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1
Up In The Air / Re: Air Serbia $275 NYC-TLV
« on: May 18, 2020, 02:27:39 PM »
I personally know 2 people whose tickets got canceled today, both booked thru chase as well. However only the outbound flight was canceled and they still showed confirmed for the return from Israel. Very weird because one of them was to leave on Aug 18 and return on Aug 31 ( not canceled) and other was supposed to leave on 9/21 and that was canceled.

2
Trip Reports / Re: Bangkok, Koh Samui, Singapore and Maldives TR
« on: February 13, 2020, 01:01:39 PM »
Hey, someone wrote me the same thing yesterday on Instagram .

Wasn't me  :) , but they don't have that many 2 and 3 bedroom villas - as per the manger we spoke to in the summer.

3
Trip Reports / Re: Bangkok, Koh Samui, Singapore and Maldives TR
« on: February 13, 2020, 08:57:28 AM »
Amazing trip report, brings back memories of our trip to the Conrad Koh Samui. We were actually in the same villa / 501 as well. What a great experience!

4
Trip Reports / Re: Bangkok, Koh Samui, Singapore and Maldives TR
« on: February 12, 2020, 08:25:40 PM »
Hey @CR check out the Kosher meal on Bangkok Airways :D
:) Nice! I guess its all the Kosher food they can come up with without getting a Kosher vendor.

5
Wednesday:

Today was a big day trip we planned with the tour company we met in the airport the day before. They picked us up between 830 and 9 from our hotel. The tour includes a driver and a guide for the entire day. The driver waits at the attraction and the guide takes you in and guides you through all the activities. She also keeps track of different shows and other time sensitive things we were doing to make sure we would be able to do and see everything we planned. I really enjoyed this part since I always do this on a day trip and the constant coordination accompanied with the distance to drive from place to place takes away from some of the enjoyment. Today’s plan was to visit Tiger Kingdom, Cobra Show, Monkey Show, Elephant Sanctuary and butterfly museum. The reason all these activities are done in one day is because they are all near each other and are about 1 hours’ drive from the hotel. So, it makes sense to do it this way. All in all the day trip worked out great and we had an amazing experience. Cobra show- included seeing many different snakes and reptiles prior to the show, some were poisonous and some were not. Many of them you can get to hold and you can feed many of the reptiles too. The Cobra show was unbelievable, 2 men do a show with 2 King Cobras, the broadcaster during the show would constantly hype this up and say “one bite and he is dead”. Anyways, the guys did all sorts of tricks like kiss the King Cobra on is his lips and do all sorts of other things with them. They also had him release his venom in a cup and showed it to us all. Monkey show- was a bunch of tricks that monkeys did like riding a bike, playing basketball, and other sort of circus type tricks. We got to take pictures with a monkey next to us as well. They all take pictures of you and offer to sell them but I declined since I want to use the pics digitally for an album. Next, we went to Tiger Kingdom which was unreal. We all went into cages with tigers and have lots of pictures with them. Honestly after the experience you think about it and it’s kind of crazy what we did and put our kids through but everyone is doing it and it seems like its OK and you don’t want to miss out. There are different sizes of tigers, the larger ones are more money generally. The rule of thumb is that the person needs to be bigger than the tiger so that they don’t see them as prey. My little 7-year-old son had no choice but to be with 2 one-month old baby white tigers since they were smaller than him. They charged 2500 Baht since it was so unique that they had these baby tigers and a special experience. The medium and small tigers were about 700 to 800 per person. They charge a fee for a photographer to go into the cage with you and photograph the experience. My daughter and I chose the small tiger (which was large in my eyes) I am average woman height and it was big. Since we were in the same cage, we paid one photographer fee and I wanted to be with her during the experience as well. My husband and 2 older boys went with the medium tiger- an even larger tiger and had the photographer take pics of them too. They email you the pictures by the way. My youngest was the first to go in the cage with the baby tigers. He had to wash his hands with Purell and wear a white lab coat. There were at least 5 people in this large cage (which was almost like a large room) with him the entire time. They gave him instructions and were moving around the tigers and repositioning my son many times. Next up my daughter and I entered a large cage the size of a very big backyard with trees and areas for the tiger to play and hangout. There were at least 6 people in the cage with us including the photographer. They use sticks to guide the tiger to different places and positions. I must say is was surreal when I sat on a bench in the middle of two tigers each lying down on one side of the bench. My hands were touching the tigers and they were warm and I can feel their heart beating. They were completely awake and did not looked drugged as many people think they do that to them. Being scared for my safety I kept on turning my head from the right to the left to make sure they weren’t getting up. We got to take many poses with the tigers in different positions. It was scary but I am glad we had that experience. They could never get away with this kind of stuff in the US and I had to experience it here. My husband and boys had similar experiences with their tigers too and really enjoyed the thrill. Great experience and must not be missed on a trip to Chiang Mai. Next, we went to the Elephant Sanctuary, I believe it was called Maitaeng or something like that. It seems to be that there are 2 in the area and I read reports that this one is better. After watching an elephant show with circus type tricks, we watched 2 elephants paint two beautiful paintings. See the pictures. We watched them do it from scratch. The man will give the elephant the paintbrush and he dips it into the paint and paints with his nose. The painting is offered for sale and the money goes to help the elephants. By the way half the audience in the elephant show was Israeli. Lots of families. After the elephant show we went on elephant rides. Luckily this place offers wooden seats on the elephants so you are not actually sitting on them. I met someone that went to the other elephant place and they actually sit on them. Since it is a very wobbly ride for them, they fall off the elephant into the brown muddy water and climb back on. Not something I would have done or my kids would have liked. That’s why I think this is better for kids and people that don’t want to get into the dirty water with the elephants. Although we had a wooden seat for 2 people on one elephant the closure was a metal wire across (not securing us properly). Since the elephant ride is very wobbly and he goes in and out of the water and through the jungle/forest you will feel very insecure at times. Many times it will lean towards one side and you will slide to the other side. Luckily all the kids were able to do it with an adult near them of course. They enjoyed it a lot. On the way back we stopped at a butterfly garden which was nice. They also had an area where they were selling all kinds of jewelry made from orchids. They go through a process of dehydration and put lacquer on it and paint it as well. The stuff is gorgeous and they make all kinds of cool jewelry. Obviously is was a nice thing to see but it was added on with no extra fee and we enjoyed it. On a way home we asked the driver if the can drop us off at Chabad for dinner instead of the hotel, so we only have to walk one way. We were tired from the long day and it was hot and humid these days in Chiang Mai, about 100 degrees. We were famished at dinner and walked back to the hotel for a restful sleep.

Elephant Camp
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Tiger Kingdom
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This is the Small Tiger

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This is the Medium Tiger

One month old baby tigers
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Monkey Show
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King Cobra Show and Reptile World
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Poisonous venom in a cup from the King Cobra

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Orchid Garden/ Butterfly Sanctuary
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Jewelry Made from butterflies

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Jewelry made from fresh orchids

Thursday:

Today was a planned lousy day because we had an early evening trip planned to visit the Night Safari. We woke up late, swam in the pool, all got family massages and had dinner early at Chabad. We booked this trip with the Israeli travel agency next door to Chabad the previous night. We arranged for pickup from Chabad and drop-off at the hotel afterwards. This way it would save us the 10-15-minute walk in the heat. We ate dinner at Chabad and left from the travel agency next door. We left about 5 /530 and the driver took us in the Night safari and guided us around all the shows and activities so we would be able to see everything. We saw many animal shows with tigers, lions and bears. We saw some cool animals around that we can touch and hold other animals such as porcupine, iguanas, snakes and more. The highlight of the night safari was the tram tour in complete darkness, once we would reach an area of animals the driver would put on some lights. Since this is Thailand there are seemingly no rules in place and the animals are roaming around the open tram. The lions were behind a small fence right near us. Most other animals were pretty close to us as we drove by. The tram makes stops many times and we got to interact with the animals like zebras and giraffe and were able to get great pictures as well.

Safari Tram ride
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Friday:
 
Today we split up so we can get to do a fun trip that each of us enjoy. My husband and 16-year-old son went ATVing with a company called Ban Pong ATV. This was booked through the travel agency next door to Chabad. Trips include pickup and drop off from the hotel. They had a great time and had a bunch of Israelis with them in the group tour. I went with my 3 other children (ages 19, 10 & 7) to a ziplining trip. We went to Flying Squirrels and we also booked through tour agency next door to Chabad. Please note all our trips in Chiang Mai were booked once we arrived in the city. There are so many tours going on and you can even book the night before. We were picked up from the hotel and were in a van for about an hour. Our entire van was a Jewish group (all Israelis) besides for us. We felt really comfortable with the tour, many of the workers speak lots of Hebrew (they have learned this from the high influx of Israeli tourists that come to Thailand). We saw so many Jewish people at the zipline place, I would say roughly 65% of the people were Jewish when we were there. The zipline is a long course that includes many different types of ziplines and interesting zipline spinoffs, such as riding a bike, skateboarding, wall climbing etc. Check out their website. The weather was amazing due to being in the mountains and it was a very fun activity. My 7-year-old went on most ziplines himself and only a few select ones, he went together with the worker/guide. Since the day is long in the summer, we had time for massages and a swim before Shabbos which was nice. We made reservations the previous night for Shabbos meals at Chabad Chiang Mai. Meals are officially free but a donation is recommended obviously. The Le meridian hotel is familiar with Observant Jewish guests and will bring you to the room when you arrive back in the hotel on Shabbos.

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Flying Squirrels Zipline
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Saturday/ Shabbos:

We walked for all the meals to Chabad on Shabbos. The experience was unreal. Friday night we were scheduled for the first shift dinner and had over 200 people there and then there was a second shift at 930 PM. Many Israelis but also many other people from all over the world. Shabbos morning, I came with my younger kids early and they have coffee and cake for everyone and we could daven/pray afterwards. Lunch was a group of about 150 people (one shift) and was so nice as well. So happy that our children were able to share in this experience and meet all kinds of Jewish people from around the world. The singing was beautiful throughout the meals. Food was pretty basic Israeli style and very good. Thank you to Chabad Chiang Mai for this wonderful experience. We returned for Mincha prayers and Shalosh Seudos (final meal) which turned out to be a much smaller group like 40 people. We stayed for Havdalah and met some more people. Such an amazing experience. Chabad has security with a gate around the restaurant/shul. No passports are needed they just talk to you. After a day or two of coming to the restaurant during the week, the security guard knows you already. After the Friday night meal, we were a large group walking out and he wanted us to disperse quickly and not hang around there for safety reasons. He also had the next shift for the Friday night meal wait in a different area for safety reasons. Throughout our walks in the evening and night to Chabad we would walk through the night market. We always heard Hebrew in the streets. By the way My husband and boys were not wearing baseball caps on Shabbos and felt very safe with the yarmulkes on their head. After Shabbos we did some more souvenir shopping at the night market and began packing for our early morning flight.

Sunday:

 We had a 6:05 AM flight to Hong Kong arriving at 9:45 AM local time. Flight is approximately 2 ½ hours. For those keeping track of the time change throughout our trip – Japan is +14, Thailand is +12 and Hong Kong is + 13 (from the East Coast USA). We scheduled a taxi service with the hotel to take us to the airport at like 3:30 AM. The airport is less than 15 minutes away. Turns out the airline agents at the airport come in at 4 AM. Se we waited on line in order to check in our luggage. Air Asia flight is a low-cost carrier and cannot be booked with miles directly. I made this reservation online with Air Asia. I prepaid for checked luggage for the 6 of us as well (20 kg allowance). I booked with CSR Card even though I could have used my Barclay Arrival and gotten it credited with points. This airline doesn’t have the best reputation (similar to Spirit in the US) and I wanted the travel protection that comes with a Chase Sapphire Reserve Booking, so I paid cash. Although I never flew Spirit, it kind of reminded me of that airline, seats don’t recline and you need to pay for a water bottle on the flight. All in all no complains, we arrived on time in Hong Kong. Enjoyed the beautiful view of the city during landing and were excited to begin the final phase of our trip in Hong Kong.

