Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Great Barrier Reef

Hi All

Yesterday we did decided that we would follow convention and take a trip out onto the Great Barrier Reef. despite this being the most popular trip for visitors it is mot cheap especially with the weak pound almost doubling the cost of everything since we were last here. In fact we have spent more in two weeks here than we did in nearly two months in SE Asia! Oh well mustn't moan when most people are stuck in a bleak & cold England  with only X factor and I'm a celebrity! So glad I'm away despite the hemorrhaging cash situation. So back to yesterday we set out on a large catamaran with a few other intrepid travellers who were mainly Aussies and Japanese. Dean had booked a dive & I stuck to the snorkeling (can't do anything underwater following a swimming pool incident in my youth!).
 I was first in and within 20 Min's had managed to kill the battery on the camera!

The second snorkel on the Oyster reef after lunch was unbelievable as in trying to escape from the splashing antics of the other snorklers I managed to meet up with a large Green Turtle, which seems quite happy to let me to snap away. That was until a large shape loomed up underneath me and another even large turtle literally swam up underneath me. Trust me I was very close to filling my very stretchy stinger suit! However recovered enough to brag about the whole incident on the way back as no one else had seen them, let alone photographed them. The rest of the afternoon was spent on another reef Upolu, which had some beautiful fish and I managed to see some Squid & some brilliant Blue Starfish.

Giant Sea Clam

So this will be the last of the travel posts for a while  as our next 6 week will be spent following the Engalnd cricket tems in the their exploits and hopefully with us managing to retain the Ashes.

Here's hoping.....

Thanks for looking


Sara xx

Monday, 22 November 2010

Cape Tribulation

 Hi all
Our next update fom Oz is from Cape Tribulation and the Danetree forest which is an area I have wanted to visit for many years. On the plus side nearly every person  I know who has visited the region raves about it so the only downside was that my high expectations would not be met. The tour we booked was for just one day as we were only in Cairns for a few days, but had a full itinerary. We were picked up at dawn by the indigenous George who managed to memorise the names of our small group immediately and soon had us all interacting despite that fact that most of us were from completely different continents let alone countries. He kept us entertained all the way up the coast with stories of his family and his culture and gave us the English and Aboriginal name for everything we passed on our journey. Before we knew it we had reached the Danetree forest where we stopped for a couple of different walks and then we stopped at a wildlife centre which held a number of examples of the local inhabitants including Cassowary's & salty crocs!

I particularly fell in love with these two cheeky  young lizards who were always on the lookout for a tasty scrap of food ! Our day had decided not not live up to expectations and half way around the tour the heavens opened and the rain bucketed it down!We then ventured over the river to Cape Tribulation which is a mixture of some of the oldest rain forest in the world and mangrove swamp, which gives it a real prehistoric feel especially since it was still quite rainy.

Here is a shot of the forest from a lookout down to the cape itself

And a warning for all Cassowary's not following the green cross code!

Finally a shot on the way home where we joined in the photo fun with three Chinese girls on our tour. I have to say this is one of the ways that we distinguish the different Asian countries, Japanese = very quick formal shots, like shopping and temples, Korean - extremely formal shots usually with Nikon digital SLR's , like culture and large coach tours, Chinese - cannot take a shot that does not include a peace sign or other non formal pose, like small intimate tours and adventure sports.

As always thanks for looking



Saturday, 20 November 2010

Northern Territories

Dear all

Another post, but this time we have moved onto Australia, more precisely we have been in the Northern Territories. Our journey from Phnom Phen took us back to Bangkok where we had set out some 2 months earlier, but this time we stayed at a little spa resort near to the airport, where I indulged myself in my last Thai massage, utter bliss and only 5 quid for an hour! The next morning we caught our flight to Darwin, via Singapore when I also had a little spend and acquired a little net book in the vain hope that I would be able to update the blog more often - I will try when we do get access that doesn't cost the debt of Ireland!

Setting up camp on the first night
In Darwin we picked up our little wicked camper
van and set off for our outback adventure. Our first stop was the Humpty Doo Hotel, which is famous for saying that its famous & its halfway to Kakadu so many tourists all stop for a drink or one for their enormous lunches. He soon arrived at our beautiful quiet campsite and set ourselves up for the night.

