Photography

On to Penang

As our journey through Malaysia continues we find ourselves in Penang. Enroute from the Perhentian Islands we stopped for a few days at the Bali Beach Resort just outside of Kuala Besut. Nice place, but it certainly is a lesson in experiencing another culture. It just so happened we arrived there during the first day of Ramadan. As this area of Malaysia is predominately Muslim it made for a quiet stay. Quiet as in the only restaurant in the area open during the day was the one in the resort and they were definitely geared down for the month. Fortunately the pool is great and the rooms had fantastic views so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Lesson learned.

On to Penang.

Firefly Airline

We booked our flight on Malaysia Air but were flown to Penang on their budget airline, Firefly. Great airline, smooth landings and they served peanuts, I like peanuts! Quite enjoyable.

One of our new experiences we had in Penang is Uber. Wow! I understand it can be different in countries around the world, but here, it is awesome. I can see why taxi companies hate them. It would take an order of magnitude for any taxi company I have ever used to bring themselves up to the convenience, timelines, service, and price of what we have experienced with Uber in Penang. Love it.

Sunset from our apartment

The apartment we rented for the first ten days here is in an area that was described as lower middle class. I am not exactly sure what that means here, but I quite liked the area. I had a short conversation with a local in the restaurant, he was curious about where we were staying, as how he put it was “we don’t get many tourists around here”. The apartment was great, photo is of the sunset from our window, and the restaurants in the area were fantastic. And cheap.

It is hot here so casual walks around sightseeing can be a bit draining. We have gotten out to do a few and found the area safe, friendly, and interesting. Of course the most photogenic area we have been to is the UNESCO heritage site of Georgetown in the centre of Penang.

Pinang Fountain

This 4.8 metre high modern sculpture is meant to represent the betel nut, which is where the state derives its’ name from. Historical government building in the background.

Downing St.

The evidence and influence of 170+ years of British rule can be seen everywhere.

Little Children on a Bicycle

Ernest Zacharevic is a young Lithuania-born artist who did a series of murals on the walls in the streets of Penang. “Little Children on a Bicycle” is probably one of the most famous.

Boy on a Bike

A very popular activity for tourists is hunting down the location of all of the pieces of wall art around Georgetown.

Little Boy with Pet Dinosaur

Little Boy with Pet Dinosaur.

The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do This

Not all the wall art is by Ernest Zacharevic. “The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do This” mural is a sad example of how the climate is deteriorating the wall art all around Penang.

I look forward to returning several times over the next few weeks to explore more of the unique wall art here.

Poh Hock Seah Twa Peh Kong Temple

You never know what you will find around a corner in Georgetown. It lends itself to slow exploration.

We are super excited to be in Penang and get a feel for the pace of life here. Stay tuned for are further exploration of this great city.

Categories: Malaysia, Photography, transportation, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

#Perhentian #perhentianisland #boat #clouds #blue #Malaysia

Without a doubt the single most memorable thing for me about the Perhentian Islands was the intensity of the colour. When the sun was shining down on the rocks, water, or clouds everything was taken to extreme. I loved it.

The reason we travelled to the Perhentian Islands was for diving. During our time on Langkawi Island whenever we mentioned to someone we were looking for a place to possibly go diving, everyone suggested the Perhentian Islands. The embarrassing part for me is I had never heard of them. But after some frantic internet education we decided to check it out for ourselves.

Taking it in

Admittedly, we did not see much of the islands. Our main purpose was diving and quite frankly, it was so damn hot that going for a stroll was a bit punishing. However this little bay just down the beach from our place was heaven. After diving one day we spent the better part of an afternoon relaxing here.

Perhentian Mosque

Several times a day we were reminded where we were by the loudspeakers from the mosque on the other island broadcasting prayers. It is interesting how quickly you acclimatize to these things.

Malaysian Coastguard

On our last day the Coastguard (I believe) did a cruise between the two islands.

During our visit we stayed at Tuna Bay Island Resort, which is located on the larger of the two islands. The food was excellent and the rooms were simple but clean and comfortable. As well, probably the best shower we have experienced since coming to Asia.

Tuna Bay Island Resort Beach

The beach out front of the resort was very nice. A small coral reef has been fostered within the swimming area so snorkelling was excellent right off shore. You did have to watch for the little black and white reef fish as when you stopped moving they liked to bite your legs. Nothing serious, just a hell of a surprise.

Universal Diver

Universal Diver was right next door to the resort and handled their scuba package deals. I found it a little confusing the first day figuring out their routine. However once I had that down the diving was great.

Universal Diver Boat

The gear was first class and the dive masters helped solve the problem of ill fitting fins immediately which made the rest of my dives very comfortable.

The diving was great. Visibility was between 2 and 18 metres, most of the time in the 10 – 12 metre range. We visited a variety of sites which kept everything interesting.

Porcupine Fish

This porcupine fish did not have the most welcoming face, but it was cute the way he was tucked into his little hole.

Crown of Thorns Starfish

Crown of Thorns Starfish. Unfortunately these are best known for having a great appetite for coral.

Giant Clams

Several Giant Clams in the area.

Cartoon Clams

I have no idea what type of clam this is, but I loved the cartoon nature of the opening. The white worm just added to the effect.

Dark Wreck

Just so you don’t think we ever have so/so dives. This wreck needed more time for coral to grow and fish to move in. Due to a head cold Karen had to miss this dive, which she wasn’t that sorry about.

Check out the short video I did of our diving here:

 

Mixing Cultures

One of the interesting things to observe here is the mixture of cultures. The majority of guests here are either Asians or Europeans. Seeing a lady in her bikini walking by a group of girls in their hijabs snorkelling causes no excitement whatsoever. Everybody just does their own thing. Rather refreshing.

And did I mention the colours?

Karen by the Bay

Karen relaxing by the bay.

View From the Beach

Couldn’t help but get this shot as I was laying on the beach.

If you get the chance, come visit the Perhentian Islands. Beautiful, reasonable, and did I mention the colour? Love it here.

