Thursday, February 28, 2013

White And Black Of Chiang Rai

From Chiang Mai I wanted to get up to Chiang Rai and see the mystical White Temple, and the Black Temple, as strange interpretations on the temples of the Asian region.

I took a bus from Chiang Mai, and managed to see both in a day trip, with a return bus that evening. Doing it independently, I grabbed a taxi when I alighted at the first of the bus stops at Chiang Rai, and with phone calls to base, and a pictorial calendar of the area the driver had, I managed to have him take me to the two places I wanted to see.

The White Temple, or Wat Ron Khun, sparkled in the sunlight, and was a spectacular sight. It is actually a work in progress which started in 1997, with a vision of 9 building as part of the complex til the full art piece is complete. You can have your photo taken at the entrance with the visionary, or deranged mind, behind the design, as many Thais were doing - the cardboard cutout was very popular!

This sign prevented me from actually going inside – the one moment I wished I had taken up the offer of my guesthouse back in Chiang Mai for an overly priced guided day trip to Chiang Rai. Foreign tourists ruining it for the rest of us – sadly, I can just imagine. Apparently inside there are frescos of modern day points of importance, like 9/11 and the planes crashing into the Twin Towers. Completely bizarre.

Outside though, there is still much to see. The creepy heads hanging from tree branches, the most gilded toilet block in the world, the wishing well. But the sight of the reflection of the temple was worth the bus ride alone.

Putting the disappointment of not being able to go inside behind me, my driver and I managed to communicate somehow about my next desired destination. The Black Temple is actually the Black House of a local Thai artist, and not as well known as it's lighter counterpart. It is also hidden away in backstreets, and I was sure we were lost or going somewhere else as my driver proceeded down a laneway off the main highway outside of Chiang Rai.

The Black Temple is more of an art exhibition that a religious temple, spooky and weird and tucked away.  Everything made from wood, or animal particles, the carving are actually very impressive. The gables of the temple roof is spectacular, but the contents inside are a little more peculiar!

All wood carvings, particularly on the buildings themselves, are amazing. The focus on dark timber, the sheen, and the design of the various outhouses are worth seeking this stop out.

The furniture stall underneath one of the buildings, in among it's stilts, had everything you could imagine - and many things you would never have!

But the most bizarre belonged to the first and main building, and it's table settings. Chairs made from animal horns and antlers, table runners of snake skins, and even skinned cats!

Clever use of the materials around the artist, but I am not sure anyone would be able to tuck into a steak with the tail of an ox brushing your elbows as you ate!

The White and Black features of Chiang Rai, some say Heaven and Hell, are well worth the day trip - but maybe get a guide so you can check out the more bizarre details of the White on the inside.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Saturday Walking Market In Chiang Mai

Looking on the map of Chiang Mai, it was clear that this town is very much into their "walking markets", with two long, fairly central, streets dedicated to such on the weekends. I happened to take in the Saturday Walking Market, after wandering around and seeing the city wall. The market begins not far from the wall, just off the city grid.

The colours and the smells, along with the bustling activity, were in full swing when I started my walk down the street.

Tourists and locals alike were making their way along the stalls, checking on the wares, and ready to strike a barginning banter for a desired object or snack.

Clothing, homewares of lamps in all manner of colours and styles, and all sorts of souvenir bits and pieces, were on display. But the food was the most eye-catching potential purchases - from huge vats of pad thai being made before your eyes, to the colourful and enticing array of chopped up fruit.

I succumbed to the fired pumpkin and zucchini flowers, served in a banana leaf - delicious!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Buddha In A Bodhi Tree

Almost all of the buddha statues around the ancient Ayutthaya city were looted, mainly by the Burmese when then removed this kingdom from rule. This buddha head was one of the ones lifted, so the story goes, but it got too heavy for the looters, who dropped it as they fled the city. Here it landed, and since then this tree has grown up and around it. Such an enchanting sight, as you enter the grounds of Wat Mahathat.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Whilst doing some research about what else to do and see in Thailand, I stumbled upon this post about the ancient city ruins of Ayuttaya – and so based on this post Dave and I got a mini-van from Kanchanaburi as our next stop. One of the biggest cities in the world in it’s day, I had heard nothing about it!

