The Coming of Spring

The winter snow crunches under our feet,
Showing to all the path we have taken.
Over the hills, the morning sun does greet
The frosty breath that our mouth are makin’.
We made it to the muddy fields outside
The bird whose wings will fly us to our home.
Though the seeds on buds in the soil still hide,
In a short time, over the grass, they’ll roam.
We finally arrive in the sun’s land
And we shed the clothes we had worn this day.
The moon shines on the waves hitting the sand,
Licking the bare soles of our feet in play.
It just takes the rotation of the clock
To dismantle the winter’s icy stock.

Staying in the Hills – Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

The full moon rising over Sala’s parking lot

Very rarely, when we are traveling, do we ever splurge on a luxurious place to stay. We usually look for those small, comfortable places where we can find some down time after a long day of touring around the area where we are. We don’t go travelling for the hotel. We rather go out to experience the world, and see what different cultures have to offer to us. But we were not travelling just the two of us this time. We were off with Christine’s parents which caused us to make different decisions when it came to accommodations.

The view from my room when I opened the blinds

After a long day of riding around in a song tal (a covered pick up truck with two benches in the back to sit on) throughout Khao Yai National Park, we drove thirty minutes through the countryside, avoiding the big town, to find our really nice hotel, Sala. Very rarely do I talk about hotels during my adventures, but this one was exceptionally nice. It sat on top of hill that looked out over the valley that we had just travelled through, and was far away from the hustle and bustle that we had grown accustomed to by living in Bangkok.

The sunset over the pool on the back porch of Sala Hotel

We arrived just in time for the sunset, and as it sank below the horizon, it left a beautiful scene over the pool that sat on the edge of the deck. While we checking in, we were able to take a couple of pictures and make a reservation at the restaurant. We really didn’t need to make the reservation because there were only seven tables in the restaurant and there were only seven rooms in the whole place. People still came out from the city to dine here from time to time, but it was not a regular occurrence, and we were the only people at the restaurant for dinner. It was a great meal too with many options from both western and eastern cuisine.

The lived in look of the room at Sala Hotel

The room was even really comfortable. The bed was just soft enough to give the perfect night’s sleep. Sometimes in Asia the beds are a little too hard, but this was not the case at Sala. The room had two walls that were basically windows that when opened gave spectacular views of the valley down below, and because the hotel sat on top of a hill, there was a cool breeze that made me want to cozy into that warm bed.

It was a great way to end a great day, and Sala was the perfect place to stay when visiting Thailand’s oldest National Park. It is a little ways away and there are a couple of surprises along the way to get there, such as a golden wat on top of another hill and reproduction of an Italian village with its own leaning tower of Pisa, but it was worth the forty minute drive to make to this great accommodation.

Thank you, Sala.

The Big Mountain – Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

A swing at the gate to Khao Yai National Park

One of the bigger draws of Thailand lies outside of its bigger cities, and long white beaches. There is a whole ecological playground out there for people to enjoy, and the most popular spot is only a two to three hour drive away from Bangkok, and is the oldest National Park in the country, Khao Yai. The name basically translates to big mountain, and though it spreads itself over a very hilly terrain, it is more of a tropical forest out in the middle of the farmlands. It is a beautiful place with many varieties of animals all over the place, and you never know what you will find with every corner you take.

The view of the landscape, and as close as I got to the horn-billed birds

The most famous of the animals that live in the wild in this place are the elephants and the horn-billed birds. The elephants are in the wild and allowed to roam freely among the 300 square miles of the park, and during the dry season they are often seen taking mud baths, and heading to the many waterholes to get a drink of water. Unfortunately, I did not come across any of them during my time there, but they are doing well especially after the devastating news about them the previous year. There was an accident involving a baby elephant, and its parents as they went over a waterfall in the park, but measures have been taken to try to prevent this from happening again.

A stuffed horn-billed bird at the visitor’s center

I did get to witness the majesty of the horn-billed birds. There was a flock of them flying off towards the distance from the road we were on. They are huge birds whose wings span out to almost 180 centimeters, and their bright colors bounce off of the green landscape of the trees that populate the park.

