January - Page 2

Touring by land now..........................

Manly, Queensland to Coffs Harbour, New South Wales

Our friends Frank and Karen invited us to stay with them on their beautiful 50 foot St. Francis catamaran Tahina while they were anchored in a bay off of Sydney Harbour. We drove away from the Marina and got as far as Coff's Harbour, by the time we arrived it was too late to see anything but we did grab some kebabs for dinner and try to find some accomodation. Beleive it or not, it is very hard to find accomodation for 5, everything seems to be organized around 4 (2 adults, 2 kids).

Coffs Harbour to Sydney, NSW, Australia

We did a whirlwind tour of Sydney in three days. The first afternoon we hit the ground running with a train ride into the city and headed straight for the Sydney Opera House. We attended "Great Opera Hits on a Sunday afternoon" which was an introduction to opera. Accompanied by piano, some of the brightest young opera starts in Australia performed arias from Mozart, Verdi and Puccini. The performance was 90 minutes long and the tickets were reasonably priced, good thing too because both Cari and Ryan had their turns snoring away during the performances.

The Sydney Habour Bridge carries eight vehicle lanes, two train lines, a footway and a cycleway. Made of steel the bridge contains 6 million hand driven rivets. The surface area that requires painting is equal to about the surface area of 60 sports fields. The Bridge has huge hinges to absorb the expansion caused by the hot Sydney sun. Sydney Harbour Bridge is the world's largest (but not longest) steel arch bridge, and, in its beautiful harbour location, has become a renowned international symbol of Australia. Here we are in front of it!

Here I am being a tourist and getting my picture taken with this Aboriginal didgeridoo player after buying a few CD's.

We all hopped in Tahina's dingy and zoomed over to the Sydney Fish Market, where we met up with Kathi and Bill on sv Jarana for lunch and drooled over all the delicious looking seafood and fresh fish. We decided just to go for it and order whatever we wanted. What a feast!

We spent the rest of the day walking off our lunch, touring Hyde Park, St. Mary's Cathedral, Darling Harbour and the Australian Museum where we learned about a few fascinating Australian creatures. One is called the Demon Duck of Doom, I kid you not. The kids got such a kick out of this, I don't think they will forget it anytime soon. The Demon Duck of Doom is an extinct flightless bird that appeared to have lived approximately 15 million years ago. It may have weighed up to 250 kg. The bird's skull is larger than that of many small horses.Many paleontologists believe it was related to geese

and ducks. This, in addition to the bird's tremendous size and possible carnivorous habits, gave rise to its colourful nickname. The other really cool fish that we learned about, ones that are in fact still alive and swimming around Sydney is called the weedy sea dragon and the leafy sea dragon. It is similar to a sea horse.

We were also fortunate enough to be able to spend a day with Mike from sv Quartermoon, another boat wih whom we travelled across the Pacific. Mike and Sammy live in Sydney so we couldn't wait to catch up with them. After a huge dim sum lunch, we took a walk along the Fairfax Walking Track up at the North Heads of Sydney which had beautiful view of the Sydney and the Pacific Ocean.

We then hit Manly Beach (the other Manly!) to play in the wild surf. The lifeguards must have thought it was really wild because they kept announcing over the loudspeakers that if swimmers didn't stay between the flags he was going to take the flags down and close the beach! I thought I was a nag to the kids but this guy took the cake. Every 5 minutes he was on the loudspeaker berating swimmers to swim between the flags. I think people were trying but because of the strong rip tides people were swept sideways! Eventually they put out the jellyfish sign and announced that bluebottles were spotted so it was in our best interest to vacate the beach. I did see several all over the beach. These are not the deadly jellies, but they do hurt if you get bitten. To end our excellent day we of course had an Australian barbie at Cammeray Marina.

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

It was a relatively short drive today, only abour 4 hours, we made one pit stop where we were cautioned against the snakes. It was the fastest washoom break I've every taken!! Saw a few dead wombats on the side of the road.

We arrived in Canberra around noon. Once we got settled into our motel room, we made it to the Parliament Building just in time for the last tour of the day. Canberra is the capital city of Australia and it reminded us very much of Ottawa. The site of Canberra was selected for the location of the nation's capital in 1908 as a compromise between rivals Sydney and Melbourne, Australia's two largest cities. The Parliament buildings are relatively new being opened in 1988. It is a beautiful building with an Aboriginal mosaic, marble and timber in the Foyer, the Great Hall Tapestry and Embroidery hung in different areas. We saw the House of Representatives and Senate Chambers.

