Traveled Down the Road and Back Again

by Nancy Bestor

What is the secret to finding good travel companions? Chances are you travel well with your mate and your kids (unless your kids complain a lot when you’re walking in Thailand and it’s hot and humid—but I digress). But what about friends and relatives? Just because you get along on the golf course, at the office, or at Thanksgiving dinner, doesn’t, in my humble opinion, mean that all will be fine when on you’re the road.

I believe the key to good travel companions is finding like-minded folks. Are you the type of traveler who likes to dine at expensive and trendy restaurants? Then you probably don’t want to travel with someone who prefers to eat at hole in the wall spots (aka Bob & I). Do you enjoy walking the entire length of a city and exploring different neighborhoods? Then don’t travel with someone who prefers a hop-on, hop-off bus experience. When you wake up in the morning, do you like to sit in peace and quiet for 30 minutes, enjoying a good cup of coffee and a lovely view? It’s likely then that your ideal travel companion is not the person who starts talking immediately the moment they get out of bed, and is ready and raring to go as soon as they get out of their pajamas.

Bob and I have been fortunate enough to travel with other folks. Now I know that sounds like we don’t enjoy traveling alone together, when indeed we do (right Bob?), but it’s also been very fun to travel with friends and family too. Last fall we took our first-ever tour, a bike trip in Jordan. Eight of us traveled together for eight days. We spent pretty much all day every day together. While we knew four of the people on the tour, only one was a close friend. The other three were Ashland folks who we hadn’t spent too much time with, but, from sharing travel stories, we figured it would work. And it did. (Just look at how much fun we are having in the elevator photo—thank you Sean for the goofy group selfie!) At the end of our adventure, I was sad to say goodbye to everyone and I can honestly say that every single person on that tour is now a friend. In fact, some days I find myself longing to spend quality time with them again.

We also spent two weeks earlier this year in Japan with Bob’s parents. This was our first vacation as a foursome, and although I can’t speak for them, it was indeed an excellent time for us. We enjoyed many great experiences—that mostly revolved around sharing in Japan’s culture and eating delicious food.

Here are a few things I believe make a trip with friends and relatives more enjoyable:

  • Being OK with splitting up to do the things you want to do, without worrying about hurt feelings. In Japan, most days we would spend the morning and early afternoon with Bob’s parents, and then we would head our separate ways for several hours, and connect back up again at dinner time. Some days some of us went back to the hotel and napped while others were out pounding the pavement. Other times some of us visited stores and sites that not everyone was interested in. But then, when we got back together again for dinner, it was fun to share our separate experiences.
  • Recognizing there are times when you just want to have some alone time. One of my traveling friends told me in Jordan that she was going to tour Petra on her own one morning to feed her inner introvert. I loved that phrase. As much as I enjoy being around people, I also really enjoy being on my own. Even if I’m just reading a book or surfing the internet. Everyone needs time to recharge their social batteries.
  • Compromising. This is the trickiest one, because really, who wants to compromise? But maybe one night someone has strong feelings about where they want to eat dinner. Perhaps it’s not your first choice, but being willing to compromise should mean that you’ll get to eat at your spot the next night.
  • Choosing the right kind of trip. One of the things that made our trip to Jordan so fantastic was that we all enjoyed biking, and knew most days would be spent in the saddle. This would not have been the right trip for people who don’t enjoy bike riding. Bob and three of his friends toured India for three weeks a few years ago, and stayed in low to mid range hotels, and ate lots of meals at roadside food stalls. Someone looking for high-end lodging and white tablecloth restaurants would not have been happy on their India trip.

I’d like to think that everyone I know would enjoy a trip with Bob and me. But the truth is, maybe not everyone would find me to be an enjoyable travel companion. And I’m okay with that. Or am I?

 

 

 

 

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Workin’ on our Night Moves

by Nancy Bestor

Bangkok is busy seemingly at all times of the day and night. Like many other Asian cities, locals seem to live a lot of their lives outdoors. Thus people are everywhere, and when you combine that with the tuk-tuks, taxi’s, autos, delivery trucks, motorbikes and more, the city is bustling.

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So a night bicycle tour of Bangkok, although rated easy due to its flat terrain and approximately eight miles of riding, is a bit challenging. But based on the experience Bob and I had on the tour earlier this year, it is very much worth the challenge.

