A Travellerspoint blog

Bangkok Gold

sunny 36 °C

It never takes much persuasion to get us back to Bangkok for a few days and it was a convenient stopping off place between Sri Lanka and Southwest China for a little R&R at our favourite riverside hotel.
Things have changed a lot since our last visit just a few years ago. The old city is fast disappearing under soaring skyscrapers, multi-lane highways and elevated light railways. However, some things haven't changed – especially on the wide Chao Phraya river that meanders sluggishly through the city. There are still a few of the ramshackle stilt houses squeezed in between pricey riverside mansions and fancy hotels...
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The heavily laden river buses still race from pier to pier and will take you as far as you want to go for just 50 cents....
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And the gaily painted longtail boats, with their engines culled from 50 ton trucks, still spew clouds of smoke as they leave everyone in their wake.
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However, the legions of stinking two-stroke tuk-tuks have all but vanished from the city's streets. Gone too are the miles of carefully painted bike lanes that we saw on our last visit – no great loss as few cyclists brave the roads in Bangkok and they were mainly used as car parks and taxi stands. But the kerbside vendors are still here offering all manner of street food...
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Perhaps the biggest change is that the last King of Siam has died. King Bhumidol the Great ascended the throne in 1946, two years before some of the exoticism was taken out of Siam by changing its name to Thailand. The old King of Siam died in October and will lie in state for a year to give all of his loyal subjects a chance to pay their respects. Huge signs proclaiming the King's passing can be seen everywhere and mourners, wearing black, arrive from all over the world and travel to the palace on the river buses...
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Religion plays a very large part in the lives of most Thais and no one goes to the temple without an offering of flowers – usually golden flowers...
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Marigolds are sold by the sackful in the Pak Khlong Talat market and hundreds of stallholders spend their days weaving fresh flowers into elaborate temple gifts...
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Fruits and vegetables pour into the market by the boatload from far and wide and we spend hours marvelling at all the exotic produce and the industriousness of the workers. This young woman spends her days slicing ginger roots with a razor sharp blade...
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The market used to be a waterside jungle of broken down stalls and rotting vegetation that was frequently overwhelmed by floods, but now it is housed in a bright modern building with all mod cons behind a flood barrier. It is clean, fresh and good for the workers, and just another sign that Bangkok is rapidly moving into the 21st century...
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Posted by Hawkson 16:07 Archived in Thailand Comments (6)

The Lotus Eaters of Sri Lanka

sunny 32 °C

In Greek mythology the Lotus-eaters were an island race who led a sweet and gentle life by eating only lotus plants. As we ate a delicious lunch off lotus leaves in an al fresco jungle dining room in Sri Lanka we could understand...
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We came to Sri Lanka as visitors but we left as friends, just as Danushka, our driver and guide from Brothers Tours in Negombo, said we would. We certainly made friends with Danushka, and we also made friends with the guide who took us on a leopard safari in Yala National Park. Danushka is on the left in this photo....
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Apart from when we were in the tea plantations in the Central Highlands, Sri Lanka gave us nothing but sun-filled days and balmy nights punctuated briefly by tropical downpours. And when it rains in Sri Lanka, it absolutely tips down. Imagine riding in a tuk-tuk in this weather...
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Sri Lanka is a land of a million cheeky tuk-tuk operators and thousands of reckless bus drivers The tuk-tuk guys simply zip in and out of the slightest chinks in the traffic and pump out noxious fumes from their under powered three-wheelers, while the buses bear down on you without any hope or intention of giving way. Some suicidally inclined foreigners hire self-drive tuk-tuks for ten dollars a day to tour the island – we did not.
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National Geographic moments are a dime a dozen in Sri Lanka with spectacularly exotic scenery, an abundance of wildlife and thousands of elaborate religious buildings and enormous Buddhas...
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However, like so many of the South Asian countries, Sri Lanka has legions of poor people whose lives are barely touched by western modernity. Millions of homes are little more than shacks lacking even the basic amenities. Imagine doing your laundry in the river!...
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But Government sponsored women's cooperatives operate excellent street kitchens where for less than a dollar you can get a filling lunch...
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The government is in a massive financial hole thanks to lavish expenditures on toll-highways, a new airport and a major new seaport. However, the new roads are sparsely used, the airport has few flights and the port has never opened because of insufficient water depth. Yet, the beautiful people of Sri Lanka continue smiling. And they have much to smile about...
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Now back to our safari in Yala National Park in Southern Sri Lanka. This park is touted as being the best place to see the elusive Sri Lankan leopards. However, we were warned that the big cats are rarely sighted by tourists in the dense undergrowth so we had no expectations as we set off by Jeep in the dark at 5am. By 8.30am we were ready to quit and get back to our hotel for breakfast when...
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Amazingly, a family of four leopards stole silently out of the bush and crossed the path just ahead of us.
The mother and three cubs disappeared into the undergrowth in seconds and by the time the other Jeeps came racing up, they were gone. To see a single wild leopard is a rare privilege but we saw four!
As Danushka would often say, “No problem Sri Lanka.” And the truth is that Sri Lanka was no problem. In our view it is “India light”. It is easier, cleaner, friendlier and more welcoming than its big northerly neighbour and we highly recommend a visit.