6
Koh Samui

We booked 6 tickets in economy with Bangkok Airways from BKK to USM (Koh Samui). Bangkok Airways is the local airline that I believe dominates the local flights in Thailand. They have flights almost every hour to different parts of the county from BKK. Although you can use miles (JAL, Flying Blue etc.)  to book these flights I wasn’t finding availability for 6 at the times we wanted to fly. I ended up booking direct on Bangkok Airways website for approximate cost of $100 per ticket. I paid for it with my Barclay Arrival card which ended up being free with redemption of my Arrival points.
Check in was really easy and quick. One important thing to note is that every person has a 20 kg allowance for baggage, which is approximately 44 pounds. The amazing thing with Bangkok airways is that they add up the weight allowance for all passengers on the same itinerary and will allow that total weight for all bags combined. In our case all our bags could have a total weight of 120 kg. Each bag is weighed and then added to make a total weight. (For example, one bag can be 30 kg and one can be 10 kg, all that matters are the total combined weight for all passengers.) This is really nice and alleviated a lot of stress.
We visited the Blue-Ribbon Club Lounge which is the only domestic lounge with Priority Pass. The lounge was relaxing and had these very expensive high-quality massage chairs which we all took turns using throughout the 1 hour we spent there. They do have showers in that lounge too, but we didn’t end up using them. They had lots of fruit that was cut up and we asked for whole fruit and they brought us a bunch. We ate breakfast in the lounge too.
Flight on Bangkok Airways was pretty cool. Reminds me of the interisland flights in Hawaii. Although the flight is scheduled on paper for 1.5 hours, the actual flying time is less than 1 hour. We had seats in the front of the plane. They served a snack and a sandwich to all the passengers, we obviously declined because we keep Kosher and then was notified by the flight attendants that you can order kosher food online when making a reservation. Since I never expected more than a drink on these short flights, I never bothered to enter our special diet when booking the flight. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t get a meal on flights from the east coast to the west coast… you don’t even think about being offered any food on a 1-hour flight. (The same thing happened on our next flight from USM - CNX, we declined the food and the flight attendants said the same thing). I have no idea where the kosher food would be from, would love to hear from other people if they have ever gotten kosher food on these flights. We had window seats in the front of the plane and since there were plenty of empty seats, we kept on switching seats between the right and left side of the plane to be able to take in the most gorgeous view that we experienced the entire flight especially towards the end. We weren’t sure which side would have the best view, it turned out the left side of the plane had a better view. As you are nearing Koh Samui there are tons of islands of all different sizes surrounded by blue/ green turquoise water, it’s just gorgeous!
Arrival in USM airport is similar to many small islands around the world. Open airport type. You walk down the steps of the plane and are taken by tram to the airport. Luggage arrived quickly. I had made arrangements with Mr. Samui (mrsamui.com) through WhatsApp (+66 89 0606440) for transportation from the airport to our hotel. He charged us 2200 Baht to the Conrad for 6 people and 9 pieces of luggage (we had 4 carry-on luggage plus 5 suitcases). Communication was easy and he sent us map of airport and where he will wait for us, picture of his large air-conditioned van etc. He had our flight times and it all worked out smoothly. He does many island trips as well, but I didn’t schedule anything in advance since I knew I can do it at the travel agency near Chabad. I wasn’t sure what to compare his prices to so I figured I would wait and can book at a later time if he would be cheaper. Since we were staying from a Thursday morning to Tuesday, I figured we would schedule it when we went to Chabad for dinner. I am usually the type to schedule things in advance but I knew we wouldn’t be taking so many day trips since we were staying at a nice resort, plus we were here for 5 nights so we can schedule things ourselves once we got there and explore the options in length. It turns out it worked out great for our situation and there are so many trip options all over, so you won’t miss out.

Some pictures from the plane as we are flying into Koh Samui

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Bangkok Airways Plane in Koh Samui Airport

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Samui Airport


Conrad Koh Samui

The biggest draw for me coming to this island was for this luxury all villa hotel with private pools. Most of the hotel is made up of 1-bedroom villas with only a handful of 2-bedroom villas and maybe like one 3-bedroom villa. (We had spoken to one of the managers during our stay and apparently there are plenty more 2- and 3-bedroom villas that have yet to be completed, something about the Chinese investor/owner not being able to import the necessary materials to finish those villas ??) Anyways, since we are a family of 6, we needed more than 1 bedroom. I had 2 options here, I can reserve 2 separate one bedroom villas with points or reserve a 2 bedroom villa with points or cash (Cash rate for a 2 bedroom villa was astronomical and the points rate was very high too and not worthwhile). Thankfully I read the trip report written by Denverite about her trip to Koh Samui and that she upgraded with cash a one-bedroom villa reserved for with points to a 2-bedroom villa. We messaged back and forth and she was very helpful with this and other things- Thank you Denverite. I decided to book the 1-bedroom villa with points and wait for an email from the manager to upgrade. I used 95K HH points x 4= 380K points for 5 nights (5th night was free). Sure enough I was asked if I wanted to upgrade to a 2 bedroom villa at a cost of 10,000 baht per night (approximately $330 per night) which I did. By the way we are Hilton Diamond members. I upgraded my regular Amex Hilton to the Aspire card a few months earlier. The reason I upgraded it was with this particular trip/hotel in mind. I charged the upgrade to me aspire card earning 14x points per dollar charged on that card. I also got a $250 credit back from the card which is one of its perks. I got the credit for the upgrade I paid when I arrived at the hotel. Upgrading to the 2 bedrooms was the smartest thing I did for my family. First of all, since each room is its own villa, having 2 one bedroom would be needing us to walk 50 ft to the next-door villa since they are spaced out. That would really hamper the family relaxation time we hoped to spend at this resort. The size of a 1-bedroom villa is 130 meters and the size of a 2 bedroom is 297 meters. The 2-bedroom pool villa is not just an extra room but literally an entire 2 story house. By the way all villas come with a private infinity pool in this resort. When you enter the villa, you walk into a private garden area with 2 chairs overlooking the private pool downstairs and views of the ocean and 5 islands, which we can see from all over the villa. Since all villas are built on different levels on a mountain, all villas have ocean view, however some will have views of the 5 small islands in the nearby distance which is absolutely stunning especially during sunset. From the garden area you have a door to the villa. Villa is 2 stories. The first floor that you walk into has large living room with sectional sofa, apple tv, glass doors that open to the grassed in patio I described earlier, and glass doors that give you direct view of ocean at all times.  Dining room table is large can easily fit 8 people (comes with 4 chairs but we used desk chairs for additional seating), Full size kitchen with full size fridge/ freezer, stovetop, sink, microwave, Nespresso, pots pans, small appliances etc. There is also a half bath on main floor. There are stairs to walk down to the bedrooms and pool level. Lower level has Master Suite with King size round shaped bed, office area in master bedroom, massive walk in closet, bathroom is huge and spa like with round soaking tub, rain showers and double sinks. Shanghai Tang amenities throughout. 2 long sofas in master bedroom as well. From the bedroom you have glass doors that open up to the pool area/ seating etc. with stunning views of the ocean. Second bedroom has large walk in closet too, 2 twin size beds, large sofa that allowed for additional kid to sleep on, big bathroom with soaking tub, shower etc. Desk area in room as well and also had glass door access to the pool area. From the hallway downstairs you have a doorway leading to the outdoors as well. Outdoor area has a 12-meter-long infinity pool with wide steps going down. Part of the pool was 3 ft and part of it was 4 ft deep. There were a couple of lounge chairs and table with couch and more chairs with umbrella. You can hang out there for hours. Pool was completely private and no one can see us and we didn’t hear anyone else throughout our stay. By the way the resort was pretty empty when we were there. Villa is stocked with glass water bottles in every possible place that are replenished daily and at turn down service. Since the resort is on a mountain and goes around part of the mountain, they take you around in golf carts. You will need to reserve pickup about 5 10 minutes before you need to go somewhere. Since we are more people, we needed 2 golf carts to get around. Also, the 2 bedroom and 3-bedroom villas are located on a higher part of the mountain, which obviously has better views. The resort has many amenities which we tried to take advantage of, large pools, canoeing, snorkel equipment, beach chairs, spa, exercise, activity room for younger children, many yoga, boxing, Pilates type classes throughout the day, restaurants, bars etc. This resort is literally amazing, check it out online. My kids don’t stop talking about it and was the best part of the vacation. This is luxury at its best for families and a phenomenal cost compared to US hotels. When we arrived, we were treated with welcome drinks and cool washcloths until our villa was ready. My kids really enjoyed what luxury had to offer. The Conrad offers free transportation to the Chabad area of town which is like a 30 min ride twice a day. 10 and 5 I believe. You need to make reservations in advance. They also have transportation back at 12 and 6 I believe.

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Being driven around in golf carts all around the resort

Living & Dining areas in our 2 bedroom villa

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View from living room sliding doors

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Private terrace once you walk through the outer door entrance to the villa

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The inside of the second door leading to our villa ( from the terrace)

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This is the inside of the outermost door leading into the villa- private terrace area with views of our pool down below and the ocean

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Full size kitchen ( not seen a small full size refrigerator)

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Stairs from the main living areas to the bedrooms and pool level

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View when you get down the stairs- exit to the pool area is straight (Master bedroom is to the left and 2nd bedroom is to the right)

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Master Bedroom

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View from master bed towards the pool/ocean

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Another view from master bedroom ( notice 2 small sofas we moved together to make an additional bed)

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Office/ Workspace area in master bedroom (behind the bed area)

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Master Bathroom

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Shanghai Tang amenities

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2nd bedroom

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Another view from second bedroom towards the pool area

Private endless Pool
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View of pool from top floor

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View from pool area towards the upper level

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Views from the villa

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Being a Diamond member in this hotel gets you free kosher breakfast for your entire family. I communicated with the manager by email regarding our need for kosher food and also reminded them not to open the food packages (Another piece of advice from Denverite) which worked out perfectly thank god. Breakfast comes from Chabad fresh daily each morning, you can tell them what time you want the food to be delivered and they take care of it. (Friday afternoon you get another breakfast delivery in lieu of a Shabbos morning delivery). We didn’t deal with Chabad at all regarding the breakfast. Apparently one of the mangers orders it daily from Chabad. Food was generous, fresh & warm. Look at picture below. This is what we got from Chabad daily: 6 baguettes/rolls, 3 containers of scrambled eggs and 3 containers of Shakshuka, 6 small containers Israeli salad, 6 containers Techina, 3 containers Matbucha and 3 containers Tuna salad and soda cans, plus all the necessary paper goods. Food can easily last for lunch as well if you can get more rolls/ baguettes or pitas from Chabad, which one can do when eating out dinner at Chabad. Now back to this absolutely insane hotel which blew us away when we arrived. 

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A few weeks before we arrived the hotel had us complete a pre arrival checklist with names and ages of our family members. It also gave us pillow choices etc. and some other things. When we arrived and were given a tour of our villa at check in, we were blown away at all the amenities. I would say mostly the kids were blown away at the luxury, beauty and comfort of the villa. They have stayed at countless hotels in the past but such luxury was not the norm for them. One thing we never anticipated was the bathrobes they had for all us embroidered with our initials and hung up in bathroom near we were sleeping. They also had slippers embroidered with our first names (which we were able to keep) and they were nicely placed in each of our walk-in closets. The pillowcases also had the initial of the person sleeping in that bed! All I can say was wow! They really made us feel right at home.

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Lobby area where we were checked in

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View from the lobby of some of the villas

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View of main pool

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View of beach area from above

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Embroidered slippers with our names!

