Excursion Day to Coba

almost out of time…we did one excursion to see Mayan ruins and do some adventure stuff – zip line, rappell into a Cenote (underground cave full of water), and some canoeing. We had a late start and late return (almost missed dinner), but everything in between was great. VERY hot of course as it is summer in Mexico. But we saw lots of great sites and the food was good too. Gotta run – the pool is calling and we’re out of internet time!

Grand Sirenis – 25th Mexico Get Away

Well I don’t want to spend all our internet time or all of my time updating the blog. So here are some photos of our hotel. You can see our room is very spacious with a King size bed and jacuzzi tub. All rooms are the same. We did upgrade to an ocean view room. It is almost always windy.

The lobby and grounds are quite beautiful also – marble every where – although with so much water around it is dangerously slippery.

Hong Kong (1 year later) and Wrap Up

And then before we knew it, we were back in Hong Kong. One year less a couple of days later, it didn’t seem much different (you may recognize the market photo similar to last years shot!). But this time we had a much more refreshed view of the city and spent 2 nights there also.

We had arrived mid day and spent the first day getting settled, doing a bit of shopping and met up with Simon. We had booked in at the Eaton Hotel in an executive package which gave us free access to the executive lounge – with cocktails, free internet (wireless or their computers), snacks, gourmet breakfast buffet and more. And to top it off, our room was upgraded too!

So after a bit of luxury and shopping, we met Simon for dinner and had a much more congnizant visit this time around. It was great to catch up on how his life had changed in the past year and to recap our experiences.

The next day was reserved for Hong Kong site seeing. We took the MTR (the rail system in Hong Kong is flawless) to catch the gondola cable car to Lantau Island to see the Po Lin Monastery and Tian Tan Buddha. While we knew the cable ride was going to be interesting, it was much more impressive than we had anticipated. It was a half hour ride over water and secluded mountainside for over 5 1/2 km.

At the top is the Po Lin Monastery and the giant Buddha. We had a wonderful vegetarian lunch at the monestary (thanks again to Simon for his suggestions!), and spent lots of time exploring the Buddha.

The bus ride back down was quite time consuming and a little hairy given the single lane journey over twisting mountainside for much of it (they are widening the road) – we would recommend taking the gondola back down also!!

And still wanting to collect a few more items, we headed back and I did a bit of last minute shopping while Mike & Kyle hit the computers. We had one last dinner out (again one of Simon’s recommendations) – at a restaurant where one of the Iron Chef’s resided! As expected, it was another great meal.

In the morning we had a relaxing breakfast at the Eaton Hotel enjoying the smoked salmon, French pastries, fresh fruit and more on the buffet. And after a final leisurely shower and final packing, we were off home.

And that’s what a year on teaching exchange to Australia was like for us. We hope you’ve enjoyed sharing our journey – we’ve certainly enjoyed sharing it with you. Thanks to everyone who signed our journal and sent us emails – it was great to hear from you. And it’s great to be back seeing so many of you now. Although we do miss all the friends we have left behind. Stay in touch!

Thailand – Bangkok

Arriving early morning in Bangkok, our arranged transport to the hotel failed to show up (we heard from him later – he called to apologize that he had been given the wrong time). Again strangers were very helpful in assisting us with our troubles – and we managed to catch a taxi to the hotel no problem.

After checking in and showering, we headed to pick up our custom made clothing. We were re-fitted and they kindly had everything sent to our hotel later in the day so that we didn’t have to carry them around. We can certainly recommend Briani of Bangkok if anyone is looking for custom suits in Thailand.

So free of baggage, we took the skytrain and a river boat to the Grand Palace. Even after all the temples and pagodas we had visited, the palace was still very impressive.

There were endless buildings, each one overwhelming on its own. But en masse they are all the more magnificent. The buildings were well maintained with some tile work and painting still being done. We were not sure if it was restoration work – if they were fixing older artwork, the old was completely removed first.

As in many other cultures, gold is much desired and there is no shortage of it at the palace. Anywhere you see ‘gold’ in these photos, it truly is gold.

We visited the museum where many more gold artifacts were stored – no photos allowed of course!! There were personal kits of kings and queens. Each person gets a whole new set – no reusing of the past kings effects. There were belts and rings full of gold and diamonds and rubies and emeralds. There were also many examples of coins over the centuries. The form of their conis was very different prior to the 1800’s. At that point, the current king westernized the style of their coins and the old styles went out of use.

From the palace, we returned to do our final packing before heading out for dinner. We found a Korean neighbourhood where we had a very yummy Galbae. However, we (or should I say ‘I’) also ordered another dish of ground beef with spices and vegetables which is apparently eaten raw. So unfortunately that part of our meal went uneaten. Ah well, not an overly expensive lesson at $10!

