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.

Posting Auckland while Hanging in Hong Kong

So here we are in Hong Kong awaiting our flight to Bangkok. I am taking advantage of free internet to post some of Mike’s artsie photos from Auckland.

We really did not do much tourist stuff in Auckland. I think we are finally getting a bit travelled out!

We had a couple of nice meals out on the waterfront, and walked up the main shopping strip, but no museums or art galleries or sight seeing. We did go in to catch a movie however, and as you can see by the chaotic shot of our room, we did some major repacking before heading to Thailand. And that is where we need to go now – off to our gate for boarding.

The Birds and the Beards and Mount Manganui

No time to write the text for this set, but here are our photos from our visit with Warren, Debbie and their kids Jonathan (bowling a cricket ball below), Rachel (putting at right) & Samuel (with the ‘shell’ face below) and Warren’s sister Jen and her son Andrew (playing cricket) – her husband and other son were away at a golf tournament.

We’re off to Thailand in the morning – gotogo for now. Catch up in Hong Kong we hope!

Okay – we are now in Hong Kong awaiting our flight to Bangkok. We have a couple of hours to pass, so here we are.

Several of the photos here are from the Beard’s – Jen was a magnificent hostess and supplied us not only with beds for all of – the Birds family of 5 as well as us 3 – but also a yummy waffle breakfast and after our energetic hike up Mount Manganui, she fed us once again before we headed off for Auckland.

The view from the top of the mount were impressive as seen in Mike’s photos. Debbie and the kids chose to check out the pools around the edge of the mountain – it drops straight into the ocean. And we had lots of fun playing with the shells they collected.

From the hike, we made a stop by to check out Andrew’s cricket match – we were lucky to catch him bowling and you can see the action here in his very active pitch.

And then after a nice lunch, we had a final photo with the Bird clan before heading for Auckland and our final Kiwi experience before leaving the Australian continent.

Rotorua – a Muddy Stinky Day

From Waitomo, we were off to spend the night near Tauranga at Warrens sisters home. But en route we had scheduled a stop at Rotorua. Mike & I had been here back in 1989, and so were knew to expect the sulyphourous smell (that’s not my description – that’s the tourist-ized phrase for sulpher stink).

We visited Hells Gate – an accurate description for the surroundings. We saw not only Hells Gate, but also Sodom and Gomorah (two boiling pools of sulphurous mud), the Devils Cauldron, Devils Throat and more. Less goulish names included the Map of Australia, sulphur crystal valley, the mud volcano and the cooking pool where the Maouri cooked their food.

The temperatures were upward of 120 degrees C. This is possible due to the minerals which are in the waters which raise the boiling point above that of water.

We all shared in a mud bath in the healing muds, and then followed up with a soak in the hot sulphur waters and a shower. Left our skin silky smooth – but we still stink 2 days later!

We also did a Maouri carving – Kyle
is seen here working on his. Afterwards we followed up with cold one at the Belgian Bar in Rotorua where Mike had a lovely Belgian Chimay (his annual Christmas gift from George). We also passed by the Pig and Whistle – a Burlington mildly famous pub also – and Mike felt compelled to take a photo!

And then we were off to Warrens sisters place to meet up with the Birds and the Beards!

Waitomo Caves – Rap, Rock & Raft

From the Birds we were on our way to Rap, Raft & Rock in Waitomo Caves.

Our 5 hour tour included abseiling – drop by cable rope into the cave – you can see Kyle at left and Mike at right below descending, cave exploring, checking out the glow worms, crawling through some tight tunnels (or your basic spelunking), rafting in complete darkness through the cave tunnels, and then doing a rock climb out of the caves.

We were not allowed to take our own cameras for safety reasons – apparently some people become so involved in photo taking they can actually not pay attention to the important instructions (hmm, there must be other people like Mike in the world it seems :-). So the photos here were all taken by our guide Stuart.

We spotted the cave ‘eels’ and I even managed to pat one as the guide distracted it (they like to bite you as they are hard up for food!). We also spotted a Weta – kind of like a cave version of a cockroach – which is photoed here.