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Bathrobes and pillows had our initials embroidered on it as well

Here is an overview of what we did in Koh Samui:

Thursday:

Arrival in late morning hours. Checked into Conrad at about 1 PM. Made ourselves lunch, taking advantage of our full-size kitchen. We had plenty of cheese which I used to make grilled cheese for all of us. We spent the afternoon in our villa enjoying the private pool while taking in the most beautiful scenery of the blue ocean and 5 islands. At around 5 we took the Conrad shuttle (large 12-15 passenger van) to the town area near Chabad. It is a 10 min walk to Chabad from where you get dropped off. Our initial impression of Koh Samui during the drive was that people here pretty much do whatever they want in many aspects. The island has one-way roads in each direction. Many of the road signs are not marked. Many of the roads are dirt roads and many of them are one-way roads which the driver moves to the side to let the other driver pass. Drivers drive pretty fast here and will pass as many as 4 cars at a time on the opposite side of the ride. Our drivers have done that many times and I am literally breathless until he gets back to his lane. To complicate driving on this island, there are more scooters/ tuk tuks, motorcycles, dirt bikes etc. than cars! They weave in and out the road in between cars and pass on shoulder and even on the line that divides both directions of traffic. Of course, they speed while doing this. Most drivers are not wearing helmets and are definitely not wearing any other gear. Apparently, fatalities on scooters/motorcycles is very high on this island. I also am aware that many tourists want to get this experience and try it out, and they are at a greater risk since they are not used to living the motorcycle life here versus these people who spend their entire life here have lots more experience with these roads. We have passed numerous accidents throughout our stay, and it didn’t look good. Some interesting things we saw was a father riding with child behind him and the mom behind the child. We have seen moms riding while holding their baby in the other arm / dads do this too with their kids. I have seen a man riding and since the woman behind him was wearing a skirt she would sit sideways with both of her feet on one side of the motorcycle! People on this island are pretty poor too and many have homemade stands selling one or two items. Many people even have portable stove stops and have pots and cook up some local food and people literally sit down near the stand to have a home cooked meal. Pretty much anything you can imagine goes on here. When we walked to Chabad we passed many types of people and let’s put it this way I wouldn’t walk there on my own at any time of the day. We were constantly holding on to our younger children throughout the walk since we read to many stories about child kidnappings in these 3rd world countries. Just pointing out that we felt 100% safe and secure at the 5-star Conrad (and all the other high-end hotels we stayed in and with the tour companies we used for trips). They by the way have armed security booth at the bottom of the mountain before the drive up to the Conrad and then one needs to drive up and around the mountain for another 5-7 minutes to get to the main lobby. From there you can get a golf cart ride to your villa. Chabad in Thailand has a very warm inviting feeling to all guests. At every Chabad house we went to we weren’t just restaurant customers. The Rabbi and his helpers (many volunteers over the summer months) would come over to us and introduce themselves and want to find out about us. We were able to get mincha/maariv prayers in during our dinner at Chabad restaurant. We ate at the meat restaurant and they have a dairy one next door as well by the way. Lots of Israeli tourists, families, singles, backpackers and other people from around the world visiting. When we finished dinner, we ordered Shabbos food for our entire family since we were staying too far away from Chabad to be able to join them for Shabbos meals. They have lots of choices and all kind of Shabbos food options. The manager at the restaurant told us they will be delivering our Shabbos breakfast Friday afternoon and since the Conrad is paying the delivery fee, we can add our Shabbos order to be delivered at the same time and won’t have to pay another delivery fee. I was able to be in touch with the manager by WhatsApp and we coordinated all this without a hitch. We also stocked up on pasties, pitas and baguettes so we can have for our Sunday trip. By the way delivery to the Conrad cost about $25 generally. After dinner we went next door to the Israeli storefront travel agency to talk about trip options for Koh Samui. They were very helpful and showed us videos on big screens of the popular tours so we can all choose as a family what interested us. I did not book any elephant/ atv /ziplining tours for Koh Samui since they are suited better for Chiang Mai. I guess the people only coming to one destination in Thailand will take advantage of them here. But I wanted to visit elephant jungles and see them in their environment. We booked a full day tour for Sunday to Ang Thong National Park also known as 42 islands, which includes boating around many of the 42 islands, swimming in beach, canoeing, snorkeling, optional hikes and more. We took a taxi home but not before bargaining with a couple of them first. No meters used here it’s all one set rate. But boy were the prices different when we started asking around.
 
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The streets near Chabad

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Dinner at Chabad Koh Samui

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Dinner at Chabad Koh Samui

Friday:

 One of the things we discuss as a family prior to our trips is what everyone would like to do and what is important for them. We try very hard to satisfy them all throughout the trip as much as possible. Just a reminder we have children in various ages and they all have their goals and ideas of what this vacation is about. We obviously compromise a lot but it’s really important for us on these longer trips to accommodate everyone so they have a good time and come back with memories of their special times. Many of my kids just want relaxation times at pools/beaches etc. So we dedicated a full day of staying at the resort and taking advantage of many of its amenities. I started each morning drinking my Nespresso coffee with my kids on the lounge chairs in front of the pool while watching a late sunrise. After we ate and got dressed, we went down to the main pool area which has a large infinity pool as well with lounge chairs in the water. We pretty much had the pool to ourselves most of the time. We then headed to the beach area which has hammocks over the water, lounge chairs on a floating dock and beach cabanas (no extra fee). The full-time beach attendant brought us all lots of cold-water bottles, fresh fruit and snacks which was so helpful on this hot sunny day. My kids loved playing in the white sand and played in the shade for a while. My husband and 2 older boys went canoeing (complimentary) in the water in front of us and we were able to see them the whole time. The took beautiful pictures of the resort while being in the canoe looking up at the resort. The beach has a very large shallow area that kids can explore and there are minimal waves if any. My husband found crabs, octopus, snails and other sea urchins with the kids in the shallow water. After lunch we checked out the gym, children’s playroom and swam some more in our private pool. We were able to watch a beautiful sunset after candle lighting (we missed it the previous day because we went to Chabad for dinner). See some of the pictures we took on the other nights.

Main pool at the resort
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Beach Area
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Lounge areas around the resort

View of the Resort from the ocean while kayaking
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Some of the most stunning sunsets we have have seen!
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Saturday/ Shabbos:

We spend the day relaxing, eating, reading, sleeping, we took turns walking down to the ocean and relaxing. It took about 10 minutes to walk down and double that to walk uphill. Luckily most of the area was shady. After Shabbos we had some night family swim and went to bed early so we can be up on time for the big day trip the next morning.

Sunday:
 
We booked a trip to the 42 islands/ Ang Thong National Park through Mercaz Hametayel the Israeli travel agency near Chabad. All trips include pick up and drop transportation from your hotel. We had a 45-minute drive to the boat area. Where they offered breakfast (not kosher of course) and divided us with color coded bands according to the boat we were taking. There were about 30 people on boat and it was a smaller boat not a catamaran which we have done before. The company was pretty good and I have no complaints. We got adequate snorkel training on board and the had decent snorkel gear. We all had to use lifejackets when we snorkeled. We stopped for 45 min to 1 hour at a beautiful area to snorkel, near large rocks in the water. We then continued on the boat seeing many of the 42 islands of various different shapes and sizes. It is absolutely beautiful to see it in real life. We then continued on the boat for another ½ hour and stopped at another location surrounded by many of the 42 islands, they had canoes waiting for us on one of those islands and we divided up in the canoes and started canoeing and were following the guide in his canoe. The view of the islands from the water is even nicer. We canoed in and around smaller islands where our boat could not have traveled, our guide even brought us close to one of the small uninhabited islands to see wild wolves and other ones had wild monkeys in the trees. He also took us through some natural caves that were made out of rock. We canoed for about 45 min and we then reached the beach area of Ang Thong National Park which is the “main island” in the 42 islands. They have beach facilities with lifeguards, food stands, park benches, bathroom facilities and most of all a hike up steps to get to see the most beautiful view ever from on top of the island. The tour included lunch and we were able to get whole fruit and cold water, besides for that we brought our own lunch. The tour then had 2 options, one to hike up over 1000 uneven steps of various heights (with your flip flops, of course?) or hang out and swim at the beach area which has an enclosed safe area for swimming. My husband ventured on the hike up the steps and I stayed back with my children because they were so tired. We swam in the very warm beach and had a great time, we even spotted monkeys in the trees near the beach and were able to photograph them. My husband on the other hand climbed a very tiring hike up a never-ending number of uneven/ unpaved steps that you literally must hold on to the rail at all times. And it took him a good 45 minutes to climb up. However, the views were unreal (see pics) and thank god he was able to take pictures for us to enjoy even though we weren’t able to go up. After we left this island, we made a quick stop at another small island for an unparalleled view as well. We climbed up some steps (very easy for the kids to do) and saw this lagoon surrounded by other islands. The lagoon is turquoise in color and absolutely stunning. We were told the lagoon has lots of sting trays and swimming is forbidden there. The view of the lagoon from above and many of the smaller islands in the background is also a sight to admire its beauty. Overall great trip I would highly recommend. It is the main attraction here in Koh Samui. We were very happy with the company we used although I have not tried any other ones so I can’t really compare. Sunday Dinner was much of our leftovers from Shabbos and some supplemental food we had brought, like fresh pasta etc.

Some pictures of the 42 islands national park
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The island we docked to have lunch and do the scenic climb for views

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View from above on the main island:

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Monday:

This was our last full day in Koh Samui, an island we enjoyed so much. We spent the day in complete relaxation which included spa time for me. We received a bonus Hilton points offer from the hotel if we spend a certain amount of money at the spa. So, I took advantage of that and enjoyed one of the local massage treatments at the Conrad. The kids spent much of their time relaxing and swimming in pool and beach. We ordered dinner from Chabad; menu is online by the way for all of the Chabad restaurants in Thailand. Since I already had the WhatsApp contact of the manager on my phone, I ordered the food that way. They have a $25 delivery charge to the Conrad.

Tuesday:

We made arrangements with the hotel to have the kosher breakfast from Chabad delivered earlier on Tuesday morning because we had a scheduled departure from our hotel at 7:30 AM. We ended up waiting a bit for the food but we had extra time allotted for these kinds of things so it wasn’t a big deal. We had prearranged transportation to the airport with Mr. Samui (The guy that brought us from the airport to the Conrad.) His service was on time, comfortable air-conditioned vans and best of all we can communicate by WhatsApp so that is convenient in a foreign country.  Airport check-in was pretty smooth. We flew Bangkok Air from USM- CNX. Booked flights online on Bangkok air website for the same reason I did in the previous flight to USM. Paid with my Barclay Arrival card and was credited the full amount based on redemption of my points/miles. As I mentioned earlier their luggage weight policy is same for all their flights, they add up all allowed weight for all passengers in same group and add up all baggage and as long as it’s less in total weight allowed, we are good. Flight was around 1 to 1 ½ hours in length. Pretty scenic most of the time as we saw lots of islands first and later on the mountainous region as we neared Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai

Arrival in Chiang Mai was pretty smooth. At the airport you are bombarded with taxi services, tour companies etc. We ended up finding a sales lady with one of the tour companies and offered us a free ride to the Le Meridian hotel where we were staying. She said we can sit in the lobby and talk about all the trips they offer and she gave me some general pricing prior and it seemed like it would be a good deal so we went with her. The airport is less than a 15-minute ride to the Le Meridian. She works with a local driver and is part of a larger company so we felt comfortable with her. I checked into the hotel and since our room wasn’t quite ready yet we hung out in the lobby a bit. At that time, she showed me albums and pamphlets of various tours we can take. I ended up booking a full day tour to see the Monkey show, Tigers, Elephants etc. She had good prices when I converted things to the USD but since I didn’t know Chabad’s prices, I wanted to see what they would charge for the other activities. I figured I can always contact her for more activities as the days go on, she gave me her what’s app number and that made things easy. The Le Meridian is a Marriot hotel that can be booked with points and I would have gotten the 5th night free with points however booking 2 rooms with that amount of points wasn’t worth it in this case since the cost per room per night is really low, just over $100 for the dates I booked. We paid with our Marriott card of course earning the extra points per dollar of course. The paid rate for both rooms also came with free breakfast. We were able to get 2 rooms next to each other, one had 2 twin beds and other had a queen bed. Both rooms have sofas as well which they converted at our request to beds, see pictures of before and after. At check-in my husband mentioned we keep kosher and they immediately offered to call the chef; they apparently have dealt with kosher before. We didn’t know what they could do for us, but it didn’t hurt to try. We sat down with the chef who knew a lot about kosher by the way (however he was talking of different levels of kosher some of which we weren’t comfortable with like making us fresh salmon in foil etc.) However, he said he would send up to our room all kinds of whole fresh fruit and vegies for our family. He also sent up 6 raw eggs daily and we used our frying pan and our portable burner to make fresh omelets daily. Of course, we would still go down to the buffet but there wasn’t much we could have there. Being able to have a fresh supply of eggs and produce delivered daily for free really made things convenient to supplement the breakfasts we had already brought from home. (cereal with non-refrigerated soy and almond milk and hot cereals.) We were able to get 2 rooms next door to each other but not adjoining. We walked over to Chabad for a late lunch and had some Shawarma and Falafel for lunch. Chabad restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and is a meat restaurant. The also carry fresh baked goods like the restaurant in other cities (baked fresh daily pita, baguettes, rolls and pastries.) We stocked up on lots of those for tomorrows lunch since we had a full day trip planned. Chabad is a 10 minute straight walk from the hotel. Lots of religious Jews have stayed there in the past and they are familiar with many of the laws regarding Shabbos and kosher. The rest of the late afternoon we spent the day getting inexpensive massages at one of the parlors we passed (literally every 3rd or 4th store is a massage parlor). The kids got small back and foot massages and really enjoyed. Later we went swimming on the rooftop hotel at the Le Meridian. Hotel pool is beautiful, however coming from the Conrad it didn’t seem that special and was a bit packed. We did hang out there for a little while. Most of my kids had a light dinner since lunch was so late and went to bed early. Earlier during our walk back from Chabad to our hotel I spotted a laundromat (part of the sign was in Hebrew as well) near the hotel (on the left side street when facing the hotel) and I brought many bags of laundry to them to wash. I sorted the bags according to color. They wash and fold the clothes and charge by the weight. Laundry takes 24 hours however can be done express for additional cost. I don’t remember the price but it was really cheap and such a great service to have as it didn’t waste any time from our days to do laundry.  Later that night my husband and I went out with my older son to explore the night market and grab a bite at Chabad. The Chiang Mai night market is literally on the side of the hotel and goes on for a couple of blocks to the right and some to the left. They sell all kinds of things, souvenirs and unique local stuff. We strolled down and checked out all the fake high-end clothing and watches which they claimed were authentic btw. Many of the Thai vendors speak Hebrew due to the influx of Israeli tourists that come to Thailand. They would see us and start talking Hebrew. We also heard lots of Hebrew as we walked through the market every day which was nice and made us feel at home in the midst of Asia. We bought a door sign that had our family name in Hebrew. The guy made it on the spot, he had all the letters and had it ready for us in no time. Later we went back to Chabad around 10 pm for a quick dinner and boy was the restaurant hopping. Seems like much of the crowd comes in later after they come back from their day trips. Chabad has security outside all their restaurants by the way and they have a secure gate as well. No need to bring passports however I did bring them in case, they just ask you questions and let you in. Many minyanim were going on for maariv at that time which was nice. We met many people from around the world and I always loved coming back to all the Chabad restaurants throughout Thailand. The restaurant is not a typical restaurant you would expect in other cities, it has an area of couches for people to relax, shul /prayer area. Many times, you will meet the Rabbi and his assistants and they are helping people out with anything they need. The food is at cost price so donations are very important at all the Chabad centers. On the way back from Chabad we stopped at the large open market which is in the center of the night market. We had outdoor back and foot massages and my son was brave a got a fish spa pedicure (see pictures).

