Friday, 27 May 2011

Ko Samui, Thailand

Ko Samui is an island of southern Thailand and our first port where we had to use a tender to go ashore. A tender is when the ship anchors off shore and a smaller boat comes out to the ship to bring the passengers ashore. We gathered as usual in one of the lounges at the front of the ship and waited for our group number to be called so we could make our way down to the tender. We boarded the tender for about a 30 minute ride ashore. The weather was amazing with beautiful blue skies.

A view from our tender boat back to the ship. You can see the next tender boat beside the ship taking on passengers.

Once ashore, we were quickly directed to our 4WD as we had chosen the 4WD and Elephant Safari Tour. We didn't really do any 4 wheel driving, we just drove around the island on the normal roads so it really was more of a gimmick than anything else. They weren't the most comfortable vehicles with minimal suspension and the sickly smoky petrol smell that engulfed us in the back. We were up for a bit of an adventure but the novelty of it wore off as the day progressed and the combination of heat and petrol fumes became a bit too much to enjoy. We had three stops - the first to a waterfall with a few local market stalls, the second to rubber plantation where we had a demonstration and the third to the elephant safari park where we watched a monkey show and elephant show, rode an elephant, rode on an oxen cart (wooden wheels - so, so bumpy!) and had a thai cooking demonstration of spicy papaya salad which was delicious.

Our 4WD for the day. One consolation was that it didn't date back to the 2nd world war like some of the others did.

The tour guide gave Lisa a mask to help with the fumes but it just made her hot a feel worse so it didn't stay on for long.

Our tour guide at the first stop which was at a waterfall which wasn't very exciting and doesn't warrant a photo. The map behind is a map of the island of Ko Samui. Our ship was tendered off the north western coast, the waterfall and rubber plantation to the south and the elephant safari park to the north east, so we pretty much travelled around the entire island. You can't see it clearly on the map but there were about 5 or 6 areas marked as water buffalo fighting stadiums which we thought was intriguing but we didn't get to see any fighting.

These are flower soap carvings which were quite amazing. Lisa bought some so we'll show you when we get back if thy haven't melted and survive the journey.

At our second stop was the rubber (latex) plantation. We had a demonstration of collecting the rubber and how they make it into sheets which are exported for further processing.

Our first show at the Elephant Safari Park was the monkeys. Moankeys are used by the Thai people to harvest the coconuts. They go to monkey school when they are young to learn the coconut harvesting school. On the way to the park we passed a ute with a cage back full of coconuts and 3 monkeys sitting on the corners of the cage in the breeze. These monkeys also learnt other important skills, like the slam dunk :)

Although Lisa had all of her 'monkey hair' removed in Vietnam she still got to be part of the show. Lisa was tied up and a monkey is undoing the rope around her wrists. She said the monkey's hands were really soft!

This young elephant could do all kinds of tricks including hula hoop on her trunk, playing the harmonica and standing on her head. She was gorgeous and we felt somewhat guilty that she is spending her life doing these trite tricks for tourists like us who pay to come and see her.

Kieran and Anisa having our elephant ride. The elephants respond to the riders voice.

Lisa rode on the elephant with Jim whose wife couldn't make the tour because she was suffering from gastro. Jim is from Utah and when Lisa learned that she said "oh we want to go to Utah because our church has a temple there in Salt Lake City". Jim replied "oh, our church has a temple there as well" - it didn't click with him that we belonged to the same church.

While we were riding on the elephant the trainers used banana leaves to weave this jewellery for Anisa and Lisa.

Bangkok, Thailand - Tuesday April 26th

Our ship docked at Laem Chabang which is the port for Bangkok. We booked a tour of the Grand Palace and River Cruise and our Canadian tablemates (Robert, Pam and Griffin) were on the same tour so we disembarked the ship and boarded the busses for what was to be an enjoyable day together.

Our bus ride took around 2 hours to get in to the city, during which our tour guide (Chana aka 'Happy Jack') introduced us to Thailand and it's customs. We became part of 'Jack's Family' for the day. We learnt a few amusing thai terms on the way. The first was 'The Happy House' which is the toilet. We had a stop on the way so we could use the 'Happy House', after we all got back on the bus Jack asked "so how are you all feeling now, Happy? - that's the Happy House".

