lisbonchick

Adventures

Thailand, Hong Kong and diving!

I did not know so much could happen in two months!  So we have finally found out that Geoff is not going to have his contract renewed.  A lot of you are asking why…  Well, he was on a 2 year contract covering for someone who has decided to return.  We were hoping a vacancy might have come up but no such luck.  We need to move, again!  Don’t know where yet, but we do know when, June!  Watch this space.  Shame as was starting to acclimatise to our new life and really enjoying my new job.

On another note, we have been busy exploring as usual.  Since the summer holidays, we have been out and about, here and there.  The most exciting thing has been to finish our PADI and to go sea diving for the first time.  It was bloody scary at first.  I experienced an under water panic attack which was rather unpleasant but I also found that there is a whole new whole down there and it is magical.  We had the nicest of instructors, patient, caring, gentle and thorough; could not have asked for more.  Need to get a few dives in before we leave this diving paradise!

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Waiting for the first dive!!  I look happy but am petrified…

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Sattahip fishing port

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I have had a couple of exciting weekends!  The previous one I went to Hong Kong which is a place I never really thought to visit.  Fortunately, there was a conference I wanted to attend so it was the perfect excuse for a little escape.  I really liked Hong Kong (and the conference!).  It is an environmental nightmare but it is pretty and lots of lights always look impressive.  Beautiful views, good place to stroll and eat and lots of boats to take from one island to another.  What more could I want?  I met a kindred soul at the conference, what a lovely woman!  We got completely lost with a map and Google maps and ended up getting into a cab and asking the driver to take us to where we already were!  He was amused and drove us around until we realised we were in the wrong area after all.  So cool to meet someone who is as useless as me with maps!

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We had Loy Krathong in November when people gather around lakes, rivers and canals to pay respects to the goddess of water by releasing beautiful lotus shaped rafts, decorated with candles, incense and flowers onto the water.  Every year, Loy Krathong falls on the night of the twelfth lunar month (usually in November), at the end of the rainy season when the full-moon lights up the sky.  This festival is celebrated for many reasons.  The main rice harvest season has ended and it’s time to thank the Water Goddess for a year’s worth of her abundant supply, as well as an apology for polluting the waters.  Some believe that this is the time to symbolically ‘float away’ all the anger and grudges you have been holding onto, and including a fingernail or a lock of hair is seen as a way of letting go of the dark side of yourself, to start anew free of negative feelings.  If your candle stays alight until your Krathong disappears out of sight, it means a year of good luck.

So, Krathongs were duly made and released into the Chao Praya river!  Quite beautiful and a happy time to be outside celebrating with everyone.
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Making Krathongs!

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Boys and Krathongs

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Krathongs made of fish food

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All shapes and sizes…

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Made out of bread dough

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Ready to launch!

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Monk selfie!

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Wat Arun

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What it looks like from the water

To finish off, some photos of life around here.  We love going to Kho Kret and walking around the island.  It is peaceful, very close by and there it always looks different depending on the season.  We went recently and found that most of the island was underwater.  Sad for the people who live there, it is not an uncommon occurrence as the rain swells the river which then overflows over the whole island.  People continue to live there and we walked past someone’s living room with the family sitting on chairs with water up to their knees watching television!  A rather strange sight but then again, Thailand is not like other places…

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Pretty weird but this guy was just walking around with his slow loris pets!  It is illegal to have these as pets but he let me take a photo of the little guys.  Considering he was walking around Very cute but sad that they are not in the wild.

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Life goes on….

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Thai sweets

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A boat is the way to go!

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Road becomes swimming pool

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That is it for now.  Thailand is growing on me now, especially when we venture out of Bangkok!  It is a beautiful country full of surprises.  The language is pretty impossible to learn, the food is like something out of another world (not always in a good way!) and the people are a constant source of puzzlement for us.  It takes time to understand such a different culture and way of thinking but we like it here!