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Lobby at Le Meridian Chiang Mai

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Room in Le Meridian

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Another picture of room/ bathroom and view

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View from our room

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Night market In Chiang Mai

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More massage parlors in Thailand!

Chabad Chiang Mai
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7
Thailand
Here is some of the research and thought process that I went through for our Thailand segment of the trip. I needed to take into consideration flight options, schedules, hotel options with points, availability of Kosher food, activities our family would enjoy and weather predictions. Thailand is a very large country with lots pf popular tourist destinations. Phuket seemed risky since it is the monsoon season in the summer months and I figured we can have some of that experience in Koh Samui & Chiang Mai. So, I dropped the idea. That left us with Chiang Mai for its popular activities and Koh Samui for the beach, snorkeling and relaxation. I also researched best hotels with points in each area combined with amenities that are important for our family’s needs. Since the points I would use in Chiang Mai and Koh Samui would be with Marriott and Hilton which gives you the 5th night free when redeeming points, I decided to stay 5 nights in each of those cities. Next came the daunting task of playing with all the dates and finding availability in each of those hotels for 5 consecutive nights. Since I was flexible with what area to visit first there were lots of options on the table. I had to coordinate this with all the flight possibilities as well (my goal was to use the least amount of points or least amount of money). Cheapest way was to fly from Haneda airport in Japan to Bangkok and from there we had better flight options with points/cash and eventually the dates ended up working out.
We flew from HND to BKK on Thai Airways. We used 20K United miles per person (20K x 6 = 120K United miles). Thai is part of Star Alliance. Flight was on a 747 and was approx. 5.5 hours long. We were each allowed 1 free check in luggage. Very impressed with the service of Thai Airways. Kosher meal was served from Stogel caterers – was inedible. Customs in Bangkok went smoothly. We exchanged some money in the airport since I knew I would need them for the taxi and then we ventured outside to find a taxi to the hotel. The taxi service is managed by airport or government employees. One needs to wait in a specific line depending on what type of taxi size you need and then you are given a ticket number and you find the cab in the lane with that number. The largest taxi size that was available was a mid-size SUV which would not fit all of us and our luggage. She told us to split up, so my husband went in one with some kids and I went in another one with the rest. Taxi service in Bangkok is either set by the driver or by meter, always ask for the meter b/c they will overprice the trip. At the start of the trip my husband noticed his driver started the meter at a higher number than my meter started, we were communicating via WhatsApp throughout the trip and although he was right behind our cab, his numbers were climbing way faster than mine. He started asking the driver questions but he wouldn’t understand English. So, I was trying to explain to my nice female driver what was going on in my husbands’ taxi, eventually she understood and said she would talk to him at the hotel when we arrived. We arrived at the hotel and sure enough my husband’s fare was 200 Baht more than mine (it was same size car and took same amount of time). My driver got into a heated conversation with the other driver (had no idea what was said) but at the end he agreed to charge the fare that was on my car meter. Wow! This came as such a shock especially coming from Japan where things are run perfectly. We saw how people in Thailand can be dishonest and will do anything to take advantage of tourists.

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Taxi Service at Bangkok Airport
 
Bangkok
We stayed in the Intercontinental Bangkok for 1 night. I booked 2 rooms (1 king + 2 Double beds) paid for them with one Chase IHG anniversary night and second room with 40K IHG points. I made 2 separate reservations and weeks before the trip I emailed them to combine both reservations and to have the rooms be connecting. The usual hotel response is ok, they will try but no guarantee. Luckily, I have older kids so it’s not the biggest issue for 1 night, however it is way more convenient. We lucked out and were able to get adjoining rooms with a great view of the city and skyline. Rooms and bathrooms were beautiful and very luxurious. At check in I asked if they have a folding bed for the King size room and sure enough, they brought us one for my daughter to sleep on (they did not charge us for it). Important to note both rooms had a smaller size couch that a small child can sleep on. My 7-year-old son slept on it in the other room. Plus, you can always ask for as many pillows & blankets as you want to make them comfortable. Hotel even had a pillow menu for us which was definitely nice after the long flight. Staff was friendly throughout this short stay and they all kind of give you a bow in traditional Thai gesture and offer to do anything for you. Throughout our entire stay in Thailand they all do this to you and it makes you feel very welcome and is appreciated. We checked out the lovely pool on the rooftop of the Intercontinental but unfortunately didn’t have much time to swim since we were tired from the trip and very hungry.
We took a taxi from the hotel to Chabad Bangkok Meat Restaurant. In Bangkok you need to ask for the meter (make sure it starts at 0). Many will offer you a fixed price but it is cheaper with the meter there. I don’t remember the actual cost of the taxi but it’s very cheap. Food was delicious and priced very cheap when paying with USD. The menu at the different Chabad restaurants we went to in Thailand is similar and similar in pricing as well. We pretty much tasted most of the foods throughout out Thailand trip and took some pictures to show you all. There is a dairy pizza restaurant next door which is run by Chabad as well. Chabad had ongoing minyanim for mincha/ maariv while we were eating which was really nice. They have a bakery as well so I bought fresh pitas, baguettes, rugalach and other pastries for the next day. We walked around the area near Chabad and got a taste of the Thai culture and lifestyle. There are many people making very little money, living conditions are really low and people are very hard working. You can find massage places literally every few feet and prices are so cheap. Some places are definitely nicer than others for a little more money which is totally worth it. They are even doing back massages outside in front of the store. Lots of open market areas and people are selling anything and everything and beg you to buy. Lots of scooters and larger type tuk tuk scooters for taxi service (see pictures) and they are always bargaining with you to get you to use them. Tourists really stand out in Thailand and we were always approached by someone to buy something or for a ride. Also, wherever you go in Thailand it is all about the king of Thailand, his picture is everywhere and the words “Long live the King” is practically any place it can be. They literally worship him in every way possible.
When we returned to the hotel, we made arrangements and scheduled 2 taxis (we wouldn’t fit in 1 with all our luggage) to take us to the airport the next morning for our flight to Koh Samui. Scheduling a taxi to the airport through the hotel is a set amount of money is more costly but for this circumstance we needed to do it so we can be on time for our flight.

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Long live the King signs all over the place in Thailand

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Entrance to the Intercontinental Bangkok

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Lobby at Intercontinental Bangkok

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King Size room at Intercontinental Bangkok

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2 Double beds in Intercontinental Bangkok

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Bathroom in Intercontinental Bangkok

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View from our room at Intercontinental Bangkok

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Another view from our room

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Rooftop pool at Intercontinental Bangkok

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Massage parlors near Chabad Bangkok and everywhere else you turn

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Dinner at Chabad Bangkok

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Dinner at Chabad Bangkok

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Dinner at Chabad Bangkok

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Taxi Service in Thailand

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The streets of Bangkok

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Bangkok Streets

8
Fascinating and mesmerizing!

My one question is how you have enough points to take such extravagant trips yearly? You said you are very stingy with your points since you "work hard to accumulate a large volume of points (without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year)" but still, this trip cost a few hundred thousand points, how do you recoup so much so fast that you can take another trip in just a year?

If you don't MS (which to me is spending thousands a year) what do you do to net such large amounts on a yearly basis?
Thank you! First of all not all of our trips are that extravagant. This was by far the most exotic and most costly with points. For example; last summer we went to Israel for 3 weeks and we all flew coach ( since this is an area we frequent I didn't want to create high standards for my kids by flying business every time). We did 5 nights at the WAJ / 2 rooms, opened a couple of Hilton cards for my husband and I, combined the points and took advantage of the points sale they had last year at WAJ + 5th night free of course. Although it took lots of planning and strategy, my kids say it was their favorite part of the trip. We also stayed in apartment through airbnb in Jerusalem (purchased with gift cards at 5x points with ink cc), spent a week in an apartment in Safed (our base for trips in the north) booked via Orbitz (took advantage of Daily Getaways deal $1000 voucher for $650) and couple of nights at points hotels in Tel Aviv and Dead Sea area.
I usually plan trips way in advance so it gives me time to focus on earning a lot of points in a particular area. My best advice I can give is to accumulate lots of points in different points /miles currencies so you can take advantage of flying the best way to a particular area cost effectively with points. Of course I focus on Chase/ Amex, but I love to have Jetblue, Delta, AA, Marriott as well. Of course things are constantly changing in the miles and points world so I constantly reevaluate. Personally my husband does own a business so definitely extra spending there but its not the kind that spends thousands a month. We spread our spending across many credit cards each month in order to maximize the ability to earn more points. I don't mind getting lots of bills each month ( they are mostly paid off before the statement closes- for credit score purposes) and I stay organized by tracking things online. I take advantage of fee free gift cards at Staples purchased with 5x points, as well as other store gift cards from there as well. I don't overdo any of this for obvious reasons. I also keep myself in the loop for many other ways to earn more points throughout the year. I guess in a nutshell I would say its many strategies combined as when to open a particular card, where to spend, take advantage of many offers, bonuses and every possible way that exists to earn additional miles and points as well as maximizing miles redemptions when booking tickets.

9
Great TR! Keep it up!

A few notes about Japan:
-No issues bringing in meat on my 2 trips.
-Costco sells food with a hechsher.
-Don't ask locals where Costco is, as it's pronounced Costoco here.
-The garden by the Sheraton Miyako that I wrote about in my Tokyo TR is great! Wonderful place for Shabbos afternoon stroll.
-Looks like King Felafel is gone, but did you try getting in touch with Kosher Delica for food delivery?

Thank you very much. I wish I would have known about the meat, would have loved to bring in some deli. Great to know about Costco, what kind of kosher things can one find in the Costco there? We did not try Kosher Delica, didn't realize they were open. Glad to know there are more options for Kosher food in Tokyo.