Once settled into a guesthouse along the seemingly only strip of touristy places, we tried to check out the floating market across the river to find it in the packing up stages. Instead, we had dinner at Tony's Place before we walked down to the closest two temples to see them all lit up.

The next morning, we set about exploring the temple ruins, on foot cos I am a scaredy cat when it comes to riding a bike. The traffic around was a little mad, and I know I could not have navigated it – I really need to teach myself to ride a bike again!

The first one was the most impressive lit up the night before, Wat Ratchaburana, and was the stupu built by the surviving brother of two others, who, when their father the King died fought each other to win the throne - and in the process killed each other.

The whole complex has been severely looted over the years, and also victim to floods and earthquakes, and this tomb to the brother’s in line for the throne was a trove of much gold for looters when it was opened. You can now climb down into see where the remaining brother left so much gold with his fallen siblings, but alas no gold in sight.

Just next door is Wat Phra Mahathat, with a row all along the outside of the temple wall of buddhas with their heads missing. Only a few remain, and some have been restored.

Walking further afield, we passed several smaller wats dotted along the creek and parkland here, before wandering through Wat Thammikarat. This temple had monks at work on restoration, and also keeping the temple an active place of worship.

Seeking out the Grand Palace next, following the map we figured out that the area that we were walking around was in fact the Palace – completing flattened.  Of what must have been grand and impressive, just three to four bricks of the thick walls remained as an outline. We climbed the fence and walked through the massive complex before we reach the area with the wats of the Palace and the rest of the tourists.

The three chedis all lined up loom at one side of the Grand Palace grounds, and here seemed to be the main attraction of the city. We were able to climb over almost all of the temples, with only a handful of other people, monks and occasional tour or school groups, around. Although at Wat Phra Si Sanphet here at the Palace, we encountered the only crowds.

The kingdom of rule here in Ayuttaya was such an important piece of the Siam and indeed the trade region of it’s time, and now lies as a possible day trip from Bangkok, almost forgotten about. So few people here means you can explore at your leisure, and as your inquisitive whim takes you.

A lost Kingdom of the world, go grand and enchanting. It's amazing, and surely needs some more attention.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Project 52: Friday Evening

After an amazing first day at the cricket here in Chennai, a dip in the pool was required back at the hotel after the heat and grit of the day.

With the Aussies batting, the day had it all! A top order tumble, and then the ever-reliable Clarke peeled off a century to make our score pretty satisfactory at the end of the days play. But of course, the experience of the crowd was the main event, with the cheering and squealing for Sachin every time he went near the ball, a memorable and amusing highlight!

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Giving The Magic Of Harry Potter

This week just gone Cooper and Charli turned six. So hard to believe  when we think back to those baby photos! 6!

They also started school a couple of weeks ago, into Prep. School uniforms, and school lunches, and the big wide world at their feet.

For Xmas I bought them the first two volumes of Harry Potter, with the idea of introducing them to the world of magic, sticking up for your friends, and trying to do the right things. I love these books for those lessons, and so much more.

I had left them the next 2 installments for this birthday, although surely they won't need them for a bit longer yet. Dean was assigned reader, so I will see how they are going when I get back!

Happy Birthday, C and C! I hope school is wonderful!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Project 52: Friday Afternoon

Friday just gone I was in Yangon, and in the afternoon I visited the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most important and sacred Buddhist temple in Burma. The huge gold stupa glistened in the sun of the heat of the day, and the tiles all around it burned my feet! Ouch!

There are so many temples all around the stupa, and so much prayer activity was all around me. I managed to grab this photo, capturing my two most obsessive photo subjects of my 10 days in Burma - a monk and a nun. So intriguing!