Portugal once again…

We arrive in Lisbon and immediately I feel happy to be “home” – whatever home means! It is such a beautiful city and we have Dave and Jackie with us; I like having people around, it gives me a new perspective on the place and what my favourite things are.  So, first of all walking about in Lisbon is one of my great pleasures and we start our first days ambling about, discovering, roaming and observing.  It is a challenge to take photos of things I have seen so many times before but I try to look through others eyes and this is what I see…

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Views of the castle of São Jorge

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Red rooftops and the 25 de Abril bridge

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Doors everywhere…

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Old streets, prefect for walking about

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Old water fountain

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Monument to the Discoveries, love this place, particularly the Pasteis de Belém!

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Father and daughter sharing a moment

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Fountain with horses and ducks

No visit to Lisbon is complete without lunch with my brother Zé Pedro and his lovely wife Dulce.  They are the sort of people you can spend hours with and it feels nice and comfortable!

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Men full of fish and beer!

The most exciting thing about Lisbon this year was getting the kids registered as Portuguese citizens.  They now have ID cards – passports are next!  One week in Lisbon feeling jet lagged and running around from one government office to another, looking at shoes and eating a lot of food.  What more could I want…

And now for some proper exploring! One week is to be spent exploring Serra da Estrela, the highest mountain range in Portugal.  This is one of my old favourite places and the last time I was here was about 20 years ago, give or take!  We settle in Manteigas which is at the foot of the Vale do Zêzere, with high peaks and forest-draped slopes all around.  There are many mountain villages in this area but Manteigas has been a settlement here since at least Moorish times.  It is a pleasant, quiet town, not much goes on here although it is an excellent base for various mountain walks and to visit old schist villages.  Well, they did not disappoint!  Here is Sortelha which was truly magical.

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The castle built on a crag at an altitude of 760 metres

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Love how the windmills have become part of the landscape

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The 14th-century church

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On entering, there is a beautiful pillory, surmounted by an armillary sphere, the symbol of D. Manuel I, and the building that once served as the town hall, both dating from the time of this king.

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School toilets and others

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Geoff loves pillories….

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The strangest thing about this place is that there is nobody there!  Apparently only two couples live in the village now.

On to Belmonte, Belmonte is an interesting place…  We found out that there used to be a community of “marranos” known as the Belmonte Jews.  They are a community that has survived in secrecy for hundreds of years by maintaining a tradition of endogamy (look it up!) and by hiding all the external signs of their faith.  The community goes back to the 12th century and they were only discovered in 1917 by a Polish Jewish mining engineer named Samuel Schwarz.  Some of them resumed the public practice of Judaism in the 1970s, and opened a synagogue, Bet Eliahu, in 1996.  There is a small Jewish Museum which tells you the whole story.  Was not expecting to find that in Portugal!

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Belmonte from the castle

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Jackie getting into the spirit

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Nice colours….

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A Pelourinho which in English is a pillory.  These are found throughout villages and towns in Portugal.  They date from the 12th Century and were normally built in front of the council building.  They were used to sentence and punish criminals.  Many had a small house on the top made out of iron where criminals were placed for all to gawp at.  In other places, the prisoners were tied to iron rings and beaten or mutilated depending on the severity of their crime.  I am quite fascinated by these pillars and what went on around them!

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You can come down now…

I highly recommend a sojourn in the mountains.  It is a beautiful area and is good for the soul.

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By the house

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Too much time on their hands….

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David attempting to blend in!

The area is beautiful and we went on one of the best walks I have ever done.  Geoff and I set out with a bottle of water and a couple of bananas expecting to be a couple of hours. Five hours later, hot and very hungry we arrived back at the house!  I can only imagine what this walk would be like when there is more water around, before the dry season has sucked out most of the water from the waterfalls and all the snow has melted.  The best thing was not coming across more than 2 people in the whole of the walk!!

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Long climb and a view of Manteigas!

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And further….

