Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Yearning to travel? Keep it affordable.

You’ve probably heard the term “revenge travel,” which has become popular since COVID restrictions have been lifted. People who put off vacations or other discretionary travel are now starting to book trips with a vengeance!

With increased demand, it’s no surprise that prices for flights, cruises, hotels, and more have increased substantially. Since most people must consider costs to stay on budget, travelers are looking for additional ways to save money as they plan their next trip.

Before you go

Set a budget. Decide how much money you expect to spend by estimating all modes of travel, accommodations, food, and activities. Book whatever you can as soon as dates and places are firm so you won’t be disappointed if something you really wanted to do was sold out. Online sites for hotels, car rental, etc. are worth checking out and may offer discounts, especially if you have used the site before.

Book flights. There’s no day or time proven to consistently offer better prices. Some people think they might get a discount if they wait until the last minute to book—when airlines are trying to fill empty seats. On the hand, travelers who plan far ahead have a better chance of getting their preferred times and seat selections. Recommendations are to book domestic flights 3-4 months ahead and international travel 8-10 months prior to travel, but it really comes down to your personal comfort level.


Get local currency.
If you’re traveling internationally, it’s often a good idea to exchange some money at your local bank prior to leaving. You may need cash in the local currency soon after arrival for taxis, food, or tips for porters. Most cities will have ATM machines to get more cash if needed as you go along (but factor that amount into your pre-trip budget). Exchanging money at the airport or in a hotel is usually more expensive, so try to avoid those higher fees.

Pack lightly.
Avoid extra fees for too much luggage or suitcases that are too heavy to maneuver through airports comfortably. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also save your back! Having a credit card for the airline you plan to travel on will often allow you to check one piece per passenger with no charge. Loyalty credit cards for hotel, car rental, etc. can also save money if you plan ahead and are able to accrue enough points.

As you return

Tax refunds. Many countries have a VAT (value added tax) on goods purchased regardless of cost, although some countries have a minimum amount your must spend to get the refund. This tax is paid at the time of purchase, but if you keep your receipt you can get the tax amount refunded at the airport. Look for specific booths where you apply for the refund--and allow extra time for the transaction.

Exchanging currency.

It’s not smart to have a substantial amount of local currency left in your wallet at the end of a trip. While many countries/ cities take credit cards (and that’s an easy way to pay), go ahead and use cash still in your wallet if you’re nearing departure time. Or go shopping in the airport for that must-have item before catching your flight. If you return home with more than a few coins (which can’t be exchanged), you’ll pay a second fee to exchange paper money back to U.S dollars.

  Photos from free sources

Monday, June 19, 2023

Amazing visit to the Wooden Pavilion near Bangkok,Thailand

One of the great joys of travel is discovering something unexpectedly that is so amazing and wonderful that you wish everyone knew about it and could see it. Larry and I had such an experience when we visited the Wood Pavilion at the Sanctuary of Truth located just north of Pattaya, Thailand, about an hour and a half from Bangkok.

Wood Pavilion at the Sanctuary of Truth

The brief description I had read earlier intrigued me, but without pictures, I didn’t fully understand what we were about to see on our excursion.

The Wood Pavilion is an enormous, pagoda-shaped structure overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. It is made entirely of wood using ancient Thai methods of construction, meaning no nails or other fastening methods hold it all together.

Entrance to the grand Pavilion

Construction began in 1981 as Lek Vinyaphan developed plans for a magnificent structure that would honor both Buddhist and Hindu beliefs and values while preserving and supporting traditional woodworking techniques. Thus, the Sanctuary of Truth is a mixture of Eastern beliefs and architectural styles from different periods.
The pavilion is a vision of
Lek Vinyaphan

At first seemed like a temple, partly because we were expected to wear modest clothing with knees and shoulders covered (I had to borrow a wrap-around skirt to cover my legs since I had worn shorts). Wood-carved idols and sculptures covered every surface of the building. Many tell stories central to Buddhist and Hindu beliefs; others depict historic and cultural scenes reflecting everyday life of the people.

Today, dozens of workers live in tents on premises and spend their days chiseling new pieces or  repairing what has deteriorated over time. It’s a massive, on-going project that will always be unfinished. After we had toured the Pavilion, I had an opportunity to try my hand with a chisel, being very careful not to mess up the work a talented artist had in progress.

Workers chisel designs in the wood figures.

Larry stands at one of the grand
But the grandeur of the Wooden Pavilion makes it seem almost like a castle. The intricate hand-carved sculptures are intended to reflect the world’s ancient knowledge. Multiple balconies function as lookouts that provide unparalleled views of the ocean. 

The huge inner chapel is covered with stunning sculptures that reveal scenes from ancient cultures, among them likenesses of the gods of earth, water, wind, and fire.

