New Years 2016 - 2017 : Austria, Thailand, Egypt
|December 26 - 27, 2016
Washington D.C. Dulles, USA (IAD) to Vienna, Austria (VIE) - Austrian Airlines (26 - 27 Dec), 1 night in Vienna
December 28 - 29, 2016
Vienna, Austria (VIE) to Cairo, Egypt (CAI) - Austrian Airlines
Cairo, Egypt (CAI) to Doha, Qatar (DOH) to Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) - Qatar Airways
Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) to Phuket, Thailand (HKT) - Thai Airways
26 – 27 December: Charleston WV to Dulles Airport, Washington, D.C. to Vienna, Austria
We had spent Christmas in Charleston WV with Tami's family. We rented a car in Charleston and drove to Dulles Airport outside Washington D.C. After dropping off the car at the rental car facility at the airport, we checked into our flight on Austrian Air. We had dinner on December 26 at the lounge at Dulles then got on our overnight flight to Vienna, Austria.
|We arrived mid-morning in Vienna on December 27 and took the City Airport Train into the city. It was a short walk in the cold through the Stadtpark to our hotel, the Intercontinental Vienna. We arrived well before normal check-in, but they had a room ready for us. We rested for a while, then went out into the cold (and light rain) for a walk around the city. We headed for our dinner reservations at Plachutta (on Wollzeile) but found that our dinner reservations were for a couple hours later, so we continued to walk, visiting the main pedestrian-only area of the city center, and walking by Café Central and the Radisson Blue, where we had stayed in 2015 in our first visit to Vienna. We also walked through the Park Hyatt Vienna to see what it was like, if we would ever like to stay there in the future. We returned to Plachutta and had a great tafelspitz dinner, before heading back to our hotel for sleep on the night of December 27.|
|Plachutta||Tafelspitz||Downtown Vienna||Cafe Central|
28 - 29 December: Vienna, Austria to Cairo, Egypt to Doha, Qatar to Bangkok, Thailand to Phuket, Thailand
We got up early on December 28 and got a taxi through the heavy rain to the train station, and rode the City Airport Train back to Vienna airport. We boarded our first of four flights, all of which would eventually get us to Phuket, Thailand. The first flight was from Vienna to Cairo, Egypt. The flight was uneventful, but the transfer in Cairo airport was interesting.
We arrived on Air Austria into Cairo terminal 2, but our Air Qatar flight left from terminal 1. There is no direct connection from terminal 2 to terminal 1 without going through immigration, which requires a visa. We were prepared to get visas to aid this transit, but when we arrived at the transfer desk, they took our passports and said we would be escorted to terminal 1 and we would not need to get visas. We sat in a waiting area for a few minutes along with other passengers who were also transferring to terminal 1, all without going through immigration into Egypt. A group of about 10 of us were asked to follow an agent (guy in a suit?) through some back doors and elevators, and down to a van, where we were then driven around the airport tarmac to terminal 1. We were escorted into terminal 1, bypassing any immigration lines, directly to another waiting room that seemed to be a back entrance area used by employees and passengers making international connections. The guard here took possession of our passports and we were told to wait. Cairo Airport does not allow passengers into the terminal more than 3 hours before their flights, so we had to wait about an hour more in this waiting room. There were other passengers camped out across chairs, many asleep and obviously having been there for a while, waiting for the 3 hour limit to arrive for their flights.
About 3 hours before our flight, a representative of Air Qatar arrived to take our passports from the guard. He returned a while later with our boarding passes, at which time we could go into the actual terminal and spend the rest of the waiting time in the business class lounge. Once the flight began boarding at 60 minutes before the flight was to depart, we joined the single line to get on the plane. This line was another security screening line, and went very slowly, taking another 60+ minutes. We finally made it through this line, only to find that business and first class passengers board the airplane last at Cairo Airport, so we waited again for another 15 minutes before the transfer bus showed up to take us to the airplane. Terminal 1 does not have boarding bridges – all passengers ride buses to the plane, and then climb the stairs onto the plane out on the tarmac. The plane eventually left about 45 minutes late. It was about two and half hours to Doha, Qatar. The airport in Doha is incredible, and the business class lounge is even more fantastic. It is beautiful, with every amenity you could want. There are individual shower rooms, which we both took advantage of to clean up. The restaurant has champagne, wine, and great food. We spent a couple hours relaxing, before getting on our flight to Bangkok. This flight lasted overnight, and was our first flight on an Airbus A380. Qatar Airways' A380s are configured with a separate bar area, which we enjoyed - perhaps a bit too much. At some point during this flight, Tami got her foot twisted in her seatbelt as she got up out of her seat and fell down, twisting her left knee in the process. This twist to her knee caused damage that took a few days to set it. We arrived into Bangkok the next morning, on December 29.