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Made it to the waterfall

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This is actually the trail

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We were so hungry but there was nobody home!

Another highlight was seeing the glacier valley.  It is a truly magical place 13 kilometers long.  The last 8 kilometers are the best with a U shape caused by the glacial erosion on the side of the valleys.  It dates to around 19,000 years and it is one of the longest in Europe.  Here are some of the views.

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Beautiful views, beautiful drive – well, not if you do not like sheer drops….

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The glacier valley

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The road through the valley

At the end you reach Torre which is the highest point and where the sky resort is. Well, not in July but in winter it is a rather cool place to visit.  Nevertheless, we availed ourselves of the facilities on offer and took a trip on the sky lift.  Never been on one before so nothing like the present, snow or no snow!

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Posing in the old city

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The old part is full of great graffitti and you can see the old buildings mixing with the new

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A doorway

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Vandalism of old tiles in the church below.  Quite funny though….

DSC03784One of the great things about travelling with friends is that you at times end up doing stuff that you would never really even consider doing!  One of those things was a visit to the Burel wool factory in Manteigas which was just a short walk from our house.  Their website showcases some of their beautiful products all made from wool https://burelfactory.com/en/.  It is creative, imaginative and beautiful.  They offer a free factory tour which Dave and Jackie were quite excited about!  We thought we would tag along and I am glad that we did.  They talked us through the whole process and showed us the machines, some of which are pretty old!  They are still making most of the stuff by hand, incredible!

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So many gorgeous colours….

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Here you have it, a holiday in Portugal!

Summer holidays in Thailand!

Warning: this blog contains lots and lots of photos!  I got a new camera for Xmas and have been going a bit mad!!!  By the way, if you click on the pictures you will be able to see a slide show.

Three weeks spent in Thailand before heading out to Europe.  Katherine came to visit (Geoff’s niece) and we had a great time together.  It was fun to take her out in Bangkok and show her some of our favourite places.  She was an easy traveller and happy to do anything!

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On the big wheel!

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Our favourite local bar.

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Party time in Chatuchak Market, delicious Margaritas and good music.

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And yummy dried squid!

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Ice creams

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And plastinated bodies!

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Yes, they are real!

We waited and waited for Renee and family but sadly they missed their plane. In true Tanzanian fashion, their flight time was changed and they were not informed.  so they arrived at the airport to find that their plane had already departed, without them! One day later than expected they were finally in Bangkok and Geoff stayed behind to meet them.  Katherine, myself and the kids went off to Chiang Rai, cause why wouldn’t we… Here we are chilling and waiting.

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Simple lodgings with a view

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Many caterpillars around here!

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Obscure directions

We did not see them until the morning when we got them up to go for a 2 day hike!  After such a long journey, they were unusually sprightly and ready for the adventure.  The idea was to walk all day, stop and have lunch and then stay the night in a village somewhere up in the hills.  Something else happened but it was fine!  The hike turned out to be quite crazy with a local guide who was hyperactive and was not quite sure where the trails had gone.  Still, nothing a machete can not cut through and on we went. It was a hot, rainy and sweaty day but kind of fun too.

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Off we go into the jungle

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Renee assessing the water

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Natural armchair!

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More weird caterpillars

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Filling the bamboo sticks with rice to cook in the fire

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Big beattle!

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Cooking the rice after a huge downpour

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Lost in the bamboo forest!

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Very hot springs, I know, I put my foot in it!  Bloody hot!!!

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And another one!

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Boat to the village for the night

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So we get to the village and it is really not nice at all.  Back to our basic huts which look like luxury by now and the trek is cut short.  Next day we have a walk through the local village which turns out to be rather pleasant and visit a cave temple.  We find a cat cafe in the town where you can sit with lots of cats and pet them as you sip your coffee! Weird…

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Temple in a cave!

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Chiang Rai temple

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Local village

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Freshly killed pig!

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Walking with a purpose!

