Great American Western Road Trip: Summer 2018

4 weeks, 3 kids, 1 van, 16 different lodgings, 5400+ miles, 12+ National or State Parks and Monuments adds up to 1 Epic Adventure.

American Southwest Family Vacation 2017

We followed historic Route 66 on our way to see the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, plus much more in New Mexico and Arizona.

End of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Here are our stories from two and a half years of living in Saudi Arabia while exploring the region.

Excursions to Oman

On two different trips, we strolled Muscat, hiked Wadi Shab, and sailed a dhow through the fjords of Musandam.

Our Expedition to Jordan

Highlights included tracing the steps of Indiana Jones into Petra, following Lawrence of Arabia into Wadi Rum, and floating in the Dead Sea.

Monday, May 31, 1999

Hong Kong, for real this time

I woke up around 6:30 am, but I didn't have to. I think that I just don't want to miss my flight, since there will be someone from Johnson Electric waiting for me at the airport in Hong Kong. I checked out of my last windowless room for a while and hopped into a cab bound for the airport around 8 o'clock. As it turns out, my flight, CX710 was scheduled to depart at 8:10 am. I would have completely missed it, had it not been cancelled because of the Cathay Pacific pilot/management dispute. I boarded CX714 around 10:45. In my itinerary, I had the departure time of my flight to Bali as the time to depart Singapore. Doh. I sat next to a woman named Helen, a worker for Bayer who was from Singapore. We talked about a number of things, like politics and what to do in Hong Kong. We landed around 3:15 and I was through customs with my bags out of storage by 3:40. Now I need to find my ride to the apartment.

I didn't see anyone waving my name, which is to be expected since I arrived on a different flight, at a different time. So I got McD's for lunch. I called the apartment at 4:10, and Chris answered the phone. He said he'd make the calls and get someone out to get me. I talked with an older man about the airport, Bangkok, and the weather until 5pm. It's just as overcast now as when I first stopped in on my way to Bangkok. I was just about to join the queue for ice cream when I ran into an old guy walking briskly with my name on a placard, right around 5:30.

The view from my room
The scenery on the way to the place is great. We arrived at the apartment around 6:30. There are around 5 locks I have to open to get into my room, starting from the guard desk in the lobby. Chris and I went out to the nearby market and picked up some food stuffs. I'm on the second floor of a 37-story building. We have the needed amenities, and my room is literally an 8'x8' box with a wall of windows that face the complex's park. I can see them clearly, so I'm pretty sure they can see me too. I went to sleep around 10ish.

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Sunday, May 30, 1999

Strolling through Singapore

Malacca, Malaysia
It was 20 minutes from the time I woke up this morning until I was ready to go. I awoke just before my alarm went off at 7 am. There's a slight drizzle outside my window. I arrived at the Malacca bus station and found my bus without any problems. I met two Canadian girls (well, they're actually six years my senior) headed to Singapore whom I saw yesterday in the A&W. Today is Wesak Day, the "Thrice Blessed Day"-celebration of the birth, enlightment, and attainment of nirvana by Buddha. Last night's parade was part of the celebration that carries on into today. The meat locker of a bus left at 8:06 am. But the bright side is that my knees don't hit the seat in front of me. We made a stop around 10 am and I had yellow and red watermelon, and some green melon too. We were back on the bus at 10:23. Johor Bahru around noon, and we got stuck in traffic for the border crossing. Into Singapore and through customs by 12:30, on the streets of the city walking towards downtown at 1:11pm.

I found a room on Bencoolen street, at the Peony Hotel. Dropped my stuff and went for food. I passed by the Lego truck again, this time it's exhibit was open so I strolled through. From there, it's down to Merlion Park (The merlion is the symbol of Singapore...the head of a lion on a fish's body.)

 After checking out the park, I strolled into Chinatown and ate lunch in a huge eatery (I think my food came from stall 231) I walked about 4 blocks in air-conditioned overpasses up to Clark's Quay, the little ex-pat hangout.
Is this a biker gang?
Passed by the Ft. Canning Reservoir area. Turned onto Orchard Road, the busy, crowded, shopping street. I caught the last half of a street performance show that had some amazingly talented guys balancing on ladders and rollers and throwing stuff into the air.