People waiting to get their picture of the horn-billed family during their meal time

I was lucky enough to witness them from the road, but there is one spot where many photographers go to try to snap a shot of these birds. There is a nest in a hole in tree where one of the female birds was raising a couple younger birds until they were ready to fly out on their own. Basically the female bird will tear out her wing feathers to keep her young warm and feed. They eventually grow back, but during the time she has to wait until they return, she is completely reliant on the male horn-billed bird. The male goes out for food and returns to the nest to feed the young ones and the female bird. If anything happened to the male bird, it would be the end for the whole family as the female and the young ones cannot leave the nest to fend for themselves.

This is one of the problems that come with the park. Many people come and visit the park, and are looking for that perfect picture to bring back with them. Some of the more ambitious visitors will set up camp with their cameras waiting for the perfect time to get that picture. Sometimes they get a little too close to the nest which scares away the male horn-billed bird. Rangers visit this spot constantly to ensure the survival of these birds, and make sure the place remain amazing for other visitors who come back generations later.

Haew Suwat Waterfall, the one used in The Beach

Another popular spot in the park is the waterfall where they filmed the Leonardo DiCaprio movie based on Alex Garland book, The Beach. Even if the movie had not immortalized this location, it would still be the perfect place to hike down to. It is only a hundred meter down some strange stone steps, but there are many places to nestle among the stones down there to enjoy an afternoon next to the cool water.

The park is a must see for anybody coming out to Thailand. It really demonstrates how diverse this country actually is, but I would highly recommend hiring a tour guide to take you around. There are only a couple of roads through the park, and if you do not know what you are looking for, you will miss a lot of what this park has to offer.

Of course, you will still be able to see the occasional deer, and spot the elephants at some of the hotter spots. There is also many monkeys that come out of the forest looking for a free handout or something shiny to steal from unsuspecting travelers.

But our guide was able to show us the more hidden treasures like the vipers hanging from trees that we would have only found by accident.

And I don’t think I would have enjoyed the surprise we would have had when we came across one of these dangerous snakes.

She was also able to look into some of the pools in the river to show us the animals that lives under the rocks there.

And the craziest one that I would never have found in a million years. There is a spider on this tree that blends in perfectly because of its camouflage. If she was not there to point it out, I would have never seen it. I’m looking at the picture right now, and know where it is, and I still have a hard time seeing it.

The viewpoint half way up the mountain

It was a nice way to get out of the smog and heat of Bangkok for a couple of days. The clean air, the cool nights, the amazing views, and the fun of seeing all of the wildlife in the preserved spot in Thailand worth the trip.

I still wish I could have seen the elephants though.

Back to Summer

Back when I watched television, I remember a commercial of a person taking a trip from Flagstaff, Arizona to Phoenix, and how they shed their clothes along the way because of the changing weather. On my last day in Europe, I had a similar experience. I took a bunch of trains with many stops along the way from Murren, Switzerland on top of the Alps to Frankfurt, Germany where I took a plane back to Bangkok. I left at 8:30 in the morning wearing all of my warm clothes to hopping back into shorts and a t-shirt by the time I went to bed the next night. I thought I would point out the change as it happened by taking a picture at each one of the stops along the way.

Murren, Switzerland was the highest point, and the coldest. I had to bundle up and crunch across the snow.

We were still pretty high up when we arrived in Grutschlap, but did not have to leave the station as we waited for the cable car to take us down the mountain.

It was still a little cold in Lauterbrunnen because it was early in the morning, but the short wait did not make it feel that cold.

We had made it to Interlaken, Switzerland on a train and felt the constant descent from the valley we had stayed in for the last five days. The snow was still there, but reserved for the far away mountains.

We hopped on another train to Spiez in Switzerland, and we could start to see more blue sky and the need to pull off the coat.

Basel was our last town in Switzerland. We had quite the break there and it was getting really nice.

We reached the outer station of Frankfurt and had to put the coats back on and stick under the safety of shelter because of the rain that had come out of nowhere.

The rains had stopped in the twenty minutes it took us to get to Frankfurt’s main station, but it was still cool outside because the sun had dipped below the horizon.

Even though it was cold outside, I was in Frankfurt Airport, and knew my next stop would be Thailand, so I packed my coat away for the next couple of months. I would not need it where I was going.

It was fun being out in Europe for the Winter Break. Thanks for following along as I got to enjoy the cold weather for a little bit. Never take it for granted because you will miss it when it is gone.

The View from My Window

One of my favorite things to do while out on a long vacation that will take me to new and exciting place is to take a picture of the view I can see from my window of the hotel or hostel or Air B+B that I am staying at. It is surprising to see the differences of the places, and I think each place really show what certain places are really like. These are the views from the six place that I stay at.