On the way into Kakadu

Little did we know we had entered into an animal war zone........ first came the Cockatoo's all in full mating glory.. next the crows, some magpie geese and Ibis. Finally the mosquito's realised that I was a moving buffet cart and descended en mass..... The next morning I looked like I had the measles with hundreds of bites all over my arms and back. Let me tell you Bushmans 60% deet does obviously not work here! There were however some great butterflies and a number of grazing wallabies who just wandered past to make up for the discomfort........ (I think!).

 Our next few days were spent around the park with no further animal incidents, but we did have too invest in a fan to be able to cope with the heat in the night & we had to restructure our waking days to get everything done by 1.00pm before it got to hot (our hottest day was Jabaru outside the bakery where the temperature showed 51C in the shade! Yow!!) The whole park is massive some 20,000 square km, but the main aboriginal are sites are located quite close and we stuck to Jabaru and Yellow Creek for our walks. We did manage to splash our on a river cruise where we saw our first 'salties' (salt water crocodile), which were bigger than I imagined and some quite spectacular birds including, sea eagles, storks and cranes.

Next stop was Katherine some 300 km south and about 8 degrees hotter than Kakudu! The main street is pretty much the town, but is famous for its 13 gorges and its hot springs. Given the heat we took the easy route and went on a combined tour with the first part on a helicopter over the whole length of the gorges and the second part a river boat trip up the first three. Suffice to say it was breathtaking and spectacular and certainly better than the alternative 5 hour walk in 45 degrees!!The pilot even landed on the gorge edge so we could take some photos, but they really do not do justice to the place.
Our last stop was the magical Litchfield National park, which was cooler, more compact and pretty much a mosquito free zone! (albeit replaced by persitent sandflies). The whole place is 10% the size of Kakadu, but much more is packed into the area with numerous waterfalls with pools you can swim in underneath. We were fortunate that all the 4WD roads were still open unlike Kakadu so we got right off the beaten track. In summary if you can stand the heat and are immune to to Mozzies and sandflies then this place is so worth including on a tour. We took hundreds of photos and the edited highlights are all on Facebook. I will leave you with one final snap taken in Katherine, for which I will give a prize for the best caption!


Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Centre for Childrens Happiness

Dear all

Yesterday we travelled down from Battenbang by local bus, which actually took the 4 hours which it was supposed to do!! So we spent the rest of the day having a long lazy lunch and catching up with backing up photos etc which we have not been able to do for a while as the Internet speeds have been so slow. I will be adding a few photos to earlier posts where we couldn'tt before so do look back aver the next day or two.

Today we spent some time at the Center for Children's Happiness - This centre offers a home & education for children who live on the streets and landfill sites in the city and is similar to the project we had been hoping to work with prior to leaving (which unfortunately had to be cancelled). A fellow BA follower and friend Rich put us in touch with this organisation where his sister had spend the past year working & he had visited himself not two weeks earlier. This amazing place not only provides a home, clothing and basic needs like food, but also give these amazing youngsters with an opportunity to be educated to the highest level. The older Kids all run out to hug and welcome you and were so willing to show you around their dorm rooms, schools and library all funded by donations. it was so lovely to see that not all children have to face a bleak future in poverty and they seemed so grateful for the chance.  No photos for obvious reasons, but I do urge you to have a look at their website www.cchcambodia.org

Tomorrow is our last day in PP then we are on our way to Oz where the posts will probably reduce to weekly as those of  you following the Ashes will know what we are doing and those of you who don't won't really care!!