10
Japan

Our arrival to Japan was on time and we departed the plane quickly. Unfortunately, we waited in line over 1 hour at immigration, the large room was under renovation and the was pretty warm. Many people do not speak English in Japan and this was our first real encounter with the reality we were about to experience over the next 6 days. By the time we were done with immigration, our luggage was waiting for us. I must say the airport itself is very nice, clean and the important signs are in English so it’s definitely not hard to navigate. Our first stop was at a money exchange counter. Many places in Japan do not take credit card so we exchanged some money. Little did we realize that we would be needing more cash in a few days because very few places will take foreign credit cards. The exchange rate at the time was around 101 JPY to 1 USD. We bought tickets for the Keisei Skyliner at the ticket counter in the airport. This is the cheapest way to go from NRT to Tokyo. Price is 1380 JPY per person ($13.80 approx.) The counter was very helpful in giving us detailed directions, I told her we were going to the Sheraton Miyako Hotel and she gave us clear instructions where to switch lines. We switched at the Mita station and took another train for about 3 min to the Shirokanetakanawa Station. That station is a 10 min walk to the Sheraton. Total train ride was about an hour and a half. The ride was comfortable and smooth. The train had a storage area for our luggage so that was great. We arrived at our final stop tired especially after schlepping all our luggage up all the steps to get to the street. Our goal was to hail down a cab to take us to the Sheraton from there. We realized we would need 2 cabs to take us all to the Sheraton (6 people + 10 suitcases!) After about 15 minutes of trying to hail down cabs, we gave up and decided to walk to the hotel. I don’t know why it was so hard to get a cab, but many taxi drivers slowed down to look at us and all our luggage and gave up… most taxis are small cars so even though we were willing to split up we had no chance even explaining that to the drivers. I will point out that we also called the hotel to see if they can help. They do have a shuttle at different times to 2 of the bigger stations that are near the hotel. This was not one of them, they advised us to walk. We walked the seemingly endless 10 min partially uphill walk to the Sheraton.

Sheraton Miyako Hotel

We chose this hotel because it is the closest points hotel that is walking distance to Chabad. We were eating with Chabad for Shabbos. Since this hotel is not in the center of the city I wanted to stay in a more central touristy area for the other nights. My plan was to stay here for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. This hotel is 50K Marriott points per night. However, there were no rooms available to book with points via Marriott. (I searched for a few weeks and couldn’t even find one room for the weekend stay and we needed 2 rooms.) So, I came up with plan B. I had a $900 Hotels.com gift card (from Pixel 3/ Google Fi promo in winter) and booked 3 nights with that. (After signing up for the rewards program where you get a free night after staying 10 nights - the free night is an average of all nights booked). The second room was booked on the Chase portal with CSR card. Total for the 3 nights was 34,500 Chase points. Both rooms were 2 queen beds and I emailed the hotel prior to make them connecting rooms and combine the reservation. They promised they would try to get connecting rooms. We checked in to the hotel and were told that there were no connecting rooms available but we were upgraded to recently renovated rooms on the 10th floor and the rooms were next to each other. Luckily, we have older children so this didn’t bother us that much and it was only a 3-night stay. I must say that the room looked brand new and spotless, they must have just been renovated. Everything was perfect and clean, loads of bathroom amenities, mini fridge and comfortable beds and pillows. The hotel stored our cooler bag in their commercial freezer by the way and was very helpful with that. I am not sure how many of the hotel rooms were renovated but the entire tenth floor was redone. Also, I want to point out the tipping is not customary in Japan, our tip was actually refused twice. Here are some room pictures:

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Hallway on 10th floor

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Bidet toilet- seat was heated and look at the many cool features of this bidet. My kids loved it.

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Since the flush is part of this bidet system, we needed it disabled for Shabbos. The hotel is familiar with Shabbos since they have many observant Jews stay there. They disabled this bidet for Shabbos. We had to pull a string for 30 seconds near the bottom of the toilet in order to manually flush the toilet. It took them about 20 minutes to disable this system for both of our rooms.

General Interesting Info about Japan

Some general info about transportation and life in Japan. Japan driving is on left side of the road (like Australia & England). Tokyo is a big city and most people get around by public transportation, the subway. There is a large railway system in place in the Tokyo Metro area. There are 13 color coded subway lines in this Metro area and one JR Yamanote Line which is a loop line and connects Tokyo’s multiple city centers. Note there are way more subway/ train lines around Tokyo, but these are the ones in the center of Tokyo you will encounter. Easiest way to get around is to purchase a reloadable train card called Suica or Pasmo. We bought the Suica card and it was best thing ever, we took so many trains over the next few days and it saved us so much time and was no hassle. The train system will seem very complicated at first especially getting used to all these Japanese names. My advice is to carry around a subway route map and ask around. However, after 1 day of travel you will be able to do it on your own. Each route is color coded like I mentioned before and the signs in the train station are that way too. The subway train itself has clear maps and will announce and display upcoming stops. People are so polite in Japan, no pushing or shoving to get into busy trains. People are quiet and do not talk loudly in the train (they are not even talking on the phone while they are in the train). Signs will tell you to be courteous of fellow passengers and mute your cellphone ringer and volume. During travel most people will be using their phones, reading books or playing video games (Japan is obsessed with video games btw). We saw a really old lady playing Nintendo on the train and my boys thought it was funny! Another aspect of Japan which is so culturally different than other places I have visited is there obsession with cleanliness. Nobody is eating anything on the train (besides for the occasional tourist), the trains are spotless. All subway stations we have been too on this entire trip were spotless, it was very rare to find a garbage can in the station or on the street. Countless times we took our garbage back to the hotel with us. The streets are clean and spotless even in the busiest areas of the city. People are not eating while walking on the street besides for us crazy Americans! We even saw people sweeping leaves from the sidewalk during our walk to Chabad on Shabbos, and that was in front of a big building (not a private house). Steps are marked with a line halfway through to divide the people going up and down, and everyone is following those “rules” or “guides”. We were amazed how the largest subway stations at rush hour had extreme order and the flow of traffic was pretty smooth and quick. Many sidewalks will have color coded bricks to guide the flow of walking traffic in each direction. Smoking is not allowed on the street and there are designated areas on the street for smoking. In general Tokyo is a very safe city and we felt extremely safe there. I cannot say anything about other cities in Japan because I have not visited them, however I have heard it’s the same way. My son figured out to use Google Translate live (it needs to be downloaded offline) and then you can do live translating. Basically, your phone will scan the foreign language and display it on your phone in English. Pretty cool and we used it a lot as many things weren’t translated to English. Japan is expensive in general. Food is pricy as well, we walked in to a large supermarket and a dozen eggs were about $10. Fruits and vegetables were very pricey as well. All kinds of fresh fish is sold everywhere and was so much cheaper than poultry and meats. The Japanese diet is really the sushi type- fish and rice! One more thing, Japan is getting ready for the Olympics next summer in Tokyo. We saw so many signs all over that have the Olympic logo with words Tokyo 2020 on it.

Thursday

We arrived to the hotel around 5:30 PM. After quickly settling into our rooms we walked to Chana’s Place the only Kosher restaurant in Tokyo which is part of the Chabad house, a 10-minute walk from the hotel. Food was homestyle and delicious. Menu is small and we pretty much tried most things throughout our stay in Japan. We tried the schnitzel chicken, pargit chicken, beef kebabs all served with white or fried rice. This was our first hot meal (airline food doesn’t count) since Tuesday night dinner at Kraving’s in Detroit and it felt really good. Prices were close to $25 per plate of food (main dish + rice). Chabad does take credit cards. We returned to hotel, showered and all went to bed before 9 PM that night. We were definitely jet lagged; Japan is 13 hours ahead from east coast USA where we are from.

Friday

The Sheraton hotel offers free shuttles to Meguru and Shinagawa Stations. They have schedules at the concierge desk. These shuttles were very convenient to us since I wanted to avoid unnecessary walking for our children. I knew our days were full of walking and didn’t want to wear them out. Other option is to walk to the closest station (10 min) and then have to take potentially more trains to get to your destination. So, it was worth it for us to plan our day around these shuttles. They also pick you up from the station and return you to the hotel.

Meguru Train station
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Purchasing the Suica train cards, note the train route maps
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Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden- Japan is famous for its gardens and this one is located in the Shinjuku district. Apparently its very popular during cherry blossom season due to its proximity to being in the Shinjuku district which is one of Tokyo’s busiest business, shopping and entertainment district. Garden was beautifully manicured and was an oasis in this busy city of Tokyo. Park has a small entrance fee.

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Next we walked to the entertainment district, my kids were seeing signs for the Robot Restaurant and it looked cool so we walked to see what the hype was all about. We saw the outside of the restaurant/bar and took some pictures. Definitely not somewhere I would go to again and was a waste of time.

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After a few minutes of being in the entertainment district I had seen enough so we walked towards the Tokyo Metropolitan Building which was our next stop. It is a 20-minute walk and we walked through so many gaming stores and ones like this which we stopped in for few minutes:

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Shinjuku

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We walked through many big shopping areas and eventually making our way to the business district with lots of business and skyscrapers.
Tokyo Metropolitan Building- There are 2 buildings North and South, with free observation decks which provide panoramic views of Tokyo and beyond. The North building observation deck was closed for renovation, so we went to the South building. Observatory is at a height of 202 meters and is one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo. During a clear day you can see My Fuji. Many of the summer days are cloudy and we were able to see it faintly in the background. Note many attractions are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays in Japan. The south tower is closed the 1st and 3rd Tuesday each month. It is a really cool sight to see to gain perspective of the size of this city. Pictures we took really don’t do justice as to the 360-degree view, we had. Here are some pictures of the view:

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We then stopped on the main floor of building so see the Tokyo Olympic Exhibit. This was not something we planned or knew about in advance but it looked interesting so we stopped to look around and take pictures. The Olympic flag is displayed there and there were lots of cool things to see.

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Olympic flag

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Mush of my Japan research and itinerary were from 2 websites, Tokyo Cheap and Japan Guide. One of them had a self-guided architecture walking tour in Shinjuku which I was thinking of doing it we were up to it and had time. However, I still wanted to do Shibuya crossing today and we spent too much time at the Olympic Exhibit so I dropped that plan. We did see some of the cool architectural buildings walking to and from the Tokyo Metro Building. Here are some:

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Shibuya Crossing – We then took train to Shibuya Crossing. This a famous intersection where thousands of people cross an intersection in all different directions when the crosswalk symbol turns green every few minutes. Alternatively, when the crossing symbol turns red cars fill the street from all directions as well and of course not one person is in the street. We were there in the middle of a weekday, definitely lots of people however not like the pictures and videos I have seen online. Since this is a busy shopping district the many screens and flashing lights make this a sight to see at night as well. Obviously, I couldn’t do each attraction at the optimal time, however this was cool for us to watch. The best view is from the Starbucks 2nd floor, which we did. No need to purchase anything there, tons of people just come in for the views.

Shibuya crossing before the crosswalk turns green

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View from Starbucks

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We then headed back to the hotel, made my kids some pasta for dinner pre-Shabbos as the meal was late for them. We took care of getting Shabbos keys at the front desk as well as disabling the bidet/toilet flushing system as mentioned earlier. Hotel is very Shabbos friendly and will keep the room keys at the front desk when you leave on Shabbos and will escort you to the room when you arrive back to the hotel.

Saturday/ Shabbos


We ate all 3 of our Shabbos meals with Chabad of Tokyo. Paid reservations must be made in advance and can be done online. We made reservations online and total cost for our family of 6 (4 adults and 2 children) for 3 meals was $380. Shabbos was beautiful and a very nice experience. We met people from all over the world and got to hear their stories and what brought them here. We had around 40 people for Friday night, 25 for Shabbos lunch and under 15 for Shalosh Seudos. Worth to note that there is a small garden that belongs to the Sheraton in the back of the hotel which is very nice. There is also another really nice garden around the corner from the hotel which people say is very nice. We took naps all afternoon and didn’t make it there.

Sunday

We checked out of Sheraton Miyako hotel and took the free hotel shuttle to Shinagawa Station. From there we took a train to Shinjuku Station, followed by a free Hyatt Regency hotel Shuttle directly to the front door of the hotel.