 From there, I ducked into the MRT station, just before 7pm. I got off the train at the Ang Mo Kio station and hopped on an air-con'd bus to the Night Safari. It's a very cool place. I walked a bit, trammed a bit.

Ate a burger at a table with three other people I didn't know. They didn't know each other either. The safari consisted of animals subtly lit in natural (invisible fences) habitats. I walked through one of the few remaining pockets of primary forest in Singapore, very cool. Saw a bull elephant with tusks, but I was too close to fit him in the camera frame. 
My biggest issue with film cameras
At 10 o'clock, the ZOO-1 express bus arrived. I lucked out and got the very last seat. A pair of people ahead of me-technically, I was ahead: the driver said the bus was full, I stepped back, the couple moved ahead, someone cleared up one seat previously assumed to be occupied, and I got the seat. Back at my room just before 11pm, got my stuff ready and checked my flight info, and then went to sleep.

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Saturday, May 29, 1999

Is it Melaka or Malacca?

Woke up in my windowless room in Kuala Lumpur to the sound of my little watch alarm. Rolled out of bed at 7:15 am, and was in the bus station eating donuts by 7:50. On the way out, the hotel clerk was asleep on the floor behind the desk, so I left the key and checked out all quiet like. About two-thirds of the women are wearing those headdress things, I forgot their official name. Most of the Malaysian guys are sporting mustaches. Not to stereotype or anything. The bus was rolling out at 8:28. The music in the bus was again, quite relaxing. After what seemed like hours on back roads through amazing scenery, we entered Melaka at 11 am.

I was met at the bus station ticket booth by Mr. Ong, an old guy born in Malacca while it was under British rule. He took me on a tour of his town via trishaw (those bikes with a side car). No gear shifts, just flat out, old-school single-track bike action. My arms are as big as his legs. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around? He suggested I stay at the Hotel Visma, which was good in a number of ways (more on that later). The breeze in the cart is nice. We also passed another trishaw that had an alarm.

 I saw a Hindu temple, and a Buddhist one too. Tonight is a big holiday, so the Chinese Buddhists were working on floats and stuff like that. I was taken to the Chinese Museum, a restored house in the style of the Straits-born Chinese. The next stop on my tour was the Dutch part of town.

 Harmony Street has a Hindu temple next to a Buddhist temple next to a church.

Saw the bright red Christ Church in the square and St. Paul's up on the nearby hill. A vagrant was playing "Oh Suzanna" on his harmonica. And then there was a great sign that let you know in no uncertain terms that you were not supposed to go beyond the wall.

 Mr. Ong has been doing this for 49 years. Born in 1927, he saw Melaka pass from British control to Japanese occupation to liberation and finally Malaysian independence. We pulled over and drank some soya bean drink to cool down. The gutters in this town are between 18 and 24 inches deep, about a foot wide. The tour ended just before three. I rested in my room (I had a headache from too much sun and exhaust). Went for dinner around 4:30. Stopped at a place in Dutch town I saw on the tour..."Kafe Lonely Planet". Rendang chicken and starfruit juice. A good combo. The chicken was just spicy enough, and the juice cooled it out. Dutch town is basically red buildings with sturdy windows. Not much to do but watch the endless traffic go by single file. I checked email again at a place called SerVer2-CybeRsp@t. Nothing really good. After that, I walked down to the beach, which was really little more than water hitting rocks. About a dozen fishermen were spread up and down the mouth of the river. I spied an A&W on my way back to the hotel.

I stopped to get a banana split sundae. The A&W is next to a swimming pool, so picture this: People walking around outside in Speedos, people indoors with the traditional Muslim dress and head coverings. What's the deal? I saw a 'SKA City Bus" later on my return. I walked around until I found the simplest route to the bus from my hotel for tomorrow morning. At around 7:30, while I was watching Malaysia TV, I heard some thumping noise coming from the street. It was the Wesak Day parade, and it was passing within a stone's throw of my window. Music, flags, lots of candles, and the floats I saw earlier today. Quite an enjoyable festival. I went to sleep around 11 pm, after watching more Malaysia TV.