Qatar Airways Business Class lounge in Doha, Qatar
Bar on Qatar Airways A380 upper deck
We walked across the airport, finding our transfer flight on Air Thailand for Phuket. We went through immigration into Thailand, and waited for a while in the lounge near our gate. This flight was about an hour, and we arrived in the early evening at Phuket Airport. What a crazy place. We walked out of the terminal into a mad-house, looking for our hotel shuttle which was supposed to be waiting for us. We could not find it in the huge mass of people looking for their hotel shuttles and taxis, and dozens of taxi drivers aggressively selling their services (but not at aggressively as Cairo - that story comes later). We called the hotel to make sure the shuttle was waiting for us, and they connected us to the hotel rep who was waiting at the airport. We managed to find each other within a few minutes; Chris, on the phone: “I am standing outside the door, wearing a black shirt, waving my hands over my head.”, hotel rep on the phone: “I see you… stay where you are.” He showed us to the van for our hotel, and we then got to experience the incredible roads of Thailand on the ride. Thailand is rated as having the second most dangerous roads in the world. In the week of New Year’s 2016 – 2017, when we were there, 478 people died on Thailand’s roads. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-38660283
|After a rather interesting one hour drive to our hotel on the southeast tip of Phuket Island on the Panwa peninsula, we arrived to our hotel, Sri Panwa. We made it to our room, and ordered room service for a late, light dinner before crashing from the big time difference. Thailand is 12 hours ahead of the US east coast, so our internal clocks were ½ day off. Our room was great and we had our own small private pool.|
30 December: Phuket, Thailand
We went downstairs for breakfast, to find that the breakfast buffet was very good. It had a US-style breakfast made to order, also with lots of choices from the buffet for Thai food, all of it delicious. We spent the rest of the day at the pool and exploring the resort. We made it up to the deck at Boba Nest, at the very top of the hill at the resort. We had dinner at one of the restaurants in the resort, and relaxed in our private pool attached to our room.
Boba Nest, Sri Panwa
31 December: Phuket, Thailand - New Years Eve
|We started with the great breakfast buffet again, then more relaxing in the main pool and our private pool, before getting a tuk-tuk ride down the hill to just outside the resort, where we both got massages at a massage parlor. We returned to our room and got ready for the New Year’s party on the resort. It was expensive, but how often are you in Thailand for New Years? The party went on for many hours, with performances by two famous Thai female impersonators, fire jugglers, a band, and several DJs. We had a bunch of champagne and wine, before finally making it back to our room sometime on morning of January 1.|
1 January: Phuket, Thailand
We slept in, finally getting up just in time for a late breakfast. We spent a few more hours at the main pool, the caught a tuk-tuk to outside the gates where we rented mopeds. We rode all over the southern end of the island, experiencing the incredible Thailand roads and traffic we had seen from the van. It was scary and fun, but we survived and made it back to the hotel in time for our dinner reservations at Boba Nest. Sunset was beautiful, and we spent a couple hours on top of the world with great views of all of Phuket.
Boba Nest, Sri Panwa
Timelapse of sunset at Boba Nest on January 1, 2017.
2 January: Phuket, Thailand to Krabi, Thailand
|We got up for breakfast again (we were not going to miss the great breakfast buffet), before heading to our mopeds which we had parked in the scooter lot. We then rode around the southern end of the island again, visiting new places, including going through old-town Phuket. We did not hit the same very high-traffic places we had visited the day before, but went to more relaxed areas. We then headed back to the resort, dropping off our mopeds on the way. Total cost: about $10 each for 24 hours. Tami's knee had begun to hurt from the fall she took on the plane, and by the end of this ride, she was feeling a lot of pain.|
Video from moped ride on January 2, 2017.