Categories: Malaysia, Photography, scuba, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi the Jewel of Kedah

This statue represents one of the interpretations of the name Langkawi (Reddish-brown eagle in Malay). It is located in the administrative centre of Kuah which is the largest town on the island.

We have settled into our housesit on Langkawi Island in northern Malaysia. Not to give you the wrong idea, but one of the most attractive things about the island is it is a duty free zone. As Malaysia has the 3rd highest tax on alcohol in the world, this is a wonderful perk. There are limits on how much you can purchase a month, but they are fairly reasonable.

Malindo Air

Another wonderful find for us has been the Malaysian/Indonesian airline Malindo Air. Good service and comfortably spaced seats. As well, unlike North American airlines they do not gouge you for baggage weight. For this 65 minute flight we paid $65CDN for both of us and that included 30kg of checked luggage each.

The heat here is pretty brutal. The coolest time of the day is about an hour before sunrise when it is just 25 – 26C. During the day it gets up to 31 – 33C, the killer is the 65 – 95% humidity which adds another 10C of perceived heat. Thank goodness for air conditioning. This may not have been the best place to decide to start increasing my running mileage.

Rice Paddies

This fellows red top grabbed my attention as we were having our morning coffee. This is just off our back patio. Acres of rice paddies which they work with tractors and hand held hoes.

Evening Rain Showers

Most evenings we get some sort of rainfall. This evening we were also treated to some colour at sunset.

Pagan

So fortunate to have these wonderful cats to look after.

Tootsie

As the home owners have been incredibly gracious in allowing us to use their vehicle we have also started exploring the island and look forward to seeing even more of it before we leave.

Tanjung Rhu Beach

Karen checking the water temperature on Tanjung Rhu Beach on the northeast corner of the island. It’s hot.

North Tanjung Rhu Beach

The clouds here are spectacular. This was on the north end of Tanjung Rhu Beach.

Stay tuned for more sights from Langkawi, as well as a report on the scuba diving here.

 

 

Categories: House Sitting, Malaysia, Photography, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Getting Acquainted With Kuala Lumpur

Flag of Malaysia

The Malaysian Flag at Merdeka (Independence) Square

So here we are; Malaysia. We have been looking forward to this leg of our journey for awhile. This is the 14th country so far in the last 3 and a half years and it is a bit different. Other countries in SE Asia have religions that we are unfamiliar with, however there is no dodging the fact that you have entered a country that is predominately Muslim. From the layout of the grocery stores, to the hajibs, burqas (ladies), taqiyahs (men) on peoples’ heads, to the calls to prayer periodically throughout the day. Only about half the population is Muslim but because it is different to what we are used to it comes across as very noticeable.

"Not in Kansas anymore"

You know things have changed when you glance up at the clock. To be fair, this was in the National Mosque. All the other clocks we have seen use what we would call conventional digits.

Ladies Only Coaches

On one of the train lines in Kuala Lumpur, two of the six cars in the train are designated for ladies only. One of those things that just catches your attention.

Before we arrived here we had made arrangements to rent an apartment for the two weeks of our stay in Kuala Lumpur. This has been a great decision as it places us in the middle of the city with easy access to shopping and transit. This apartment cost us $600CDN for 14 nights.

37th Floor Infinity Pool

We have been in this pool nearly every day we have been here. It is great cooling down and being able to look over the city and reminisce about the sights you have seen. Yes, those are the Petronas Towers in the background. The tallest twin towers in the world.

29th Anniversary

We were able to celebrate our 29th anniversary in the restaurant atop our tower. Fantastic.

We have eased into the sightseeing here. Partly because we are not under a time crunch, but also because of the heat. It is HOT here. I know, not a lot of sympathy from people and I am not looking for any. I am just stating a fact. A cool day here is 32C and that is before factoring in the “feels like” humidex which usually adds another 4 – 7C.

Hop On Hop Off KL

One of the Hop On Hop Off buses we took around the city. (79RM/$22CDN for 48 hours) In most cities we have used them it is always a challenge to get the seats in the open air on the top level. Not here, it is so hot everyone eventually comes inside.

National Mosque

Islam is the national religion of Malaysia so a trip would not be complete without a visit to the National Mosque.

Prayer Hall

The Mosque apparently has a capacity of 15,000 people. Thankfully it was nearly empty when we were there. The people were very welcoming and open in letting us wander about. They did ask that we didn’t go into the main prayer hall, which I thought was more than reasonable.

Bank Negara Museum and Art Gallery

A hidden gem was the Bank Negara Museum. A history of currency in Malaysia as well as an excellent art gallery focused on Malaysia. And it is free!

Central Staircase

Couldn’t resist getting artsy with the staircase in the Bank Negara Museum.

In addition to the Bank Negara Museum we also visited the National and Police Museums. All three are definitely worth the time and are either free or cost 5RM.

After taking in the Botanical Gardens we started focusing more on attractions where we could enjoy air conditioning. These two Canadians were starting to have challenges coping with the consistent high temperatures.

Batu Caves

Though the Batu Caves didn’t have air-conditioning they are caves. As well, we visited them first thing in the morning so we avoided the high temperatures and the crowds.

Entrance to Batu Caves

At the base of the Batu Caves you are greeted by a 42.7 metre tall statue of Lord Murugan and 272 steps before you can gain access to the caves. It is one of the most important Hindu shrines outside of India.

There are plenty of monkeys on and around the stairs as you climb up. They make a great excuse to stop and catch your breath as you watch their antics. As well there are an abundance of colourful figures to check out.

Main Cave

The main cave is huge, with a number of smaller alcoves off of it with shrines and altars. We were fortunate to be there when a service was being performed.

Batu Caves

Looking into the caves from just to the right of the entrance.

Batu Caves

The shrine at the inner most portion of the caves. There is a hole in the ceiling which allows for natural light to come in.

Pigeons

There was no wondering why there was an abundance of pigeons here. As we arrived we watched this fellow feeding them on a large scale.