This is the float I saw earlier
Oh, as for the proper spelling: the city of Melaka passed through Portuguese hands to the Dutch, who swapped possesion of it with the British for Sumatra, and was then occupied during WWII by the Japanese, after which it was liberated. When Malaysia became an independent country, the town took the Malay spelling of 'Malacca'.

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Friday, May 28, 1999

Will I ever make it to Kuala Lumpur?

Johor Bahru, Malaysia
It's 1:11 am Thursday morning. It's quite late and the same people have been sitting around since I got to the bus station. Some guys were playing takraw, a game that's like hackey-sack with a wicker ball. Just as I'm about to write more about how time is passing, the bus comes and everyone jumps into line. The bus number is the license plate. It's Super-VIP seating, which is to say sleeper chairs. Once the bus starts moving, I'm going to me out like a light.

The guys waiting for their bus are still playing takraw. I almost tried to join, but was just too tired. My ticket was taken at 1:24 am. A girl's family asked me to switch seats with her, and my new seat partner asked if I was comfortable. It's quite air-conditioned on board. There's some soothing Arabian
sounding music on the radio.

Regaining consciousness at 6:45 am, I watch as we pass by the Kuala Lumpur Airport. Moments later I was in the bus station securing my ticket to Malacca tomorrow morning. Walked up to the KL City Center, which I believe is touted as being the tallest building in the world. Apparently, one of the twin towers was build by a Japanese firm, the other by a Korean firm. From there, it's down Jalan Sultan Ismail, past the Hard Rock Café. Just like the one in Bangkok, I arrived before the hours of operation. It's 8:38 am, I'm sitting in the Delifrance eating a continental breakfast and listening to "Only You". I went back to the Hard Rock to get something for my friend Sandia. I walked back to the Central KL area, with a rest stop in Mendaka Square.

I was proceeding to walk to the Central Market when a guy approached me, we talked about the USA over some Coca-cola, then he asked if I would talk to his uncle about the US. The uncle is a casino guy that is supposedly going to Las Vegas to work. Anyways, we got in a cab, went out into the suburban area, talked some more (the old man offered to take me to the casino and show me how to win every hand. I declined--he seemed shocked that I wasn't interested in a sure thing.) Very shortly after that, they called a cab and took me back to where I started. I walked over to the Backpacker's Travellers Lodge and bought a room for the night. Went back up to the Central Market around 1:30 pm and found a wooden horse carving for my trinket collection. They didn't have any monkeys that looked good enough to display with my other carvings, and since the region was once a warring nation, I figured a horse, while not native, was culturally significant.

From the market, I made my way over to the Post Office, dropped off some postcards and headed south. The train station had that oh-so-cool Moorish look. Walked over to the Lake Gardens, where I watched about 5 kids be afraid of the park ranger's horse. It's a very scenic park. I kept walking until I found myself (if only it were that easy) back at the Central Market. Lunch was biryani at Restoran Yusoof. On my way back down Petaling, I saw a pirated Phantom Menace VCD (The movie was released in the States May 19th, 1999). So I watched it at 9pm at the hotel with a bunch of Irishmen. It wasn't a bad copy, but the ET's were cut out of the "Vote of No Confidence" scene. I went to bed around midnight.