Thailand Tour Day 5

We had a busy day on our last day of the tour – we started with a visit to Wat Doi Suthep – a temple in the mountains at 1,056 metres. We took an elevator rail to the top since were in a hurry (we had wanted to walk up). The monastery was built in 1383 by King Gue-Na. At left is the spiral pagoda – big chedi – which contains relics of Lord Buddha. We did walk back down the 300 steps though – which wasn’t all that many after all!

Next we travelled back down the winding mountain roads to an elephant camp. We started with a one hour trek through the jungles – a journey taken by Stallone for one of the Rambo movies.

Elephants are much revered in Thailand – the Hindu elephant God Ganesh is the son of Shewa and is an integral part of the Hindu faith. He is the God of Intelligence and Success.

After watching the elephants head to the river for a bath, we were entertained with a display of ‘skills’ / tricks learned by the elephants – from lumber hauling and bell ringing to playing soccer and basketball. Some of the elephants walked on their back legs, others on their front – and many different balancing acts also. Very impressive. At the end, they called for volunteers for an elephant massage – and so here I am getting my ‘gludial massage’!

There are 6,000 elephants in Thailand, and 4,000 of those are in camps. Each one eats 250KG per DAY – so imagine how much land they require in the wild!

We visited an orchid and butterfly farm for lunch. Absolutely breathtakingly beautiful! The orchids came in many different varieties and colours and aromas. Here are a few for your viewing pleasure! (It did make me quite sad that they grow so readily in this climate and not in Canada….)

And finally it was time to head to the Chain Mai station to catch our overnight sleeper train back to Bangkok. We had a cozy compartment, and Kyle had one which he shared with another person (not so bad as he only slept there). Although the boxed dinner left a little to be desired – we survived on our snack reserves that night!

Thailand Tour Day 4

We left Chaing Rai and headed for Ban Lorcha – a hillside village community. It is a tourist based community developed to promote a sustainable lifestyle for the villagers.

Two seperate tribes were relocated here and live in nearby communities, although not integrated. Their costumes were quite different and their languages also – they are so different that the two villages are unable to communicate verbally with each other.
The people in the villages tended to be either very young or very old. We suspected that despite the governments hope to sustain village life, the youth and middle aged people still left the village to find work in the cities.
As you can see in the photo at right, their household kitchen is very basic, and the whole home consisted only of one additional room. The entire village shares a toilet – so there is not much holding the youth to the village.
Although there were farming communities leading to the village (photo at right), the landscape in the hillside villages makes farming difficult. There is not really any farming in the village to speak of.
There were many crafts for sale – but most were not made by the locals, rather were brought in for sale. One exception seems to be the woven baskets – you can see the crop drying at right. But there aren’t many on sale, so I suspect they make items for their own use. And since there is much more selection and better prices in the city markets, there seems to be little reason to buy from the villages. I suspect the ‘sustainable tourism’ they were hoping for is not likely to succeed.

We proceeded to Chaing Mai and visited craft making sites – lacquerware, silk making, paper umbrellas, jewellery making and wood carving. Some places did not allow photos, and they were generally quite crowded, so few photo op’s -sorry!

In the evening, we attended a Kantoke Dinner with typical Thai food served in the traditional manner, and followed by dances and songs by various hillside tribes. Unfortunately, Mike had been downloading photos prior to leaving, and had forgotten to put the memory card back in the camera! So again no photos!!!

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

Well as should have been expected, I have had no opportunity to update prior posts with text, and the missing days are just that at this point. Mike has not yet worked on his Hong Kong photos, but we had a wonderful reunion dinner with Simon (one year later!). And we spent yesterday touring the city – the tram ride up to the Giant Buddha was incredibly long and quite an experience. And the Buddha and other sites atop were equally impressive. And of course a bit more last minute shopping.

But, we are on our way up to our room for our final pack here at the Eaton Hotel in Hong Kong. My current intentions are to fill in the gaps upon our return home (although our ‘to do’ list once we get back continues to grow).

Our flight leaves this afternoon – and that is our year away from Canada on it’s last leg. We’ll be back in our own beds tonight (taking into account that we cross the international date line and repeat today – so it’s one VERY long day!). And at some point during our trip, our plane will cross paths with Theresa who returns home to Australia from Canada simultaneously. Unfortunately we won’t get to meet again at the end of the year, but we are glad that we met at the start at least.

To everyone on the Canadian end of this blog – it will be great to see you all soon! And to everyone on our travels, thanks once again for your more overwhelming hospitality.

If we have learnt anything over this year, it is that despite all our differences, people everywhere are all ‘good souls’ and we have much more in common than could ever be imagined.

Thailand Tour Day 3

We made it all the way to the Golden Triangle on our 3rd day of the tour. Again we visited many beautiful temples of varying ages – stories will have to follow as we need to go for our traditional Thai dinner soon.