We had the hotel get us a car to our next hotel, which was in Krabi. It was about a 3 hour ride, which went smoothly. After arriving at the pier in Krabi, we rode the hotel boat to our hotel, Centara Grande, which can only be reached via boat or trail through the jungle. That trail is called the Monkey Trail, as it is through a national park full of monkeys.
The room was advertised as “ocean-facing”, but we found out that does not mean you can actually see the ocean. It was also way up on the side of the hill, requiring quite a climb up some very steep paths. We were very disappointed with our room, when it suddenly became even worse. As we were deciding if we were going to ask for a new room, the water drain in the bathroom gurgled and overflowed. Chris went into the bathroom to see what the sound was, to find that drain had overflowed from another room with sewage. At the same time, Chris saw a hotel technician going under the building, presumably to fix whatever was going on. We immediately called to move, and the staff was very apologetic and helpful. Someone arrived to drive us in a golf cart to another room, which turned out to have a view of the ocean and was down at the lowest level, so there was no climbing up steep paths. They had even taken our bags to that room ahead of us, as our bags had never made it to our first room, so it all worked out well. The only problem with the move was that the golf cart battery died on the way down the hill, and Chris had to get out and push a couple times over bumps in the pathway. The first photo shows the view from our first room. The next two photos show the second room, which has a much better view and was nicer.
|View from our first room to
Look - the back of someone's room!
|Our new room; there is a timelapse of sunset from our balcony below - the view was much nicer!||Jacuzzi in our new room. We tried to fill it one night, but found that the very slow water supply would have taken hours to fill it.||Resort beach at night.||Resort pool at night.|
3 January: Krabi, Thailand
Tami had paid for lounge access with our room, and it ended up being a great deal. Breakfast, snacks, drinks in the afternoon – they were all included with the lounge. We had breakfast this morning, and then spent the day on the beach at the resort. Chris hiked the Monkey Trail through the jungle to Au Nang Beach, exploring Au Nang for a little bit before returning for more swimming at the beach resort. We had drinks in the lounge, before having dinner at the Thai restaurant at the resort. The food was excellent, and we returned for dinner there again a few nights later.
Centara Grand Krabi
4 January: Krabi, Thailand
Today consisted of breakfast at the lounge, some time on the beach, then we checked out a couple kayaks and paddled around the rock formations off-shore, before starting to head over to Railay Beach. The wind became very strong as we rounded the coastline, and we were not making much progress. We finally headed back out of the wind, and back to our resort. We cleaned up and then caught a long-tail boat ride over to Railay Beach. We walked around Railay Beach – east and west sections, exploring all over, eventually relaxing and swimming at a beach near the Penis Cave. We had dinner watching sunset at Railay Beach - west, then caught one of the last boats back to our resort that evening.
Sunset from Railay Beach on January 4, 2017 and sunset from our room at Centara Grand on January 5, 2017.
5 January: Krabi, Thailand
We had made reservations for a boat tour to several islands on this day. We had to catch the boat early at the resort dock, and then spent the rest of the day going to different islands in the Andaman Sea. The highlight was Maya Beach at Ko Phi Phi Lee Island, where the movie “The Beach” was filmed. We went snorkeling at Ko Phi Phi Lee off the boat with tropical fish, and had lunch on Ko Phi Phi Don, a bigger island nearby. The boat dropped us off back at the resort at about 5 PM. On the way back to our room, we were surrounded by monkeys for at least 30 minutes, as they played on the path and outside our room. At one point, a monkey ran between Tami's legs. We showered and headed to the lounge for drinks, then over to the resort's Thai restaurant for dinner. That evening, Chris hiked the Monkey Trail again and walked to the end of Ao Nang beach for some exercise. The trail is well lit, but it is steep in places.
Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Lee - "The Beach"
Monkeys having fun at Centara Grand on January 5, 2017.