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Thursday, May 27, 1999

Breakfast in Thailand, Lunch in Singapore, Dinner in Malaysia

Bangkok, Thailand
Woke up around 5:45 am, showered and packed by 6:15. My bag is near capacity,
but I think I can still fit a few more things into it. Grabbed breakfast at the
Grand Guesthouse, while watching CNN. Forecast is 33C (91.4 F) in Bangkok, 31 C
(87.8 F) in Singapore. Toast, two eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, tea, pineapple and
banana ran me 80 Baht. Checked email (32 Baht) to get rid of some coins. So far
I've received 54 messages since I left Boston, most of them concerning Star
Wars. The minibus to the airport leaves at 10 am, for a quarter of the price
the cab cost me coming from there. It's now 7:30, and techno is already pumping
away. The sun just came up over the buildings, but before it did, the air was a
good, warm, humid temperature. Incense is wafting through the air, and I only
saw one monk with alms today. The people in the restaurants (vendors aren't open
yet) all say "Hello" as I walk by. Retired to my room one last time, beating the
heat without paying for food. Just had a funny thought: What if I stay in my
hotel room for the entirety of my trip..."This is Thailand, viewed from my window-
This is Singapore, etc." How lame would that be? I checked out of the hotel
around 9 am, walked across the street to Khao Sarn Center for a mixed fruit
shake, more TV CNBC Asia. Thinking back to the Tuk-Tuk hustlers, I ran into the
same 2-3 guys while walking around different parts of town. Most often they said
"You know _______?", "You've been to _______?", Standing Buddha and Marble
Temple, and "Closed for Buddhist holiday." Right now, 9:25, me and four
employees are just sitting around watching the TV. You can tell there's nothing
better to do when you're watching trading news. The van showed up 5 minutes
early, so my conversation with a Thai travel worker (who was from the North, but
has never left Thailand) was cut short. The minibus was 40 minutes of suicide
driving, but hey, everyone was driving like that. I arrived at the check-in for
my flight and was upgraded to Business class. Sweet!

To get to my gate, I had to descend 2 flights of stairs after passing through
the departure tax collectors and passport authorities. I'm on the ground floor,
and it really looks like we're going to board buses to take us to our plane.
While I was walking around, I saw a sign for "Muslim Prayer Room" with a little
stick figure man kneeling on a mat. Anyways, the transport bus took about two
minutes and was quite crowded. As the boarding would have been, had I not gotten
to use the business class entrance. Quite sweet. They have recliners and I have
to stretch to reach my feet to the bulkhead. They even have a screen to show the
runway during take-off. There's a bit of drizzle as we prepare to depart
Bangkok. I was served OJ (with pulp) while waiting for boarding to finish.
Reclining seats, toasted almonds. Thai flavored Salmon salad, prawns in mild
curry, and pineapple. Port and sherry too. And the flight attendants kept
calling me, quite clearly a college kid, "Mr."

We arrived 3:15pm local time, passing over small boats with dot-like
fishermen. Blew threw customs, bought some Nerds to make change for the bus.
Hopped on the #36 because it had Orchard Road on it. Whereever I end up, I'll
walk to the bus station for Malaysia. This bus is like the one we rode in
Wales on the way to the hostel in Cardiff. There's a Hindu monk-type guy across
the aisle from me. Again, the driver is on the right for vehicles. I stepped
off the bus around Raffles Center (there was a big, yellow Lego truck there,
but it was all locked up). Grabbed lunch at an eatery-like place on Waterloo.
Chicken rice S$3, Coke S$1.10. Amazingly spicy. Well, the chicken was served
at room temperature, but the pepper spice-wow. Still haven't seen anyone use
chopsticks. Kept walking up Waterloo, past two temples, and into a little
market area, walked up to the Johor Bahru express station. The bus seats are
tight, but it's air conditioned. Wheels rolled at 5:45 pm, through customs
(get off bus, check out, get on bus, check in) by 6:45.

Johor Bahru, Malaysia
I went about the business of changing my money into ringgits, and looking
for the bus station to take me north. I entered a mall that was nearby. Met a
nice English chap heading to Thailand to finish the business of selling his
38 foot sailing yacht. If he does, he and his wife will move up to a 42-footer.
He showed me to the bus travel agents. So, there is a row of bus ticket sellers.
You find where you want to go, maybe have the luxury of when, buy the ticket.
I got my 12 midnight to Kuala Lumpur at Ekspress Grassland. I have to be back
here at 11 pm (it's 7:30 now). Through broken English all is accomplished. Did
somebody say McDonald's? yes, I don't like eating here when travelling, but food
is key. By 8:50 I was done with my postcards. Around 9:30, I was sitting outside
the mall, and this Indian man from Singapore started talking to me. Sultan was a
lecturer in Singapore and now was a jewelry store there. Anyways, he led the
conversation into the two no-nos: Politics and Religion. He asked if I was
Christian, and I said yes. Then he started talking about how Muslims and
Christians need to unite. Kosovo came up, Clinton was discredited, and
Republicans were declared the lesser of two evils. And Protestants are better
than Catholics. Moving on...

