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Trip report from Tromsø in Norway Feb 07

My wife and I went to Tromsø in the end of Janauary 2010 and I have made a trip report with some photos and you can find it on this page.  We had a great dinner at Emma’s Drømmekjøkken, we did some snowmobile driving with Lyngsfjord Adventure to see northern lights, we took the cable car Fjellheisen up to the mountain top Storsteinen, visited Polaria and Polar museum etc. I hope that the trip report can be of some use to others that are going there. Get in touch on gardkarlsen@hotmail.com if you have any questions or comments.

Regards
Gard
http://gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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A summary of my travel year 2009 Dec 30

As we are getting close to the end of 2009 it is time to make a bit of summary of the year. How was the travel year 2009? It has been a pretty exciting year for me as I have got to visit new places and I have also revisited places that I have been to before. It has also been an exciting year when it comes to just the flying bit – in total I had almost 50 flights and in total it was over 100.000 km (or 155 hours in the air).

I stopped by Amsterdam in March and I have been there on vacation before. But I have to admit that I had totally forgotten how charming this town really is. This time I did not get to see and do anything more or less but I have been tempted to re-visit this city on vacation in the future.

In April it was time for a brand new experience – a trip with the relative new Airbus A380. Yes, this is the plane with two floors and I had the pleasure of flying it from London to Dubai on Emirates Airlines. I have posted pictures and videos of the flight experience on http://gardkarlsen.com/blog/?p=31 .  On this trip we ended up in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) (see trip report on http://gardkarlsen.com/Ho_Chi_Minh_City_Vietnam_trip_report.htm ) and  Siem Reap / Phnom Penh in Cambodia (see trip report on http://gardkarlsen.com/Angkor_Wat_Cambodia_trip_report.htm ). Both Vietnam and Cambodia was countries that we had not been to before and it was great to experience a new culture, new food, new people. I would love to go back to Vietnam to explore more of the country in the future.

Due to a great offer from Lufthansa we ended up going to Dubai in May. Dubai can offer shopping, insane building projects and beaches but I’m stuck with mixed feelings after the visit. There are many other places that are more fun to visit in my opinion.  Anyway – here is my trip report http://gardkarlsen.com/Dubai_UAE_trip_report.htm

In September I spent a long weekend in London and I have been there several times before. During visit in the past I have not had any great feelings towards the city but maybe I have changed because this time I was stuck with a WOW feeling when I went home. It is an amazing place when it comes to sightseeing, food, shopping, history etc. I have posted some info in the blog on  http://gardkarlsen.com/blog/?tag=london-2009 and I’m also working on a trip report.

In September I spend a few frequent flyer points to fly on First Class to Hong Kong with Lufthansa and back again on First Class with Thai. It was a brand new experience for me and I wish that I could travel like that every time ;-) The service was incredible both at the airports and in the air. I have posted photos and videos on  http://gardkarlsen.com/blog/?tag=first-class-experience-2009 . Feel free to visit the link and find out what life on first class is like :-)

And to round the year of we took a trip to Thailand and Phuket. We have also been there before but we were tempted to re-visit as SAS had a good offer. We had a nice hotel on Kata beach but there is no doubt that Phuket is really busy with tourists. And you know that when you get the menu in both English and Swedish, there must be many Scandinavians in the area. I have posted some thoughts about Thailand on  http://gardkarlsen.com/blog/?tag=thailand

That is a short summary of my year. What do you remember best from your 2009 travel year? And where are you going in 2010?

Regards
Gard
http://gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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Photos and videos from Dubai Dec 06

I have uploaded some photos and videos from Dubai in connection with the upcoming Dubai trip report. You can see them all on http://gardkarlsen.com/Dubai_United_Arab_Emirates_photos.htm

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Impressions from a Bangkok walkabout Nov 22

The sun was shining without mercy on my pale winter skin and I thought to myself that I should have listen to my wife that morning when she was mentioning sunscreen. I was on a Bangkok walkabout and even if it was still before 11 am , the temperature was reaching 30 degrees Celsius (85 degrees Fahrenheit) and combined with the humidity I could feel the sweat running down my back already after a few steps.I started my walkabout near the Siam Skytrain station. At this point the two skytrain lines of Bangkok connect and including the traffic on ground level there are traffic on three floors!! The area is lines with large shopping malls and it becomes a meeting point for locals going to/from work and tourists that are browsing through the selection at malls like Siam Paragon, MBK and Central World Plaza. This futuristic concrete jungle makes me get flashback to the movie Blade Runner – all the people, the noise from the cars and trains, the large billboards, the neon lights…

My goal that morning was Wat Saket or Golden Mount temple as it is called in English. There are lots and lots of temples in Bangkok (known as wats) and the most famous ones for tourists are Grand Palace, Wat Pho og Wat Arun. But sometimes it is better to go to the smaller temples to avoid the large crowds and that is why I decided to go to Wat Saket. Armed with the memory of the Google map that I looked at in the hotel room that morning, I started walking in the right direction. Already on my way out of the shopping mall I got a reminder that there are large contrasts in Bangkok and Thailand – a couple of women was begging with young children on the laps. I also ran into a familiar face from previous Bangkok trips – there is one guy that hides his arms on his back and he begs for money by holding a cup with his teeth. It seems a bit brutal to play handicapped to bring in money but who am I to judge?