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Death Railway And Hellfire Pass

Riding the railway from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok, as far as the rail goes now, is a sombering experience. I love travelling on a train, but everytime I felt myself get carried away with the clack of the tracks and the gentle rocking of the rickety carriage, I reminded myself of the sacrifices made to lay these very tracks down.

The train rolls across the bridge over Mae Klong River - made into the River Kwai by Hollywood and the movie of the same name, and then heads away from town through the countryside.

It soon glides over a Viaduct, on the edge of a mountain, and the wonder of how these POWs built this section returns.

They say that for every railway sleeper on this track, there was a POW death on the construction process.

We rode the train for 2 hours, before disembarking and then getting a driver to take us to the section referred to as Hellfire Pass, 18 kms away. The Museum here is managed by the Australian Department of Veteran Affairs, Office of War Graves, and it very well done. After walking through the rooms of information, we walked the paths to get down to the cutting that the Aussies named after the vision of themselves in the lighting in the cutting as they were forced to work long into the night, starved and emaciated, resembling scenes from hell.

The cutting is 25 metres deep at it's highest point, and was cut with the most rudimentary tools. Without even considering the state of the men forced to complete such work, this feat is incredible.

This is also the place where Sir 'Weary' Dunlop's ashes were spread, as a plaque reminded me as we got down to the track level of the pass.

Such an important part of Australian and Aussie Digger history, in addition to the other Allied and Asian labourers lost in this piece of WWII. A very important place to visit, and learn about.

Getting back to Kanchanaburi, Dave and I had our driver drop us back at the Bridge, and we had a very late lunch at one of the floating restaurants so we could take in the sunset colours highlighting the view. We even caught sight of a train crossing over, scattering the hordes of tourists getting their movie photos.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Remembering The Fallen In Kanchanaburi

Dave and I travelled up to Kanchanaburi by bus from Bangkok, and after settling on a guesthouse on the river's edge, we set off to take in the significance of this Thai town.  I think it took me the whole visit to get to a point where I said the town's name properly!

Firstly, we went through the Death Railway Museum, which gave us a good overview of what went on here and on the construction of the railway line all the way across the border to Burma. Part of the Japanese World War II campaign to open up a way of getting supplies through, 60,000 Allied Prisoners of War and 180,000 Asian labourers were enslaved to build the line under the most hideous of conditions.

Across the road is the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, where 2,815 Australian POWs who lost their lives during the construction have been laid to rest. 6,318 English POWs' graves occupy half of this cemetery, whilst the remaining plots are Dutch, New Zealander and Canadian, with many simply marked "An Allied Soldier". The US actually suffered the highest of the Allied POW losses, however their soldiers were repatriated for burial after the Japanese surrender.

Walking through the rows of Aussies, it was as moving as that experience at Anzac Cove, with so many lads around my age, killed in such unimaginable circumstances.

Many headstones held messages from family at home, and listed where the men were from. I spotted one woman buried here too, a volunteer within the medical unit. So many deaths were due to sickness, starvation, and also the brutality during the "Speedo" phase of construction, when the Japanese started to panic about their timelines for the completion of the railway, and things became more brutal.

So senseless. The world never seems to learn about the pointlessness of war.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Project 52: Friday Lunchtime

Two Fridays ago I was in Bagan, with Fi and Dave, getting a horse and cart around the temples of Old Bagan and the surrounding temples on the plains. So, so amazing!

At lunchtime our main driver and guide had a couple more temples on his agenda, and therefore ours, before we stopped for lunch. Here, I am at Gubyaukgki Temple, and just on lunchtime I have spotted the buddha for the day. The main part of this temple was being restored as we were there, so the gold gilted top was covered in bamboo sheets.

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Gorgeous Library of Parliament Hill

The round, domed section of the Centre Block of Parliament Hill in Ottawa contains one of the most beautiful libraries I have ever walked into. It’s circular form, vaulting ceilings, and pine stacks lining the walls, in addition to the natural light flooding in from the windows all the way around, is just beautiful.

