We got to talking about our kids and mentioned that Alex was currently in Suzhou, China. \240He said, “What a coincidence. \240I’ll be in Suzhou on Tuesday to sell one of my buildings and would love to take Alex out to dinner.” \240Such nice guys, but we’ll see if it actually happens.


Heading to the Singapore Botanic Gardens this morning. \240It’s only about a 1.5 mile walk from our hotel. \240If we get going early enough, we might be able to beat the heat. \240Well that didn’t happen! \240By the time we got to the gardens we were drenched in sweat. \240But we figured if we stay in the shade and walk slowly, we can dry off. \240Nope - just got wetter!

Tanglin Gate entrance to the Botanic Gardens

“Connecting Plants and People since 1859”

The Botanic Gardens is a huge area of land (for Singapore) filled with ponds, trails and specialty plantings. \240Just a beautiful place! \240And if it was 20 degrees cooler and something less than 95% humidity, it might have actually been enjoyable (kidding!). \240Despite the constant dripping of sweat, it was a great place to visit.

One of the many ponds in the Gardens

Water Monitors aren’t a problem here, just Otters and Monkeys!

If this had been at the end of the visit, both Marc and Kim would have stood under the waterfall!

Typical view inside the Botanic Gardens. \240This is up near the “VIP Garden”

Orchids, orchids everywhere!

Well after four miles of walking in the heat, it was time to call a Grab to get back to the hotel. \240No way were we walking back at this point.

Once back, we cooled and dried off and changed for our flight to Johannesburg late tonight. \240We had to check out by 4:00PM, but we weren’t leaving for the airport until 7:00PM. \240What should we do with all this extra time? \240It’s obvious, let’s head back down to visit our new friends at Breitling and grab another “free” beer and wine, shall we?

Kim’s new watch!

We then went back over to the Long Bar to see if it would be any different late on a Sunday afternoon, but it wasn’t…. \240The line was just as long as it was yesterday. \240So we just took a couple pictures and figured we’d head back.

Poked our heads inside The Long Bar and grabbed a photo. \240Got some nasty looks from the 50 people in line we cut in front of to get the pictures.

This is the closest we could get to a Singapore Sling at The Long Bar

Along the way back to catch a Grab back to our hotel, we walked past Macallan (that was closed to the public on Saturday, and was supposedly closed on Sundays) and low and behold they were open! \240So we jumped in for a couple drams of whiskey.

A couple celebratory Macallans as we end our fabulous stay in Singapore

Vincent picked us up from down at Raffles, swung by the hotel to grab our luggage, and brought us to the airport to await our flight to Johannesburg.

Goodbye to our good friend (and driver), Vincent, for now…

We got to the airport at 8:00PM and our flight isn’t until 1:30AM! \240But Changi Airport is known for Jewel, a dome with a giant waterfall, natural plantings, and eight floors of shopping and activities. \240Good place to kill some time.

A cooking class going on at Jewel (Changi Airport) - late on a Sunday night!

Can even take a drone training class while you wait for your flight

A view from the top floor of Jewel with a giant waterfall in the middle and a train running through it

The base of the waterfall

We then headed over to the club to await our flight. \240The flight was scheduled for 1:30AM, but pretty quickly got delayed to 2:25AM! \240Fortunately the club is open 24 hours!

The club is pretty empty at 1:45AM! \240At least the chairs were comfortable enough for Kim to get a little nap.

Finally took off for the 10+ hour flight to Johannesburg at 2:45AM. \240But we gain six hours, so we’ll get in right around 7:00AM.

Goodbye to Singapore…. What a great country. \240But next time I think we’ll go in November, not April.


Easy 10 1/2 hour flight from Singapore to Jo-burg (as we now know it’s called), arriving just an hour late at 7:00AM. \240So as not to deal with Uber on our early morning arrival, we had prearranged a car from the hotel to pick us up. \240We got through immigration and customs easy enough, but when we went through the doors, there was no one holding up a sign with our name as we were told there would be. \240Quick call to the hotel confirmed he was on his way, just held up in traffic. \240“KG” eventually showed up and took us on the 45 minute drive to the hotel.

Lot of drivers waiting, but not ours…

Interesting drive from the airport to the hotel. \240There were political signs everywhere. \240Turns out their election is on May 29th and there are 52 candidates on the ballot!!! \240The ANC party, that has been in power since the end of Apartheid in 1994, is getting seriously challenged. \240They are considered today to be very corrupt. \240However with a single election with 52 candidates, the general feeling is the ANC will win another term.