After walking along the main road for a while I realized that I had to get away from the road if I wanted to see something apart from roaring buses, motorcycles, tuk-tuk’s and taxis. I was not very happy to breath in the pollution of the road either and in some cases I felt like I was playing Russian roulette just to cross the road. When I broke away from the main road it didn’t take many minutes before I was in a more quiet area. I walked through one of Bangkok’s many small markets where they sold everything from t.-shirts, toys, copies of various things etc and all of a sudden I ended up in a quiet alley. I realized that I had gotten a bit lost but it is not the first time that has happened to me in Bangkok. I walked though the alleys and all the noise of traffic was gone and it was replaced by the sound of a child crying, someone watching an action movie on a TV, sounds of pots as someone was cooking a meal. The locals were looking a bit funny in my direction and I guess they were wondering why I was walking though their neighborhood. And I guess they were also wondering why anyone would find it interesting to walk into their alleys – but for a Norwegian this is a completely different world and that makes it interesting.

I tried to think back to the Google map that I was looking at that morning and I guess it would have been easier if I had brought a map with me – but then my walkabout wouldn’t be much of a challenge. In the end I maneuvered so that I ended up on a path going along one of the canals of Bangkok (known as klongs). Today the Chao Phraya river is still an important for transportation as it cuts the city in two but there are also a lot of canals that runs around Bangkok but as the big skyscrapers have popped up, the canals have gotten more hidden. One of the canals goes more or less right behind the big shopping malls at Siam and past Jim Thompson house and it goes sort of parallel to the busy Sukhumvit road. The canal that I was walking along was pretty typical for Bangkok – the water was pretty black and the scent in the air indicated that the water was not that clean. But on both sides of the canal people were living on the edge of it.

I started to walk on the path that went parallel to the canal as I knew it would lead me to the temple and once again I felt like I was walking though people’s backyards. It was pretty quiet apart from when the “river busses” roared by from time to time. Apart from that the silence was only broken by children playing inside the house, a washing machine working on a new pile of laundry etc. On some parts of the path the scent of freshly washed clothing was dominant. Maybe someone was doing to weekly laundry or maybe someone had set up a business doing all the laundry for the neighborhood. I had to sneak by clothing hanging to dry and an old woman that was washing some clothes with her hands on the pathway.

The pathway seemed to be a combination of a garbage place, people’s back yards, place for cooking etc. At one point there were several toilets placed outside and at other places I had to sneak past women frying up spring rolls in large woks. Wherever I went I always got a friendly smile when I looked at people with curiosity. Thailand is known as the land of smiles and I love it when I can look at strangers and get a smile back. I see that on some forums it is being discussed it the smiles are genuine but it seems like it to be at least.

At some places I had to step over dogs that were taking a nap in the Bangkok heat. There are quite a lot of stray dogs in Bangkok and some of them look pretty scruffy. But I can’t remember seeing any dogs being aggressive but I don’t really like to step over sleeping dogs that looks like a pitbull mixed with a Rottweiler. There were also quite a lot of cats around and as usual some of them were missing the tail. I guess it is easy to assume that this is due to a hard life but it is actually a mutation that leads to a lack of tail for many of the cats in Thailand.

I found it hard to take many photos as I walked through the alleys. I felt that I was invading people’s privacy just by walking there and I didn’t want to make it even worse by bringing out a large SLR camera. In the end I got of the pathway and I came out on a street where there were little bike trolleys selling stuff like fresh juice, satay etc. It seems like Thai’s snack all the time – how do they stay so skinny?

When I came to Wat Saket, a couple of tuk-tuk’s rolled in with some German tourists. I was tempted to ask them how much they had paid for the “pleasure”. Tuk-tuk’s are three wheeled motorcycle taxis with room for a couple of passengers behind the driver. It can be an efficient way to get around but the problem is that a fair share of the drivers are into scams. They trick tourist when it comes to price and even where they are taking their passengers. I have “been there, done that” so these days I don’t waste time on tuk-tuk’s. You might as well go for a taxi instead as it is usually cheaper, it is safer and you get an air-con environment to get out of the Bangkok heat for a few minutes :-)

Around the temples of Grand Palace and Wat Pho there are usually “con men” that walks up to tourists and informs them that the temple is closed due to the Buddhist celebration, because of the King’s birthday etc. They seem pretty trustworthy as they speak good English and they are well dressed. But their stories are of course lies and they just try to get you to go on tuk-tuk rides or similar. You can also meet con men at skytrain station and on the street and they always try to start a conversation asking where you are going or where you are from. So it is best to be a bit street smart.