Thailand Tour Day 2

And here is the visual images from Day 2 – we travelled further north (cities and temple details will follow at a future time when time permits). We continued to be awed by the ancient and modern temples and the craftmenship that goes into them.

Thailand Tour Day 1

Wow – so many photos to upload and so little time to work on the blog! Here are the photos from our first day on tour. We started in Bangkok in the morning early and visited many temples and more. Not sure if I’ll have time to update fully with text, but I have been keeping a good diary so I’ll try to update some time, just not sure when! There are many stories to go with the photos, sorry you’ll have to wait.

Okay – on our way home with a bit of time in the Hong Kong airport – let’s see how far I can get…

First I should mention our lead up prior to the tour on our own in Bangkok. Leaving Auckland was an adventure as we rose early (despite the power draining on our alarm) and had to leave our hotel at 6am. Problem was, we weren’t quite sure how to get to the airport. So on Kyles advise, we followed the taxi which picked up the oriental couple in front of our hotel as we were leaving. After a tour of the backstreets of Auckland, we emerged on the correct highway heading to the airport – so we certainly lucked out on what was certainly a shorter route! After passports left on counter tops and repacks of overweight suitcases, we also found out that our plan to leave baggage in Hong Kong for pickup on our return was not possible – all checked baggage must have the same destination. Our marathon day finally ended when we hit the pillow at 10pm in Thailand after being awake for about 24 hours.

Our first day in Bangkok we were out before the shops opened so walked through the local park – we spotted turtles and large monitor lizards along with many locals doing their Tai Chi and other activities. While walking and viewing our map, a kindly gentleman stopped to assist us and gave us much helpful advise. He suggested a reputable tailor, where to shop for tech stuff and sport clothing, and even arranged a Tuk Tuk driver for us at an excellent rate and told him where to take us. Our first stop was to the tailors where we had several outfits custom measured and ordered. We returned to the tailor in the evening for our fitting and found our clothes well on there way to complete! And of course we had a couple of Thai meals – although Kyle thinks he has yet to find his ultimate Pad Thai πŸ™‚

Our first day of the tour had us rise early and pick our tour members. We had a big tour bus (held about 40 if full), but only 9 customers with 2 guides (one English speaking and the other English and French speaking) and a driver. There was a girl from New York and her mother from Miami – they spoke English, but they were actually Guatemalan, so they often spoke in Spanish, a couple from Switzerland who were French speaking (the wife also spoke English and German, the husband also spoke German) and a couple from Netherlands (who also spoke German). So there was lots of cross language interpretation going on through the trip and we all managed to communicate quite effectively, and I was able to practice a bit of French (despite Kyle’s embarrassment at my lack of skill).

We started the tour with a boat trip to our first temple. It was fast and bumpy and wet – so not much luck with photos of the houses built on stilts to protect from floods, reptiles and to help keep them cool. There was a fair bit of traffic on the river – such as the barges being hauled full of construction sand and gravel. And at landing there were these fish being fed which was pretty wild.

Our first temple had a lot of Chinese influence as it was built by a king who had loved a Chinese princess, but they were not allowed to marry. The Buddha here is ‘happy Buddha’ – the classic Chinese style which is not that common here in Thailand.

Next we travelled to the 3 pagoda ancient temple built in the 1300’s by the 2nd King of Thailand. The grounds were covered in pagodas – each one containing the ashes a member of royalty. The central 3 contained the ashes of the King (at right), his father the 1st King (in centre) and the brother (on left).

Our next stop was to the footprint of Buddha in the mountains. The story is that a monk was going to make a journey to Sri Lanka to see the footprint of Buddha, but he was told that he did not need to go that far – there were footprints here in Thailand. So a search was on and they found the footprint. Apparently it was left by Buddha after visiting a hermit who was meditating in the mountain. When asked by the hermit to leave something, Buddha left his footprint.

Then off to another temple where we saw lots of variety in the architecture. The pagodas here had Cambodian, Burmese and Thai styles.

We had lunch (buffet style as most meals since this works best for tour groups) with Monkey Beer! Then of course, off to see the Monkey Temple. As in Bali, the monkeys are very used to humans – and these ones can even drink Coca Cola out of a straw!!!!

Also here are some temple photos (but I’m not certain which ones :-). They give the general feel for what the temples are like. There is usually a Buddha in a central elaborate temple where people pray. You should never put your feet towards the Buddha – women sit on their feet or with their feet to the side. Men sit on their heels (poor Mike and Kyle found this quite difficult given their lack of flexibility and bad joints).

The doors to the temple (not to mention the temple itself) are elaborately decorated, usually with inlaid mother of pearl on laquerware doors. A typical Thai roof line is 3 tiered, with the ‘corn’ top buildings showing the Cambodian style.