Posts Tagged ‘travel planning’

Buddhas, Buddhas Everywhere

Friday, April 12th, 2013

A Buddha here, a Buddha there

Oh my God – that’s him right

There are Buddha’s absolutely everywhere

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Looking inward, looking outward

Looking down from on High

Eyes closed and at peace

Some staring up at the sky

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Leaning, kneeling

Faded and peeling

Female persona

This one’s a loner

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Draped in flowers

Housed in towers

Faithful followers

Standers and bowers

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Present throughout the world

Looking might daze ya

For the real Buddha experience

You must visit Asia

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Shania Twain and Dire Straits Perform at Ta Prohm

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

“So you think you’re a temple?… That don’t impress me much” “Do, do, do do, do, do, do” The beat and words to Shania’s catchy song play out in my head as I stare, open mouthed at the sheer size of the trees (and their root systems) that envelope parts of the Ta Prohm temple.

It is like Mother Nature is singing this song to the long passed builders of the city of Angkor Thom, letting them know that she is the one and only ruler of this land.
“You may have created this monument, this gift, this sanctuary but it is only I that you need to worship, for it is I that has the last word” Did I hear that come from the shadows over there? Is there someone hiding in that inner sanctum? Mmmmm. Maybe it’s the wind rustling through the tops of the enormous trees.
Standing, watching, listening, feeling. Trying to gain a sense of Ta Prohm is not something that can be had in one visit. This is a place you need to return to again, and again. If it took decades to build it will take more than a couple of hours to appreciate.
“That’s OK, I’m not going anywhere”. Who said that? Maybe it was that tiny statue of Buddha set in the wall. And he’s right – he’s not going anywhere. And nor are the trees. Centuries have past since Ta Prohm was built and many more will pass before it is consumed. We have time to come back.
Exiting the ruins and looking back at them I think I hear the dulcet tones of Mark Knopfler emanating from the passageways. That famous Dire Straits song Dire Straits is being performed:
“There are so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones”

Ah…. I get it. Whilst Mother Nature rules she is actually teaching us that when we understand this symbiotic relationship we get our place and purpose.

Hmmmmm. Who would have thought I would have heard Buddha, Mother Nature, Shania Twain and Dire Straits perform “live” together in Cambodia

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The Delta Experience Begins

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

Loose dust particles are whipped into a frenzy as the Cessna Caravan’s constant speed propellor increases its speed. The small turbo prop plane accelerates quickly down the dirt strip and, before long, the young pilot flies the plane into the warm Botswana skies.

Powering Up

As the noise from the Wilderness Air plane reduces we become aware of the sounds of wildlife around us. We have arrived in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.
Willie, our guide for the next three days, introduces himself and welcomes us to this beautiful aquatic African paradise. Willie produces some cold drinks then he outlines the program he has in store for us – morning safaris, sundowner safaris, lots of eating and drinking and plenty of photography. Perfect.
Before we set course for Banoka Camp we take in the sight of elephants grazing nearby. The first of many sightings of these huge mammals.
The scene is set. Let the adventure begin.

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Freely Frolicking On A Formidable Former Foe

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Some years ago a Chinese company located in Shenzhen purchased  the former USSR aircraft carrier “Minsk”.  The company set up a theme park with the Minsk as a central attraction.

The “Minsk” was decommissioned from the Russian Navy in 1993 after it suffered some major damage in a dockyard accident.  It was subsequently sold to a Korean businessman (I guess the Russians were a little cash strapped in those days) and he on sold the ship to a Chinese company here in southern China.

Today, we decided to pay a visit to the Minsk – now a part of “Minsk World” and check out this former formidable ship.  Of course being an ex-military man and an aviator, I was keen to get up close and personal with some of the hardware on display.

After researching transport options we decided to take a taxi to Yantian – the area where the Minsk is moored.  The hotel staff were very helpful in arranging a taxi and it wasn’t long before we were sliding around the backseat (sans seat belts) of the “standard” Shenzhen taxi on our way to Yantian.

One of the things we both commented on during the trip to Yantian was how well laid out the road system is in Shenzhen.  The taxi driver drove to Yantian via the Eastern Coast Expressway and he enjoyed being able to drive fast!  We never felt unsafe but it would have been nice to have had a seat belt (or two).

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After leaving the expressway we descended down into Yantian via some spectacular winding roads.  Looking back up to the expressway provided us with an impressive sight.  They certainly know how to build roads here in China.

The trip from Lo Wu to Yantian was quite quick (around 15 minutes) and surprisingly cheap (about 40RMB with tips).  Our driver delivered us to the shorefront where the Minsk is located so we didn’t have to walk too far to the entrance of Minsk World.

Despite signs of a lack of repair, the Minsk still look imposing sitting alongside the wharf.  The sheer size of the vessel and the array of weapons systems and radar heads gives the immediate impression of a ship that needed to be shown respect – at least in its day.

