Monday, July 31, 2017

Angkor Wat draws visitors to Cambodia

One of the main reasons people travel to Cambodia is to see the famous temple at Angkor Wat, seventh wonder of the world. While Angkor Wat is the largest and most highlighted of the Angkor group, what visitors might not realize is that there are thousands of temples in the Angkor area, making it the largest religious center in the World.
The ancient temple of Angkor Wat brings tourists to Cambodia.
Five towers—a distinctive feature of Angkor Wat--are replicas of lotus flowers, which grow from mud (poor conditions) and open to beautiful flowers (opportunities). It’s an allegory even today for this region of Asia. The temples were not maintained and later fell into disrepair for about 400 years. During that time the jungle took over, almost obliterating these magnificent structures. They were rediscovered by French archaeologists in the 1850s and now give us an unprecedented glimpse into the industrious nature of an ancient civilization that we might not have known about otherwise.

Visitors wait to ascend the stairs to the
top of the tower.
Although most temples open to the east, where the sun rises, Angkor Wat is the only one where the main entrance faces west. Perhaps that’s because it was originally a burial temple (sunset indicated end of life).
Built nearly a thousand years ago without modern tools and technology, Angkor Wat is a manmade wonder. Ancient civilizations accomplished marvelous engineering feats when building these temples. The entire complex is surrounded by a gigantic manmade moat which was dug out to provide dirt to construct a flat hill on which the temple was built. The moat stabilizes the foundation year-round and served an engineering purpose then and now by maintaining the water table. In the rainy season the moat became a reservoir that kept the temple from flooding.

Detailed carvings decorate walls and pillars of the temple.

A spot for prayerful meditation.
The temples were religious icons used for prayers and ceremonies, especially for the rulers of that time. No people lived in the temples. During our visit we walked almost four miles around the complex. Dirt paths, uneven steps, and a lack of handrails required our attention as we wandered the grounds marveling at the intricate carvings and major construction achievements from ancient civilizations.
To visit temples in the Angkor area, most visitors arrive in Siem Reap, a town of about 30,000 people. About 35 percent are employed in the young tourism industry, which is based on these ancient temples. Unfortunately, landmines from recent wars (Vietnam, Khmer Rouge, civil war) still litter the ground around many temples, but local governments lack resources for costly and dangerous removal to fix the problems and open more temples for visitation.

Religious ceremonies are still important in the temples of Cambodia.
As we arrived one afternoon, the sun in the west made gorgeous reflections of the temple’s towers on the moat, a scene we recorded in numerous photos. Many people lounged by the water, taking in the sight of this symbolic structure. A fascinating place, Angkor Wat doesn't disappoint, and it's especially interesting if you like ancient history.
Larry admires the beautiful reflection of Angkor Wat.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier
Find out many more things to do in Cambodia at

Sunday, July 23, 2017

SeaWorld San Antonio showcases animal experiences and water play

In addition to thrill rides covered in a recent post, SeaWorld San Antonio offers multiple opportunities for close encounters with a variety of animals.
Entrance to SeaWorld San Antonio
Discovery Point

A highlight of our day spent at the park was visiting Discovery Point where an expansive 600,000-gallon lagoon (twice the size of the previous dolphin habitat) is home to a pod of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. You can watch them swim and play from sandy shores of the lagoon or see dolphins in a new way at the park’s first underwater viewing area, opened last year. Not only does the underground viewing spot provide a different look at the activities of these awesome creatures, it’s also a fine place to get out of the hot summer sun Texas for awhile.
The underwater viewing area is great for watching dolphins at play.
Want to come nose-to-nose with SeaWorld’s stars? Book a swim with dolphins, belugas, or sea lions in advance. Discovery Point is the only place in Texas where you can actually get in the water and swim with these animals that inhabit our seas. It’s a unique experience where you’ll get to interact with the animals through touch, feeding, and hand gestures.