6 January: Krabi, Thailand to Bangkok, Thailand
|January 6 - 7, 2017
Krabi, Thailand (KBV) to Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) - Thai Airways, one night in Bangkok
Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) to Doha, Qatar (DOH) to Cairo, Egypt (CAI) - Qatar Airways
We had to catch an early boat into Krabi, then a taxi to Krabi Airport for our flight to Bangkok. We had specifically been asked at the time of check-in if we needed a ride to the airport when we checked out, and we confirmed then the hotel would have a car waiting for us at the dock. Nope. We showed up at the dock on this morning, and there was no ride waiting for us. The hotel had marked that we would make our own way at checkout. Also, because it was early morning, there were no taxis available waiting for passengers. One of the dock workers took us to his truck and he gave us a ride to the airport. We were lucky, as no ride to the airport would have meant missing the flight to Bangkok.
We arrived in Bangkok and walked through the terminal to our hotel, which was at the airport. It was a nice room and we relaxed and tried to figure out what to do in Bangkok for the night. Tami found a food tour that went around Bangkok in tuk-tuks for several hours in the evening, and signed us up for it. We took the train into town, and walked around one section of the city for short time, stopping to have drinks on a street bar. We then took the subway to the beginning of the food tour and met up with the tour guide. There were 8 people on our tour; ourselves, a couple from Minnesota, a couple from Japan, and two guys from Australia on a youth work trip. We all rode in tuk-tuks around Bangkok, first visiting a couple restaurants. We got to see the cooking area at the second restaurant, which was the alley behind the place. Most of the folks on the tour agreed that maybe they should not have shown that to us. We then went to the largest flower market in town, which was immense and open 24 hours/day. After walking all over the flower market and down some city streets, we met back up with the tuk-tuks, and headed for the main temple in Bangkok, where we walked around quite a while more and laid flowers at one of the shrines. After that, we walked to another area and climbed up to the sixth floor of a building on the river, and had drinks looking out over the city. We headed back downstairs and headed to the last destination, a final restaurant where the food was going to be all seafood, mainly shrimp and crab. Chris’ stomach was in bad shape by this time; the earlier restaurants did not serve us shell-fish, but it was obvious that everything was cooked together, and Tami’s knee was hurting a lot. The un-advertised walking around the city and the six story climb had hurt her knee a lot. We had booked a tuk-tuk tour, not a walking and climbing tour. We bailed out from the last restaurant, and had our tuk-tuk take us back to the train station for the airport. We made it back to our room and crashed.
7 January: Bangkok, Thailand to Doha, Qatar to Cairo, Egypt
We boarded our Qatar Air flight to Doha and rested on the seven hour flight. Tami had booked this leg of our flights (Bangkok to Cairo) in first class so we could see the difference in seats and experience the first class lounge at Doha Airport. That lounge was huge and elegant. We did not have as much time to experience it as we hoped, as the flight from Bangkok left late. Chris’ stomach was still not in good shape, so he did not eat at the lounge either. We did have a personal escort between planes in Doha, as Qatar Air treats its passengers well.
We boarded our flight to Cairo and arrived in the late afternoon to terminal 1. We needed visas to enter Egypt, which can be bought on arrival. They are $25 per person. Terminal 2 has automated machines marked “Visa” to buy those visas (we saw them on transit on the way to Thailand), but terminal 1 does not those machines. There are five different Egyptian bank booths in the arrival area which sell visas, but they are not labeled. After asking where to get visas, we finally figured it out and were able to go through immigration. We had not experienced the outside of the terminal at Cairo Airport on the way to Thailand, and the first time out the doors was a shock. The hotel was supposed to have a person and van waiting for us for the ride over to the hotel on the airport grounds, but we did not connect as we were coming out of the terminal. Dozens of taxi drivers continuously asked us if we needed a ride; even after saying “No” they would not leave us alone. One taxi driver followed me around for about 5 minutes while I tried to find our hotel ride. We found out the next day from our tour guide that the best thing to do is to ignore them like they are not there. It is not rude; it is just how things are done. If you acknowledge their presence, even to say “No – leave me alone”, they will never stop. At one point, after the 28th person asked me if I needed a ride in the first 2 minutes out the door, I laughed and asked “Wow – is it always like this?” He laughed back and said “Yes”. A few minutes later, we found our driver; he was holding a sign with our name on it – we had missed him as we came out the door. We boarded the van over to the hotel and checked in. We stayed at Le Meridien at the airport, and cannot compliment the hotel and staff enough. They were fantastic the whole stay, going out of their way to help us and were very friendly. Our hotel travel status had us upgraded to a lounge room, so we had drinks, snacks, and food in the lounge each day.