Take care and thans for looking


Friday, 5 November 2010

The Bamboo Railway and other ramblings

Hey all

Today we ventured out into the countryside around Battenbang with a tuk tuk driver now named Snail Simon as one would have driven faster! We had already had a wonder around the town and although the place is pretty large by Cambodian standards and its colonial architecture is very pretty albeit a little faded there was not much to write home about!. Our first stop was the bamboo railway (locally known as the Nori) first made its appearance in the 1960's so the railway workers could make repairs. After the Khmer Rouge lunacy , the Cambodians were struggling to repair their lives and as the roads were in disrepair coupled with few means of transport such a s buses and trains this provided a practical  albeit rudimentary transport solution. Although flimsy in looks the bamboo construction was very strong, cattle and pigs could be taken to market& tons of vegetables delivered. In emergencies it could run in the night. At first they were powered by poles like a gondola, but after a few years small petrol engines replaced them. At their peak there were 1000+ Norries operating on 600km of track. Nowadays very few operate but there is still one here ferrying tourists and firewood up and down the track . So for our $5 we took our trip on a very thin cushion with the couple from Oz we had met on the previous day (Susan & Lex) and we were off! The crude assembly and the fact that the whole thing has to be dismantled when you meet another Norrie on the track which is more laden than you makes the whole thing feel a bit scary!!fair rule). The whole thing moves around 30km/hr at full speed but the track is so worn it was only possible in a few area thank god as it felt that we were about to take off ! Plus the bumps on the track went through you like nothing I have ever felt! We stopped about 12km down the track for a drink, chatted with a few of the locals then made our way back.

Once we had gained the feeling back in our backsides our driver slowly took us around to Phnom Banan which is an 11th Century temple - yep we hadn't escaped them!! The biggest killer was that you had to climb 358 stone steps to get up to it, but the view for miles around was so worth it.

 Our final stop was Phnom Sampeau which has a complex of temples at the summit of its limestone outcrops/ This climb was even worse with over 1200 steps up, but 'luckily' we took advantage of a diversion halfway up & visited some of the 'killing' caves which is an enchanting staircase down into a set of caves where a golden reclining Buddha lies peacefully next to a memorial filed with bones and skulls form some of the people bludgeoned to death by the Khmer Rouge and then thrown in through the overhead skylight. It was pretty gruesome & I managed to come a cropper on one of the piles of rocks badly gashing all down my left leg. Somehow despite all the blood and the guide being horrified I felt given the location I really couldn't moan as I had at least left there alive (what a drama queen !!) We still made it to the top to see all the golden temples although we were careful to stay well away from the macaques given my very enticing leg! A long climb down preceded the highlight of the day as dusk fell and we saw thousands of bats fly out of one of the lower caves. The driver told us that there were over 20  million in the cave system and they took over one and a half hours to all fly out! That's some mosquito eating machine! It was absolutely breathtaking to sea this moving river of bats stream out of the cave opening.

Tomorrow we travel back to Phnom Penh for the final couple of days in Cambodia.

Thanks for looking



Thursday, 4 November 2010

Siem Reap to Battembang

Dear all

Our final day in Siem Reap involved doing all that stuff you need to do every once in a while like book up accommodation, camper vans, boat tickets and do a bit of shopping (well I did!) and that what we did. One of the more pleasurable tasks was booking the boat trip to Battenbang which we took today. I also manged to fit in a little mani/pedi afterwards as well!!

 So again up with the larks (or cockerels here!) we were picked up of our boat ride by one of the most decrepit buses I have ever seen. We were wedged in the front which had the dash board missing! The pier was about 11km from Siem Reap & I silently had bet with myself as to whether any parts of the bus would fall off on route, but I lost! The trip itself is really only possible at certain times of the year as the Tonle Sap Lake fills from its dry season low on 2,500km2 to over 13,000km2 and the depth allows the boats to squeeze through the narrow waterways. As a consequence of all the water there are thousands of different birds with the main area now a protected wetland.
The journey was entertaining for a number of reasons firstly we managed to seat ourselves in front of two Australians who were in their late 60's and had been travelling for the last 5 months - of course a few references to the forthcoming Ashes had to be made. Secondly as the boat filled up with our luggage up top and everyone else below it became apparent that there were too many people for the number of seats so about 30 people were sent to sit on the roof! This factor also had an impact on the stability of said boat in that every time we saw something interested on one side of the boat every one up top shifted causing some very worried faces below!!
However one of the most enduring memories I gathered on this trip was from the people who live on the wetlands eking out a living fishing & growing cash  crops in the fertile silt of the river beads in the summer. Most for the houses/shops & every the schools are floating, with a few of the richer souls using concrete stilts as bases. Everywhere we sailed people came to their front doors to wave and say hello and the kids were amazing all jumping up and down in the hope we would wave back. It very sad to think that for most of these people this is the only connection with the outside world that many of them will have.
Finally after about 7 hours we reached our destination, having only broken down twice! Once because we took a short cut across a flooded field & the propeller got caught up with weed and secondly when we ran out of fuel about 5 mins from the finish!! You have to laugh - only in Cambodia!