Posted by Hawkson 02:28 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (5)

Magical Moments

Our Five Hundredth Blog Post

sunny 32 °C

Our world is an engrossing and colourful book filled with fascinating images and wonderful tales that can be read by all. The Book of the World is endless, and we don't know when we will turn our last page but, until that day, we will continue to be delighted, educated and amazed by the sights, sounds and experiences of this fascinating planet. And we will continue to take you along for the ride if you allow us.

Five hundred times in the past eight years we have sat down to reveal to you the most interesting and informative paragraphs from our world book from more than fifty countries on six of the earth's continents. To celebrate this milestone we decided to revisit some of the most magical moments from the journeys that have taken us a half a million kilometres around the globe. We begin in South America with the breathtaking sight of the Inca city of Machu Picchu as the morning clouds rolled back to give us a perfect view of this city in sky...
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We cannot leave Peru without recalling the heart-stopping moment when the giant condors rose majestically from the Colca Canyon to soar effortlessly in the clear blue sky above us...
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Mountains are often obscured by clouds for days, or weeks, on end, but on many occasions we have been incredibly fortunate in our timing. We rarely spend more than a couple of nights anywhere, but luck was on our side when we visited Cotopaxi in Ecuador, Mt Fuji in Japan and Mt. Robson in British Columbia. However, we were most lucky in getting this perfectly clear view of the Franz Joseph Glacier on the South Island of New Zealand...
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We have often been lucky with the weather, but we've also been fortunate in other ways. On some occasions our visits have serendipitously coincided with some important event such as the Eurochocolate Fair in Perugia, Italy, and the Perahera in Colombo, Sri Lanka. However, two events stand above all others. The first was in Rome when we unexpectedly found ourselves in the midst of a crowd to witness the re-opening of the Trevi Fountain after a lengthy refurbishment. And, perhaps the most memorable was the Mankai; the moment of absolute perfection,when the cherry blossoms are at their zenith in Kanazawa, Japan...
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We have travelled very extensively in Europe and have thousands of happy memories, however one of the most poignant moments was in London in 2014 when more than 888,000 ceramic poppies were planted at the Tower of London to remember the dead of the 1st World War...
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Wild creatures are always intriguing and we have seen vast numbers on our travels. From the tiny fairy penguins on Phillip Island in the Southern Ocean to the herds of giant elephants in Sri Lanka and a solitary bactrian camel in Mongolia. But one of our most indelible encounters was with this wild koala bear on Kangaroo Island, Australia...
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Asia is a large, diverse and fascinating continent and we have seen amazing sights from the snows of Siberia to the tropical islands of the Indian Ocean. However there are two simply breathtaking sights that cannot be overstated and both are in China. The first are the two-thousand year old terracotta warriors of Xian...
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But surely nothing in the world is more memorable than the Great Wall of China...
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Africa has been a challenge due to corruption and political instability. However, the pyramids, tombs and temples of Ancient Egypt were an absolute 'Wow', but so were the dye pits in the heart of the Moroccan city of Fez...
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Perhaps our most unforgettable moments are when we have connected with people. Wherever we go we meet wonderful, kind and generous people and we are sickened by the current wave of xenophobia being peddled in the West by ignorant buffoons. Through our travels we have gained many friends and acquaintances and our blog entries have been viewed nearly a million times by people all over the globe.