Just one area inside the Wooden Pavilion

Statues of Vinyaphan, founder of the pavilion, and the elephant god Erawanare are also featured. In a word, the amount of labor and dedication necessary to maintain this mighty edifice inside and outside is simply breathtaking. All of this is contained beneath a roof of pointed symbolic figures reaching skyward.

Intricate figures adorn the roof.

Hard hats must be worn when entering the Wood Pavilion since construction continues, either new or for repairs. Allow at least two hours for the tour (in English or Thai) plus time to explore on your own. Outside, there is a calming lake and small cafĂ© for refreshments. You might even be able to ride on an elephant. 

But the real prize is the Wooden Pavilion itself where hopefully you’ll feel that it truly is a Sanctuary of Truth.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Monday, June 12, 2023

Grand gardens add to a Canadian Niagara Falls visit

Watching the mighty Niagara Falls roar over a cliff is reason enough to visit this amazing destination. While visiting the American side of the Falls is definitely worthwhile, some people think the Canadian side offers more additional things to do in the surrounding area.

Niagara Falls 

For example, if you love beautiful gardens, Canada’s nearby offerings may entice you to cross the border. Niagara Falls gardens feature spectacular horticultural installations which are considered among the most beautiful throughout Canada and the world. The gardens are open year-round, and the flowers offer a landscape of changing blooms through different seasons. Activities include nature walks and hiking, cycling, photography, and bird watching.

Botanical Gardens

Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens

The Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens is among Canada’s largest with 99 acres of beautifully maintained gardens to explore including the largest rose garden in Canada. The Botanical Gardens is located just a twelve minute drive from the Falls as you head north along the Niagara Parkway (admission is free). Visitors are welcome to explore the lush surroundings of this area by wandering paths to view the gardens and ponds here.

Butterfly Conservatory

Located at the Botanical Gardens, the Butterfly Conservatory is home to 2,000 butterflies representing 60 different species. Temperatures inside are carefully regulated for the comfort of its colorfully-winged inhabitants, making this glass-enclosed conservatory a warm escape for visitors during the cold winter months, including the stunning waterfall feature that gives the feeling that you are in a tropical rain-forest oasis.

Butterfly Conservatory is a great family activity as well as a romantic date idea for couples. The conservatory includes meandering paths surrounded by towering tropical plants and blooms that have been hand-picked to attract the various species of butterflies. Butterfly species at the conservatory include the banded orange, blue morpho, common Mormon, cydno longwing, Doris longwing, Gulf fritillary, Julia, Low's swallowtail, monarch, mosaic, owl, red lacewing, Sara longwing, and small postman.

Oakes Garden Theatre

Oakes Garden

The spectacular 
Oakes Garden Theatre serves as both an entranceway to Queen Victoria Park and a serene spot to take in the calm of the gardens while enjoying panoramic views of the American and Horseshoe Falls. Did you know that the site on which Oakes Garden Theatre stands today was formerly home to the Clifton Hotel? After the hotel burned down twice (in 1898 & 1932) the land was purchased by Harry Oakes who hired architects to create an intricate design of gardens and stone sculptures. Oakes Garden Theatre officially opened to the public in 1937.

Designers of this picturesque amphitheatre took advantage of the contour of the existing grounds to form a curved pergola overlooking the amphitheatre. Decorative iron gates, Queenston limestone edging, stone gardens, water features, ponds and bordering shrub were meticulously integrated to the formal garden design. The shaded lily ponds and formalized gardens offer visitors a tranquil escape in the heart of Niagara Falls. Be sure to explore the Japanese Garden that can be found behind the stunning pergola! This area is also home to the Secret Garden Restaurant featuring a patio that overlooks the American Falls.

Queen Victoria Park

This park, called the heart of the Niagara Parks, celebrates every 
season with a visual spectacle of unique native and international plants and beautifully maintained gardens. Don't miss the spectacular Hybrid Tea Rose Garden, tucked back from the road just south of the Niagara Parks Police Building. Queen Victoria Park also provides a plethora of viewing locations where visitors can enjoy the nightly Falls Illumination.

Floral Showhouse

Just south of 
Table Rock Centre and the new Niagara Parks Power Station, you'll find the hidden gem that is the Niagara Parks Floral Showhouse. Tour seasonal displays within the tropical foyer and three stunning display houses. Guests can also enjoy outdoor gardens and ponds featuring a miniature village and train. When visiting in the spring, guests walking the grounds surrounding the Floral Showhouse can take in the fragrant and floral Magnolia trees that line Magnolia Allee.

Floral Showhouse

The Floral Showhouse presents several unique displays throughout the year including the Hydrangea Show in May, Chrysanthemum show in the Fall and the holiday Poinsettia show. The Floral Showhouse is a ticketed attraction and is also included in the Niagara Parks Niagara Falls Pass.

Information and photos courtesy of Irene Knight <iknight@niagarafallstourism.com>