We booked our evening tour through Grasshopper Adventures. The three and a half hour experience cost about $36 per person, and included a mountain bike with lights, helmet, guide, water, snacks, and insurance. The tour got rolling around 6pm, and right off the bat our “peleton” of ten cyclists was riding down busy alleys and narrow paths. Cars and people didn’t really move out of the way for us, so we had to ride somewhat aggressively (a little hard for me) to maintain our position on the roads.

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We took our bikes on the ferry across the Chao Phraya River, Thailand’s biggest river, and traveled the back roads to Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, and Wat Pho. Along the way we were cheered by children playing in the streets, high-fived by security officers, and gawked at by more than a few locals. It was awesome. A nighttime visit to the temples of Bangkok is a special experience. There are few, if any, tourists, and their stunning architecture is lit up to highlight ornate carvings and vivid colors.

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We also rode our bikes to, and even through, the Bangkok Flower Market (Pak Khlong Talat). It’s open 24 hours, but is busiest at night, when hoteliers and restauranteurs travel from far and wide to purchase flowers for their establishments. The market was stunning, and we rode our bikes directly through some of its warehouses before parking on the street and walking the rest for a slightly slower and up close experience of its stalls. We also ate some delicious chicken satay from a street vendor.

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We rode down narrow alleys that would be difficult to navigate without a guide and Bob and I even got lost at one point. We had stopped to take a photo of a temple, and before we knew it, the rest of our group and guide was gone. We quickly pedaled one way and then another down a street outside the temple, but to no avail. A kind Thai woman hollered at us and pointed in the direction that our tour had gone, and we found our way back to the rest of our people.

This tour was definitely a highlight of our Bangkok stay, and it showed us another side of this busy city. I’m not sure I’d want to commute by bike in Bangkok, but I’d highly recommend a night tour by bike with Grasshopper Adventures.

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Looking Sweet Upon the Seat

by Nancy Bestor

DSC00676When we travel to foreign countries, our family likes to do things on our own. We’ve never been super keen on taking group or private tours, choosing instead to find our own way and figure things out for ourselves. Bob, however, convinced Emily, Sarah and I on our trip to Bali that we could benefit from a guided bicycle tour. It would be fun, he suggested, and we might just learn something along the way. He was right, on both counts.

We booked a day-long bike tour with Sobek Adventures out of Ubud. The tour included breakfast, lunch, bike rentals, and transportation, and cost $79 each for Bob and I, and $52 each for Emily and Sarah. It was very well worth it. Sobek’s van picked us up at our Airbnb villa (read more about this fantastic abode located just outside Ubud here) at 8:30 on the morning of our tour. Our driver and our guide chatted with us along the way to our first stop, a coffee plantation specializing in coffee made from beans eaten by a Paradoxurus, (aka an Asian Palm Civet or Luwak) and then cleaned and roasted after the critter poops the beans out. Yes indeed, you read that correctly. We all were treated to a cup of what is commonly known as Luwak coffee. We drank it and it was good. I kid you not. We were also treated to a tasting of a dozen or so other flavored coffees including coconut, vanilla and ginseng and they were all distinctive and delicious.

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After this not even slightly crappy stop (I couldn’t help myself) we headed to Mount Batur where we picked up our bicycles. Now my husband is a cyclist, and enjoys a high quality, well-tuned bicycle. These were not those. They did however have seats, brakes, and air in their tires, and since our ride was mostly downhill, that was really all we needed. The four of us rode with our guide Made, through villages, rice fields, and on some very rocky and bumpy dirt roads. Some of the routes we took went directly through rice fields, and locals with bundles of grasses and sticks on their backs eased out of our way and watched us roll by. Without a doubt, this was the best way to really see the 13 miles of back roads and trails that we covered that day.

We took a break from our downhill coasting to look in the gates of a local temple, mostly deserted and stunningly beautiful. Another stop was at a family compound, where seven locals were currently living, including two grandparents, two parents and three children. The family members were all at home, and sat out on the steps while we learned how Balinese live their everyday lives. This was the only part of the tour where I was uncomfortable. Frankly, it felt intrusive to be in their home, and it was never clear to me if we should have tipped the family, or brought some kind of offering to them.

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Our final stop of the day was at a restaurant where we had a set menu. It was one of the better meals we ate in Bali, and included a delicious chicken soup with rice, chicken and vegetables. Our tour ended at 2:30 in the afternoon, right back where we started, at our great villa outside Ubud. I would highly recommend this tour to anyone, even a non-active person, as there is almost no work required.

We ended our day with massages in central Ubud. And how fitting it was after spending two hours on a somewhat uncomfortable bike seat on bumpy roads to get a massage on my aching gluteus maximus.