As we begin the next chapter in 'our' Book of the World we look forward to your company and ask that you share our blog with anyone you think may be interested in coming along for the ride.
Finally, as we prepare to leave Sri Lanka for Thailand and China, we take a look back to the magical moment we shared when we visited the Taj Mahal at dawn on the 16th February 2011...
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Now begins the next chapter

Posted by Hawkson 23:27 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (6)

The Birds of Paradise

sunny 32 °C

Photographing birds for us amateurs armed with just a 'point and push' compact camera is never easy. However, the numerous birds of Sri Lanka turned out to be some of the least camera shy that we've encountered anywhere. Peacocks are as common as sparrows here...
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We have never seen so much wildlife anywhere else in the world and the air is constantly ripped by the calls of birds. Here are some of the many that we have seen...
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The iridescent kingfishers are particularly beautiful...
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This pelican in Kandy saw us coming and decided to hide in a tree...
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Not everything that flies is a bird. These are giant fruit bats taking an upside down nap between raiding the farmers' crops....
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One particularly elusive bird is the Sri Lankan jungle fowl - the national bird of the country. We had many attempts before we caught this skittish creature on camera...
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There is one animal species that no one can avoid seeing in Sri Lanka - the feral dogs. There is a dog on every corner and they lie motionless on the roads and expect traffic to avoid them - which is usually the case. They wander into traffic and across rail tracks without a care and. seemingly, rarely get killed. They are unquestionably the most laid back dogs in the world - but we prefer the birds.

Posted by Hawkson 17:37 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (4)

The Fruits and Flowers of Sri Lanka

sunny 31 °C

The warm tropical climate, monsoon rains and fertile soils of Sri Lanka are a godsend for plants of all kind and it is difficult to imagine a more fruitful and productive land. Extensive forests of teak and other hardwoods survive despite generations of cultivation, but many areas have been cleared for tea, rice, vegetables and fruits. Vibrantly green rice paddies fringed by coconut palms are ubiquitous in the lowlands and there are many plantations of bananas and pineapples...
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However, most of the fruits we spotted in the forests and by the roadsides were seemingly growing wild. These are passion fruit...
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And this is a jackfruit...
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These enormous fruits weigh up to 80lbs and grow directly out of the trunk of the tree. Each tree can produce up to 200 of these giant fruits annually.Tender young jackfruit are used to make a starchy vegetable that is either boiled or fried. However, the sweet, juicy fruit inside a mature jackfruit is heavenly.
Citrus fruits grow in the cooler climes of the Central Highlands but we particularly love the exotic fruits that grow in the steamy jungles nearer the coast. Bananas, passion fruit, papayas, dragon fruit, prickly pears, avocados, custard apples and mangoes are all here in abundance, as are one of our favourite tropical fruits...
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These flamboyant little critters are actually rambutans.

Throughout Sri Lanka ramshackle roadsides stalls are laden with piles of inexpensive fresh fruit, while these exquisitely displayed selections are actually meant to be used as offerings at Hindu temples.
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There are many tropical fruits here that are rarely, if ever, seen in northern climes including wood apples and the hard spherical fruit of the aptly named cannonball tree. In Sri Lanka's Buddhist tradition, Buddha's mother Maya held onto the branch of a blossoming cannonball tree while giving birth the him. These trees are therefore sacred to Buddhists around the world.

All manner of semi-hardy flowers grow in the Highlands, especially roses, hydrangeas and wild rhododendrons, but the tropical flowers in the lowlands are particularly spectacular. These propagated orchids in the botanical gardens at Peradeniya were amazing...
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However, there are flowers everywhere in Sri Lanka, especially the brightly coloured bougainvillea and the delicate lotus blossoms that are used as offerings in the Buddhist temples...
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Many of the forest trees have delicate flowers in their canopies, while enormous kapok trees are smothered in a thick white blanket of cottony down. Our pillows and mattresses have been stuffed with synthetic materials for decades, but here in Sri Lanka there is no substitute for the natural kapok...
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Maybe the Sri Lankan's have the right idea!

Posted by Hawkson 04:01 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (7)

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