Discovery Point also includes Explorer’s Reef, home to more than 350 species of fish, invertebrates, and amphibians as well as a living Caribbean coral reef grown almost entirely by SeaWorld San Antonio’s Aquarium Department. Learn about the importance of coral reefs in the ocean’s ecosystem.
Splash into Aquatica

Purchase a combo ticket for SeaWorld and the adjacent water park called Aquatica, and you’ll get the best of an active water park and beach activities including a splash pad for little tykes . Have a cool time imagining you’re at the beach--kiddos building sand castles, and everyone romping in crashing surf in the wave pool. On a hot Texas summer day, there’s no better place to be than getting drenched  on water rides that go from serene to extreme. Add to that the opportunity to touch sting rays, see tropical birds, or just relax awhile.
New whale calf and other animals

Dine with Shamu gives guests a close-up look at how orcas are trained.
Who doesn’t love a baby? SeaWorld guests can observe the whale calf, born on April 19, 2017 to Takara, the 25-year-old matriarch of the park’s orca pod. This is special because Takara’s calf will be the last killer whale birth at a SeaWorld park. It’s also the last chance for researchers to study orca development in ways that can’t be done in the wild. The knowledge gained will benefit wild whales as well as those at SeaWorld.
One of the best opportunities to see the calf is during Dine with Shamu, an additional activity that provides guests with a generous barbeque buffet right next to the training pool for the orcas. Trainers wander among the diners answering questions and then demonstrate some of their techniques for teaching specific behaviors to the whales. It’s a great close-up view of these magnificent animals performing for a small group of people.

Orcas put on a thrilling show which guests enjoy after dining
on a generous barbeque buffet.
And there’s more: SeaWorld is home to many beautiful birds including flamingos, penguins, and an array of exotic birds. Alligator Alley provides an opportunity to feed and learn about American alligators and red-eared slider turtles. Don’t overlook the Animal Connections Conservation Center where you’ll see pythons, birds, and other animals.
Flamingoes are favorites among many bird varieties at SeaWorld.
In addition to allowing visitors to enjoy and learn about a variety of animals, visitors should know that SeaWorld rescues and rehabilitates marine and terrestrial animals that are ill, injured, orphaned, or abandoned, with the goal of returning them to the wild. The park is proud of its leadership efforts in animal welfare, training, and veterinary care of one of the largest zoological collections in the world.

For our granddaughter—and us—the day spent at SeaWorld was fun and filled with special memories we all cherish.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Monday, July 17, 2017

Thinking Riviera for vacation? Try Gulf Shores instead

Accommodations are plentiful on beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama
White sand, sparkling water, and sunny skies make a perfect vacation at the beach.  But if a retreat to the French Riviera is more dream than reality, Gulf Shores, Alabama makes a sparkling substitute.  This resort community is family friendly, which means it’s a great place to take the kids or grandkids—or even schedule a multi-generational getaway.
Along with lazy days spent building sand castles and cooling off under splashing waves along 32 miles of soft, sugar-white sand, this coastal region offers a bounty of ways to enjoy its Southern charm.  No matter your age, you’ll enjoy the beach town simplicity and abundant opportunities to enjoy Mother Nature.
Dolphin sightings are guaranteed in the back bays of Gulf Shores.
Dolphin cruises—Companies such as Dolphin Express leave from Bear Point Marina and travel out on the back bays to view these playful creatures.  Dolphins are here year-round, and spotting these graceful mammals playing in their natural environment is an exciting experience.  Captains know exactly where to go and how to position their boats to attract dolphins.

Well-maintained trail at Bon Secour
National Wildlife Refuge
Hike the trails of Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, an undisturbed barrier habitat of almost 7,000 acres.  The Pine Beach trail is an easy two mile round trip path through a variety of ecologies including marine forest, saltgrass, and marshes to unspoiled beaches and sand dunes. The Refuge is also a stopping point for migratory birds and a nesting site for sea turtles. 

Secluded beach is a welcome destination.
Captain Skip Beebe started a family tour on Sailaway Charters because he noticed kids got bored on regular sailboat tours. So now he engages children with tales of diverse wildlife in the area and lots of hands-on experiences with sea critters he draws into his nets—and then releases.  As you float through local bays and bayous during this quick-paced and informative pontoon boat ride, you’ll see oysters, crabs, shrimp, birds, and even dolphins (attracted by the tapping of a hammer on the side of the boat). 
Family cruises teach kids about marine life.
View the sunset from a dinner cruise leaving from Orange Bay. While dining on seafood and dishes made from locally grown produce, guests watch dolphins swoop and splash alongside the boat’s hull. Coastal birds following the boat also provide plenty of opportunities for wildlife watching and photography.  Towards evening, blue sky fades into pink-tinged gray, dark-shadowed trees frame the setting sun, and delicate psychedelic ripples skim the water’s surface. 