One thing we noticed right away on the drive is that many of the traffic lights are not working. \240We were told it’s because of the routine load shedding due to insufficient power. \240All the power plants use coal, but the corrupt politicians are selling the coal to companies outside South Africa for personal profit, not leaving enough to sufficiently power the city. \240But they also say it has gotten better because elections are coming up. \240They expect it to return to “normal” (even more load shedding) after elections.

Some people are clearly not happy with the ANC

Got to the hotel at 9:00AM and they surprised us when they said our room is waiting for us. \240We had expected to not be able to check in until 3:00PM. \240They told us to get settled in the room and come down for breakfast (great, more food!).

Kim having her morning Latte

This (boutique) hotel is amazing, and we highly recommend it to anyone coming to Jo-burg. \240It started as a single mansion in Houton Estates. \240The two owners turned it into a high end inn with just a few rooms. \240Then they bought the mansion next door, which had been the China Consulate house, and connected the two to form 12 rooms total (in 2012). \240Then they purchased the home on the other side and now offer 19 rooms in total. \240Ours has a beautiful living room, a giant bedroom, a downstairs with a sauna, a patio with a jacuzzi, and much more.

Our patio with its own jacuzzi and shower

The pool right outside our patio is not heated, but the next one over is.

Well we had a day to kill so we decided to go for a walk to a nearby mall (Rosebank Mall), just 2.2 miles away. \240People looked at us a little funny when we told them we were going to walk there, but they agreed it was probably safe.

Quiet residential street where our hotel is

All the home / mansions in this area have VERY high walls with electric fences on top

Notice none of the traffic lights are working - regular load shedding (turning off power to certain areas)

A guy “walking(?)” his two dogs on our way to the mall

Had a nice time at the mall. \240We actually only got accosted once on the way (by the only white woman we saw) - claimed she had just had her pocketbook stolen. \240And followed by a really creepy looking guy (the only white man we saw) that we had to dodge by zipping into a store. \240All worked out well, but we decided to Uber back to the hotel.

Had dinner at the hotel. \240The best calamari we have EVER had!

Need to get some good sleep tonight because we have a safari trip planned for tomorrow. \240We are getting picked up at 6:00AM to take the 2.5 hour drive to Pilanesberg National Park.

Pilanesberg National Park

Early morning pickup for our safari day - 6:00AM. \240Need to pickup one other couple for the 2.5 hour drive to Pilanesberg National Park.

Sunrise on the road

Got to the national park and immediately got into our “safari tram” to start our quest for the “Big 5”, which are Elephant, Rhino, Water Buffalo, Lion and Leopard. \240We were pre-warned not to expect to see any of the cats, but we were still hopeful.

Ours was the big truck

That rock looking thing is actually a hippo (trust us)

Pretty quickly we saw several white rhinos grazing

A little ways in we had to stop because of several elephants crossing the road. \240The driver of our tram had to start backing up so as not to get surrounded by the elephants. \240Pretty soon the several turned into 50! \240This was definitely one of the highlights of the safari!

About 50 elephants crossing the road. \240Several babies walking near their moms.

Video of the elephants crossing the road

A fair number of wildebeests

Impalas everywhere!

We saw a bunch of giraffes, but this one was hanging out pretty close to the road.

Video of zebras blocking the road

We stopped on a little bridge to watch this medium-sized crocodile soak up some sun

The safari was a fantastic excursion. \240The guide on the tram (“T”) was super knowledgeable, especially when it came to the birds, making Kim very happy! \240We saw a ton of new birds, including a black-chested snake eagle, sacred ibis, marabou stork, red-billed oxpicker, Kori bustard, crimson-breasted shrike, and so many more!

We got back to the hotel around 6:00PM (12 hours after we started) and we were exhausted (from doing nothing but sitting on our butts)! \240We got cleaned up and headed down to the dining room for another fantastic meal.

Complimentary chocolates, served on a bed of dry ice!!!


We booked a tour of the Apartheid Museum and what we thought would be a drive through of Soweto (more on that later) for 9:00AM. \240We headed down for our breakfast at the hotel and opted to sit outside - so beautiful! \240They are extremely relaxed, so although we got there with 45 minutes to spare, the food came about 8 minutes before we had to leave. \240So we ate quickly and went outside to catch an Uber to the tour meeting point.