They are very similar to Canada's except in one important way. Their Senators are elected for terms of six years, with half retiring every three years. Using a system of proportional voting each state and territory votes as one electoral district when electing its senators. The House of Representatives is green the colour of the gum tree, the red used in the Australian Senate is a soft shade, typical of the Australian desert landscape. When the guide asked if their were any questions, Cari raised her hand and shyly asked what the animals signified? The Red Kangaroo and Emu that support the shield are the unofficial animal emblems of the nation. They are native Australian fauna, and likely chosen because they are the most well-known native Australian animals large enough to be positioned together in scale holding up the shield. It is often claimed these animals were chosen because neither animal can move backward, only forward - which relates to progress. Interesting.

After our tour we took a drive around the lake, and happened to spot wild kangaroos munching on grass. How kewl is that?

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory to Melbourne, Victoria

"I've got crumbs down my butt!" yelled Cari as we raced through the outback, 35 degrees Celsius and the air conditioner in the hire cah (we talk with an Australian accent now!) was not keeping up. All the windows are rolled down. I'm not pretending I can't hear the kids, I really can't hear anybody!! Another family road trip has begun, actually it is the end because this is our last day in the cah, thank goodness!! Today was a long driving day, 8-9 hours. We made one stop in a place called Tarcutta. Its' claim to fame is that it is half way on the Hume Highway between Canberra and Melbourne. There were a few truckers milling around but really there wasn't much to see.

This was a real dusty, dry and hot stretch of road, what a change from all the coastal towns on the East coast.

We saw a sign for the Plunkett Fowles Winery and decided to take a break and stop. After we had our Stone Dwellers NV Chardonnay Pinot Noir in our bag, we headed back out onto the road only to arrive in Melbourne to the Australian Tennis Open which relates to - no hotel rooms available or if they are they are four times the price of normal rates. We luckily got the last cabin at the Holiday Park which even though totally overpriced was great for the kids. They could run around on their own, go to the pool, the games room or the TV room to watch tennis!

Well it's hard to beleive but our time in Australia has run out. We've immensely enjoyed the country and especially it's people. I think I will just leave with a quote from the last line in a Bill Bryson book about Australia called "In a Sunburnt Country"

"You see, Australia is an interesting place. It truly is. And that really is all I’m saying."


Melbourne to Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

The flight to Bangkok from Melbourne on JetStar was very pleasant, it left on time and was a direct flight. The only little glitch was when we finally arrived at our destination, there was nobody around. We should have clued in when the taxi driver had never heard of our apartment building and had to call them to get directions. Poor Ryan fell asleep the last 20 minutes on the plane, then he fell asleep again in the taxi, then he fell asleep a third time in the lobby of the apartment/hotel as we were wandering around in the dark looking for somebody. I started getting worried that we may have to sleep on the couch in the lobby, when a very cheery fellow came running in with 2 bags of Thai take out food - which was ours, the food we had ordered ahead of time!!! Once we got settled, we very excitedly opened our cartons of food and let the aromas come wafting to our nostrils, when we looked down Chris said, this wasn't what I ordered. So our trip in Thailand has begun..............

Bangkok is the capital city of Thailand, it is a large city with a population of 12 million people, give or take a few. Smoggy and polluted, it has chock a block traffic jams alot of the time, people drive their motorcylces or bicycles with masks over their mouths, motorcycles drive on the sidewalks, they also drive between lanes and try to get ahead of cars anyway they can. There is people everywhere, and stuff happening all the time - we are overwhelmed! We stayed at a hotel/apartment called Sivali Place. It was very nice, with a large swimming pool, tennis courts and very friendly staff. It also was nice because there was a cafe and restaurant down stairs, laundry and a great security guard who helped with getting taxis. The one problem was it was out in the burbs! Some taxi drivers didn't even know where it was, other taxi drivers wouldn't drive us home because it was over the bridge which means they will be stuck in traffic for at least an hour. Plus we were stuck in a cab two times a day, it really sucked.

We walked around the residential area looking for a breakfast place and saw a dog in a small cage, not sure he was going on a plane!!

Deep fried freshly prepared donuts, what a treat! Price - 20 donuts for $0.10.