Hyatt Regency Tokyo

Why did I choose this hotel? There are many points hotel options in the Tokyo area and it was a decision that took me some time to make, in the end I concluded that this would give our family everything we needed and were looking for. First of all, I wanted a brand I was familiar with as I wasn’t taking chances in a foreign country. Since Japan is so expensive many of the luxury points hotels were pricy too with points, keep in mind for every night I am needing 2 rooms. For us this was also not the trip of a lifetime; we travel a lot and will be doing many more God willing. So, no need for us to spend 60K night (2 x 30K) to stay in the Park Hyatt, which would cost us 180K for 3-night stay. It’s obviously different if we were traveling with no kids, but this just made sense points wise for our family. We like staying in hotels and enjoy the amenities it provides. We stay in VRBO/Airbnb places as well, but this made sense for this stay as we were in a foreign country. We wanted a hotel with a pool, gym and free shuttle to the train station. The hotel is in the business district of Shinjuku and across the street from the Tokyo Metro building where we were on Friday. It was near 2 train stations, shopping and in a safe area of town. Hyatt Regency cost 12K Hyatt points per night vs the paid cash rate of $380/ night at that time. So really good value for our points. I used an annual free night (from the Hyatt credit card) for 1 room for 1 night and the 2nd room was booked via Hyatt at 12K points per night, 2nd and 3rd nights were booked the same way. Total cost was an annual free Hyatt night + 60K Hyatt points transferred from Chase UR. There was a Hyatt 10% promotional rebate on points bookings during that time, so I will be getting back 6K points making the stay cost only 54K points+ the free night. I emailed the hotel after the booking to combine the separate reservations, give us connecting rooms and requested early check in. They couldn’t guarantee the connecting rooms, sounds familiar 😊. We arrived at the hotel at noon, a little later than I had originally planned however I knew since it was a rainy day, I had to revise our plans anyways for the day so we weren’t pressed for time. After checking in and giving them our freezer cooler, we were informed we got nice connecting rooms (with a view) but they weren’t ready. I was counting on making lunch in the room with the sandwich maker before we went out to do some activities, but I had to think of plan B. We were getting hungry for lunch and going to Chabad for lunch wasn’t an option (2 trains + walking, would get us there in an hour and by the time we would go do our activities it would be so late in the day). So, we remembered our tradition soups we had brought for this type of situation. Finding hot water in the hotel (without having a room) was challenging. The only place we would get hot water was in a café 1 floor down. When we got there, we were told we couldn’t just get hot water, we had to order something else from the menu. So, we ordered a cup of coffee (cost us $5) and got 6 cups of hot water. Luckily the hotel lobby is very large and has many areas to sit and relax with privacy. We ate our soups, packed up some snack for the way and went outside to wait for the shuttle. The Hyatt has a free shuttle to Shinjuku Station (one of the larger trains station in Tokyo) every 15 minutes in each direction. While waiting we ordered dinner from Chabad to be delivered to our hotel at 6PM. It is very easy to order online. There is a delivery fee, however don’t recall how much.

Streets in Shinjuku

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Our original plan for Sunday included Akihabara (the electronics district), Asakusa to visit famous temple and see the old time Tokyo and finally the Tokyo Sky Tree at night. The sky tree is the tallest building in Tokyo for a view of the city at night.
We spent a couple of hours around Akihabara, where practically every building is electronics related. Many of them sell electronics and many of them are video game related, literally buildings many stories high and each floor is packed with video games and more video games. And then you watch the Japanese play these games and it’s really something else. Just seeing the sheer amount of video game stores will make you realize the insane obsession the Japanese culture has with this stuff. We all tried many different games, Mario kart, car racing games, etc. Over Shabbos we met a man who had just visited Akihabara and told us to stop in the Sega store for an amazing VR game (for adults only). So, after getting to Akihabara we found a Sega store, but no VR gaming room. We asked around and were directed to another Sega store which had no VR gaming room either. Finally, we were directed to a 3rd one which had the VR game room on the 6th floor. There are multiple games to choose from. This one is called Mortal blitz and is played with a machine gun. My husband and boys did the game and enjoyed every minute of it. Game takes about 20-30 minutes. I would highly recommend it. Here is a picture of the building:

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Akihabara video- click on picture to watch

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More Akihabara in the rain

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Caption this?

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After going to Akihabara in the rain and spending a couple of hours there, we all decided we had enough and returned to the hotel. At this point we got our room keys and went to check into our rooms on the 16th floor. Here are some pictures of the room and the view.

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Daytime view (was raining)

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Night time view

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Hyatt Regency Lobby

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Around 6 pm my husband waited in the lobby for our food to be delivered after the hotel informed us that they do not accept deliveries from outside restaurants. To his surprise the Chabad Rabbi himself delivered the food! He told us there were no delivery guys available so he came with his own car. Such amazing service. We ordered sandwiches for dinner (lox, grilled chicken, schnitzel and grilled turkey). Food was delicious and then we decided to check out the pool and go for a quick swim.
Hyatt’s pool is indoors and is located on the top floor of the hotel with the fitness center. In order to go to the pool area, you must be in a bathing suit and hold your swim shoes, you then have to pass through an area around 1 foot deep with antiseptic solution for your feet. Then you have to proceed to another area around 2.5 ft deep for further cleansing (this is all after you are technically supposed to shower before entering the pool). There is no way to bypass these areas, plus there is a pool attendant there at all times to make sure you do the right thing. If you are using the pool or hot tub you must wear this ugly green bathing cap as seen in the picture below. Otherwise the pool and hot tub were great. There are some great views of the city from there.

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Hyatt Pool (Note green bathing cap that is required)

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Monday

Plan for Monday was to spend the entire day in Odaiba. Odaiba is a man-made island in Tokyo bay which focuses on entertainment and shopping. It is supposed to have a futuristic theme to it as well. Over Shabbos we met some people that went to Odaiba and told us they visited the digital art museum there and it’s an absolute must to see and experience. At first It sounded like an art museum and that wouldn’t really work for our family, but I decided to look it up on Sunday night and boy was I surprised. After reading about it, looking at pictures and videos online I was truly convinced that it would be an amazing experience. I was told to buy tickets in advance but there were no tickets left on Sunday night for Monday admission. At that point I was disappointed and really wanted to visit that place. So, after googling some more, I found a secondary website selling tickets for the museum for Monday (website was called Voyagin). The price was a little more but I didn’t care and was happy to get the tickets.
Odaiba has lots to do on the island. There are even big hotels there and you can be busy for days. Lots of stuff for children and families to do as well as adults. Some of the popular activities are the Mori Digital Art Museum by Epson, Fuji Tv Building, Aquacity, Divercity, Venus Fort, Toyota Mega Web, Ferris wheel and Panasonic center. There is even a mini Statue of Liberty there (1/7 of the size of one in NYC). Note: many attractions (just like in the rest of Tokyo) are closed either on Mondays or on Tuesdays. We went on a Monday and had plenty to do. In order to get to Odaiba you can take a train over the famous Rainbow bridge (you can walk the bridge too btw), drive over the rainbow bridge or take the Tokyo water bus – like a water taxi and enjoy views of the harbor.
We opted for the train over the Rainbow bridge. The train is called the Yurikamome and it is a driverless train. The Suica card will not work for this train. Make sure to be in the first car and you will see views like this:

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Rainbow bridge

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Our main goal in Odaiba was to visit the Mori Digital Art Museum. We got off at the first stop in Odaiba and walked to see the mini Statue of Liberty which is pretty neat. We also got so see views of Tokyo from across the water and was nice too. Here are some pictures of that:

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All attractions in Odaiba are within walking distance to one another. We then walked about 15 minutes to the digital art museum. It is located near the big Ferris wheel. Admission to the museum is only for pre purchased ticket holders. The line was so long out the door and we waited about 45 min in order to get in, but it was so worth it.

Mori Digital Art Museum by Epson

I will discuss the museum in depth since it was the highlight of our trip to Tokyo and one, I would recommend every visitor to visit. It is unlike anything you have ever seen before. The museum has been open for about a year and has become Tokyo’s top attraction. The museum is over 10,000 sq. ft and has over 500 computers and 470 projectors that creates an experience that will stimulate all five senses. The museum is constantly changing, so stay in the different areas for a while to explore. The music is a very big part of the atmosphere and experience. I honestly can’t describe this place in words that will resemble anything close to what we saw and experienced. Watch the videos on the museum’s website. https://borderless.teamlab.art/ . Honestly, it’s just a fraction of what this experience is about.  Here is another great video I saw on another website https://soranews24.com/2018/07/04/teamlab-borderless-a-visitors-guide-to-tokyos-new-jaw-dropping-interactive-light-museum/amp/.  This also has a good description about the museum and lots of tips for visiting. This website has amazing pictures as well: https://trulytokyo.com/mori-building-digital-art-museum-teamlab-borderless/.  The museum is very family friendly and has exhibits for children too. Plan to stay between 3-4 hours. Here are some of our pictures and videos.

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The next few pictures are from same area, with lights changing colors and different views

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This area you can color pictures and they are scanned into the computer and then incorporated into the artwork on the walls and floor

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Example of whale that someone colored

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Climbing activity

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Here are a couple of videos we took: You must click on the photo to watch the video on Flickr

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After the museum we visited Toyota Mega Web which is next door. Mega web is a car theme park to 'Look', 'Ride' and 'Feel' automobile. There are 3 facilities based on each theme. A hands-on car showroom called Toyota City Showcase. An amusement park with ride studios, is for visitors of all ages with thrill rides, racing simulators, and a 5D movie theater. You can also test drive various Toyota’s on a test track. They have a History Garage, which was interesting as well and a technology zone. There also is a Sports zone where you can experience Paralympic sports that are sponsored by Toyota. Some of them were wheel chair basketball, stick hockey, which we all took turns playing and really enjoyed. Greatest thing is everything is FREE. Very high-tech place and really cool for any car fan. After Toyota we headed back to the hotel via train over the Rainbow bridge, it was evening and we were able to see Tokyo from across the bay and enjoy the rainbow colors that light up the rainbow bridge at night.

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wheelchair basketball

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Stick hockey

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Packed subway on way back to the hotel

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Tuesday

My original plan for the day was to travel out of Tokyo on a day trip to Hakone. That is a beautiful lakeside town which has amazing views of Mt Fuji. They sell something called Hakone Free pass which includes round trip trains from Tokyo, Hakone Cable car, Sightseeing cruise, Hakone ropeway and more. The pictures online look beautiful and I really wanted to go. We wanted to enjoy some nature and scenery amidst our trip to the big city of Tokyo. It is about 1.5 hours (or close to 1:45 hours) away from the city of Tokyo. Once we came to Tokyo and were sharing our itinerary with people we met and hotel concierge they recommended we skip this day trip. Summer time is cloudy season in Tokyo and we were told our chances of seeing Mt Fuji was about 20%. We were open to switching our itinerary (Sun, Mon & Tues) but it was pretty much the same chances. So, we decided that since it is a long trip not to bother since the chance of seeing Mt Fuji was slim. We were disappointed but nevertheless made the best out of the day.
Our kids were tired in the morning hours and wanted to chill and swim. So, I took advantage of that and quickly googled a laundromat. Today was day 8 of our trip and tomorrow we were scheduled to fly to Bangkok. I needed to do laundry. Luckily, I found a self-serve small laundromat only 10 minutes away by foot. I put all the laundry in a suitcase and walked through a park to the laundromat. I wish I had taken a picture of the massive and interesting machines they had there, all with instructions in Japanese. Not one thing in English. I thought I figured it out and put 1000 JPY in the machine, some detergent and pressed start. About 45 minutes into the cycle it sounded and looked like it was drying the clothes. I wasn’t sure until the cycle was complete and the door unlocked. Sure enough the clothes were dry, go figure. It turns out the same machine washes and dries the clothes. Little did I know I wouldn’t be able to take things out after the wash to hang dry… guess I still learn about new things every day.
After eating lunch in the hotel, we took a train to the Imperial Palace. There are daily tours in English at 10:00 and 1:30 PM. Unfortunately, we missed the 1:30 PM tour, so we were only able to walk around part of the grounds by ourselves. Fortunately, the weather was a perfect 75 degrees so we were able to walk around and explore. We took our time and made some family memories b/c that’s ultimately what counts. I wanted to have happy children with amazing memories of this trip and they were complaining about all the walking we were doing. They are not used to all the walking that needs to be done when you take trains and are in a city. We ended up taking a train to Chabad for our final dinner in Tokyo. It was great to have fresh delicious hot food after a long day. After dinner, we were deliberating doing the Tokyo Skytree but the kids voted to pass it up. I am sure if we were on this trip ourselves, we would have gone to it even though we were tired. However, we were traveling with the family and you need to be ready for changes and can’t always do everything you want to do as adults. We experienced a lot in this city and had a great time and we try to have that perspective even though we may have to change or cancel some plans along the way.