But the most impressive cave life was definitely the glow worms. When all our lights were out, they were like stars in the sky above us. They were so bright you could actually see their reflection in the water and the contours of the ceiling.

We also crawled through some tight channels – including Kyle almost getting stuck in a horizontal one that opened out into the water. Obviously we did manage to get him out.

And after some further wading in the waters, we all ascended with a final mildly challenging rock climb up the wall back out. It was heaps of fun, and with a small group of only 6 (the max size) there was not much time wasted waiting around.

Our group included 3 others all individually signed up – an Aussie girl from Sydney and 2 blokes from Germany. We ended up going out for dinner with one of the Germans at the Thirsty Weta – and as he said, we had the best of dinners – good food, good drink and good company.

And we all slept very well.

Bottom of the Top (or South end of the North)

After our ferry crossing, we picked up our new rental car in Wellington (after much confusion with terminals). We did not get away as quickly as hoped and combined with a wet rainy day, the drive to Havelock North was not very exciting or pleasant.

We arrived at Warren and Debbies place no problems, and found nice treats for us in the fridge even! The next morning we had a leisurely rise and a nice breakfast before heading to Napier.

Napier is a fascinating town since it was almost 100% rebuilt after the 1931 earthquake and subsequent fires. The 7.9 richter scale earthquake was horrendous and 249 (if memory serves me correct) people died. But the city made very smart decisions on their design. The organization for everything from immediate care of the wounded to the long term decisions on financing during the depression were impressive.

We enjoyed the afternoon touring around the town checking out the many varieties of Art Deco. Some of the buildings had Egyptian influence, some American Spanish, others had Maori designs worked into them, some were classical art deco and others were Art Nouveau.

The Pagani sign at left is included for Suzanne’s benefit – her not so common maiden name.
We also visited the museum where the works of artist Roland Hipkins were on display. He was an English painter who came to Napier as an artist teacher. He is mostly known for his painting ‘Renaissance’ (at right) which is based on the rebuilding of Napier. He returned to England for a while to establish his ‘name’ as he was not getting much exposure in Napier, but returned to New Zealand. One of his major influencing pieces is the one at left (Mike only remembers the name as ………Backyard).
There were also exhibits on the earthquake disaster including interviews with several of the survivors. Other exhibits included Art Deco artifacts and 20th century home innovations.
We ended the day with a trip to the top of Te Mata Peak overlooking Havelock North, Hastings and Napier as well as many miles beyond.
The limestone cliffs were all angled due to the plate activity around here (source of the earthquakes also of course). Mike had fun roaming around the hills and valleys amoungst the sheep.
And as you can see from the photos, once again the weather co-operated with us. Despite calls for more rain for the next few days, today was an absolutely wonderful, hot day.

Top of the South Island!

From Christchurch we headed up to Kaikoura on the East coast of the South island. I had been told by someone that this was the town rebuilt after a massive fire/earthquake in Art Deco. However, it turns out that town is actually Napier, in the North Island – near our following night stop.

Regardless, Kaikoura was an interesting town offering once again several extreme sport options – or a walk/hike around the waterfront coves where seals and bird colonies abound. After a leisurely rise and drive here, we took the afternoon to do the walk. Albatross also nest here, but unfortunately we did not see any of them – they were what I had hoped most for.

The limestone cliffs on the seaside are followed by rolling hills. The hills were actually fortified by the local Maori tribes, and if you look closely you can see the ‘stepped’ formations of the ‘pa’ (fort) on the hills remaining. Each step originally consisted of double rows of vertical spears to prevent the enemy tribes from ascending the hills.

So Kaikoura ended up an interesting stop en route to Picton for our ferry crossing the next day. The next day was wet and rainy for most of the day, and not very exciting. Which worked out not so bad as we were travelling by ferry to the North Island and then driving for many hours. But en route to the ferry we did pass another group (hmm, not sure of the proper term for that – Kyle thinks it may be a squadron πŸ™‚ of seals.

Then no more photos till we reached the North Island en route to Havelock North where we are staying 2 nights at the Birds home. Warren and Debbie were in Canada several years ago on exchange and Michael taught with Warren. They are very kindly lending us their home while they are on vacation. We will hook up with them in a couple of days in Tauranga.