KL Tower

On the observation deck in the KL Tower. Incredible views.

KL Tower at Sunset

The KL Tower appears to glow as the sun sets and the lighting is turned on. It was very nice being able to relax in our rooftop pool and wait for the light to be just right before hopping out and getting the photo.

Night Markets

It was fun watching this street transform everyday from a normal roadway to an all encompassing street market every night

Towers at Sunset

We never had much of a light show from Mother Nature at sunset, but the city provided it’s own show for us.

Petronas Twin Towers

The tallest twin towers in the world and the symbol of Kuala Lumpur. They truly are breathtaking structures.

View from the Sky Bridge

Looking NW from the Sky Bridge on the 41st floor. If you follow the double line of blue away from the building, where it ends is where the previous photo was taken from, just for some perspective.

SE View from Sky Bridge

Looking SE from the Sky Bridge you can see the Lake Symphony Fountains and some of the construction going on in the city.

41st Floor Sky Bridge

In the reviews of the Petronas Towers you see a fair bit about your time being limited on the Sky Bridge, but seriously people, yes the view is spectacular but do you need more than 10 minutes here. It isn’t that big. They do an excellent job of orchestrating the flow of people through here. At no time did I feel rushed.

Level 86

After the visit to the Sky Bridge you head up to the 86th floor Observation Level.

Panorama

The one thing you start to see as you get higher up and can see further is the pollution. Still an amazing view though. The cost of accessing the Towers is 85RM ($25CDN) and booking ahead is highly recommended.

A Different View

From the Observation level you get a different perspective of the KL Tower and Tower 1 of the Petronas Towers.

We have certainly enjoyed our time in Kuala Lumpur and would recommend it to others without hesitation. The pace, for us, was a little slower and less chaotic than most other major Asian cities we have visited. It actually reminded me a bit of the pace of things back home in Calgary. We’ll leave you with a short video of the colourful fountain display at the base of the Petronas Towers. This takes place every night of the year.

Categories: Malaysia, Photography, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Enjoying Life in Vietnam

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A view of City Hall in Ho Chi Minh City with a statue of Ho Chi Minh in the foreground. A beautiful building with the obvious French architecture.

We have fully settled in to our temporary home here in Nha Trang. Life is relaxed and the weather is comfortable. The rainy season is loath to give up it’s grip and we are enduring more cloudy days than is the norm but that is not such a bad thing. The cloud cover makes it easier to get out and walk about exploring the city. We recently took a short trip to Ho Chi Minh City to pick up Karen’s mother who is visiting us for a couple of weeks (very exciting to have a familiar face with us).

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With the rainy season wrapping up and the Lunar New Year having just happened there is no lack of bright beautiful flowers wherever we visit.

The focus of this blog is simply to share some of the sights we are enjoying here in Vietnam. All the photos are either from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) or Nha Trang, where we are currently living.

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There is something truly wondrous in taking the time to stop and enjoy the simple beauties in life.

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While walking to the Post Office in Ho Chi Minh City we stumbled upon this little pedestrian only street. It is devoted entirely to bookstores and reading.

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There was a sculpture at each end as well as one in the middle of the street.

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With the trees overhead and the coffee shops for relaxing and reading outside this was truly a gem of a find in this busy bustling city.

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As always there were plenty of flowers to enjoy.

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While we were getting lunch in the food market I couldn’t resist grabbing a shot of this fellow getting some shut eye. There is no question the people here are incredibly hard working individuals.

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The end of January brought the Lunar New Year. 2017 is the year of the Rooster and there are thousands of reminders of this both big and small everywhere.

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One of the most enjoyable and satisfying subjects to photograph are locals going about their work. This lady is our go to person for fresh bread.

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The view across the bay at the north end of Nha Trang. Wherever there is a break from the waves you find numerous fishing boats anchored.

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Part of the tradition on Lunar New Year is to thoroughly clean everything. Including all the fishing nets. It was neat to see dozens of fishermen and ladies working their way through piles of nets.

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These utilitarian ‘Squid Boats’ are what the fisherman use to get out to their larger fishing boats or check their nets.

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This lady was fixing nets while selling the fish from the nights fishing.

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Some of the hundreds of fishing boats moored in the Nha Trang harbour.

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This temple by the Cai River in Nha Trang is a major tourist attraction here. It is a beautiful example of what the Cham civilisation built 1200 years ago.

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A performer taking time to say hello to a little man who walked up to them. Periodically musicians and dancers put on cultural shows at the temple.

We are finding life in Nha Trang very likeable. The people are lovely and the food is excellent.

 

Categories: Photography, travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Introduction to Vietnam

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The one consistent impression as we travelled around SE Asia has been incense. This is a bowl of hand rolled incense waiting for sale. Couldn’t resist the colours.

We chose to do a tour of Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City to get a feel for this country before we committed to spending an extended period of time in it. As it turned out we could easily have dove straight in, but none the less the tour was a ton of fun. And who is kidding who, there is something nice about being picked up by a private driver at the airport with your name on a sign. It is good to spoil yourself once in a while.

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As we start our approach to Hanoi the sun was setting in Vietnam. The flight on Vietnam Airlines was a great introduction to Vietnam. Nice people, surprisingly good service and great food.

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This street is in the old quarter of Hanoi just around the corner from our hotel Maison d’Hanoi Boutique Hotel. It was a perfect place to start our Vietnam experience. Fantastic staff at the hotel and right in the bustle of old Hanoi. Loved it!

Our tour of Hanoi was led by a fellow who was either a member of the communist party, or was waiting for his application to be processed because he was a bit over the top with the zealous propaganda. That being said it certainly highlighted for me the power of information and how it is disseminated. That is a huge part of travelling, the exposure to information outside the control of western press and government. It is not right or wrong, just interesting.

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The mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh is an interesting place. It is treated the same as a temple, which opens a number of questions, but I am just here to appreciate the culture.

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The far cooler part of Ho Chi Minh’s final resting place was the fact that the Canadian embassy was on the same street.