We paid for our tickets (130RMB) and crossed the gangway onto the ship.  I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t piped onboard however I did take time to “throw a goffa” (salute) in the direction of the quarterdeck.  Ah….. my 15 years in the navy taught me a few things.

Despite the theme park style entrance (located inside the below deck hangar space) we were glad to be aboard and keen to take a long look around the ship.

Vistors are able to access a lot of the ship’s spaces (below and above deck) and the walkways and displays are designed to allow you to learn more about different parts of the ship and its weapons systems.  We enjoyed reading the “Chinglish” descriptions – a great chuckle indeed.  

After some time below decks we made our way onto the flight deck and got up close and personal with some of the aircraft that were on display.  Unfortunately the ship and the display aircraft haven’t been given a lot of attention in the past few years so they look a little “worse for wear”.  In fact I would not be surprised if they haven’t been touched since they were decommissioned by the Russians back in the mid-1990′s.  They are certainly authentic.

After rubbing the rusting metal and tired paintwork of the jets and helicopters we made our way to the fo’c's’le (there’s the navy in me again) area – the location of some of the ship’s weapons systems – surface to air and surface to surface missiles.  Many of the missiles (inert we assume) are still located in the magazines or on the rails of their launchers.  They are certainly not going anywhere fast but they still look very imposing.  The Minsk was designed to be a self protected vessel and, despite having a support fleet supporting her (in her operational days) she would have been able to launch a sizeable attack on anything that came close (including ships, aircraft and submarines).  Impressive indeed.

From the flight deck we made our way topside for a look around the bridge and the aviation control room.  The now archaic navigation, communication and control systems look like something from the 50′s and in their day they would have required a lot of manpower to operate them effectively.  Indeed, up to 1600 crew were embarked on the ship when it was fully operational.  Not as many of the huge US carriers but still a lot of people.

We took quite a few photographs from the higher vantage points before descending below decks into the op’s room and onto the hangar deck – both of which were “disappointing”.  The displays on the hangar deck were geared to theme style tourists and most of them were not operational. Indeed, whilst the concept of a “theme park” probably sounded good, the operator has not really supported the whole business and the whole operation is look a little sad and sorry.  An unfortunate end for this old lady of the sea.

We “stepped ashore” after about two hours (still not piped ashore) and viewed some of the aircraft located on waterfront area before setting off on a walk along the nicely designed waterfront and back into Yantian town centre.

Our walk took us along clean and tidy pathways and past some of the newer apartment developments that are sprouting up in the area.  We were very impressed by the cleanliness of Yantian.  We were also impressed by how quite the area was.

One of the things we liked was the proliferation of bike stations located around the city.  We gathered that the city is modeling the bike hire system on some of the European cities.  What a forward thinking way of designing your city.  We only wish that Hong Kong could do the same!  People complain about the pollution from China but we saw some great examples (bikes, solar heating and recycling systems) of how Shenzhen is doing what it can to reduce the pollution output.  Well done!

We made our way into the small city centre and looked around for a place to have a coffee.  Whilst there were no Starbucks (yet) in Yantian we did find a place called Montreal Coffee.  This lovely quiet restaurant was located off the main street area and we enjoyed sitting in the swing seats and drinking a very nice coffee.  I was expecting some average tasting beverage but I was eating my words after sipping on the wonderful Viennese coffee that was placed before me.  A great way to finish off our time in Yantian.

We asked (in our best Chinese) the waitress for a taxi back to Lo Wu and she kindly walked us out onto the street and flagged down a taxi for us.  The friendly driver took us back along a slightly different route to Lo Wu but it took us the same time and cost the same amount as the trip down.

We would certainly recommend a tour of the Minsk and some time in and around Yantian.  Despite the “dog eared” state of the Minsk and the average state of the displays, the ship, its weapons systems and aircraft are still an impressive reminder of the halcyon days of the Russian navy.

After visiting the ship make sure you spend some time in and around Yantian.  Take a walk around the streets and have a coffee at Montreal Coffee – you won’t be disappointed!

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Market Mingling, Magic Massages and Milling Around Magellan

Sunday, September 18th, 2011
Whilst we didn’t have to rise to early this morning we were keen to take in the local Sunday markets in the city so we climbed out from under the sheets around 0700.
We took in another delightful breakfast downstairs in the Magellan Club’s dining room and enjoyed our morning interaction with the wonderful staff. The Bircher museli, fresh croissants and delightful salmon has been our “standard” fare since arriving at Sutera. Yum!
With our stomachs suitably sorted we returned to the room, collected our bags and cameras and headed over to the main lobby to book our seat on the shuttle bus to the city. We thought it was going to be a busy bus given that the markets are only on once a week however, when it pulled up, there were only two other people on the bus.
The driver of the shuttle bus is a real character and he provided us with some light entertainment during the short trip to town. When you drive the same short route everyday you would need to find a way of entertaining yourself!