As our journey continued Jack explained the dress regulations for when we went to the Grand Palace. All clothing needed to be modest. Women were not to wear any sexy 'Bow Wow' dresses or skirts. What was a 'Bow Wow' dress or skirt we asked. Jack explained with actions. It is any skirt or dress that when the wearer bows, the person behind them goes 'Wow'. The whole bus was in fits of laughter.

We arrived at the Grand Palace and were immediately set upon by hawkers selling post cards, bags, fans and other cheap souvenirs. Jack inspected the women's clothing and some had to wear a sarong to cover their knees because their shorts were not covering their knees. There was a bit of unhappiness from a couple of American women who couldn't understand why they had to wear a sarong when others didn't. One lady tried to take it off a couple of times but Jack caught her and was persistent. I know I'm generalising, but so many of the older generation of Americans that we are traveling with are so entitled, rude and ignorant of every other person on the planet besides themselves it is amazing. (I might write a post on it with some examples - Anisa calls them 'the angry old people!') Anyway, I don't think there were any 'bow wow' skirts that needed covering just some that didn't cover the knees. Jack taught us his call which was like a bird 'hoo hoo' and signalled us to gather and we headed in to visit the temple and palace.

The Grand Palace is a complex that consists of the royal residence, throne halls, government offices and temples (including the most famous temple of the emerald buddah. The architecture is really amazing with gold everywhere and intricate tiling. We had free time to wander around and explore. The photos speak for themselves.

Lisa and the Landry's on arrival.

The Upper Terrace Group of Grand Palace on arrival. The lawn was immaculate.

The amazing Phra Siratana Chedi.

Kieran, Lisa and Anisa on the upper terrace - just to prove we were there.

Thai warrior statue.

Another Golden Temple (Phra Mondop).

Lisa and Anisa in front of Phra Mondop.

Lisa doing her 'asian pose' - she was imitating some of the girls who were doing the same thing just before us.

And again - I tell you she has no shame, the girls she were mocking were only meters from us!

A miniature stone sculpture of Angor Wat.

Lisa in a 'less asian pose'.

A typical Thai golden statue.

Lisa and Anisa doing the 'tourist pose'.

The Temple of the Emerald Buddah.

Visitors using flowers to bless themselves by dunking it in holy water then hitting their heads (yeah yeah, you know what I mean).

The front entrance of the Temple of the Emerald Buddah - no cameras allowed inside!

I still managed to get a photo! The emerald buddah (carved from a single piece of jade) taken through the front entrance (thank you zoom lens). Very difficult to capture due to the distance and such poor lighting.

Happy Jack explaining how the Jade buddah's costume is changed depending on the season (Summer, Rainy Season and Winter) in a ceremony presided over by the king.

The intricate mosaic tile patterns on the temples.

Beautiful bonsai trees.

Chakri Maha Prasat Hall. Each level was built in a different style -I think English, French, Belgian and a Thai roof (can't remember exactly).

Lisa found a broom and started cleaning up. These are used everywhere in asia and they are more effective than one would think.

Lisa and Anisa with two guards.

We then walked through a market to the river bank and caught a boat which took us for a ride on the river. We went up a side canal and stopped in front of a temple where it is illegal to fish and were each given a loaf of bread to feed the fishes. Within minutes there were massive fish devouring the bread but unfortunately they were too quick to get a decent photo of. We continued our journey up the river and it was amazing to see the houses built on stilts which look like they will fall in at any moment.

Kieran and Lisa on the boat.

This is where we got on the boat and the type of boat we were on.

A typical waterside villa ;)

We got off the boat and met our bus which took us to a restaurant and show for lunch. It was one of those places that seem to be just for tourists but having said that it was quite a nice experience. The food was very nice and the show was interesting but there is only so much Thai dancing and drum beating one can take. The female dancers were beautiful and the moves they make with their hands is quite amazing.

Lisa at Lunch…Yum.

Beautiful Thai dancing girl.

The ugly boys covered their faces with masks!

Some group dancing.

From there is was a drive to a tourist shopping centre which consisted predominantly of jewellery (silver and gold) and souvenirs. Lisa bought some very expensive cubic diamond jewellery ;)

We were exhausted and tired from the heat and humidity and happy to get on the bus for our journey home. Having re-read my post it doesn't really do the experience justice, it was a really nice tour that we enjoyed thoroughly. I hope the pictures speak better than my writing.