Adults and older children enjoy exploring Alabama’s multiple fresh waterways by kayak at the Five Rivers Delta Center.  Outfitters provide single or double kayaks for rent. As you paddle through areas of mossy growth and open, easily navigated spaces of calm water, you’ll experience the beauty of scenic rivers, woods, and wetlands.  After an excursion on the water, spend time at the visitor center viewing exhibits about history of the region, importance of the rivers, and conservation activities for preserving the delta.  
Kayaking is pleasant in smooth water at Five Rivers Delta Center.
The Alabama coast is an angler’s paradise. Orange Beach is home to the largest fishing fleet on the northern Gulf Coast. Alabama has built many artificial reefs, both inshore and on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, to improve fishing opportunities for snapper, grouper, amberjack, cobia, triggerfish, and king mackerel.  Prefer to stay on land? Cast your rod off the 825-foot fishing pier at Gulf State Park.

Golf is a year-round sport in the mild climate.  Ten signature courses are within driving range of the beach, with several other courses open for public play.  Tennis, parasailing, scuba diving and snorkeling—and, of course, shopping are other activities enjoyed by visitors.
Whet your appetite with giant shrimp.
When you get hungry, head out for fresh seafood. Shrimp, crabs, oysters, and an impressive variety of fish can be found in most of the area’s restaurants, from casual barefoot hangouts to romantic white-linen candlelit dinners for two.  You might decide Gulf Shores is even better than the Riviera.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

SeaWorld San Antonio launches new coaster ride

Known for its close-up encounters with dolphins and whales, SeaWorld San Antonio has recently expanded thrills of a different kind. A new ride called Wave Breaker: the Rescue Coaster launched mid-June to the delight of theme-park afficianados.
Danni at entrance to Wave Breaker: the Rescue Coaster
Wave Breaker combines the excitement of a roller coaster with the adrenaline rush of a marine animal rescue mission. Inspired by 30,000 rescues accomplished by the Sea World Rescue Team during the past 50 years, the ride is designed with jet-ski-style cars that passengers straddle and grip handle bars while racing through a series of high-speed maneuvers.

Close-up of wave runner-type cars
My husband Larry and 10-year-old granddaughter Danni recently experienced this exciting ride that includes a pair of pulse-pounding launches over water. Being the smarter grandparent (roller coasters have never been my thing), I chose to take pictures of the two zooming along 2,600 feet of track.
Despite Danni giving her lungs good exercise during the ride, the design enables guests to experience what racing alongside the animal care team might feel like when a call comes in for rescue. It’s an exhilarating three minutes of constant motion.

If you love roller coasters, also try 360 degree flips on The GreatWhite or Steel Eel, the tallest roller coaster at SeaWorld. Both attractions will get your adrenaline revved up for sure. Height restrictions apply—and nerves of steel are good to have.
Thrills on Wave Breaker
But if you prefer a slightly slower pace—and don’t mind getting wet--check out Journey to Atlantis or the crazy twists and turns of Rio Loco. These rides will cool you off quickly with a full body soaking. Lines are typically not as long, but they still deliver thrills for all ages. Within half an hour of entering the park soon after it opened, we had ridden each of these two times.

Shamu Express accommodates families with young visitors just learning about thrill ride experiences; and there’s an interactive three-acre playground of age-appropriate rides and attractions for the smallest guests.

Larry is in yellow shirt and Danni is pony-tailed girl beside him--they
are hanging on as Wave Breaker starts its exhilarating ride.
There’s plenty to experience at SeaWorld San Antonio if you like action-packed attractions. But that’s just one part of the marine park’s entertainment. In future posts I’ll tell about other things to do and SeaWorld’s mission to protect and care for animals and teach visitors about natural wonders of our world.
Photos by Beverly Burmeier and SeaWorld San Antonio.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Guidebook for Route 66, America's famous roadway

On a trip to Peru, we met a couple whose dream trip in America was to drive along Route 66. This iconic highway has a reputation in song and literature that has expanded beyond the borders of the country in which it is located. 