Thanks for looking


Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Around Angkor

Dear all

The second day of our three day trip to Siem Reap involved tipping a protesting Dean out of bed at the ungodly hour of 4.00am so we could go and watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. With having already been there on the previous day Dean took an awful amount of persuading, but we roused our driver 'Rocket' Ronnie and duly set off on our pilgrimage. It was stunning, more so because the dawn twilight masked some of the bright green monoflex covering the scaffolding over part of the front renovations. Once we had digested this romantic view with the couple of other thousand tourists (!) we set off on our real tour of the day taking the tuk tuk some 50 km north to a place called Kbal Spean, which is  a riverbed that contains thousands of carvings, set deep into the forest.

You walk about 2km uphill from the carpark and then you walk back down the riverbank following the carvings. Why anyone would do this I have no idea, but it was a cool aside to dusty 'ruined' temples that make up the rest of the area.  

Our next stop was the Beautiful temple of Banteay Srei. The stone is all shades of pink and red and the detail in the carvings was amazing and well worth the visit. We then tracked our way back towards Angkor Thom for the final leg of our temple tour (or over tour if you ask Dean LOL) and took in the country sights.  
As you pass the homes of people in rural areas you quite often see spirit houses in use despite the prevailing religion being Buddhism. However around this area the folk also make use of scarecrows to ward of ghosts and other evil spirits & we often saw these 'dummies' literally strapped to the front gate. Some of them were even 'armed' with cardboard knives or bazookas!  Our final clutch of temples were on the northern reaches of the main Angkor sites being Eastern Mebon, Ta Sam & Preah Khan & by then even I was starting to glaze over and Dean was well past his tolerance zone. So with a final whizz through the city of Angkor Thom we bid our farewell to the temples of SE Asia (postscript: or so we thought!!)

Thanks for looking


Monday, 1 November 2010

Angkor Rocks

 Dear all

Since we started our travels around SE Asia I have been looking forward to this part of tour the most having wanted to visit Angkor Wat for many years. As we said yesterday the journey to Siem Reap took longer than expected - about 11 hours and we arrived after it had got dark to a rugby scrum of tuk tuk drivers all wanting your business not only for the journey to the hotel, but also for the following days excursions to the sacred temples. We settled on a guy called Ronnie who seemed a little less pushy than the rest and set our agenda for the next couple of days. This morning we set off to visit the largest religious structure in the world Angkor Wat & it didn't disappoint. The whole place just shouts power and authority and in its time must have been a very intimidating sight. There isn't much I can say apart from it took us around two and a half hours to walk around and I was impressed from start to finish ( Dean -  just thought it was a load of old rocks & couldn't see what the fuss was all about!).

We then had an early lunch to avoid the tour groups and then went to Ta Prohm, which although was an awesome temple in its time the decision to leave it as a managed ruin exposed to the ravages of the jungle was a wise one as it reminds you what the explorers who 'rediscovered'  this area would have seen & its right out of an Indiana Jones movie - your almost expect the rocks to start tumbling as you walk through the dappled shade along the bas reliefs which have tree roots and lichen all over them.
Our final stop was the old fortified city of  Angkor Thom, which at its peak probably housed around a million people - so pretty big ! Within the walls are a large number of temples which remain (stone was reserved only for gods!) and we spent another few hours wondering around this area. Our final stop was the South gate of the city for a little photo shoot then back. We avoided the sunset scrum which was probably wise as it was cloudy when we got back & would not have we worth the jostling!  Tomorrow is Dean's favourite day of the whole tour when I make him get up at 4.00am to watch 'a sunrise over bunch of stone's we already saw yesterday'! - Don't worry he gets his revenge in Oz - 25 days of cricket Arghhhh!!
Wish me luck!

Thanks for looking

Hugs Sara