Kieran and Anisa asleep on the bus.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Sunday 22nd May - Suez Canal

Just a quick post to let you all know we are well and have been having a fantastic time. We have loved visiting all the recent ports and have wonderful experiences to share with you. Petra, Jordan and Luxor, Egypt were absolutely amazing. Internet access has been troublesome, particularly with our larger posts with lots of pictures. It is very, very slooooooooow and expensive (pay by the minute) so has been a bit frustrating. There might be a flurry of posts when we hit dry land in Italy.
About 4 hours ago we commenced our journey through the Suez Canal. I'm (Kieran) going to be in big trouble from Anisa for posting something out of order but here's a sneek peek.

This is a photograph of our television screen where one of the chanels always displays our current location. We are the little boat icon just above Suez.

These are the ships getting ready to convoy through the canal just before dawn.

This is the entrance to the canal. We are the first ship in the convoy which is why you can't see anyone in front of us.

Looking back just after we enter the canal.

The convoy behind us.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

April 24th ~ Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

We weren't overly excited about any of the tours as they mostly involved going to temples and museums and we were booked to see those in Thailand. Again, we set out on our own…this time taking an organised bus trip into Ho Chi Minh but then exploring on our own. Vietnam is an interesting place. We noticed in both cities that there is a lot of building going on…especially high end resorts and gated communities, obviously to capture the tourist trade and overseas investors. We had seen a Greg Norman golf resort being built in our way to Hoi An. The buildings that some of the locals live in range from run down shacks to very narrow long units. There is building and demolishing rubble everywhere and towns look a bit scrappy because of it. There are also rice fields everywhere and many lean-to food shops by the side of the road where food is served and there are hammocks hanging where workers can rest in their lunch breaks.

Another interesting thing is the electricity/power lines. It is a miracle that anyone has power when you see the state of the lines! It is a wonder in itself!! Of course there are motorbikes everywhere and the usual stack of passengers on each (usually 3-4), along with some amazing amounts of produce or supplies. It is every one for themselves on the road and makes for entertaining bus rides.

What the??

Traffic going anywhere they want!

Dad, Mum and daughter on the family bike.

We were happy to just walk the streets and see what we could find in Ho Chi Minh. We have loved the tours we have been on but we have loved being able to see how the locals really live and to experience 'a day in the life' of wherever we are. There are always people on the streets-homeless, street vendors selling food or goods, locals congregated to eat and talk, and always good and bad smells and interesting sights.

You want to buy sunglasses??

Street food stalls

Man making satay sticks on the footpath…they smelt very good.

Kids playing in styrofoam box.

It was a very hot and humid day and pretty much the moment you step out of the bus you are hit with the thickness of hot and wet air and you start to sweat. We managed to walk to the main markets and went inside. It was crammed with stalls and people and it was just as hot inside the massive shed like area. We had planned to explore the markets for a couple of hours but only lasted about 25 minutes. These markets were not only hot and crowded but the shopkeepers were very 'hands on'. If you looked at anything longer than 3-5 seconds they would rush over to you and literally pull you into their shop. The coaxing and encouraging to buy would begin and we were inundated with pleas of 'what do you want?', 'just look', and 'I give you good price'. It was very overwhelming and in the end we couldn't take being manhandled the whole time. We were being grabbed and touched down every alley and had to pull ourselves away from their grasp.
The crush of the markets.

We escaped back out to the streets and walked until we saw an ice-cream store. A respite from the heat was just what we needed so we sat down under the fans and ordered some cool treats. There were only 5 flavours and as tempting as taro, green tea, or durian flavoured ice-cream was, we went with strawberry and a scoop of coconut for Kieran. It wasn't bad and it refreshed us somewhat so we could head back out to the heat.

Banana split, smoothie and triple scoops

We enjoyed some more of the local sights and looked in a few shops and a pretty park with manicured lawns and trees.

Lady selling coconut drinks.

Pretty park

Soon it was lunchtime so we scoped out the restaurants and decided on one named Vietnam House…well we were in Vietnam! It was highly air-conditioned…tick! It looked clean…tick! It smelt good…tick! We enjoyed some yummy dishes and drinks and it was very reasonable.

Vietnam House
What will we have?

My coconut drink
Pho, fried rice, chilli beef.
After walking to some more shops we decided to head back to our bus meeting point and kill some time at the department store. Kieran found the electronics department and bought a dvd player and some dvds so we could have some more entertainment on the ship.

Walking the streets.

So that was Vietnam…next stop Thailand!