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The neat thing about this region is despite the politics of the government, Buddhism as a faith/belief is the one overriding consistency. No matter where we have travelled here Buddhism has been prevalent and unassociated with government. Quite refreshing.

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The aroma of burned incense is everywhere. Whether you are in an apartment or walking down the road it is not unusual to smell the aroma of incense floating by.

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Hoan Kiem Lake in old Hanoi that is a gathering place for tourists and locals alike. This was one of the army of workers tending the flower gardens.

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There is no question that scooters are king here. Though right of way seems to be determined by size; bus over car, car over scooter. The sheer number of them makes it awe-inspiring.

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I am not sure what kind of bad ass this guy is, but I loved the military covered scooter.

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Of course the one thing you can count on in any Communist country are plenty of statues and posters depicting the strong dedicated workers rising up.

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What is nice here is the statutes depicting soldiers and workers are fairly evenly balanced out with statues and displays honouring the thinkers and educators from centuries gone by.

After we had explored Hanoi a bit on our own we joined up with our tour company to begin that adventure. This time of year in Vietnam is late in the rainy season so our expectation was a lot of cloud and relatively poor visibility. We were not disappointed. Our first destination was to the tourist hot spot of Ha Long Bay.

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The harbour where everyone boards their boats for the tour of Ha Long Bay gives you a bit of an idea of how popular this destination is. However it is not until you are en route and are surrounded by several dozen other tour operators that you realize this is no tranquil commune with nature.

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Having said that, there are still plenty of opportunities to tune out your immediate surroundings and appreciate some of the beauty this area has to offer.

I am not sure what my expectations were for the quality of accommodations on our tour, but I have to state that right from the beginning with the boat on Ha Long Bay the quality was excellent (we were staying in 3 star accommodations) but the level of service would make any Hilton or Fairmont blush with envy.

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For a communist country I saw more entrepreneurial spirit and business smarts than anything I have ever seen before. This lady worked her little boat to every tourist boat in sight.

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Did some kayaking with the group.

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Explored a series of caves that are beautifully lit.

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View from the top of Cat Ba Island in Ha Long Bay. The boats getting in position for the night.

After an excellent flight, our next stop was Hue, on the east coast. It was a bit hectic with sightseeing over the next few days but we did manage to catch some of the highlights of Hue and Hoi An while we were in Central Vietnam.

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We were treated to a reenactment of some of the customs while we were exploring The Citadel in the Imperial City in Hue.

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After seeing the Thien Mu Pagoda we took a cruise on the Perfume River back into Hue. Not the most scenic due to the weather, but a chance to just relax and prepare ourselves for a road trip to some tombs.

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Unfortunately our time touring the royal tombs of the Nguyen dynasty was somewhat dampened by rain, it was still a good day. The thoughtfulness that went into the design of these was beautiful. And the fact they built them while the emperors were still alive so they could enjoy them I think is awesome.

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Of course the advantage of touring places when the weather sucks is it is much less crowded.

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The beauty of the symetry in design is something I alway enjoy.

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On our bus trip from Hue to Hoi An we stopped for a break at this stop. Something we learned from our guide, the hammocks are for truck and bus drivers to get some sleep, not for tourists to relax.

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Break time at a pearl farm. One of the negatives for me of these tours are the inevitable stops at “local”, “authentic”, or “family” enterprises to showcase the local culture. Really all they are, are a forced walk through of a tourist shop trying to sell things. I know it is a legitimate way to make money but because we travel in a manner that does not allow souvenirs I sometimes find these stops irritating.

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A ceramics factory.

After our bus trip we stopped in Hoi An, a city just south of Danang. I loved this city with its narrow crowded streets and lively market action.

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This lady was doing a humming business selling fresh vegetables.

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While right across the street from her this lady was peddling chickens. Our time here has certainly redefined what “fresh” food means to me.

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The French influence is very clear in Hoi An. This area was the centre of trade for a period of time and that is reflected in the French, Japanese, and Chinese styles.

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The opportunities to capture the day-to-day life of the people here in the old town in Hoi An was wonderful.

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No matter where we went you didn’t have to look far to see local dogs taking it easy on the sidewalks.

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Also while we were in Hoi An we did a trip out to the archeological site of My Son. I found this a somewhat disquieting trip. It highlighted what can happen when cultures collide. From the 4th to the 14th centuries this was apparently a significant site for the ruling dynasty. However today it is mostly destroyed, either by the aerial bombardment by the US during the war (the Viet Cong had a major encampment here) or earlier when the French decapitated nearly every statue on the site to take the heads back to France.

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Our guide (whose father fought for the Viet Cong) did an excellent job of presenting the information surrounding the site at My Son and the relationship and feelings some Vietnamese have toward the Americans. A difficult job for sure but handled with humour and a balanced perspective. Here he draped the Vietnamese flag over an unexploded American bomb to demonstrate they were making efforts to move past the war.

Our final stop on our tour was Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong delta. However, before we got there we had a couple of R&R days in Nha Trang. This was perfect for us as we had by now determined we quite liked Vietnam and we were able to use our free time to meet an agent and tour some apartments. In the end we committed to spending the first three months of 2017 enjoying this wonderful country. But I get a bit ahead of myself. First, and last, Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong delta.

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The south of Vietnam is all about the Mekong River. Our tour took us to a number of sites that allowed us to meet people who make their living from the river.

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What struck me about this lady was how bloody content she seemed to be. Paddle in hand and going about her business on a little tributary.

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We did a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels located just outside of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Siagon). After seeing them you realize why they were so effective during the war with the Americans.

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Between all the serious topics we still took time to do the fun touristy things.

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Ho Chi Minh City certainly is a place that harkens back to a time of colonialism and the things that were good, and bad about that. It is a big dirty city, and I liked it. This shot from the steps of the Opera House sum it up very well for me.

Our introduction to Vietnam is complete and now we look forward to getting to know parts of the country on a more day to day level. I cannot see it being anything but positive. Friendly people, interesting food and an amazing history. Bring it on!