Note that in addition to the many security layers at Cairo Airport (there a several layers– it will be detailed later), the hotel itself has its own personal security firm protecting the hotel. We arrived at a roadblock outside the hotel, where the driver was checked, and a dog was used to sniff the vehicle all around before the van was allowed behind the heavy duty fence around the hotel. Once in the hotel lobby, we had to pass through a metal detector and our luggage passed through a x-ray machine.
8 January: Cairo, Egypt
We had booked a tour of Egypt with a travel guide this day. We had our own personal guide and driver. Our guide was incredible; he has master’s in Egyptian history, speaks at least five languages, and has been leading tours for many years in English, Spanish, German, French, and Arabic. He took care of us all day, showing us everything that we could want to see; everything you would ever think of seeing in Cairo when you think of visiting the Pyramids. He told us the detailed history of the Egyptian gods, the pharaohs, and the pyramids. He was never at a loss to have something to tell us or how to deal with the people we would meet or the places we visited.
The one thing that he and all the other tourism-related people we spoke to during the visit to Cairo wanted to know was “Do you feel safe?”, and they all wanted us to tell our family and friends that Egypt is safe and everyone should come visit. It seems like a main theme for Egyptians; after the trip, Chris was searching about the pyramids on line, and visited the website of Dr Zawi Hawass, probably one of the most famous archeologists in the world. Check out his website; the main page with his photo says “Egypt is safe. We need you back.”
There is a special part of the Egyptian security forces that deal only with tourism; they are tourist police. As we drove around town (more on the roads later – wow), we would be stopped at checkpoints manned by the tourist police. They verified that the guides were licensed, took down their names, the numbers of visitors they had, where the visitors were staying, what country they were from, and where they were going next. Our guide explained to us that they tracked the movements of all tour buses between checkpoints and verified that all tours made it to where they were supposed to be. BTW, all these security checkpoints I have talked about (airport, hotel, tourist, anything…) were manned by personnel carrying machine guns and protected by flak and bulletproof vests.
We first visited Saqqara. Saqqara was the funerary complex for Memphis. We walked through the temple leading into the Stepped Pyramid of Djoser, went inside the Pyramid of Unas, and toured the temple of Mereruka. In the distance to the south, we could see the Bent Pyramid of Sneferu and Red Pyramid, but we did not visit them.
|Stepped Pyramid||Bent Pyramid and Red Pyramid||Pyramid of Unas|
Then we drove to Memphis, near Saqqara. Memphis was the capital of ancient Egypt. Here we visited the open-air museum, which has many artifacts set out, including a huge statue of Ramses, sarcophagi, and a sphinx.
On the way from Memphis to Giza, we stopped at the first of the two “cultural” stops on the tour. This first one was a papyrus factory, where they sold hand-made papyrus with various prints. You could also get names spelled out in hieroglyphics on the prints; we bought several for family members as gifts. Hint: if you visit a papyrus factory, the prices are not set in stone. Buy a little of what you want, and they will offer a lot more for reduced prices. We still probably paid more than we should have, but it is most likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Then it was on to Giza, to see the famous pyramids and the Sphinx. Our tour guide gave us the options for what we could see at and in the pyramids, and then bought the appropriate tickets for us. We walked from the entrance station up the hill to the Great Pyramid, while our guide explained more history as we walked around the pyramid. The Great Pyramid itself was built in about 2560 BC, so we were going into a structure which has been around for almost 4600 years. He then took us the tourist entrance, which enters the pyramid through the Robber’s Tunnel, which was cut out in 820 AD. We entered through the level Robber’s Tunnel, and then began the climb up the Ascending Passage into the Grand Gallery. There were only a few other people inside with us, and we took our time, enjoying the uniqueness of this adventure. We climbed all the way up and into the King’s Chamber, and had it all to ourselves; there was no one else there.
|Ascending Passage||Grand Gallery - looking up||Grand Gallery - looking down||Grand Gallery - looking up|
We climbed down and out, encountering a large tour group just inside the entrance – our timing was very good, as the interior was going to be very busy right after we left. We walked around outside a bit more, then our guide took us to the van and we drove up onto the plateau above the pyramids for photos of us with all three Giza pyramids in the background. After stopping in several places for more photos, we drove back down to the Valley Temple of Khafre, and then walked up and around the Great Sphinx, where we took more photos.