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I would highly recommend where we stayed, the Bamboo Nest of Chiang Rai.  Absolutely lovely with amazing home cooked food.  Go check it out, it is basic, there is no mains electricity but it is very special and only about 23 kms from Chiang Rai. http://bamboonest-chiangrai.com/

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Geoff having a good stretch!

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The morning clouds….

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Happy days with lovely Christine

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That dog is everywhere….

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On the way to Chiang Mai

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Wat Thaton temple in Thaton on the way to Chiang Mai

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View from the temple and the river we travelled on

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And another one!

Onwards to Chiang Mai for elephants and a spot of town life.

I have wanted to visit the Elephant Nature Park for quite some time now.  I love the work Lek does and think she is very inspirational.  However, the park felt too crowded and organised for our liking.  It is a great place and the elephants are well looked after, just too many people.  Nevertheless, I had fun getting up and close to these beautiful creatures.  They are so big so I tried to capture their eyes, amazing how they are all so different!!

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Not an elephant!

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A spot of dust after a bath…

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Happiness is….

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Blind elephant

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Chiang Mai turned out to be quite pleasant after the initial shock of being in a busy city full of tourists.  My favourite thing was the huge array of old temples, so simple and so beautiful, quite a contrast to the newer temples in Bangkok which are so full of bling and excess.  Here is a selection taken on a leisurely walk about.

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I was tempted…

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The writing is on the wall!

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A spot of torrential rain!

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Bicycle cafe but now as we know it

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Well, that was a busty week!!!  Off to Kho Yao Noi we go to chill by the beach.  Lovely island, extremely quiet.  Have the beach and chalets to ourselves with a few kayaks for our own use.  What more could you ask for…  Good place to stay albeit quite isolated and quiet which suited us all.  http://www.lomlae.com/index.htm go check it out, delightful place!

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Kayaking to an island, harder than it seemed!

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Monitor lizards, aren’t they great?

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Yes, I was that close!

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Christine is waving all the way from up there!

Being on the island was just beautiful.  Lots of exploring to do and hardly any people about,  Perfect!

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“Our beach”!  Not a bad view to wake up to each day.

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Fishing…

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Sunrise, me thinks…

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Petrol station

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Macro did not quite work…

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Renee on a scooter!

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Limestone everywhere!  Rather beautiful but marred by rain and cloudy skies, still a great day out.

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Our boat for the day

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So much limestone….

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Rock paintings

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James Bond rock

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Floating village in the middle of the sea

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A floating football pitch

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Before the storm!

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The floating village!

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Another cave!

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A window at the end

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A window with a view

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We found a strange world after walking through a cave…

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Enter a captionNever seen one of these before, very excited!

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Yeah, yeah, more beaches and hills….

So, seeing Renee, Christine and family was great!  We could talk about Moshi, old friends and how we are going to ensure we meet again.  What truly lovely people they were to spend a couple of weeks with.

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Renee and Geoff in deep conversation

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A few drinks at sunset

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Love the boats!

So, two weeks gone in the blink of an eye.  More adventures to follow…

Bangkok and Thailand adventures

It has been hard to write…  No inspiration, no time, no ideas, no adventures…  Finally, teacher training has come to an end and I can think again.  It was intense, enjoyable, frightening, fun and an incredible learning journey.  I have a job as a Pastoral Leader in an international school nearby and am very excited to start in August.  New start after 3 years without a job, also a new experience which I have not enjoyed so much, lost my financial independence and work identity but learned to be alone and to immerse myself in new experiences.

Where to start?!  Today!  We went off exploring Bangkok, the new Bangkok I find ugly, busy, smelly, materialistic and not very inspiring.  However, there are still areas of old Bangkok where I can feel I have been transformed to a different place altogether and I love spending time in these “secret” places.  One such place is Khlong Bang Luang on the West side of the Chao Phraya River.  It is a laid back neighbourhood, a small village with stilted wooden houses along an old canal.  There are plenty of narrow alleyways with art galleries, studios, shops and local eateries.  Along the canal runs a rickety boardwalk where you can let your feet dangle above the water and feed the hundreds of catfish that live in the Bangkok canals and rivers.  The artist house was our main destination – Baan Silapin, coffee shop below, gallery atop and painting and colouring activities on offer. Great place to relax and while away an afternoon.