I climbed to the top of Wat Saket Ratcha Wora Maha Wihan and at the top of this artificial hill you get a good view of Bangkok. As I reached the top why t-shirt was pretty wet from sweat – one of these days I have to learn to slow down a bit in the Bangkok heat. Inside the temple there was a scent of incense and locals where praying and placing gold leaf on Buddha figures. Most of the tourists seemed to have gotten the message when it comes dressing in a conservative way and all had seen the sign about taking the shoes of before going into the temple.Here is a video from Wat Saket: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMO8WHXEXz8

When I came out of the temple a couple of tuk-tuk drivers tried to get my attention by offering tours but I said no and gave them a friendly smile and it seemed to work. In Thailand it is not use losing your temper or get annoyed when you are asked for the 50th time if you want a tuk-tuk. I decided to take one of the river busses back to Siam as there is a stop near the temple. It is not that easy to know which boat to get on but if you ask you normally get some feedback about this even if there can be some communication problems . The ride with the boat took me past the places I had walked earlier that day and I used the opportunity to take some photos. But in the end the boat speeded up and the passengers pulled up the fabric along the sides of the boat to avoid being splashed by the dirty canal water. Check out this video of the canal busses: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXk9bSlM7KQ

It is always a challenge getting off at the right stop but I managed to find the right one and soon I was walking back to Siam Paragon. As I walked through the doors of the shopping mall the cold air from the air-con hit me and the luxury of the shopping mall is quite a contrast what I had seen on my walk.I hope that this has given an impression of Bangkok. If you are going there I will recommend you to get a bit lost and check out some of the temples that are not that known. Maybe you will find “the real Bangkok” if there is such a thing.

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Our hotel at Phuket in Thailand Nov 14

We are staying at Avista Resort and Spa, Kata beach. It opened on November 1st so it is brand new. Here is a video.

Using the canals to get around Bangkok Nov 12

There are many ways to get around Bangkok. You can take the skytrain, the subway, use a taxi, live on the wild side and use a motorcycle taxi, get ripped off when taking a tuk-tuk etc. But there are also a few canals around Bangkok where you can find a regular “bus service”. The canals (known as klongs) are quite dirty so it is best to avoid splashes. But the view from the boat is quite nice and it takes you quickly from e.g. Golden Mount (Wat Saket) to the Siam area. Here is a video showing a bit of the experience.

At Wat Saket in Bangkok Nov 11

A short video from a visit to Wat Saket in Bangkok. From the top of this artificial hill you get a pretty good view of Bangkok.

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Some images from Bangkok Nov 10

I like to walk around Bangkok when I visit the city as it is a strange combination of noises, traffic, beautiful temples etc. Here are some images from day one when I took a walk around after donating blood. I took the river express to the Grand Palace area and walked over to Wat Suthat.

Experience with Thai First Class – Bangkok to Frankfurt Oct 04

The flight from Bangkok was supposed to leave at 11.55 am but it was a bit delayed. In the beginning I was informed that it was delayed by one hour so when we got to that stage I started asking the staff in the lounge when boarding would start. They just told me to relax and they would let me know :-). So all of a sudden I was told that my flight was ready and one of the lounge staff took me over to C6 and I went on board. I think I must have been the last person on board as as soon as I sat down it seemed like we were closing the door and were pushed back.

I had seat 2A on this TG922 flight and the seat was located in the very nose of this 747 and on my flight and of the 10 first class seats I think 7 were taken. The configuration here is not bad at all as the seats are big and with an ottoman. But there are only 4 seats that are connected so make sure you get one of these if you are traveling as a couple. The headset and toiletry bag was already handed out to the seat and the toiletry bag includes stuff as mouth freshener (good idea), Evian face spray??, lip balm, tooth brush, eye shades, socks etc but no ear plugs. Slippers were also handed out already to start with. A pajama was handed out and it was in a pretty funky purple Thai color…I think I prefer the dark blue Lufthansa one.

When I first sat down I was of course offered champagne and it was Dom Perignon vintage 2000 and it was not bad at all. Takeoff from Bangkok was pretty uneventful even if it was raining pretty badly and soon after we got more champagne and some large nuts. What was a bit strange was after a while in the air it felt like drops of water were dripping from the ceiling. But when closer it seemed like it was small pieces of ice – I guess it was condense water which got frozen but it was weird seeing this fall into the cabin.