Enjoying coffe outside on the patio

Turns out we’re the only ones on the tour today. \240The Viator page said “Up to 30 people”, but it’s our lucky day. \240We met “BoBo”, our tour guide, and off we went. \240First stop, the Apartheid Museum.

Johannesburg skyline on our drive to the Apartheid Museum

About to go spend 2 hours learning about everything we should have already known, but didn’t. \240Could have used 4+ hours…

Then we went over to FNB Stadium, a 95,000 capacity “football” stadium, renovated for the 2010 FIFA World Cup

After the museum and stadium drive-by, he informed us we’re spending the rest of the day experiencing Soweto. \240At this point I looked back at the tour itinerary to confirm we were on the right tour. \240Sure enough, we had selected the Soweto Tour - going to be interesting…

Soweto stands for SOuth WEstern TOwnships. \240It was created in the 1930’s when the then White government started separating Blacks from Whites. \240They moved Black folks out to the newly created Black townships, Soweto being the biggest. \240They created three classes - lower, middle and upper. \240BoBo took us around to different class neighborhoods and there’s definitely a difference. \240But even the upper class neighborhood looks pretty rough…. We toured a lower class neighborhood - more on that in a little bit.

Goats are EVERYWHERE! \240Supposedly their handler is usually not too far away, but we didn’t see any.

Trash pickup is a real problem. \240It’s supposed to be picked up once a week, but with all the corruption, we were told it can go several weeks without being picked up. \240So it’s common to see trash just thrown on the side of the road. \240No problem - the goats will take care of it…

A couple goats enjoying lunch (discarded trash)

Even donkeys on the road, most of the time being used for transportation

One of our stops was at a private children’s kindergarten. \240Turns out the guy that usually runs this tour (Nkuli) also runs a children’s center, and he always takes his customers through the center. \240Good way to get donations! \240Even though BoBo was filling in for Nkuli as our tour guide, we still stopped at the center. \240When we got there, all the kids were taking a nap - so cute, all sleeping on the floor! \240We went for a walk around the area and when we came back they were all awake. One by one each of the little cuties came up and hugged our legs. \240Adorable!

Two of the kids really took to Kim… 😊

While the kids were sleeping, one of the workers took us on a walk through a neighborhood next to the center. \240This is a good example of life in the lower class Soweto. \240Each family is given a very small plot of land on which they build a box. \240There is generally metered electricity going to unit, but no running water, and certainly no indoor plumbing.

Our walk through the neighborhood next to the center

Multiple households share a portapotty. \240For “safety”, each portapotty is locked with a padlock to make sure no one else uses it.

When driving on to our next destination, we had to hit the brakes quickly so as not to hit the stray donkey.

Next stop, Vilakazi Street (both Desmond Tutu’s and Mandela’s original homes). Trevor Noah grew up in Soweto. \240No wonder he is used in local Amazon ads.

Quick stop for a local lunch on Vilakazi Street - bread, fries, bologna, sausage, cheese and “sauce”

Tough to get it into the mouth!

At this point, BoBo said the tour was all done and we’d head back. \240Marc challenged that. \240He pulled up the published itinerary and pointed out to BoBo that a stop at the Soweto Brewing Company was on the list of places we were visiting. \240And if Marc’s taking a break from Keto on this vacation, he’s certainly not passing up a stop at a brewery. \240So off to the brewery we went (after promising to buy BoBo a beer)…

We found the brewery and were excited to have a cold one!

Looks like the bar is open, but there was absolutely no one to be found! \240Not even an employee.

Turns out the brewery had been sold to Heineken and all the brewing equipment had been moved out. \240So no beer…. 🥲

Got back to the hotel around 5:00PM and decided to take it easy until dinner. \240We headed down to the dining hall to have another delicious dinner.

Here’s the menu. \240Food is very reasonable in South Africa, and our hotel is no exception. \240~R20 = $1

After our usual appetizer of Falklands Calamari, Kim got the Beef Fillet (top) and Marc got the Ostrich Fillet (bottom) - delicious!

Of course this was followed by the complementary chocolates over steaming dry ice, just like the other days…

Tomorrow will be a down day as we get ready for our fl