Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Lod Cave

We rode our scooters 55 kms from Pai to Lod Cave and stayed the night at the Cave Lodge. Being a birder, I wanted to see the natural wonder of the returning swifts, and a tour of this fascinating cave was a bonus.
Our cave guide was also our waitress at Cave Lodge
Pre-historic coffins made of teak logs were found high in the cave
A ride on a bamboo raft through the cave to the exit
Above me the Fork-tailed Swifts returned to roost in Lod Cave
The tens of thousands of returning swifts filled the sky for over half an hour
The next morning I rose early to see the sunrise. I wasn't disappointed!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Life in Pai

The streets of Pai are quiet in the morning but become a food & drink street bazaar at night
After saying goodbye to travel companions Mark and Chuck in Chiang Mai, Paul and I were planning to head to the Laos border. Instead we met some French travellers who raved about a town called Pai and in the spirit of "going with the flow" we decided to go there too. We rented motor scooters for the 115 km (and 763 curves) ride up to Pai.
Our hut at Pai Homey had two beds, a shower and a great hammock to relax in
Pai is quite the party scene: thousands of young back-packers from around the world enjoying themselves in a bucolic setting. We found a little hut for rent for $24/night just a short walk across a bamboo bridge from the town.
A view from the road on our way to Pai
Two road warriors ready to roll!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Elephant Encounter

Early morning at the elephant camp
I was looking forward to getting out of Chiang Mai and into the country for the day to meet the elephants at Hug Elephant, one of many similar operations in Thailand. I wasn't sure I was ready for 'hugging' such large animals but by the time I had fed them, walked with them and given them a mud bath, I was won over; elephants are amazing creatures!
Only male Asian elephants grow tusks
Asian elephants once had a major role to play in the logging industries of SE Asia. But once the remnant forests were protected from further logging by governments, the elephants found a new role as entertainment for tourists.
Everyone gets a mud bath
Perhaps working for tourists isn't such a bad thing. Local people around the world are giving up working the land to find easier jobs in tourism, so why not elephants too?
After the mud bath everyone gets a rinse off!
One negative side-effect of tourism on elephants that I heard about was that they are prone to developing diabetes. I noticed that they are fed a regular diet of sugar cane and bananas, which they love but are not usually a big part of their normal diet.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Chiang Mai

I didn't visit Chiang Mai, a small city in the north of Thailand, when I was here 46 years ago. I'm sure it would have been a smaller and quieter town then. Now its busy old quarter is chock-a-block full of small hotels, bars, cafes and massage parlours catering to the tourist trade. But it also has many wats (temples) of great significance to the local people. Here are some images of the few we visited...

Thursday, January 19, 2017


I wasn't sure I would like Cambodia: I'd heard that it was sad and depressing; that it hasn't recovered from having millions of people murdered by a government gone mad in the 1970s; that it was very poor. This all may be true but their history and culture runs deep and what I experienced was a gracious and resilient people, welcoming to strangers and getting on with their lives. I'm glad I came.

When I asked Lee, our driver, how he survived the Khmer Rouge genocide, where anyone who could read could be sent to the 'killing fields', he told me he was just a boy at the time but his father had to pretend that he was illiterate by holding a page of words upside down when being tested by a soldier. He also told me that his younger brother suffers mentally today due to starvation in the womb.

We decided not to visit the killing fields of Cambodia on this trip. Instead, like many others who come here, we went to see the great temples of Angkor and also took a side trip to a fishing village built on stilts, called Kompong Phluk.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is the largest of all the temple complexes around Cambodia. In fact, at over 400 acres, it is the largest in the world! It was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu but later transformed to Buddhism. Today it is the symbol of Cambodia and graces their national flag.

The temple is visited by many buddhist monks and all visitors must dress modestly

The statues that once filled the halls of Angkor Wat are mostly gone but the walls are still decorated with enchanting apsaras, heavenly dancers whose role was to seduce the gods and men.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Ta Prohm & The Bayan

Ta Prohm

Unlike other temples around Siem Reap, Ta Prohm has been kept in a suspended state of ruin, appearing much as it was when first discovered. It was used for scenes in the Tomb Raider movie and with trees growing through and around the old walls it has the aura of a lost civilization returning to nature.

The Bayon

The Bayon was the state temple for the city of Angkor Thom and is known for its smiling Buddha faces. They are monumental in scale: can you spot the human in the lower right corner?
Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, it has many bas-relief galleries carved on its walls depicting wars, legends and even the daily life of the people who once lived here.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Banteay Srei (Citadel of Women)

Banteay Srei is a small, exquisite Hindu temple created not by a king but rather by a high-ranking Brahmin in 967 CE. The reference to women is a modern addition, the original name being lost in the mists of time.

This temple, about an hour's drive out of Siem Reap, was my first choice to visit because it's considered the finest example of Khmer temple decoration. Every inch of sandstone is deeply etched with intricate hand carving. It's a wonder that after all this time the artwork is still in such a good state of preservation!

Sunday, January 15, 2017


Three models strike a pose by the Citadel wall

Before leaving Vietnam, we spent a few hours visiting the city of Hue, considered the cultural and spiritual heart of the country.

Pagoda of the Celestial Lady

Golden Buddha very happy!

Hue was the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty, which had 13 emperors in 143 years from 1802 to 1945. Why such short reigns? Mostly because when they tried to oppose the French occupation they were exiled and replaced with a more compliant relative.

The Imperial Enclosure inside the Citadel was turned to rubble by war but is now being restored

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Vietnamese Village Bike Tour

We explored small villages in the countryside around Hoi An by bicycle today. We booked it with Heaven & Earth Tours (nice name!) and couldn't have been happier with our guides, the bikes and the relaxed pace of the day.

from R to L: Mark with his cousin Ruth Hall and her husband Terry

Weaving straw bed mats with a hand loom

Paul takes a spin in a basket boat with help from the boat maker's wife

Happy travellers with the boat maker's wife and our guide

Friday, January 13, 2017

Hoi An

The streets of Hoi An are quiet until visitors arrive each morning from around the world

After the frenetic pace of Hanoi, it was a relief to walk the streets of the Ancient Quarter of Hoi An, where only pedestrian and bicycle traffic is allowed.

The Japanese Bridge first constructed in 1590 is the emblem of Hoi An

This little town was once a busy port and trading centre with merchants from Japan, China and Europe establishing wharehouses here until the river silted up and the traders moved up the coast to Danang.
Selling bananas along the waterfront

Inside the historic home of a Chinese trading family

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Hanoi: Parting Shots

Temple of Literature 

The name was intriguing!  The site of a university, established almost a thousand years ago, was definitely worth the $5 admission fee. Here, all through Vietnam's long history, the best and brightest students came to study, write poetry and take exams on their way to becoming mandarins.

Gates to the Temple of Literature

Dinh Hoang 

We visited the art studio of an award-winning Vietnamese painter, Dinh Hoang, on our last day in Hanoi. He works in a variety of media but I was particular captivated by the way he blended figurative and abstract styles in his work. In honour of our visit, Dinh gave each of us an original painting of a rooster to take home!

Mark admires Dinh's work as his daughter, Khanh Linh, looks on

Traffic in the Old Quarter

A 20 second clip of the scooters on the streets of the Old Quarter. See if you can spot the family of four on the same motorbike!