The menus were handed out in a big folder and included both the food menu and the drink list. There were two servings on this 11 hour flight and I’ll get back to that later on. The drink list included wines such as Chablis Premier Cru, Fourchaume 2006, Rully 1er Cru 2000, Chateau Haut-Sarpe Grand Cru Classé St. Emilion 2004 and Pommard 2002. I didn’t mind that the serving didn’t start right away as I had to check out my seat and take pictures of the details there. As I mentioned, the seats come with an ottoman which can be used to keep your feet on. But it also acts as a chair if you want to dine with someone – quite clever. The table was huge so it was not a problem serving two people on it. The TV came up from a hatch in the side panel and was a medium size TV…I would still like to see something like the Emirates TV. But the selection of TV and movies were quite good and I enjoyed several movies during the flight.

A bit less than an hour after takeoff the food services started. The FA came over to me and took my order and it started with a mixed chicken with Chinese sausage as an appetizer. From there we moved over to caviar with garniture – the garlic bread that was served on the side was way too hard. And the small butter that was handed out had the Thai Airways logo on it but it was brick hard. On the Lufthansa flight the butter had been left out a bit so it was easier to spread on the bread – details, details.

Next dish was something called Lobster bellvue and it was cold lobster served with mozzarella and tomatoes on the side and some balsamic mayonnaise– I have to admit that I’m not that crazy about lobster….this lobster was too tough in my opinion.
For the main dish there were various options . lamb chops, stuffed chicken breast,  beef in green curry, tiger prawns in chili sauce etc. I went for the lamb chops served with vegetable and mashed potatoes on the side and it was a great dish – I enjoyed it with some red wine of course.

When I had finished the main course the FA came around with the cheese trolley and asked if I wanted some cheese. I’m a sucker for cheese so I accepted this of course…but I think that I got the world’s largest portions as I got big pieces of brie, blue cheese etc. Served with port wine it was excellent but there was no way I was able to finish all of it.
The meal was rounded off with a simple dessert…some candy and a choice of coffee and drinks. I have to admit that I like to round of a meal with coffee and Baileys but they did not have any Baileys on this flight so I went for some Otard 1795 instead. Back home this bottle will cost you close to 400 USD – too bad that I don’t have a clue about cognac so that I could really appreciate it.

After the meal the lights were turned off and I was watching the rest of Monsters vs. Aliens before I slipped into the pajamas and had some sleep. There seemed to be two toilets for the first class passengers and they were always clean. But when I went back to the toilet I had to “squeeze” past one of the seats and a curtain that was separating the First and Business class section I guess. The seat was not bad for sleeping in but I think I would have to say that the Lufthansa seat was a bit more comfortable but maybe it is not fair to compare as the Lufthansa flight was a night flight and the Thai flight was a day flight.

After about 5 hours after the last meal the lights came on partially in the cabin again and it was time for second serving. I guess I should have been full after the previous meal but strangely enough I was ready for more food. After a couple of canapés we got the first dish which was marinated beef served on vermicelli (glass noodles thai style) and served with smoked salmon with a shrimp mascarpone and apple filling. This dish didn’t really work for me. Then I got a large portion of lobster soup which was very good but once again the portion was a bit too generous. There were several options for main meal: sliced veal Zurich style, cider braised pork chops, chicken curry Pa-naeng and wok fried stuffed prawn mousse. I went for the boring option…sliced veal. The veal was served with a great thick sauce and it was excellent. The meal was rounded off with a Lemon almond tart which was not that good.

After this meal the lights were turned off again and I’m not sure why this was done – were we expected to sleep again? I guess that is the challenge of long day flights. But after close to 12 hours and 9000 km it was time for landing in Frankfurt
It was not a problem having such a long flight when seated on First class of course. I had lots of great food and drinks and the entertainment options were not bad at all. So the big question is…which was better: Lufthansa First Class (see http://gardkarlsen.com/blog/?p=470 ) or Thai First Class? I’m not sure I’m able to pick a winner here. Even if Thai has newer seats, the Lufthansa seats did feel very comfortable. And the food serving on both flights were very nice. But if I also include the lounges in advance I would have to say that Lufthansa is the winner.
Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or comments.

Eating out in Hong Kong Sep 28

So where do you go to eat and what do you eat when you reach a new place? That is always the question. Well, thanks to couchsurfing.com I met up with some locals tonight and went out to eat with them. We went to a place that by Norwegian standards probably would have been closed by the food inspection services….but it was really excellent. But just to give you an idea of the place….it was pouring down outside and there were just plastic walls to keep the rain out. Inside there were large, round wooden tables with small plastic stools to sit on. The concept here was that we had to wash our own chopsticks, plates, glasses etc in tea! And when I asked for a bathroom I was led to the “back yard” and I just had to pee there. The food was excellent and here is the food presented by Ada :-)

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