I am really amazed at how friendly these people are. An old security guard
just walked by and smilingly said "You have enough light? You see?" (I'm under
a street lamp curb thing at the moment reading my travel guide). The mall's
closed, I have another 50 minutes to kill before finding my bus. Mosquitos are
biting me. Just my elbow though. As much as Singapore was green and clean, Johor
Bahru is gray and dirty. Smells like exhaust or rot. But since I refuse to let
problems be anything more than challenges, I'll just sit it out until I'm on
the bus and asleep. But before that:

I found myself talking to the 20-year-old travel guy, who basically has to
wait for me to close shop. He does, and he, his coworker, and I hop into his
car. He takes me over to the bus station. After a little panic, (I see a bus
pulling out of my assigned bay bound for Kuala Lumpur) I am told to wait. So
I'm now in the middle of nowhere (I don't know where is more precise), little
English is spoken, I'm waiting for a bus I might have just watched leave, been
up for 19 + hours with no end in sight, and I have no place to stay tonight.
Wheee, Ain't life grand?

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Wednesday, May 26, 1999

Bumming in Bangkok

It's about 5:30 am and I am just rising from 12 hours of discontinuous sleep.
"Pretty Fly for a White Guy" and "Do you believe in life after love" by
Offspring and Cher, respectively, were songs that woke me up last night. By 6:10am
I was in a cab to Lumpini Park, on the way I saw dozens of monks collecting alms
(food). By the time we arrived at the Park, it was 6:30 and traffic was
beginning to pick up. Lots of Chinese exercising in Lumpini-Tai Chi, running,
walking, etc. There is music floating in the early morning air. Very relaxing.

 Left the park headed north on Ratchadamri. Saw the Hyatt erawan shrine, famous for people asking it to grant wishes. Breakfast was in McDonald's down the block-McChicken sandwich combo. No breakfast menu, but they did have "Samurai Pork Burger"...the quarter pounder? There is a Starbucks "Opening Soon" next door.
Get your zen here
Wandered down to Siam Intercontinental Hotel. Everyone smiled like I was a guest. To complete the image, I walked around like I knew where I was going. Afterwards, I shuffled over to the Siam Center, a large shopping area. Doesn't open until 10 am. It's 8:25 now, and I'm nursing two scrawny Dunkin Donuts and a slurpee in the air conditioned dining area. There are two movie theatres and both are showing The Matrix. A sign with something about the Phantom Menace too, but I couldn't figure out what it was saying. The music in Dunkin Donuts is a Thai version of Soundgarden. Cool. Back to the Siam Intercontinental Garden-peacocks and swans just chillin' out.

Caught a water taxi to Wat Sakhet (I barely missed the first one at 10:25, because I was on the wrong side of the dock.) I arrived at 10:40 am. Basically, the boat comes up, people jump off and on, the boat never really stops moving. The fare taker walks along the outside ledge of the boat, on the other side of the spray curtain.
Water Taxi stand
Walking around the stores surrounding Wat Rachanada, I ended up in a conversation with woman who was sitting in the back of one of the dark rows of stalls, writing down the English lyrics to some love song. She was having trouble with one of the words. She asked me for help, so I read thru what
she had written down. Three-fourths of the characters were legible. The others disappeared in the cursive writing. We made small talk for a while for her to practice her English. It was okay, but far better than my non-existent Thai skills. To this day, this was one of my "had to be there" kind of memories that is too difficult to describe in words and can't be captured in a photo.