Bad Windsheim, Germany

This was a really nice Air B+B we stayed at in Bad Windsheim, Germany. It sat above a nice pizzeria, and overlooked other people’s backyards. This feeling of being at home and comfortable in the very private surroundings that describes this quaint Germanic town.

Fussen, Germany

We only spent one night in this town that is most famous for the two big castles that sit on the mountains just outside of town. It was a small little hostel that was very crowded with only two bathrooms that I had to squeeze into if I wanted to use the shower. The building right across the street described the feeling of this place perfectly.

Salzburg, Austria

We stayed on the campus of one of the colleges in this town in a hotel chain. It was very comfortable and the staff was great. They had a nice community bar downstairs that many people visited throughout the day, and wherever you looked you saw other guests. The fact that I could look into other people’s rooms demonstrated this fact nicely. I tended to look over the building though at the mountains that surrounded the town.

Munich, Germany

I was back in the city with this hostel. We had a private room in the place, and it even had a sink in our room which made things a little more comfortable. There were a couple of shared bathrooms, and I could see during a busier time of the year it being a problem, but due to the fact that we were there at the beginning of the holiday after hangover, it wasn’t ever really a problem. I really enjoyed this place even the view could have been a little better, even though what should I have expected while staying in a city but a view of the city.

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

This was a great hostel and the views were amazing. It had a really nice kitchen and a great patio for each of the rooms. We did not use the patio because it was just a little too chilly, but that was the reason we came out here in the first place. The room was big and the people we shared the place with very friendly even though there were very few of them. It was exactly what it was like exploring this place that has easily become one of my favorite places in the world.

Murren, Switzerland

We like to splurge on one place on trips like this, and this was the place that we chose to do it at. The place was right across from the train station, but when you are in a town as small and quant as Murren, this is not something that should cause alarm. We were the only people staying at the place that night as well which made for a fun experience, and one again, the views were just spectacular. It also a a patio, and even though it was cold outside, we took advantage of it, and had a drink while enjoying the moon rise over the mountains.

To Choose a Side of the Valley – Wangen versus Murren

Wangen during the early afternoon

There are two mountain towns on either side of the Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland that attract people to them. They both offer amazing things to do in the wintertime and summertime and if you can’t decide which one would be the perfect place for you then maybe this post will help you make that decision for you.

To start off with, both of these towns are obviously tourist towns. They both have an extensive amount of hotels and restaurants to choose from, and it would really be hard to decide which one you wish to travel to based upon this. Also both of them offer skiing, snowboarding and sledding during the winter, and hiking, biking and base jumping during the summer, and it would be hard to decide which one does this better. They both sit at the base of a mountain peak (Jungfrau in Wangen and Schilthorn in Murren) that you can travel to the top to see amazing view of the valley, and even if you do not go up these peaks, you will still get spectacular views. So the idea really comes down to the feel of the town and how that matches your tastes.

The train station in Murren

Both towns can be reached with public transportation leaving from the valley town of Lauterbrunnen. Wangan has just a short fifteen minute train ride to get to the center of town; whereas, Murren requires a transfer to a gondola from either Lauterbrunnen or a little further up the valley in Stechelberg. Because of this, Murren has a more isolated feeling to it, and not as many people make the extra effort to stay there. Depending on whether you like those crowds or not, this is a big factor in deciding which one to stay at.

A full moon rising from the vantage point of Murren

It is important to decide if you enjoy the sunrise or the sunset more. Murren gets the sunrise and it is a little after noon during the winter where the town starts to get shrouded in shadow, but if you are a morning person, the sun warms up the town quickly and it has some spectacular sunrises.

The view of Wangen from the church that overlooks the town

Wangen nestles into the other side of the valley and experiences the sun in the afternoon on clear days, making it a really pleasant place to be. It also get the sunsets and they can be amazing if the clouds are situated in the right position. But this also cause a little bit of a problem with the snow. The Murren side definitely gets more snow and it sticks around a little longer because of this movement of the sun. It does not really affect the skiing because when you go high enough up, you will be able to find the snow needed for this activity, so it may make you think about things as you decide what life will be like while you wander around the town.