Categories: Photography, travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Living like a local in Hong Kong

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Looking at Hong Kong across Victoria Harbour from Kowloon. This city is a photographers dreamscape. Even though it was cloudy and hazy for most of our stay it was still an incredible city to take in.

We were very fortunate to be able to do a house sitting gig in Hong Kong that put us right in the middle of the action. Not the harbour front touristy area, but just a few blocks in where the people of this part of Hong Kong live.

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Due to the size of the apartments and the cost of electricity all laundry is hung to dry outside. And when it is a vertical jungle of apartment towers, that makes for a lot of clothes flying from the sides of buildings.

The apartment we stayed in was typical tiny Hong Kong with everything one needed. We were fortunate to also have a rooftop patio which made us exceptionally fortunate. Of course to have the roof top means your apartment is on the top floor (no elevator) so we got our share of exercise just getting up the six flights of stairs.

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Our apartment was 40 metres from the Man Mo Temple which is the largest temple in Hong Kong. An amazing place to observe people observe the rituals of their beliefs. The amount of fire in the place was incredible.

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As we were in Hong Kong for the Christmas season we were able to take in some of their decorations and events. The lighting on the HSBC building behind us was amazing. As was the lighting on most of the buildings facing the harbour.

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The malls (and they have a lot of malls) were all decorated for Christmas. The big difference for us was there were no Santa Claus’s anywhere. The only person we saw holding children and posing for photos was this creepy dude in a kilt and pantomime face paint.(he was not a mime though as he had a microphone which was broadcasting his chatter all through the centre court) Everything about him made me nervous.

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We headed down to the waterfront for New Years Eve with 300,000 other people to watch the fire works. Due to the small apartments here, people are experts at gathering and socializing in public places. There were card games, folding tables, and food everywhere. The best part is people just work around the crowds without getting upset.

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The fireworks on New Years Eve were amazing. Not a super choreographed artistic display, just 10 solid minutes of volume. It was a hell of a show.

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Most North Americans associate cardboard on the sidewalks with homeless people sleeping. However here it seems to be the standard flooring choice for social gatherings. It was normal in the evening or on weekends to see up to half of the floorspace in pedestrian walkways (+15’s) and any covered area to be covered in flattened cardboard boxes. Groups meet and socialize in these places singing, playing games, and eating. The food we saw was incredible. Come morning everyone is gone and all the debris has been cleaned up. Pretty cool.

In addition to soaking in the experience of walking the streets, shopping, and exploring the markets we also did the obligatory trip to Hong Kong Disney (come on! It’s Disney!)

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Hong Kong Disney is the smallest Disney property in the world. Therefore it is easily done in one day. It was overcast the day we went, so not as good for photos, but excellent for walking around the park all day.

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One of the things I love about Disney is how they brand everything. Right from the time you board the spur line train that takes you into Disneyland everything is geared toward the Disney experience.

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Many of the buildings and attractions are identical to the properties in the U.S. and Paris, however we found it interesting that Cinderella’s castle was noticeably smaller.

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Of course all the characters are out in force. One of the nice things here was the line ups were shorter for everything than I recall in the two U.S. properties, which was nice.

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Of course the focus on Star Wars was huge. These guys were out and about every hour posing for photos and interacting with the crowds.

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We made an effort to hit all the fun rides, and were very successful. My second favourite was RC Racer. HyperSpace Mountain took top marks though.

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Of course what visit to Disney wouldn’t be complete without taking in the Flights of Fantasy Parade. All in, a great day. The crowds started getting thick in the late afternoon, but that was fine because we were done by then.

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It seemed every day we went to the top of Victoria Peak with a camera it was overcast and hazy. Not good for beautiful panoramas, but an excellent opportunity to play a bit with the photos. That is Hong Kong Island immediately below and Kowloon across the water.

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Karen and I did the 5km walk up the Peak to take in the view from Lugard Road. A different perspective, but the same overcast. The funny thing was I did a few runs up to the Peak and each of those times I was treated to a clear view, but no camera. Oh the trials we suffer.

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The part I enjoyed most about being here was just walking the streets. Due to the way this part of the city is built into the side of the mountain, it creates wonderful little alleys and roads that sprout out in every direction. You never know for sure what is around the next corner.

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Part of the system seems to be that people stake out a square of sidewalk and set up their business there, right out in the open. This fellow was right at the intersection of two busy roads. Great for walk in customers I suppose.

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At first I thought something interesting was going down. Then actually looked at these fellows and realized they are pretend. Apparently their group supplies gunmen for TV and movie productions. They were just taking part in a community fair. There were children doing traditional singing and dancing across the road from here.

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As we were checking out locations for the fire works display we came across this fellow by the Convention Centre. One can’t pass up a challenge like that.

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This sculpture of a flowering Golden Bauhinia is located in front of the Hong Kong Convention Centre. It is there to commemorate the 1997 Handover, when the British signed over control of the Hong Kong Territories to China.

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The International Commerce Centre is the tallest building in Hong Kong and the 10th tallest building in the world. There is an observation platform on the 100th floor.

We got the two day pass on the Hop on Hop off bus which helped us get a feel for the layout of the city. Plus you get a ton of passes to other sights. We used the HOHO bus to explore Aberdeen on the south side of the island. Which got us our ride on a sampan through a floating village. (honestly, it looked like a harbour to me)

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The pilot of this Sampan made me smile. Who said men can’t multitask.

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If you ever hear of a business being absolutely intertwined with the history of a city, that would be the Star Ferry. This was included in the HOHO package. We ended up making a few trips over to Kowloon on the Star Ferry. Very cool experiencing a part of history like that.

Another mode of transportation that has survived into the new millennium is the Hong Kong tram lines, or “ding, ding” as they are known.

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The citizens of Hong Kong voted to keep the tram system in place when government threatened to do away with it. This environmentally friendly, inexpensive ($2.30HK or .40CDN) and cool system is a great way to explore the length of Hong Kong.