Some of the grounds near Imperial palace

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Dinner at Chana's Place / Chabad

Chicken Fried Rice

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Pargit with Rice

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Schnitzel with Rice

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Wednesday 

After checkout we boarded the Airport Limousine Bus (regular bus, no limo) which has scheduled pickup at the Hyatt Regency, Park Hyatt and few other hotels on the way, directly to Haneda airport. We booked this shuttle the day we arrived to the Hyatt Regency. The shuttle cost was 3200 JPY ($30) adult and 1600 JPY ($15) for a child. After all the subway traveling and walking around with our luggage on the day of our arrival, we wanted door to door service. I would rate them 5 stars and would do this again even though it was expensive ($150 for all of us). It took us about 45 minutes to get to Haneda.
Next up… we travel to Thailand for 12 days!!! 

11
Question: How were you able to fit each person's clothing into only three of those packing bags? Even if you washed during the trip, my stuff would take up more than 3 of those.
These bags (Large ebags type) are much larger then you expect and can really fit so much. We packed all summer clothing so definitely took less space then winter clothing would. My husband and boys took mostly shorts, t shirts. Younger kids clothing bags definitely had extra space. Also keep in mind we each took sweatshirt, sweatpants, kind of stuff on carry on.

12
Before I discuss our flight to Japan, I wanted to discuss some of the stuff we packed including food (we are on a strictly Kosher diet). I realize I should have written it prior to the Detroit segment, nevertheless I will discuss it here.

Packing for this trip

I am a firm believer in being organized as much as possible with packing as it makes things so much easier and less stressful. When planning for such a large trip with so many details, there are obvious things that may go wrong, so many things that are beyond our control, but one thing for sure- I can prepare and do many things in advance in order to make things easier, save time and most importantly reduce a whole lot of unnecessary stress. I will explain.
My best advice for travel is to get packing cubes. I like the large ones, personally I use the one from ebags which come in a set of 3 which is what we used on this trip. https://www.ebags.com/product/ebags/large-packing-cubes-3pc-set/48438?productid=1234149
Each family member has a different color and we each brought 3 bags on this trip. Initially when I was introduced to these bags, I thought they looked small and won’ t fit much but I was pleasantly surprised. We pack each bag with similar category belongings so you can easily find what you are looking for (socks, underclothes, pajamas etc. in one bag). Everything stays folded in those bags no matter how many times the suitcase is thrown around! When we arrive at a hotel (even if its just one night) I pull out each family member’s bags and make a pile near their bed. We literally can be unpacked and settled in a hotel room in under 15 minutes. The packing/unpacking process at home is also much easier as I pack straight from the drawers to these bags and unpack in a similar matter. We put our slides/flip flops in these bags too. For this trip we brought 9-10 days of clothing since I wasn’t sure exactly when and where we would be able to do laundry. Since we were staying only in hotels, I knew I wasn’t paying the hotel laundry service $10 to wash a t shirt, I had to find other alternatives, which we did and I will discuss later.
Some of the odds and ends I packed for this trip: A large Ziploc bag filled with laundry supplies (Tide pods, dryer sheets and gel stain remover stick). Sunscreen and Off spray. Small first aid bag (band aids, bacitracin, hydrocortisone, gauze pads/roll, medical tape, disinfectant, tweezers, nail clipper.) Medical bag with over the counter medicines. I bought small clear pill bags from a pharmacy and filled and labeled each bag with medicine (Motrin, Tylenol, Tums, Zantac, Melatonin, Benadryl, Claritin, etc.) We took chewable Motrin, liquid Advil, Epipens, variety of eye drops and ear drops, Mupirocin etc. (I know this seems crazy…but I am a nurse and especially going to foreign counties I feel more comfortable being prepared.)
For this trip we checked in 6 bags and took 4 small carry ons. The 6th bag we checked in was a soft duffle bag made by Samsonite https://www.amazon.com/Samsonite-Tote-ton-Duffle-Black/dp/B003KR1K40/ref=sr_1_3?crid=2E6CIEI8JOEF7&keywords=samsonite+duffel+bag&qid=1565195528&s=gateway&sprefix=samsoni%2Caps%2C143&sr=8-3
This contained a large cardboard egg box filled with lots of food, about 1 week into our trip we were able to discard the box and fold this duffle bag and put it into another suitcase. From then on, we checked in only 5 suitcases. All our suitcases are different colors and we try to pack certain ones with food/ cookware etc. and other ones with clothing so that we can easily find things when we need them. As far as our carry ones, I designate different ones for different things. One particular one is for electronics (laptop, tablets, headphones, camera, chargers, converters, luggage scale etc.) this way at any point in our travels we know exactly where to find things. One suitcase with have clothing for the flight (sweatshirts, sweatpants, leggings, pajamas, change of clothing for younger ones etc.). One suitcase will have tefillin (we were traveling with 3 pairs) & toiletry bags etc. The final one will have food for flight (and delicate items) as well as tradition soup cups (I find they get destroyed in a regular suitcase). The purpose of these soup cups is backup food at any point in our 3-week trip. For example, one child hated all the food on the flight to Tokyo so he had a soup. It really came handy during some occasions and as a parent you always want to have food available to a child that is hungry.
 
Food for this trip

Since we keep a strictly kosher diet, I had to find out the different food options in the various countries we visited prior to the trip and plan accordingly.
Detroit – obviously no issue- we were one day into our trip and brought along breakfast and snacks and ate out for lunch and dinner.
Japan – Was by far the hardest country with food. I was getting conflicting reports regarding being in meats ( deli) and other frozen items that had no labels on them (like homemade meals) so I decided to totally avoid bringing those items in. If I would bring them in and rely on these foods as meals, should they take them away we would be stuck. I decided to take a medium size soft cooler with a number of packages of shredded cheese, potato knishes, blintzes etc. I avoided larger frozen dairy foods like frozen pizza b/c of the space it takes. This cooler was stored in the commercial freezer of each hotel we visited in this entire trip. My husband explained to them we are kosher and all hotels were very accommodating in storing the cooler. We were only staying in Tokyo for this trip so we ate at Chabad of Tokyo for dinner most nights and for Shabbos. Also, In Japan you cannot find any food with kosher labels. So, the only thing we can buy was fresh fruits and vegetables and eggs.
Thailand - Bangkok (Meat & Dairy restaurant), Koh Samui (Meat & Dairy Restaurant) Chiang Mai (Meat Restaurant). All Chabad houses in Thailand have their own bakery and will sell you pita, rolls, baguettes, pastries, cakes etc. Note that variety and quantity may be limited at times. Shabbos in Thailand we can eat with Chabad (if staying nearby) or order entire Shabbos meals from them as well. No stores sell any food with kosher labels; however, Chabad houses do sell a small variety of Israeli products like Bisli, pickles etc. Just like Japan we can only purchase fruits & vegetables and eggs.
Hong Kong – Has a couple of kosher restaurants (Dairy and Meat), you can find international stores with some foods labeled Kosher. Some Haagen Daaz ice cream bars in stores like 7 eleven were Kosher. There are options for Shabbos meals, although we weren’t there for Shabbos this trip.
I had to pack breakfast for the entire trip (excluding Conrad Koh Samui where we got free kosher breakfast from Chabad through the hotel as a HH Diamond member). We are not dairy milk drinkers so that solved some problems. I took along shelf stable soy milk and almond milk. I packed lots of cereal, granola, many boxes of oatmeal packets and pancake mix. I brought along an electric burner, frying pan, small pot, spatula, big spoon, peeler and a knife. We also brought along a sandwich maker and tons of loaves of bread which I froze prior to the trip. I knew the bread had to last us until Thailand so I planned accordingly. Some other foods I took: bottle of oil spray, variety of pasta (elbows, spaghetti, orzo), rice and rice pilaf and tuna fish cans. I brought along tons of snacks, snack bags, individually wrapped pastries, cookies, pretzels, granola bars etc. I packed along a large bag with mini condiments such as ketchup, mayo, salad dressing, pancake syrup, salt, pepper, etc. I took along disposable plates, bowls and cutlery. I packed precut foil, many Ziploc sandwich bags, large Ziploc bags, couple of disposable small storage containers (for tuna salad, cut up fruit etc.) You would be surprised how many things you can make if you have the right staples and cooking supplies, combined with eggs, fruits & vegetables that we purchased along the way.

The flight to Japan

Checking in DTW for the NRT flight was easy and quick. A new hack I used that I had read somewhere was to label the back of the passports with a sticker with initial of each person. This way you can easily find the passport you need. I also keep them in a Zipper Ziploc bag so it’s easy to grab. During check in the agent wanted to know when we are returning to the US and on what flight. Since the entire trip was booked one way from A to B, B to C etc. I had to go though our general itinerary with her and eventually she said she needed the confirmation numbers only for the HKG-JFK leg. After check in and security we took the in-airport train (pretty cool and not underground) to the Delta Sky Club. There are 3 Delta Sky Clubs in Terminal A, we went to the one across gate A38 b/c that was the only lounge that had showers. Lounge was great overall and very spacious. We had some coffee, drinks and fruit. Some of the adults took showers with no waiting time at all. My children really appreciate the quiet time in a relaxing area prior to the flight. We boarded the flight about 45 before takeoff. As we walked onto the plane the young male flight attendant greets me and says “Welcome to you and your family, thank you so much for flying with us today”. he then whispered loudly in my ear “You know, your family alone is the revenue for this flight… so really thank you so much”. I smiled and was laughing inside. I guess it’s a great thing that the flight attendants don’t know how much you paid for the flight and we all get treated the same. We all love window seats and I try to reserve them as much as possible as long as we can remain in the same area. This flight was on an A350. We had seats 2A, 2B, 3A, 4A, 5A and 6A. Row 1 has only seats B & C in the center of the plane. So, 5/6 of us had window seats which worked out well. The sliding doors is a cool feature, obviously anyone walking around can see straight into your cabin but when you are lying down you feel like you are in a little room. Doors must remain open during takeoff and landing. Delta gives out amenity kits by Tumi. The flight was 13 hours long. Not ideal for sleeping even if you have a lie flat bed. We all took melatonin and got between 4-6 hours of sleep overall. We got a lunch meat meal after takeoff and breakfast before landing. Food was decently OK.

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13
Thank you for all the feedback. It is definitely time consuming but I am enjoying reliving this awesome experience as I am writing it. I feel that sharing many details can help people in so many ways. I have so much more to share. Keep following along :)

14
Detroit
As mentioned earlier we used 6K Delta miles per person for 6 OW tickets from PHL- DTW. The flight was smooth and uneventful landing us in Detroit at 8:30 AM. After getting our luggage and rental car (booked via Chase portal with points) we checked into our hotel which was a 5-minute drive from the airport.
Embassy Suites DTW – points bookings are 40K vs HH cash rate at $120/night, did a cash booking using HH Aspire card. This was a great choice for the 1-night stay, as we get a 2-room suite for that price which includes breakfast. I reserved 2 queen beds plus we had the sofa in the second room, giving us enough sleeping space for the one night. The hotel lobby open areas were recently redone and were very nice and clean. After checking into our room, we ate a quick breakfast which we had brought from home and drove to the Henry Ford Museum 15 minutes away.
Henry Ford Museum- I had purchased tickets in advance for the museum/factory tour combo. The Museum is part of Greenfield village- an open-air museum which has over 80 acres of historic districts of 300 years of American Life. Since we had a busy day planned in Detroit, I only purchased tickets for the actual museum and factory tour and did not explore the village at all.
The museum is massive and is top rated in the country. I have never been to a museum that big anywhere in the world. We spent much of our time in the car, train, plane areas as well as in many of the interactive exhibits. We spent close to 3.5 hours in the museum alone and could have easily stayed another hour or two.
 
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We then took the shuttle to the Ford Factory. The shuttle leaves every 15 min until 3 PM from the museum. It was a ten-minute ride to the factory, which is a world in itself. Note then when purchasing tickets to the factory tour they do not guarantee you watching the actual assembly line in action. However, you are guided throughout the plant and can see it all. We were told once we arrived that they were not in production that day, it seems that the first 2 weeks of July is switchover from the previous year to the new year car models, as well as do scheduled maintenance throughout the plant.
The Ford factory tour has multiple stations as they call it. 2 Theaters, the first one being more historic of Henry Ford and how it all began. The second is a Manufacturing Innovation Theater which is a 3 D experience showcasing the engineering of the F150 truck. The main lobby area has a “Legacy Gallery” which showcases some famous Ford cars like the ’55 Thunderbird and ’65 Mustang. We then proceeded to the observation deck for panoramic views of the plant with a guided tour and a Q&A. The final part was the tour was of the Assembly plant of the F150. Although there were no workers assembling the trucks at that time, we were able to see all of the trucks in the assembly line and all the areas of assembly. Very complex equipment, robotics and skilled workers can produce a complete F150 truck in 1 minute at full line speeds (per museum website)!
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After we completed the factory tour, we traveled to the Jewish section of Detroit to eat a very late lunch. We checked out Jerusalem Pizza, got to taste the famous chicken pizza, which was recommended here on DDF. We liked that, however also enjoyed the breakfast pizza which had (mostly facon and eggs).
After lunch my husband gave us a tour of the town, he spent his childhood in. We drove by his old house, his neighborhood park, yeshiva etc. We had to stop at the famous Zeman’s Bakery (99 years old and Kosher, apparently the oldest kosher bakery in the US) and tried the famous seven-layer cake, which was delicious.