Murren at night

Overall, they are both great cities that have a lot to offer. I personally enjoyed Murren a little bit more but I like the quieter towns, and I no longer look for the night time that I did when I was younger. Both towns are close enough to each other that if you are out here, you can take a day and explore both towns completely. It is also one of the most beautiful areas in the world that still holds on to those traditional ideals, so it is worth scheduling time to visit, whether that is summer or winter.

Happy traveling, folks!

 

James Bond’s Peak – Schilthorn, Switzerland

One of the many spectacular views from the top of Schilthorn Peak

Back in 1967, the James Bond franchise was taking off. They had three very successful movies starring Sean Connery, and were looking to make the fourth installment in the franchise. The only problem was they were not going to have their star for this installment. Instead, they were going to go with then unknown Australian actor, George Lazenby. In order for the franchise to sustain this change, they were going to need to up their game a bit. They decided that the best thing they could do was to film the whole movie on location instead of mostly in the movie studio like they had done in the previous three movies. So the search started to find the best location, and eventually stumbles upon Schilthorn Peak in Switzerland.

The rotating restaurant completed by the film crew of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

At the time, this tiny peak in the Swiss Alps, right outside of Murren, was building a rotating restaurant that would allow the diners to see the majestic peaks that surrounded the location while enjoying a great meal. The only problem was they had run out of money, and the project was still far from completion. It seemed like it was going to be an abandoned building sitting high up in the mountains that nobody would ever come to visit. But the production company thought it was the perfect place to tell their story and they offered to complete the project if they would be allowed to film there.

Enjoying a champaign brunch in the rotating restaurant

It was a match made it heaven and after the movie finished filming, they were able to open the restaurant and people still come here to today to enjoy a nice meal while enjoying the ever changing scenery as they rotate around the the dining room at their seats. If you find yourself in the Lauterbrunnen, it is a fun way to spend the day, and you get a nice meal out of it at the same time.

One of the many Bond themed places to take your picture

 

That is not to say that they still do not play up the James Bond angle for those who come to visit. They have many places where you can get picture with life-sized cutouts of the characters from the movie, and many other places where you can fun James Bond themed pictures. There is even a whole level of the building dedicated to this iconic character and probably one of the franchise’s easily forgotten movies, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They have a short film that tells all about the making of the movie along with set pieces and interactive games that tries to put you in the middle of the action.

The height at the summit

It costs a little bit of money and time to get up to the top of the mountain, and you do have to wriggle your way in between other tourists and skiers who have come to enjoy the mountain in a completely different way. We also had to pay attention to the weather and make a split decision to go up there on a day when it was going to be clear. Clouds can change the whole make-up of the experience. But the tickets do come with an all you can eat brunch that is actually really good, and includes all of the champaign that you can have while you are there.

The view on the left side of the train to Murren

To get there, you need to cross the street from the train station at Lauterbrunnen and grab a gondola up to the town of Grutschlap on the top of the ridge. From there you catch an old train, and take a ten minute ride to the town of Murren. I would recommend getting on the left side of the train so you can have a clear view of the scenery from across the valley.

Main Street in Murren

The next gondola that you have to hop on is not right next to the train station, and requires that you take a ten minute stroll through the town of Murren. This is a beautiful town and completely worth the walk, and during the winter you really start to feel like you a part of the ski community that is out here.

One of the features on the Thrill Walk in Berg

The next gondola will take you up to the town of Berg. It is another short little hop to reach the top of Schilthorn, but there is fun to be had in Berg before you make that last finally leap. You can also wait to enjoy it on the way back down since the only way to do that is the same way you came up but only in reverse. You can also ski down if it is winter, but then the Thrill Walk in Berg would be harder to do.

The glass bridge on the Thrill Walk in Berg

Basically the thrill walk is a series of rope bridges, and clear walkways that hang precariously over a big cliff. Everything on the walk is safe and I had to wait a few moments before I could make my way out onto each of the features as other people wanted to get their turn on them, but a lot of this was probably due to the fact that it was winter and I assume it is a lot busier during the summer months. Either way, it was free to get out there, and it was a lot of fun to play around on them.

The view from the Walk of Fame at the summit of Schilthorn Peak

I was lucky enough to have spent a clear and relatively warm day on top of the Alps and it has become one of the highlights of this trip. The food was good. The views were spectacular. It was fun pretending to be a part of a Bond movie for a little bit, and the ride up was even enjoyable. If you can afford to do it, I would highly recommend making your way up to Schilthorn Peak.