G’Day

So, my Australian vacation began in the capital city of Adelaide. After a brief tour of it’s Central Market, Chinatown, and Rundle Mall for snacks, an adapter, and Lush soap, respectively, I made my way to the River Torrens.

It’s quite pleasant to walk along and has an abundance of wild cockatoos and black swans.

  For such a clean city, there was a surprising amount of street art.

By the next afternoon, the art and bird specimens changed drastically. We were into the Flinders Ranges on the way to Wilpena Pound.

Wilpena Pound is a natural amphitheater of rocky mountains.

It also boasts a resort and campground, where I was introduced to a swag and the rest of the group. Chief and Joey were our guides.

Stokes HIll Lookout

Chief got us up and fed in the dark so that we could start the day with a view of the sunrise from Stokes Hill Lookout. It was not warm.

After a nice long nap, we woke up in Lyndhurst. We had hoped to meet Talc Alf, a bush sculptor, but he was away. We still stopped to peruse his outdoor gallery.

Following a brief break at Farina Station to check out an underground bakery and meet an awesome dog (too active to be anything but a blur in picture), we ate lunch beside the old Ghan rail station in Marree. From there we followed the Oodnadatta Track to William Creek where we bedded down for the night.

Notable ports of call along the way included Mutonia Sculpture Park,

to experience Robin Cooke’s annual recycled creations,

Lake Eyre, to walk on the salt crust, and The Bubbler, to glimpse its concentric patterns.

We rolled into town just in time to catch the sun set over… nothing. William Creek competes with Tortilla Flat, AZ in population. Depending upon the source, both boast about 6. Catching the sunrise while snug in my swag the next morning was a nice touch.

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Sunrise from my swag at William Creek.

“B”eing a Menace in Venice (of the East)

Tongue

Maybe more of a moron than a menace…

but Wendy has that effect on me. During her brief visit, we limited our beholding, biking, bingeing, and boating to Bangkok to maximize our time together.

Our private long-tailed water taxi tour along the khlong even included fish food. The open-mouthed one reminded me a bit of Toothless.

Feeding opportunities must be a significant attraction, as we were also provided nibbles by our bicycle guide to indulge the shelled life as well.

  We, of course, were also treated to treats.

 There were shopping opportunities as well.

Profile

At Yodpiman Flower City, we picked up… flowers.

We later learned how to fold the lotus leaves.

To ensure a rich cultural experience, we also saw a few attractions.

The quality of each point of interest varied.

I didn’t expect to enjoy Bangkok as much as I did…

but I doubt it would it have been nearly as enjoyable without Wendy.

Loitering in Laos

Back in August, I briefly visited the capital city, Vientiane. This trip, I stayed in and around the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang. It is located at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers.

Every year bamboo bridges are built over the Nam Khan, only to be removed during rainy season. The Mekong is most commonly crossed by boat.

North of town, near the mouth of the Ou River are Tham Ting and Theung, better known as Pak Ou Caves. Overlooking the Mekong, the caves are one of the most respected holy sites in Laos. A boat is required to reach the entrance.

Every April, the naga vessel is used in the washing ceremony. Inside the caves are thousands of Buddha statues.

On the way back to town, I was able to enjoy a little lao-Lao at Ban Xang Hai. The village is very touristy but the whisky making demonstration was interesting and the tasting was worth the stop. I was relieved that the samples did not come from bottles containing critters, although there were many for sale. Cobra with scorpion seemed to be the popular blend. Later that evening, I went with iconic aw lahm with sakhan, or chili wood, for dinner. The meat was buffalo and it was one of the best meals I had in Laos.

Riding the ferry across the Mekong was like an adventure in time travel. Most homes did not have electricity, plumbing, or gas appliances.

Cooking was done on wood or propane cook stoves. I was offered a sample of the delicacy du jour… honeybee larvae.

Other less exotic samplings included kaipen and khao lam. Kaipen is also advertised as Mekong seaweed or river weed, which is… green algae. It was seasoned with sesame seeds and tomato. Khao lam is rice steamed in bamboo then grilled. Being fresh off the grill, I had to wait for mine to cool down before I could eat it.

Hmong Tribe Village

Many hours later, with no remaining memory of the khao lam, I was both relieved and excited to reach the top of the mountain and the Hmong village where I’d spend the night.

I followed the locals to find the showers.

Dinner was prepared by headlamp in the kitchen and mosquito netting was hung in the bedrooms.

Kids

This trio followed me about until someone climbed a giant tamarind tree and started shaking the pods loose. Once it started raining fruit, I was of little interest to them.

Hog Heaven

While the kids collected treats, I found other entertaining company.