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Cat fish feeding frenzy

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No idea how MJ got in there!

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The most beautiful and atmospheric guitar playing…

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Walkways and alleyways

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Another place we really like is Kho Kret, a small island not far from our house.  It is, once again, like being transported to another time and place.  A path runs around the whole island and it is a great walk which goes through a local market, past various temples and pottery making places.  We always try something new to eat when we go there and mostly it is suspect (such as barbecued frogs!) or other stuff that we do not know and tend to throw away as it does not agree with our taste buds!  It is a wonderful place to while away a few hours, have a look:

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One of many kilns around the island

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Cafe where your feet dangle over the water

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Mon cuisine consists of a lot of fried vegetables and flowers

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Fried orchids

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Sacred tree

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Sticky rice cooked in bamboo

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Sweet things

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More sweets

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Tree!

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More catfish madness!

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No idea…

There are numerous vendors cooking up a number of local treats mainly Thai and Mon snacks and desserts.  Favourites that the island is known for include “Khao Cher.”  This dish is a Mon specialty of rice served with chilled fragrant water and a number of little side dishes. It was a royal favourite for hot summer days, but now is hard to find most anywhere besides here. “Tod mun pla nor gala” is another treat.  This is spiced fish cake with the shoots of local ginger variety.  Gives you an idea of the variety.  I just love wandering about the paths and through the market trying out stuff and soaking up the atmosphere.  At the weekends the place is full of Thais visiting the temples and the markets so pretty busy!

On another note, today is 37 degrees and it feels rather balmy.  We have returned from a few days in Kanchanaburi where the famous bridge over the river Kwai is.  The temperatures there reached 46 degrees, I never through Bangkok could feel cooler than it does right now.  Kanchanburi is not far, about 2/3 hour drive, it gets more and more jungly as you drive into the countryside.  The river is beautiful and we stayed on a floating cabin which was peaceful and beautiful.  Erawan falls were one of our destinations, a series of 7 falls which you have to walk up to, higher and higher.  The great thing is that the higher you go the cooler it gets and the less people there are.  The first 3 falls are packed with Thais with their huge lunch boxes and ice drinks.  At the top were the tourists who have little to carry such as us!  Highly recommend it.

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Very rickety bridge

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Oooops

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Marianne was not too sure about this….

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Maybe that says do not walk on the bridge!

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Random shrines….

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Flowers everywhere

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New found poser

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One of the 7 Erawan Falls

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Here come the monkeys!

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One of many swimming spots

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Shall we swim in this one too?

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Or this one?

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Lurking in the bushes….

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Geoff’s jungle look with photobomb

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Offerings….

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Our cabin

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Bamboo rafting going past

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Another fall…

As we had visited the war museum and learned more about how the railway was build and its awful history, we decided to take a trip on the Death Railway as it is known.  The initial part of the trip was beautiful although old train and heat does not bode well.  Still, I thought about the poor men who were transported in closed metal carriages for up to 3 days without much breeze, food or water…  No wonder so many died building the railway, around 100,000!

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The faceless monk

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Train views marred by thoughts of the men who carved through this jungle…

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And so we arrive!

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The bridge!

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It was quite moving to see the bridge and to travel part of the way (a lot of the railway is no longer in use) on such a well known part of our history.  It is hard to imagine the suffering of those who toiled and the cruelty of those who enslaved so many.  After a thoughtful and roasting day, we returned to our river cabin and proceeded to float down the river which has a pretty strong current, as we found out!  Great fun and wonderfully cooling.