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We took the tram to Chai Wan which is the end of the line. It was like being dropped in the middle of everything you could possibly imagine Hong Kong to be. The people, the noise, the very interesting shops, so very cool. Yes, the tram goes down the street in the photo.

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The different types of shops are grouped together. There were at least 6 butcher shops in this one block. There certainly was no question of fresh.

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The streets just begged to be explored. Whatever you are looking for, it is somewhere in Hong Kong.

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The other thing we noticed in our wanderings was the massive use of bamboo for scaffolding. We have seen natural products used in many areas for small projects however, the use of bamboo here is mind-boggling. The construction we saw here dwarfed anything I have seen before. And easily over 98% used bamboo poles as scaffolding. It is incredible to behold.

There is without doubt a LOT of money in Hong Kong. If you don’t count the Toyota taxis (which there are a lot of) we saw more Mercedes, Teslas, Audi, and Porsches than any other make of car. It is a wonderland for the auto enthusiast. But the true magic, visually speaking, happens after sunset.

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The boats getting in position for the nightly light show on the harbour. That is the International Commerce Centre illuminated in the background.

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This is the street just down the road from our apartment. A kaleidoscope of colour and light.

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One of the harbour tour boats making its way into position for the light show with the Kowloon skyline in the background.

Hong Kong is a wonderful city and one that if you ever get the chance to explore you should seize it.

Categories: Hong Kong, Photography, travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Transportation Asia

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Enjoying the street level sights of Hanoi without the stress. Cyclo tours are a fantastic way of getting an introduction to the old centre of town.

I am excited to be writing this post. First reason, after several weeks of wandering in the technological hinterland of having a non-functioning laptop, I am back in business. Second, transportation in S.E. Asia has been a consistent high point in every country we have been in thus far. So I am excited to be sharing a bit of information on what we have discovered in our first three months in SE Asia.

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We were floored with the excellent service on Thai Airlines. However, we then found that Vietnam Airlines was just as good, if not even a bit better, in our limited experience. The service and punctuality of the flights was great on both airlines.

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As we approached Hanoi on our first of several flights with Vietnam Airlines we were treated to a lovely sunset. This was the cherry on top of a wonderful introduction to this airline.

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This was the first time we had to wait in a line to check in for a flight. I was glad we already had three flights on this airline so I was comfortable we would get through in time. And we did with time to spare.

We have done six flights since coming to SE Asia and they have all been positive experiences. The only word of warning is pay attention to announcements in the airport and check the departures information frequently because changing boarding gates seems to be a popular activity. However, despite our positive flight experiences, the real fun has been moving about via bus and train.

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Within Cambodia we found the Giant Ibis bus company to be excellent. The buses were clean, well maintained, and offered power points at all the seats for getting your time in on whatever electronic device you like. Just know you need an actual plug, not just a USB connection to take advantage of this great feature.

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No matter what company we travelled with by bus they all stopped every two hours for a toilet and snack break. The stop locations provided everything you need.

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The toilets at these locations were not always something to admire, but we found them to be “reasonably” clean. Just not always the type of facility you might expect. i.e. pouring the water in by hand to flush and squatting. Some of the great experiences of travel.

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This bus in Thailand was a bit more run down than most that we were on and yet it was still very good. The most pleasant surprise was the amount of leg room. My expectation was none, however I found there was enough room that being a contortionist was not necessary.

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The only thing I found a bit disconcerting was the stockpile of fuel in the shed right by where we were loading onto the bus to start our trip in Cambodia. I was fairly confident none of these containers had any type of safety rating.

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One of the ways of passing the time when travelling by bus is keeping an eye out for other users of the roadways. It is phenomenal what and how much can be moved on the smallest of vehicles.

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I have no idea what is in the containers but we loved the collection of chickens on the back.

We have also used smaller buses for a number of our trips. These typically hold between 6 and 14 passengers and are operated by a much wider assortment of businesses. They take care of most trips under a couple of hours and can be quite entertaining.

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I found the fact the operator had taken the time to zip tie the seatbelts so they didn’t get all tangled up quite thoughtful. At least we could find these ones.

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We both were able to watch the collision that broke the left handgrip off this bike because he hit the side of the van right beside Karen. I watched his head bounce off the window and thought how fortunate the operator was one of the few who wore a helmet. After some discussion and a punch to the face, the motorcyclist drove off minus one hand grip and we continued on our trip.

One of the best travel experiences we have had, was the night train from Bangkok to Surat Thani in Thailand. Though the whole process from getting tickets to getting settled on the train was new to us, it went incredibly well. (OK, perhaps we had some severe stress when the taxi driver in Bangkok didn’t know where the train station was and our 90 minute buffer for getting the train ran down to 10 minutes. Got there though. And didn’t hurt the driver)

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The second class cars are dominated by western travellers with a few locals mixed in. The authorities on the train were very good. Interested in us but not over friendly. They did their job and let us be.

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We both had top berths which apparently are a little smaller than the lower ones. I found them fine. The only challenge was the lights are not turned off at night. That light you see in the photo is perfectly positioned to shine over the top of the berths curtain, right in your face. A mask would be a great addition.

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Upon arrival we got to see what our train looked like as it was very dark and we were in a big hurry when we boarded the night before. An awesome experience we look forward to repeating.

Of course travelling between cities and countries is only part of the transportation adventure. Getting around within the cities has been a truly eye-opening opportunity. From the chaos of Phnom Penh to the effectiveness of Hong Kong we have learned that North America is still truly in its infancy of learning to move large numbers of people effectively.

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The incredible number of these machines on several Asian city streets is awe-inspiring. We generally found the operators good at what they did. None of them even flinched when they saw our luggage, unlike many taxi operators we have encountered. These guys just made it work and got you to where you wanted to be.

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I am constantly impressed at how these little 125cc engines haul the loads they do. One of the ways they do it is a home-made water cooling system to augment the normal air cooling these engines use. These jugs of water provide a steady drip of water over the engine to help keep the temperatures down. Brilliant problem solving.