By chance, I discovered the shaman performing a cleansing ritual for one of the families and was permitted to enter the home and observe. A rather unique experience but quite a lengthy one. I stayed for about 20 minutes but the shaman carried on for hours.

The return hike down the mountain and over the neighboring one was ridiculously long but there were many new moms to see along the way.

Back in Luang Prabang, I sought out other sources of amusement. Well, the bear was actually at Kuang Si.

Kuangsi Waterfalls

Kuang Si Falls is a stunning multi-tiered waterfall.

Kuangsi Waterfall Top

My pictures do it no justice… the cool clear water was a refreshing break from the Laos heat.

Sunsets

A trip to Luang Prabang would not be complete without a walk up the 300+ steps to the top of Mount Phousi for a look at the wat and a sunset view of the Mekong.

Charlotte

At the graduation ceremony, I was wondering if Charlotte was the class valedictorian or a student that held some similar type honor. Silly me. “Charlotte” was the graduating class’ “word”. It sorta, kinda means free. Even if you accepted that explanation, it was still weird seeing Charlotte everywhere.

Funny

As I was walking to my classroom in the high school, I got quite a giggle when I spotted this. I’m beginning to wonder if moving to the 11th grade was such a good idea.

On that note, I am Charlotte for the next 6 weeks and will cross that bridge when I return. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Feels Like Home

I may be 9,000 miles away but I generally feel at home on a trail.

The signs and markers may be a little different but the sights and sounds are familiar.

Random

The occasional Buddha head floating in a tree is a not so subtle reminder, I am not.

Chiang Dao Cave Lover or Lamer

After learning that the trail we were planning to hike was closed, we made our way to the Chiang Dao Cave at Wat Tham. I’d visited once during the rainy season but the cave was closed and it wouldn’t stop raining enough to enjoy fully exploring the grounds. There was a drastic difference between then and now and this time, the cave was open.

Since it was hot and dry, the water features were particularly appreciated.

Upon entering the cave, there are a few small shrines. There is a natural skylight so visibility is fine in this area.

Technically, the cave is a network of over 100 caves that extend about 8 miles into the mountain. Only a small area is open to the public and a portion of that only with a guide. The guide carries a kerosene lantern and takes you into a few unlit sections. Looking back, I’m not quite sure how I squeezed through the opening on the left. Most of the guides were about the size of my 10 year old students so they managed easily.

The guide pointed out different natural formations that resembled animals, crystals and of course, stalactites and stalagmites but my favorite feature was the floor. The guide was tickled that I enjoyed what she referred to as a tour with “foot spa”. I also liked one of the reclining Buddhas but mostly because it resembled Yoda. My mini Nikon was unable to capture much with any clarity so I can’t share the other shrines or the bat covered ceiling.

Outside, I wondered who would carve statues where a perfectly good route could have been bolted. The poor things are fairly neglected as well.

Last time, the 25 top pagoda was moss covered and the path up the hill completely overgrown.

No temple post is complete without Naga and signs.

Chiang Rai High

Upon arriving in downtown Chiang Rai, my first thoughts took me back to the White Temple and its homage to whisky. Point taken.

The designer of the White Temple also constructed the Golden Clock Tower to provide the city some architectural significance. Directed to come by here while searching for mango with sticky rice, I happened to learn that it features a light and music show at 9 pm.

Nosing around the area by the homestay, I spotted these.

Our room had an en suite bathroom, albeit outdoors. While on the subject, there is an elaborate collection of tabos in Thawan Duchanee’s toilet.

I was able to peruse his facilities while wandering the grounds of Black House, his museum-like collection housed in 40 or so structures in a garden setting. I most enjoyed his Darth Vader-ish self-sculpture and coveted his over-sized black leather purses. He is also from Chiang Rai, which made me wonder about the water.

While Chiang Rai is a destination for many tourists, we were only passing through on our way to/from Phu Chi Fa. Should you Google the name of the forest park, you will see stunning sunrise views of the mountain scenery overlooking the Laos-Thai border. Normally, an entire post would be devoted to Phu Chi Fa. We were not so fortunate. After rising about 4:30 am, we hopped on our scooters and headed to the base. From the parking area, it’s about a half mile walk to the top. Despite being early, the trail was rather crowded. Once I found a good spot, I curled myself into a ball and tried to keep warm until the sun rose. Despite a promising start, the fog kept rolling in too thick to see anything besides hundreds of people taking selfies with a blank background. Eventually, the call of hot drinks and warm beds grew too strong to resist and we headed back to town.

No road trip is a loss, though, as I always enjoy the rides and the recuperative massages I treat myself to afterwards. While it is burning season and quite dry, it’s also time for strawberry picking and we saw lush fields for days. We stopped and sampled a few as well.

singha

Whereas I did not sample the Singha at Boon Rawd Farm as we had a long drive ahead of us.