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We had a quick dinner at Kravings and drove back to the hotel for the night. We managed to get a quick evening swim in the pool which is half indoors and half outdoors. Later that evening my husband returned the rental car and the complimentary hotel shuttle brought him back to the hotel. This was our only car rental in this 3-week trip!
Breakfast the following morning worked out well for us Kosher eaters. The hotel staff were very accommodating in showing us the wrappers for the bagels, breads and pastries (most of which was kosher) so we can actually enjoy much of the food. They brought us disposable plates etc.  They had kosher yogurt, cereals, plenty of fruit and they even brought us a new bottle of almond milk since we don’t drink dairy!
We left the hotel at 9 AM with the complimentary hotel shuttle to the airport. We were refreshed and excited for our big adventure. Delta One Suites all the way to Tokyo!
To be continued…

15
Introduction

Our family just completed a 3-week trip to Japan, Thailand and Hong Kong (plus an overnight in Detroit) mostly with points and miles. A little background of our family so you can better understand the trip report. First of all, we love to travel and see the world. This passion has developed strongly because of our ability to travel worldwide thanks to miles and points. Over the years the more we have traveled we find ourselves thirsty to discover more and see the world. Since many of our trips have been with our children, they too (especially the older ones) have developed a strong interest, desire and appreciation for travel. We have 4 children ages (19, 16, 10 and 7) with the older two being boys. My husband has the ability to work remotely during the less busy times of the year, which includes the summer and thankfully that allows us to travel over a longer period of time. My children have traveled a lot over the years and are real frequent flyers in that sense. They are very accustomed to the airport routine (baggage check, TSA/security, customs, lounges, boarding etc.) which makes flying a breeze with them. They all have Global entry/ TSA Pre check as well, which further assists in reducing stress and saves lots of time. The children have experienced First/ Business class travel in the past and know a lot about many types of planes and airlines.

I have been an avid miles and points geek for many years now. I know this is not typical of a woman, however this is truly one of my hobbies. Since I enjoy numbers and math, I have been doing our family finances exclusively for close to 15 years. This has allowed me to be fully involved in all aspects of credit card spending and furthermore strategic spending in order to maximize our miles/points earning potential. Being organized is key in this process and I love every minute of it. I also enjoy trip planning and have planned every single one of our trips (awards and activities) on my own. My husband is very supportive in this process however focuses on his business and does not really play the “points and miles game”.
This is my first ever trip report that I am writing here on DDF. I have gained so much over the years from this website and the DDF community that I would like to give back whatever I can…I have a lot to share. Thank God, everything worked out better than planned. I hope you enjoy following along.

The Planning Process

Travel during the summer works out really well for our family for many reasons. We have concluded that a three-week trip is about the maximum amount of time we can be away. I try to plan it over one half of the summer this way my children can be enrolled in camp for the other half. Between the pre-trip excitement and packing and the post trip jetlag / enjoyment of just being back home, we are all set for one month in the summer.

Generally we have a travel bucket list (one as a couple and one for our family), however some of our travel ended up as a result of an award sale or price glitch ( a big one was a family trip to Australia where we flew Business First to Melbourne with miles and returned from Sydney with Virgin Australia tickets that were approx. $100 in the summer of 2016 – the deal was posted on DDMS back in winter of 2016). Since we have 3 weeks to enjoy traveling, it is ideal for us to travel farther and/or combine multiple destinations in one area which we wouldn’t be able to do in a shorter trip. We also “splurge” on award travel in first or business class when we take long flights. Splitting our family between economy/business/ first does not work for us and we all fly the same class.

I have accumulated and spent lots of miles/points over the years. However, since I work hard to accumulate a large volume of points (without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year) I tend to be “stingy” with them and try to maximize its value and make them go farther and work for us longer (kind of the same way we look at our finances). Since we are a family of 6, award travel in J or F round trip adds up to a hefty sum. Keep in mind that we need 2 hotel rooms at a minimum and are aiming for suites as much as possible (we do Vrbo/Airbnb as well when it makes sense) so lots of points are needed to make a 3-week trip to anywhere far.
Thailand has always been on my radar being that it’s a beautiful country, with Chabad restaurant/s- and Shabbos meals in all major tourist areas, the USD goes really far there and there are lots of unique cool attractions/sightseeing to do. However, my greatest concern was safety for my family. (I have read/heard too many stories in the news and the risk wasn’t worth it.) I kind of felt that would be a destination I would visit one day without the children. Long story short…Amex MR was having a 30% bonus for points transferred to Virgin Atlantic. There are some sweet spots to Asia (with Delta and ANA). The sweet spots are to Japan. To be honest Japan was never on my bucket list, perhaps I would have wanted to visit during the cherry blossom season but that was never a good time for me to travel. So, I quickly did some travel research about family travel to Japan… and I concluded that it’s a great safe place to visit and it would be our gateway city to Asia. I realized that since we are pretty close to Thailand it would be an amazing opportunity to take our family there. I needed to research practical ways to make Thailand work for us. In the end I concluded that we would only stay in 5-star hotels/ resorts (with brands that we are familiar with in the States) because of the security and international hotel standards. Since we weren’t renting a car, we would book trips through a travel agency with local travel guides with lots of references. Also being that we don’t have real little kids and we are 4 adults (2 adults and 2 older children) with 2 children ages 7 & 10 that are accustomed to traveling, I would be comfortable with the idea of traveling to Thailand.

The Booking Process

After a week or two of searching, I found award space for 6 from various Midwest cities to Tokyo/Narita in Delta One Suites for the dates I wanted. The price was 60K Virgin Miles (just under 47K Amex transferred) per person in Delta One Suites! I found awards for 6 from MSP and DTW- now I had to choose a departure city. I have never been to either city and would have love to check out that city prior to the flight to Japan. Visiting Mall of America in MSP would have been nice, but I went for DTW. I decided to surprise my husband for this pre-trip to DTW, he had grown up in Detroit and had not been back for 27 years! I would plan the most amazing day for our family there. Delta was also having an award sale from various cities for 6K one-way Delta Miles basic economy (Since we have the Delta credit card, we can choose our seats and get 1 free bag per person). So, I booked the 6 award tickets from DTW- Tokyo/NRT for 60K Virgin x 6= 360K Virgin Atlantic (only 278K AMEX MR) in Delta One Suites. I also booked 6K Delta miles from PHL-DTW. (we live in the tri state area and can chose between PHL/ EWR/JFK). The Tokyo flight was departing mid-day and we booked the PHL- DTW leg the previous morning. Leaving us a full day to discover Detroit.
Now I had to start thinking about return tickets in either J or F. There are many options in that part of the world with so many different alliances with different miles/points. Luckily, I had enough points/miles in different currencies for me to be flexible.  I wanted a direct flight back and I wanted to spend the least number of miles in J or F for our entire family. I went through many options and practical ideas and concluded we would end our trip in Hong Kong and would aim for Cathay Pacific Business return ticket to JFK. (After much research I concluded that realistically I can find 6 J award seats - there are over 30 seats in business on those flights. I would never find awards in F for our entire family). The cost for business class seats are 50K Alaska miles per person (50K x 6= 300K Alaska miles). We were about 2.5 months away from the time we were planning to return. I was flexible with a few return dates however I already had a ticket to Japan and had to work on all other shorter flights as well (Japan to Thailand, inter Thailand flights, Thailand to HKG). This was a daunting task to coordinate it all, find all the awards/ tickets for 6 people, stay the ideal time in each location (plan Shabbos at hotel that is walking distance to Chabad) and of course find 6 Cathay J tickets with dates not on or close to Shabbos. At this point there was zero availability. I would check many times a day on British Airways (Alaska doesn’t show Cathay availability). Occasionally I would see some premium economy for 2 or 3 passengers, but nothing in J. I spent a lot of time researching this particular award route – HKG to JFK in Business and when the awards open up. All the comments/research showed that it will be released slowly 6 weeks out (that meant 3 weeks prior to us departing!) I have to admit I have never had tickets booked for a family trip that last minute but I was confident that I would find the tickets and the 16-hour flight in a lie flat business seat would all be worth it. I had many back up options including economy with stopover booked via Chase. Obviously, I didn’t want to do it and I also knew that no matter what we are all flying on the same flight. There are 3 flights a day to JFK or EWR (all with lots of J seats) I checked BA countless times a day for the next month. Here and there I would find one seat and would speak to Alaska agents from time to time and they all shared with me that they have never seen more than 4 Business seats available at one time. I started to get worried, but I knew it had been done and I would give it my best shot. I devoted all my spare time to working on the other flights, hotels, and activities.
Luckily things started to fall into place. Literally to the day of 6 weeks prior to the departure of that flight I started seeing 1, 2 or 3 seats in J for different flights on a given day (all were < 6 weeks prior to departure). I started having hope and then started actually contemplating which flight time would work best for our family. (I never thought I would have that luxury of choice between different times.) I chose the 6:45 PM flight from HKG to JFK which arrives in JFK 16 hours later at 10:45 PM (hence HKG is 12 hours ahead). I figured that would be amazing for sleeping and arrival into JFK as well, so we can sleep some part of the night at home and function somewhat the next day. I can’t believe I actually did such a thing, but at first, I booked the only 3 seats in J available for that flight. (I booked my husband and 2 younger children first). I had 24 hours to cancel but hoped I would find more space in the interim. Just before the 24 hours were over, I found 1 more seat in J. I booked it for my second son. 24 hours had passed since the original booking and I had faith that since one more opened up recently, hopefully additional seats would open up. In the worst-case scenario, my 19-year-old son and I would fly together (or even separately…) Another day passed, and another seat was booked in J for that same flight. Luckily late that night I found the 6th and final award seat that I needed and we were all booked! What an ordeal.
 
The other flights were fairly straightforward and I will discuss them throughout the trip report in chronological order. I will also discuss our hotels and the decision-making process related to our family needs. We did lots of activities and learned so much. We took thousands of pictures. I plan on sharing some of them in this report.
I definitely believe that years of travel with and without our children have given us the experience needed to make the many decisions we are faced with when booking such a lengthy family trip around the world. We also learned valuable things along the way that will help us for future trips as well, which I will share.

Basic Itinerary

Tuesday – 7:00 AM / PHL-DTW / Stayed in Embassy Suites DTW
Wednesday- 12:15 PM / DTW- NRT Delta One Suites
Thursday – arrival NRT 2:05 PM / Stayed at Stayed at Sheraton Miyako Hotel
Friday – Sheraton Miyako Hotel
Saturday – Sheraton Miyako Hotel
Sunday- Hyatt Regency Tokyo
Monday- Hyatt Regency Toky0
Tuesday- Hyatt Regency Tokyo
Wednesday- 10:35 AM – 3:05 PM / HND- BKK Thai Airways Economy stayed at Intercontinental Bangkok
Thursday- 9:15 AM -10:45 AM / BKK – USM Bangkok Airways Economy Stayed at Conrad Koh Samui (2-bedroom Villa)
Friday – Conrad Koh Samui
Saturday – Conrad Koh Samui
Sunday – Conrad Koh Samui
Monday – Conrad Koh Samui
Tuesday – 10:00 AM – 11:50 AM / USM- CNX Bangkok Airways Economy stayed at Le Meridian Chiang Mai
Wednesday – Le Meridian Chiang Mai
Thursday - Le Meridian Chiang Mai
Friday- Le Meridian Chiang Mai
Saturday - Le Meridian Chiang Mai
Sunday – 6:05 AM – 9:45 AM / CNX- HKG Air Asia Economy stayed at Intercontinental Hong Kong
Monday - Intercontinental Hong Kong
Tuesday - Intercontinental Hong Kong
Wednesday – 6:45 PM – 10:45 PM / HKG-JFK Cathay Pacific Business


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