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One of the other components of city transportation here is cooperation. Other than the punch to the face after a collision, I have yet to see any road rage here. People just take the right of way. If someone else takes it from them they wait 2 seconds and carry on. Everything moves and the stress level is way lower than the stupidity one observes on most roadways.

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This is one of my favourite images. The relaxed nature of the family making their way through traffic. Admittedly we have seen the aftermath of more than a few accidents with people injured, probably more severely than necessary due to a lack of protection. However, because of the smaller engines and lower speeds the level of trauma is lower than expected.

The public transit has been awesome in SE Asia. Volume of ridership is obviously a key, but it is amazing!

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The elevated metro in Bangkok was my first exposure to well-educated riders following the rules. everyone stands back of the yellow line (or an attendant blows a whistle at you, trust me I know), and wait to the side for passengers to disembark before boarding.

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Both Bangkok and Hong Kong utilized these doors to some degree. No falling in front of trains from the platform here. And the trains are huge! Did I mention it is awesome?

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The transportation options on Hong Kong island are great. The longest running one is the electric tram. This double-decker tram system has been operating for more than 100 years, ding, ding.

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The tram is known as “ding, ding“. They run frequently, are super cheap, and a great way to see downtown Hong Kong. You hop on at any stop and pay your $2.30HK(.40CDN) when you exit.

Water taxis were another mode of transport we have used. The ones we have used all appeared quite safe and in no immediate threat of sinking, despite some of the horror stories we had read.

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This passenger ferry in Cambodia was good. Other than the operators not looking old enough to be driving a car, the trip was uneventful. On the return trip they took us to a different port, but hey, you have to roll with the unexpected. It was only a short bus ride to where we wanted to go.

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The biggest concern on the ferries was watching all your earthly belongings being slung over the water. Didn’t see any go in, but that really does not lessen the concern.

I will close off with a couple of images from Hong Kong. We took the tram up Victoria Peak which gets you close to the summit. Not only is this a tourist attraction, but some locals use this as part of their commute as well. And the other hugely historical and still highly used mode of transport is the Star Ferries in Victoria Harbour.

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The Peak Tram takes 1.4km to go up 400 metres in elevation. It is a fantastic way to get to the top. I went up by foot and by tram, the tram is much more pleasant.

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The Star Ferries have boats leaving approximately every 10 minutes for the 9 minute commute between Hong Kong and Kowloon. Being able to use a piece of history like this for an everyday event is one of the fascinating things of travel.

Categories: Bangkok, Cambodia, Photography, Thailand, transportation, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Tourist in Thailand

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It is as beautiful as the brochures advertise it.This island was made famous by the Bond movie, “The Man with the Golden Gun”

 

We spent a few days in Patong exploring, then a couple of weeks in Kamala Beach doing some house sitting for a couple. They are in Phuket province in the SW corner of Thailand.

Patong Beach is the second busiest tourist spot in this locale, surpassed only by Phuket, the capital of the province.

Our days in Patong were great. Once you resign yourself to the fact that everyone wants to sell you some type of goods or service, and that no one cares or is offended when you politely say “no thank you” 50 – 60 times an hour, it is quite a neat place to check out.

This food market just around the corner from our hotel was fantastic. Every evening it would transform from a parking lot to a bustling food market. The seafood was incredible. Best lobster I have ever had.

You could get fresh fish to fruit ice cream as well as many choices in between. The ice cream was made with cream and fresh fruit chopped and mixed on a frozen tray. Very interesting technique I thought.

We also did an organized tour of Phang Nga Bay, the location of James Bond Island. The two hour drive was long, but well worth it. The tour consisted of a boat ride with lunch, kayaking with a guide and swimming. As well as a stop at James Bond Island.

We were treated to a guided paddle through caves and around these limestone islands

This boat was just heading into one of the caves. We had to lay down in the boats to fit in the entrances.

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The monkeys wait patiently at the points where the kayaks have to come near the shore so they can easily jump aboard for the food they have learned is there.

This monkey has chosen his boat well. They know where the food is. The tours are quite a production here and very well orchestrated.

This was our tour boat. All the kayaks and guides were on the lower deck and the tourists and food were on the upper deck. A great way to see the islands.

The lunchtime spread was simple but delicious.

The shapes and colours of these islands is truly something to behold. Even though there are a lot of tours running through the area, there seems to be some effort to control the impact, which was nice to see.

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Posing for our guide as we floated amongst the islands. Beautiful.

We were very fortunate to be able to spend a couple of days with the owners of the house we were going to be taking care of in Kamala Beach before they departed on their trip. They were kind enough to take us touring the area for a day which was great.

We drove out to the Buddha Cave Temple (Wat Suwannakuha), also referred to as the Monkey Temple. There are hundreds of monkeys there that know they will be well fed by the locals and tourists alike. They are absolutely unafraid of humans (not such a good thing) but we had no problems with them.

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Some of the hundreds of monkeys that make their home around the Monkey Temple.

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These monkeys were disturbing at first due to the shear numbers. But once you relaxed they were fine. Made it very easy to get photos.

The temple itself is located inside a fair sized cave. For a nominal donation you are free to wander around the cave. There is a bit of information available, but not much. The reclining Buddha in the cave is pretty impressive.

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The reclinling Buddha in the main chamber of the cave is quite impressive. There is also a section where all the Kings of Thailand have visited and carved their personal symbol into the wall of the cave. A neat bit of history.

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When we exited the cave we went for a walk around the area. Once you get away from the parking area the interactions of the monkeys amongst themselves was very interesting to observe. They really are amazing animals.

Our hosts also took us to the Phang Nga Wildlife Nursery Station. This is a government run refuge for animals that cannot survive in the wild. I believe the intent is good, however it is obviously seriously underfunded and thus the animals appear somewhat distressed.

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All the enclosures are either chain link or concrete pits.

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We wrapped up the day on a much happier note when we stopped in at the Buddhist temple, Wat Kaew Manee Si Mahathat.