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First challenge, get on a bamboo raft

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Then jump in!

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And float…

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Floating…..

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Sun is going down

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So Thailand is full of surprises.  The old and the new co-exist side by side in the most unexpected ways.  It is such an alien culture and language that I feel it will take me years to even feel I know what is going on around me!

Bangkok chronicles and everyday life

It has been a while….  This studying to be a teacher business has been rather time consuming!  First placement is done so now I can focus on blog writing before the second placement beast is unleashed.  I think I like teaching, I’ll let you know more once I am over the shock of teaching and being scrutinized on a daily basis.

In October, we went to see some whales, as you do.  Not just any whales but Bryde’s whales, I never knew they had whales in Thailand but there you go.  We went on an organised trip with other teachers, it was a great day and ABC news station from Australia was on-board.  See their short film: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-11/thailands-whales-at-risk-after-mystery-deaths/7923696.

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Leaving the harbour

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It’s a feeding frenzy!

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We had a few days off and went exploring despite heavy protesting from the kids.  First to Krabi and Railay beach with its beautiful limestone crags.  It is a stunning location on a peninsula only accessible by long tail boat due to the high limestone crags.  Sadly, it has been overbuilt on and lost some of its magic but it is worth a visit.  It also poured with rain during our stay.  Still, it was warm…

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Arrival

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Not sure the rope’s going to do it…

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Sound advice!

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British resilience in awful weather!

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Grey skies

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These rocks are rather impressive.  The cave on the bottom left was full of penises!  Shrine apparently…

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These boats are amazing

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After a couple of very wet days in Railay, we continued to Kho Lanta in the hope of finding fairer weather.  It is a long journey with the kids asking why we are here and not at home. It is hard work at times!  We want to show them the world and its beauty but all they want is to be home and do nothing.  Still, we persevere and I wonder if they will grow up to hate travelling, especially budget travelling.  Kho Lanta is dead and wet but we enjoy it.  It is like having an island to yourself, there is hardly anybody anywhere which is kind of spooky, like an apocalypse kind of thing but peaceful.

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Sunset swimming

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Father and daughter pondering life…

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Kho Lanta National Park

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Hey, the sun is out and so are we!

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Beautiful beach!  We later saw the signs warning against swimming due to abundant and dangerous jellyfish.  Oh, well….

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Geoff is impressed by the giant leaves!

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Lunch with a view

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Marianne western style riding with a dreadlocked, Thai cowboy!  

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It was great to get out of Bangkok and the huge building and crazy traffic.  It is peaceful out there and very pleasant indeed.  Life in Bangkok is missing a connection to nature and is horribly commercialized.  I have never seen anything like it before, the excess, the amount of stuff you can buy, everywhere, all the time!  It is frightening and feels so shallow and pointless – we don’t need it!!!!  I think Tanzania made me see beauty as well as horrendous deprivation.  It was life at its rawest, at its simplest and it was hard but it felt true (yes, corny, I know).  It is hard to explain, I feel I am in the Truman Show, I am being brainwashed with commerce, adverts and the masking of nature.  Onwards though!  Life is also good here and it is an amazing experience.  Some snapshots of life around us.

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Rather large…

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Outside local temple

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I am starting to realise that temples can be rather unusual…

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Statues in the peaceful temple’s garden!  What does it mean?!

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Not so weird after the other stuff…

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My quest to find bugs continues

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Cows wallowing in the mud by the road, as they do…

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On the boat into Bangkok, best way to get into town!

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Signs for birds nests and shark fin soup!  It’s everywhere.

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Surely there is some good fortune in one of those cookies…

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Walkabout in Chinatown

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Thai sweets in the classroom

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Yum

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Our local

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Bangkok vistas

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Nuan and Ed Sheeran enjoying a snuggle

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We are sat in a restaurant and what comes by…  People selling food and people actually buy it too as they are eating their orders.  

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My new friend

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Remember not to ride elephants too!!