When we were done, we walked just outside of the pyramid complex for lunch at Abou Shakra, a restaurant with an incredible view, overlooking all the pyramids and the Sphinx. After lunch, it was time for another cultural stop, this time an oil essence factory. These oils are pressed out of flowers, and are the base oils and scents used for most high-end perfumes and colognes. For example, they explained that their oil #5 was the same as Chanel #5. We bought several oils, and again, probably paid too much, but what are going to do? You are in Egypt – you buy Egyptian stuff. We then said good-bye to our guide at this point, and the driver took us back to our hotel across town. We got to enjoy the unique road and traffic that is Cairo for another hour, taking in the sights all the way back. There were more checkpoints, a security stop to get into the airport grounds, the security checkpoint with a bomb-sniffing dog to get into the hotel, and finally the metal detector in the hotel lobby. We had dinner at the hotel, and packed for the final flights home.
9 January: Cairo, Egypt
We should have boarded our flight home on this morning, flying Air France from Cairo to Paris to New York to Washington D.C. There were problems; the short story is that we were not on the planned flight and we ended up spending another day at the hotel at the Cairo Airport, with several trips around the airport to terminals 1 and 3. If you want to know the long story, you can read it here. We had to buy new tickets, leaving January 10 at 7 PM on Qatar Airways. Our new Qatar Airways itinerary went from Cairo to Doha to Washington D.C. By the time we finally had a confirmed flight out of Cairo, it was already late afternoon on January 9, and we were too tired to venture out into Cairo, so we stayed at the hotel. We at least had club lounge access, so we enjoyed snacks and wine in the evening.
|January 10 - 11, 2017
Cairo, Egypt (CAI) to Doha, Qatar (DOH) to Washington D.C, USA, Dulles Airport (IAD) - Qatar Airways
10 January: Cairo, Egypt to Doha, Qata
Chris headed over to terminal 1 in the morning to confirm with Qatar Airways we were all set for our flight that evening. We checked out of the hotel in the afternoon, took the hotel shuttle over to terminal 1, made it through Qatar Airways check-in and immigration, and waited for several hours at the lounge for our flight to be ready to board. Again, the business class portion of the flight was the last bus to depart the terminal, so that added even more waiting. We boarded our flight to Doha and then headed to the Qatar Airways business class customer service desk. Since we were flying business class and our layover in Doha was almost 7 hours, we had the option of Qatar Airways putting us up in a hotel for a few hours. The hotel within the international terminal was full, so the only hotels available were off-site. This would have meant going through immigration to enter the country, taking a 20 minute bus ride to the hotel, sleeping for almost 4 hours, then reversing everything to get back for our outbound flight the next morning. Instead, we headed for the business class lounge restaurant for a meal and some champagne, and then found some comfortable wrap-around chairs for a few hours of sleep in the lounge.
11 January: Doha, Qatar to Washington D.C.
We boarded our flight for the 14 hour ride home. We relaxed, ate a couple meals, watched movies and TV, and slept. Our internal clocks continued to be confused. We made it home on-time, and since we had no checked baggage and both of us have our Global Entry with US Customs and Border Protection, we expected to move through the terminal quickly to go pick up our rental car. That ended up being a problem also. Tami's Global Entry electronic form sailed right through the system and she was through the immigration and customs lines with no wait at all. Chris' Global Entry electronic form got flagged and he had to head to screening. It turned out that screening was because we were originally scheduled to fly into New York on January 9 on Air France, but then we had bought new tickets at the last minute to fly on Qatar Airways and arrived home on January 11 instead. Because the tickets had been purchased through Chris' Qatar Airways account, his travel was flagged. It added about a 40 minute wait at the airport. Once Chris actually made it to the screening desk and explained the flight changes, he was passed through immediately. We took the shuttle over to the rental car facility at Dulles Airport, picked up our car and drove home, arriving in the evening on January 11.