The exterior is equally as impressive, with it’s Gothic style and stone detail. From across the river, it is spectacular as it juts out from the uniform structure of the Centre Block of Parliament Hill, and like nothing I have seen before. Then walking around it’s edge on the actual grounds of Parliament Hill it loomed above

This section of the Parliament buildings was spared the fire in 1916 that destroyed the rest of it. The story told on our tour was that as the building was being evacuated, the caretaker of the library and the last person to leave the room, closed the iron door behind him. And that’s why it still stands today in it’s magnificent glory. A fire lesson for us all!

The smell of pine, the hush of such a grand reading room, and the presence of the royal fittings from London to remind the Canadian government of it’s Commonwealth heritage, including a bust of Queen Elisabeth II, was all so grand.

This tour of Parliament Hill was one of my favourite parts of my long weekend exploring the other Eastern cities of Canada.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


There has been an enchanting house, or 'Ballroom', made of sticks sitting at the edge of Federation Square in Melbourne for some weeks, and it's so cute!

Stickworks is the work of Patrick Dougherty, and was constructed there in the gap next to ACMI, and is part of the Fed Square 10 year celebrations.

It's hard to believe that Fed Square has been there in our city for 10 years. Originally bemoaned as an eyesore, a piece so out of place with the city's surrounding architecture, this piece of modern angles and shapes has now become such a central part of our city, and any Melbournians life, as a meeting place, a place to eat and view the city, and also a place where there is always something going on.

Inspired by the Indigenous works at the NGV, Doughterty has since nicknamed his work 'The Ballroom'. What a grand ballroom it is!

With the size of it, and it's many doors and rooms, you can wander in and weave yourself through the spaces inside. The windows and gaps within the sticks create an amazing light pattern, and also a different perspective of the cityscape around you.

The Ballroom is in Fed Square till the end of the month. Make sure you get down there to check it out, if you haven't already.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Street Food Stalls Of Bangkok

Picking your way along the streets in Bangkok can be a challenge, with uneven ground, broken footpaths, and traffic coming every which way. The distractions of colour and smells coming from the food sellers does not help at all!

The smells of Bangkok range from the pungent to the sweet and divine - the deep frying of a range of things unseen by me before, can be sweet or savory, the raw fish threaded on skewers ready to be BBQed on the grill right there, and then there is the array of fruit cut up and ready to buy in perfect portions.

The intense heat coming from grills, or pot of steaming noodles or dumplings, adds to the sweat and humidity you feel.

I happened upon an area later in my stay where a school had just got out, and the footpath was filled with kids in uniform, clambering for their favourite snacks. This time was a food sellers dream, with sales frantic, it was also a time and stretch of road where the most, and most varied, stalls were lined up.

All this is a feast for your eyes, as much as your nose, and choosing which to taste is the hard part!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Sex Tourism In Pattaya

I just went along to Pattaya with the idea of a beachside party place in Thailand. I hadn't read up on it at all. My travel buddies were keen to pop down and meet up with a mate for a few drinks, and I was happy to come along for a night out.

Lunch at a place which specified that 'Single Ladies Welcome' was one of my first hints about the kind of place we were in, after walking along Walking Street in the daylight, and checking into a seedy looking guesthouse for our stay.

Our lunch spot on the water was filled with Western men my father's age, many alone at the bar, and some in groups paired up with a Thai girl.

When we met up with James around 10pm, Walking Street was a mass of movement, neon, and music. We had a beer after introductions, and then he took us on a little tour around to the Go Go Girl bars.

The first one was in the theme of an airport lounge, with the girls wearing hats or ties from an air hostess outfit. But not much else. James led us through, and we were soon sitting front row to a tiled platform towards the back of the bar. We had walked past the higher platform with a group of pole dancers, putting on a show for the men seated below.