A Basket Of Cuties

We disembarked at the Wisma Merdaka (the last stop in town for the shuttle) and found The Coffee Bean cafe. I needed a caffeine recharge before walking the short distance to the markets. The power went out in the hotel this morning so I didn’t get my morning coffee fix at breakfast. Fortunately I didn’t bite The Princess or snarl too much!
The temperature was creeping up toward 30 degrees and the humidity was hovering around 65% as we approached the street markets. We started to wonder why we were carrying a hot coffee!
The markets were quite busy and the crowds, confined spaces and tarpaulin covered stalls made for a steamy walk.
The markets were quite extensive and the local wares on offer were interesting. A mixture of locally grown produce, handicrafts and animals were available for purchase. Despite some serious review of the range of artifacts we actually didn’t purchase a thing! However, we did enjoy interacting with the locals, learning more about the culture and capturing some of the sights and sounds.
We departed the street market area around 1230 and made our way back to the Centerpoint mall. We had decided to treat ourselves to a full body massage and a foot massage at a place we found earlier in the week.
The short walk to the mall allowed us to experience some more of the interesting sidewalk (or lack of) designs that Malaysia seems to perfect. It would appear that the government is very happy for developers to build impressive buildings and to collect the taxes from the development works but not put any of it back into building safe sidewalks for the public. One has to be rather careful not to end up down a monsoon drain or twist an ankle while trying to cross the road.
We found the massage place that we had discovered during a previous visit to the mall and, fortunately for us, we didn’t have to wait. We started with a delightful foot massage each then “retired” to the separate curtained off areas for an hour long full body massage. Both of us agreed that the massages were excellent and we left the shop feeling very relaxed indeed.
Our stomachs were in a position to allow for some more food to be consumed so we returned to an Indian restaurant that we had found a few days earlier and settled in for another feed of roti, Muterbaak and some delightful Tandoori chicken. We washed it all down with two delightful fresh orange juices.
We had been doing a lot of lounging around this week so we decided to walk back to the resort – a short 30 minute stroll alongside the main road. We bought a couple of bottles of water before we left the mall (it was still quite warm outside) and headed off for some more footpath (or lack of) negotiating.

Market Attraction

We arrived back at the resort around 1530, changed into our swimming gear and headed for the pool for one more “dip”. We eventually found a place to lie down before enjoying a couple of hours of swimming in the pool and the small ocean cove. A perfect way to finish off the afternoon.
Happy hour here starts at 1730 so we returned to our room and changed into something slightly more respectable for “sundowners” on the patio of the Magellan Club. The happy hour drinks and food are included in our room rate – a nice touch indeed.
The sun dipped below the islands to the west of Kota Kinabalu as we enjoyed some crisp white wine and some local delights. Very decadent indeed.
As day turned into night we moved from the patio to the Club’s interior. With The Princess’ legs only just recovering from the piranha like feasting of the first night we decided that a repeat was unnecessary.
We enjoyed a night cap glass of port each while we cheeked email and played internet catch up then bid the evening shift staff goodnight.
With our departure from Kota Kinabalu scheduled for tomorrow morning we opted to return to the room early so that we could pack our bags, have a shower and turn in at a reasonable hour. We were both very relaxed after our day out and knew that it wouldn’t be long before we were united with the insides of our eyelids.
A nice warm shower finished us off and after taking up residence in the King size bed we both slipped off to sleep around 2300.
Selemut Malam!