The Grand Palace

Our first forage into the big city was to check out the Grand Palace. We had read in our guide book about scams about town. One is a well dressed, professional acting person who appears to come to your aid when an attraction is closed. They will then graciously arrange an affordable tuk-tuk ride to an undiscovered wat or authentic market, which is usually a guise for taking you and your wallet for the proverbial ride. We arrived at the Palace and encountered this scam exactly verbatim from the book!! We tried to enter the Palace and two men said to us that it is closed until 11:00. We will take you on a tuk-tuk tour for 50 baht and bring you back in two hours when the Palace opens. It is closed because it is Chinese New Year. We couldnt' beleive it. We walked around the block and found the proper entrance, then went in with no problem. One thing they didn't lie about was that it was Chinese New Year therefore, it was extremely crowded, we were jet lagged, and everyone was tired,we were like walking zombies but still enjoyed our tour.

The Grand Palace (Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang) is a complex of buildings at the heart of Bangkok,Thailand. The palace has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam (and later Thailand) since 1782. The king, his court and his royal government were based on the grounds of the palace until 1925. The present monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), currently resides at Chitralada Palace, but the Grand Palace is still used for official events. Several royal ceremonies and state functions are held within the walls of the palace every year.

A miniature model of the famous Cambodian temple complex Angkor Wat, made during the reign of King Mongkut (Rama IV) when the Thai territory extended over Cambodia.

Wat Phra Kaew-Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Wat Phra Kaew is in the same compound as the Grand Palace. This is Thailand's most important and sacred temple. It houses the tiny (between 60-75 cm) Emerald Buddha, which is located high above the heads of the worshippers and tourists. Not much is known for certain about the statue, except that it isn't actually made of emerald but rather of green jade or jasper. Getting a good look at it is difficult as photography is forbidden inside the temple, and it's perched so high up inside it's glass box that it's difficult to really see.

It's thought to have been made in the 15th century and was the cause of several wars before ending up for good in Bangkok in 1782. The image is considered a talisman and holds tremendous significance for Thailand and the Thais. The 'robe' that it wears is changed 3 times each year by the King himself, at the start of each season: A diamond encrusted gold robe during the hot season, a solid gold robe in the cool season and a gilded monk's robe in the rainy season.

Taking a stroll down one of the night markets is an experience. They are hot and sticky mazes with alleys after alleys of shops selling everything you can every imagine and they just seem to go on forever. We were more interested in the food carts than anything else as this was our first night here. We just couldn't get enough of pad thai, crepes, pancakes, skewers of chicken, sausages, and some things we weren't even sure what they were but had to try. EXCEPT the stall selling the deep fried cockroaches, worms and grasshoppers!

Teeth anyone?

River/ Canal Boat Tour of the Chao Phraya River

As we walked along the street, we seemd to come upon a market that just sold dried fish. Imagine! There was stall after stall after stall of all kinds of dried fish that you can think of, the smell was interesting though. Right behind this market were the tours of the Chao Phraya River. Long tail boats have a full size car engine stick on a pivot with a long metal bar running straight out the end of the engine to a propellor. The boat driver just turns the engine or lifts it up or down to move the propellor around and guide the boat. Chris definitley had this on his agenda. There was a lot of wake from all the boat in the river and it was a little rocky but the long-tail boat was stable!

Wat Arun

The long-tailed boat dropped us off at the dock of Wat Arun. Wat Arun Rajwararam ("Temple of the Dawn") is a Buddhist temple (wat) on the Thonburi west bank of the Chao Phraya River. The full name of the temple is Wat Arunratchawararam Ratchaworamahawihan. Named after Aruna, the Indian God of Dawn, the Wat Arun is considered one of the most well known of Thailand's many landmarks. The temple is so named because the first light of the morning reflects off the surface of the temple with pearly iridescence.The monastery has existed for many years since the days when Ayutthaya was capital of Thailand.

The main feature of Wat Arun is its central prang (Khmer-style tower) which are encrusted with colourful porcelain. The height is reported to be between 66.8 m and 86 m. The corners are surrounded by four smaller satellite prangs. The prangs are decorated by seashells and bits of porcelain which had previously been used as ballast by boats coming to Bangkok from China. The presiding Buddha image, cast in the reign of Rama II, is said to have been moulded by the king himself. The ashes of King Rama II are buried in the base of the image. Construction of the tall prang and four smaller ones was started by King Rama II during 1809-1824 A.D. and completed by King Rama III (1824–1851). The towers are supported by rows of demons and monkeys. Very steep and narrow steps lead to a balcony high on the central tower. The circumference of the base of the structure is 234 meters, and the central prang is 250 foot high.

We hopped a ferry back to the other side of the river and continued on our wat tour. This time we entered Wat Pho. Home to the largest reclining budda.