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This massive statue is of Buddhist monk, Por Than Klai. You cannot miss it as you drive along the highway. We stopped so our hosts could pay their respects and say a pray.

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The temple itself is quite similar to the hundreds of others in the country. It is beautifully cared for and colourful. Truly the statue sets it apart though.

During our two week house sitting in Kamala Beach we spent several days enjoying the sun and surf down on the beach.

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The view across the bay from Kamala Beach

It has been a wonderful time here in Thailand and we look forward to returning sometime in 2017.

Categories: House Sitting, Photography, Thailand, travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bangkok

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I am not sure what it is supposed to represent but we couldn’t stop laughing when we saw this. It is right outside the” high end mall”, Siam Paragon.

We spent 4 nights in Bangkok when we first entered Thailand. We did not spend any time in the freak show side of Bangkok as, honestly, I find the whole idea of this kind of side show rather depressing. Not judging, just for me not an attraction.

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This is the walkway from the BTS train (transit) to our hotel. They have a great system of walkways under their elevated train tracks. Which, once you see the roads, you truly appreciate. They didn’t spend a lot of money on sidewalks.

Karen found a fantastic little hotel called Bangkok Loft Inn. The service was phenomenal, location handy to the transit system and the rooms were clean. As well the super friendly bellboy directed us to a great street side restaurant right across the road.

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The staff here were wonderful and accommodating. No one spoke a word of English but it did not matter. Beware if you try the Jungle Curry. I should have picked up on the hint when the server looked me in the eye and asked 3 times “Hot?” Then laughed to her co-workers when she walked away from the table calling out our order to the cook. They greeted us like family every other time we arrived after that.

If you are in Bangkok it is required to see some temples. There certainly are no lack in this city. We started by doing a hop on hop off boat trip up and down the Chao Phraya river getting a feel for the layout.

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In addition to the larger tour and shuttle boats there are plenty of long boats zipping up and down the river. You can hire them for a personified trip if you wish.

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The long boats on the river in Bangkok are loud and fast. When you get closer you see why. They are packing some serious horsepower.

We were a little limited in what to see as a couple of major locations were undergoing renovations and, sadly, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand had passed away in October and the Royal Palace was closed for official mourning for a month. It was notable the level of respect and reverence the population and all businesses displayed for his passing.

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We spent a day exploring the buildings, Buddhas, and displays in the Wat Pho temple. This is apparently the birthplace of Thai massage.

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Located in the Wat Pho, the Reclining Buddha (46 metres long and 15 metres high) is entirely gold plated. A very impressive sight to behold. And somewhat difficult to photograph.

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There are more Buddhas in Wat Pho than any other temple in Thailand (over 1000 of them). It becomes a bit overwhelming at times.

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Wat Pho is one of the six high level “Royal Temples” in Thailand. The diversity of images is incredible. As well the openness to allowing photography is a very welcome discovery as well. Show the appropriate respect and the workers generally go out of their way to help you get your shots.

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These stone carvings are at nearly every gateway in Wat Pho. I am not sure of the story behind these Chinese guards other than they were used as ballast in ships that were trading with China. They all appear to be unique and certainly provide some good entertainment.

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The architecture in Bangkok is a photographers dream. Our day at Wat Pho was an overdose in colour, shape, and design.

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We went to a small courtyard in Wat Pho to escape the heat and found this oasis. Of course one of the resident cats had staked out his domain.

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I find the street animals fascinating wherever we go. This old fellow looks like he has had a pretty tough go of it. However we found him in the Wat Pho temple where he seems to have found a more agreeable life.

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We found this Buddha in one of the little side gardens. He is a little more what I envision when I think of Buddha, however there were very few of this type at the temple.

We also managed to grab lunch while we were there. There were dozens of stalls set up throughout the temple selling medicinal remedies and food. The whole atmosphere reminded me a bit of a fairground where the stalls were located.

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We had a Thai pancake for lunch while we were at the temple. Very fresh and very tasty. The food has been awesome everywhere we have been.

After checking out some ancient history we spent a bit of time exploring the newer aspects of Bangkok. There is no lack of new construction and the business district had plenty of interesting buildings. The malls were also a reminder that there is no lack of money here in Bangkok.

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The newest tallest tower in Bangkok. They had the grand opening in August, however it is definitely not complete yet. None the less it certainly is a very cool looking structure.

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The Siam Paragon Mall is beyond anything I have seen before. The Bentley and Rolls Royce dealerships were just the beginning of over the top brand names and the size of the shops. Apparently there is a LOT of money in Bangkok.

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This complex is being constructed right beside the Hilton. They seem to be working non-stop. We didn’t bother coming back in the middle of the night to confirm this.

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If construction is the sign of a healthy economy then things must be good here in Bangkok. There were several sites going full bore around the city.

One activity we have found to be quite enjoyable is finding a tall building in a city and going to the roof top bar for a drink as the sun sets. Bangkok has several super popular bars just for this purpose that are very busy. However if you do some looking on the internet you discover gems like the 360 bar on the top of the Hilton. Reasonable drinks (for a rooftop bar at the Hilton), great view and no crowds. The service was superb as well.

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View across the River from the rooftop bar on the Bangkok Millennium Hilton Hotel. Open to the public, no crowds and a great view. They made a lovely Expresso Martini as well.

Bangkok is not renowned for its’ parks. However if you are looking for a little relax time we found the Lumpini Park fit the bill. It is not polished and fancy, but it is surprisingly quiet with plenty of activities if you need entertainment. I enjoyed the fish, cats, and people for entertainment.

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You just have to look to the animals to see how is best to deal with the midday heat and humidity.

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Every cat we saw seemed to have its’ favourite nook or cranny to escape the heat.

We certainly enjoyed our introduction to Bangkok and look forward to visiting again. The people were friendly and when we looked lost someone quickly stepped up to offer us directions, which to me is a great indicator of the quality of people.

Categories: Bangkok, Photography, Thailand, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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