The platform in front of us was soon the play area of two Thai girls, as they soaped themselves up, and slid around a pole together. All part of the experience, these images are going to take some time to leave my scarred memory!

Finishing our beer, James then took us to another bar just off the main Walking Street, Anglewitch, for a reportedly more impressive and elaborate show. Again, he led us through to seats at the front row of the rounded room with booths all around the main stage.  Here, a choreographed show with pole dancing, whips, and audience member participation was acted out, all playful and a little edgy.

As we walked away from there to our next and final Go Go bar for the tour, one of the lads commented that it was all fairly harmless, the show. And I know what he meant, in terms of the acts. But it's not really harmless, in the bigger, real life picture.

I mean, how did these girls get here?

When I worked in Cambodia some of the girls in the shelter had been rescued from the sex trade. The girl who was closest to my age whilst I worked there had been gathered from her village after her mother died, by a man who promised to take her to the city and provide her with schooling and a better life. Desperately poor village families, with no prospects of assisting their children to have such an opportunity, are often lured into such offers.

Rather than schooling, these girls then find themselves in a brothel in Phnom Penh or further afield into Thailand, and are then trapped by the owner of the brothel with violent threats because of their need to pay off their accommodation and up-keep costs. There becomes no way for these girls to be free, with more and more debt accumulated as days, months and years pass.

A young girl is particularly valuable to a brothel owner. But the girls are soon trapped into the life of sex tourism as their debt grows.

I am not sure if this is the story for the young women we saw dancing, and making deals with Western men, in these Go Go Bars in Pattaya, but I doubt that the tales are all that different. The demand continues as Western men travel to these places for sex, and the enslavery cycle repeats.

This visit was quite an experience, and without James there is no way we would have visited the places we did. But it has left a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, knowing that this goes on and seeing it in action. A very sad facet of the Western man.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Laneways Of Siem Reap

Siem Reap has changed a lot in ten years. The little town I remember, with just a handful of bars in the centre, is unrecognisable today. Those bars have multiplied into "Pub Street", full with huge neon signs pointing it out to you, in case you missed it.

It also has a laneway system of restaurants and shops running behind Pub Street, which brings life and culture, and amazing food selections, to the centre of town, and makes it an unmissable area.

These quaint laneways are now the lifeblood of the town, with perfect places to find for brunch, lunch or for snacking treats and coffee. There are also bars and an impressive range of cuisine - from local Khmer fare, to the Cambodian BBQ where you cook your own meats on a round gas grill right there on your table, to all manner of Western meals.

These lanes are vibrant, and come to life as the sun goes down. The perfect end to a day exploring the temple area, and getting amongst the masses of more independent travellers. Be sure to sample the Fish Amok around here, still my favourite meal on the planet!

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Magical Ta Prohm

Made famous by Angelina Jolie and her Tomb Raider movie, and also the use of a photo of a door and a massive tree root on the cover of Lonely Planet for Cambodia, Ta Prohm is the "jungle temple".

Not too far from the Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom complexes, this temple sees probably as much tourist traffic as the other two because of the modern day claims to fame. But the enchanting view of the battle between ancient civilisation constructions and nature warrant attention in their own right.

The area was obvious cleared of trees for the temple, and then since the end of the Angkor era, the forest has been working it's way back to the area.

The way the trees have grown on and over the walls and structures of the temple is mainly the act of birds, who have picked up seeds on their travels and dropped some here and there, on the temple stones.

These massive trees have then had time to sprout, and wind their roots around the temple elements over the years and years when the temples were lost. The root systems battling with the ancient stones makes for an impressive site.

Many of the tree roots have woven through the laid stone bricks, in search of earth and water.

This young lad, above, was just hanging about, a child of the area I assume. He almost seemed to be hamming it up for the cameras, but he was also just going about his day.

The collision between jungle and temple makes Ta Prohm one of the most crumbly structures of the ancient cities, but given the magic of the trees, surely it should not be any other way!
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