Wat Pho

Wat Pho is a Buddhist temple known also as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. The temple is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage. It's the largest temple in Bangkok and famed for its huge and majestic reclining Buddha measured 46 metres long and covered in gold leaf. The Buddha's feet are 3 metres long and exquisitely decorated in mother-of-pearl illustrations of auspicious 'laksanas' (characteristics) of the Buddha. Wat Pho is the oldest wat in Bangkok and is home to more than 1,000 Buddha images, more than any other temple in the country.

Dental and medical care is suppose to be excellent in Thailand, so we all got our teeth checked and paid a fourth of the price we would in Canada. We took Ryan to the optometrist and he now has glasses! He doesn't want anyone to know that he has glasses, and as long as he has his clip-ons he will wear them, hopefully he will get used to it quickly. It was amazing to see him after he put

them on, "wow, look at that building!"; "wow, look at that car!"; "wow, look what it says on that billboard!"

One thing we are learning in Thailand, besides their Buddhist religion, is how to use the bathroom! Some bathrooms you have to squat as there is no toilet per say, most do not have toilet paper, but use a biday. Chris showed the kids how to use one on a utube video!! We are all getting used to this idea, however I must admit, I am carrying around a few rolls of toilet paper with us everywhere we go!

A few more pics of Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok to Sukhothai

We left the chaos of Bangkok in the train heading north to Sukhothai. We made a quick stop to switch to a public bus in Phitsanulok. Phitsanulok is one of the oldest cities in Thailand, founded over 600 years ago. Phitsanulok was the capital of Thailand for 25 years during the reign of King Boromma Trailokanat of Ayutthaya.

We had booked accomodation at Baan Georges in Sukhothai and we lucked in with this one. It was built three years ago by Luc from Belgiam and his Thai wife, Poo from Sukhothai (she knows what her name means in English! but in Thai her name means crab). It was a gorgeous guest house with a four poster bed and bunk beds in the same room, a great pool outside, free wi-fi, it was close to downtown and they cooked up a fantastic breakfast for guests every morning.

The first night there, I woke up in the middle of the night to a wicked rain storm, then I realized that I didn't have to check if the hatches were closed or if the anchor was dragging, I didn't have to wake up at all!! so went back to a sound sleep.

The ruins of the ancient city Sukhothai

Sukhothai is a popular tourist destination because it is located near the ruins of the ancient city of Sukhothai, which was the Thai capital during the 13th Century A.D. The historical Sukhothai was the first capital of Siam founded by King Ramkhamhaeng. The province's temples and monuments have been restored and Sukhothai Historical Park – is an area with numerous sites of historical interest which has been dedicated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We had a great day hiring bicycles for the day and cycling around the old city. Entrance fee for children are free.

Thai Massage

Thai Massage - We met a couple from Paris who were staying in the same guest house as us and who have been coming to Thailand for three months every year for the past ten years. They told us about the best Thai massage practictioners in Thailand - right here in Sukhothai! It was in a wat close to town.

Thai massage is one of the branches of Thai traditional medicine, now recognized and regulated by the government, and is widely considered to be a medical discipline used for the treatment of a wide variety of ailments. It is not the same as what we are used to thinking of a massage as a spa treatment.

We showed up at the wat for a typical 2 hour Thai massage. We were shown to mats in a big room where a bunch of other people were lying down getting the same treatment. It was a combination of yoga/chiropractor/physiotherapist/ and massage. The practictioner used hands, elbows, and even feet to do the massaging action, they incorporated pressure points, pulling fingers, toes, ears and cracking knuckles and we were put into many yoga-like positions during the course of the massage stretching our whole bodies. I have never felt so energized. Oh, and did I mention that it only costs us $9.00 each?

All Day Tour - Chaing Mai, Thailand

We had booked our guesthouse on line before we arrived which isn't always a good idea. The pictures on the internet don't always tell the true story. The owners of Baan Kun-Nud were very nice and helpful in organizing some tours for us, the kids also loved the continental buffet breakfast every morning where they could jump out of bed and grab a muffin or some other type of north american cakie thing and some fruit however the level of cleanliness and maintenance of the rooms wasn't quite up to our standard. But hey we survived! We booked a tour through the guest house as that is what you do in Thailand because then the guest house gets a percentage of the booking and then they are happy.

Our first stop was at an orchid and butterfly garden. The orchids were beautiful but not too sure where the butterflies were.

Next we went to what I thought was and what was advertised as a "hill tribe village" but really it was a village market. The woman from the different tribes stood in front of souvenir stands and allow tourists to take their pictures. Ugh. We have been so spoiled by cruising, we have been to so many real villages that this seemed so tacky. But what about these poor woman standing here all day with their babies on their backs, like they are in some kind of human zoo. I decided to find out more information.