Lunch was curry duck with watermelon and papaya shakes, back at the Sidewalk Café in Khao San. I was surprised when the duck came out in a soup. Boy, did that clear out the sinuses. When back to my room, took a nap. Around 3:30 I woke up, exchanged money, and had to buy a new belt because the one I had was mildewing or something. Anyhow, it was ruining my clothes and I still have 6
days to go. It still strikes me as odd to haggle prices around 100-200 Baht. It's like fighting over whether I'm going to pay $4.50 or $5.25. So they knocked 30 Baht off. It may be 1/6th the price, but it's not even a buck. Whatever. But it's a significant amount to for them, which only reinforces how privileged I am to be taking this trip.

Dinner around 6:15 pm at Nat Guest House while watching "She's All That". A sweet and sour chicken with rice meal with pineapple shake-75 baht. Some Marley started playing across the street. Okay, here's one annoying thing about this road (where us cheap tourists stay): I was eating dinner and five different children came up to me with a laminated card saying, in effect "Give me money".
Also, the number of deformed beggars here is far higher than the rest of the city. Out on the east side of town, I didn't get solicited by either a tuk-tuk or a beggar. Once I got back, it must have been a dozen times. That, and I think I also got solicited by a whore during dinner. Hey people, I'm eating here!
Khaosan Road - aka expat alley
Around 7 o'clock, a lot of the curbside vendors have shutdown. The number of white girls with tattoos is simply staggering. Around every third one I see. And those are just the visible ones. 10:20 pm and it's pouring rain. Or so it seemed from inside. Apparently, it wasn't still raining, just water pouring off of buildings and stuff. Walked up and down Khao San at night-no vendors, just restaurants doing business. The weather is much more comfortable at night,too.
I crashed at around midnight.

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Tuesday, May 25, 1999

Central Bangkok

Today, I'm staying as inactive as possible. I can do laundry at 9am (it's about 7:35 am now), maybe even check email. Paid for another night at the hotel (they do it on a day by day basis). Laundry privileges cost 100 Baht, and I was given 4 round coins and a modified coin for the machines, plus detergent.

Drinking my breakfast slurpee, orange & coke, I hung out in the laundry room. There was a siamese cat meowing and it's kitten was under the washing machine. After the laundry was done, I picked up some jewelry down the block and checked email on the way back to my room around 11 am. I grabbed a bite to eat in the Siam Restaurant, "American Fried Rice" and a banana shake. Thai food pretending to be American. It wasn't that great, which is weird since I like both styles of food.

Into a cab and off to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Keo. Lots of gold; bells on the roof line jingling in the wind. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha (which is actually one piece of jade) is airy; red ceiling girders and the 2 foot tall Buddha is at the top of a 40 foot shrine covered with gold. Lots of oscillating fans too. A little walk around the outside of the temple grounds, but still inside the walls of the temple, ended with coke and Haagen Dazs Raspberry sorbet. It's funny how often people smile at each other here: 1)I saw a sign in the airport welcoming us to the land of smiles, 2)I don't think they really understand what I'm saying. "The proceeds from the sale [of my coke and ice cream] for the restoration of the temple of the emerald Buddha."

 On the way back to Khao San at 1:45 pm. Took in a Buddhist festival (a real one, not a tuk tuk contrived one) at Sanam Ll'ang. Undertook trying to find a post office. Picked up a Manchester United jersey for around $5 US and a fruit drink. Khao San has the highest percentage of white folk. This is more than just coincidence. Most of the workers speak English, at least enough to get the message across. The international sign-language for 'check' holds true. Despite all the hustle and bustle, you can take your time and still be early around here. I think it's just the heat that makes everything seem far. I finally saw a Thai sweating, a monk no less. Not to say that monks don't sweat, you just don't seem them bead up that often. Back to my room for a shower and drop stuff off.
On the way, I was sidetracked by Wat Chana Songkram, basically a non-touristed out temple. The nuns were cleaning, a guy was mopping the marble floor.
Got back to the room, gave up, laid down and went to sleep after planning stuff for Singapore.

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