Reclining At The Magellan

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Train Spotting

Saturday, September 17th, 2011
Earlier this year (April) we made a flying visit to Australia to surprise my father for his 75th birthday. While we were in Melbourne we stayed in the Dandenong Ranges and I took The Princess on the iconic “Puffing Billy” train ride from Belgrave to Emerald. We enjoyed the trip on the Puffing Billy and we also had a lot of fun following it by car and taking photos and video of it making its way through the mountains east of Melbourne. At the time we commented that we were becoming “train spotters”.
Today, we slipped back into train spotter mode by taking another historic train ride but this time we are in Malaysia.
Malaysia was once a part of the British Empire (during the 18th and the 20th centuries) and during this time the British established a number of railways throughout peninsular Malay and Borneo. One of these railways was the North Borneo Railway. In recent times, this railway has been restored and it is now a tourist railway that runs between Kota Kinabalu and Papar.
We booked a seat on today’s train (it runs two days a week) and this meant a pick up from the hotel at 0900. We rose around 0730, had a shower then made our way down the dining room around 0815. We thought it would be prudent to have a bite to eat before we left the hotel.
The bus arrived at the Magellan entrance at the designated time and we along with the other pre-booked passengers boarded the bvs for the short trip to Tanjung Aru – the departure station for today’s trip.
We arrived at the station around 0910 and collected our tickets at the ticket offices before making our way to the platform. Seating was not pre allocated so this meant we were able to choose our carriage and seating.
All of the carriages (ironically built in Japan) were beautifully appointed and they are restored to the original decor. silver and Chinaware, and the linen and upholstery reflected the era in which the train was operating and we felt like we had been transported back to the early 1900′s.
Waiters and platform staff wore pith helmets and period relevant costumes and their Malaysian hospitality resulted in us settling into the whole experience very quickly.
The wood fired Vulcan steam train was shunted into position at the front of the train around 1000 and it wasn’t long before the station staff were hollering “all aboard” to the accompaniment of the steam engine’s high pitched whistle.
The train hissed and chugged out of the station at the laid down departure time and we were not too far down track when our light breakfast of croissants, pastries, juice and hot beverages was served.
We rolled along the northern coast of Borneo very comfortably and enjoyed the sights and sounds as we passed through small villages and alongside the shoreline of some beautiful beaches.
The track wound its way through mangrove swamps and rice paddies while we savored the light breakfast and got to know some of the other passengers that were taking today’s journey.
After 20kms of “dah dunk, dah dunk” (the sound the wheels make on the track) we arrived at the tiny town of Kinarut. The train stops at this traditional village for around 20 minutes and we opted to take a short walk to the nearby colorful Chinese temple. You would think we would have had enough of Chinese temples given that we live in Hong Kong!
We spent time taking some photo’s of the local children and the temple environs before returning to the station. The engine driver was signaling the impending departure with intermittent whistle blows so the remaining passengers (which included us) hastened our return along the well maintained tracks.
We departed Kinarut at the scheduled time and continued along the track south west to Papar. The 18km journey through low lying coastal scenery took around 45 mintues – time enough to enjoy a mid morning refreshment.
The pre-noon arrival at Papar meant that the sun was not quite at its apex however the temperatures were rising toward 30 degrees plus as we disembarked the relatively cool carriage.
The Princess and I opted for a walk around the nearby town markets during the relatively short stop in Papar – an experience worth the effort.
The wonderfully friendly locals were very happy (and proud) to show us their wares and we delighted in interacting with the children and their curious stares.
We returned to the station about 15 minutes before the timetabled departure and spent time in the hot midday sun taking some photos of the steam engine before returning to the fan cooled temperatures of the carriage.
Our booth style window seat tables were reset with lunchtime cutlery, napkins and face towels and our Tiffin style (or “dabba” as the Indian would know it) lunch was awaiting our pallets.
Most of the other passengers had finished their lunch sets before we re embarked the carriage however we enjoyed the sumptuous Malay offerings as we rolled back along the tracks on the return journey to Tanjung Aru.
Whilst we were seated on the same side of the carriage as before, the return journey took on a new perspective as we sat back and let the world roll by outside our windows.
The return journey meant that we had the benefit of knowing where the rail crossings and small towns (and therefore the excited children) were. We enjoyed waving at the proud and appreciative locals as the rolling stock rattled along the well maintained track.
The engine’s steam whistle sounded as we approached the many road crossings and the wood fired soot filled the carriages when the wind blew it through the open windows. The whole trip was very nostalgic.
We arrived back into Tanjung Aru on time at 1340 and it wasn’t long before we were disembarking the carriage, say our goodbyes to the attentive and friendly staff and making our way to the shuttle bus to the hotel.
We arrived back at the hotel around 1430 and decided to “retire” for the afternoon by taking an afternoon (holiday) nap.
As we drifted off to sleep we recalled the wonderful trip on the North Borneo Railway to Papar – a smooth and comfortable trip from Tanjun Aru to Papar complete with excellent service, period costumes, pleasing scenery and decadent food. What a wonderful trip indeed.
After rising from our mid-afternoon slumber we went downstairs to Muffinz Cafe and relaxed over a hot coffee and some of the tasty handmade cookies and updated our trip blogs.
“Sundowners” (happy hour) started at 1730 so we made our way to the terrace of the Magellan club and took up “residence” as the sun started its descent below the western horizon.
Several white wines, some delightful Malaysian treats and the superb service from the staff all resulted in us experiencing a beautiful end to the daylight of 16th September.
The Princess made the most of the stunning sunset lighting by taking quite a few photos of the sun setting over the islands to the west of Kota Kinabalu.
We are now ready to retire for the night so we will make our way back to our room on the 1st floor and prepare to sink into our bed.
Tomorrow we plan to take in the Sunday street markets that set up in the city. We will have some breakfast then make our way into town around mid-morning. We will finish off our day of rest with a foot massage before returning to the resort for a final night of relaxing.
Selamat Malum (“Good Evening” in Malay).
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