The myths and mysteries of this legendary highway are covered in great detail in Drew Knowles’ updated fifth edition of Route 66 Adventure Handbook (Santa Monica Press/ May 2017). If you’ve ever thought of traveling on the “Mother Road” of America, this is the one book to keep handy on your road trip. For Knowles, the journey becomes the destination—stopping along the way is as important as reaching a specific point.

The quirky side trips on Route 66 appeal to a new kind of traveler, the “heritage tourist,” people more interested in exploring the roots of America than overcrowded theme parks or bustling city attractions. For these tourists Knowles covers offbeat roadside attractions, vintage motels and cafes, unique museums, Art Deco architecture, and amazing natural wonders on this vintage road. 
Opened in 1926, Route 66 was almost discarded when cars started zipping along super highways and interstate freeways that bypassed its treasures. But a renewed interest in the cultural and social history represented along its byways began in the 1990s, and the route is once again a highlight of many tourists, both domestic and foreign.

Knowles starts off telling how Route 66 came to be and then suggests ways to get the most from your journey along the highway. Recognizing that businesses and attractions are continually changing, he admonishes travelers to keep an open mind and a wandering spirit. Just let yourself discover whatever comes along at each turn in the road.
How long will it take to drive the entire route of 2,451 miles? You could spend two weeks driving around 200-300 miles a day, but that would only allow time to visit the most popular sites and main cities. Better to plan a month-long road trip to allow for a more authentic experience visiting historic downtowns of scattered communities, stopping for a burger and root beer at a local soda shop, perusing antique shops, and spending a few nights in original 1950s motels.

Maps, navigational guidance, GPS coordinates, and plentiful photos will help you plan your trip and find specific points of interest. The book is divided into sections for each state through which Route 66 passes: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. If you can’t make the entire drive, you can easily plot your path through the states and along the paths of Route 66 that are most appealing.
At each way point, Knowles provides detailed information about far more attractions than one road trip can cover. So, even if you make a comprehensive plan, allow for unexpected diversions that are sure to happen when you travel deliberately, meander purposefully, and take time to visit with people as well as places. After all, that’s what a journey on Route 66 is all about.

Photos from free sources

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Blooms galore at Singapore Botanic Garden

Throughout our travels all over the world, Larry and I typically look for national or city gardens to visit. Not only do we get to enjoy remarkable landscaping and colorful blooming flowers, but gardens provide a serene respite from city bustle, even if the garden is within city limits.
Water features add to the beauty of Singapore Botanic Garden
Such was the case with Singapore Botanic Gardens, located just five minutes from busy Orchard Road. A lush sanctuary in the heart of this island city (and country), Singapore Botanic Garden combines old favorites and heritage plantings with educational and discovery zones. The garden is huge, more than 202 acres, so allow plenty of time to wander and explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since it’s not possible to cover every part of the garden in one visit, start with the central section which is designated as the tourist belt.

Larry is surrounded by beautiful greenery in Singapore Botanic Garden.
When founded at its present site in 1859, the Gardens were laid out in the English Landscape style. The British colonial government took over in 1874, and botanists began developing the Gardens into the important institute it has become. One of the most successful agricultural experiments carried out from the botanic garden involved the promotion of rubber, which became a major cash crop for Southeast Asia in the early 20th century. Today the Gardens are managed by the National Parks Board.
The National Orchid Garden is a highlight of any visit to Singapore.
Among the attractions and horticultural activities waiting to be discovered in Singapore Botanic Gardens is the National Orchid Garden, a virtual explosion of amazing orchid varieties and colors. It happens that high humidity makes Singapore a perfect place to grow orchids because orchids need moisture from the air. Pink, purple, gold, orange, white—orchids large and small grow on any hospitable surface in this garden. Strolling along the paths is a treat for the senses and shouldn’t be hurried.

Glorious orchids abound in Singapore
Botanic Garden.
True to the nature of this garden, the gift shop is filled with decorative items made with real flowers, often dried and preserved in brilliant hues. So it’s a good place to get beautiful souvenirs or gifts for folks back home.
We also learned that because orchids grow so bountifully in this environment, a spray of orchids in the market costs only about fifty cents. Fresh flowers are important to the culture (always bring flowers when you visit someone). As we traveled throughout Southeast Asia, we were amazed at the proliferation of gorgeous flowers in every country we visited.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier