Day 15: Vientiane to Luang Prabang

Day 15 was pretty much what we call a transport day, that is, spending the day driving from one place to another.

We drove over some interesting roads and in high 30s temperatures drove over a pass where we ascended very quickly to over 1600 metres. Yes, this does mean that it was a very quick and steep climb which put some considerable strain on engines and resulted in a few cars getting pretty close to boiling. It was a tricky drive as, typical of most mountain roads, the steep and winding road was also quite narrow with very few spots where you could safely pull over, and even fewer places where eight cars could all pull over safely.

At one stage we did have most of the cars up close to the top of the pass in a layby area and a couple further down, cooling down a little before the final ascent. The only major issue was a leak in a join between Shamrock’s hose and radiator, which Mike (Shiraz) quickly fixed with some fast drying sealant.


16_bonnetsThis was really the first time we had been in mountainous territory and the scenery was certainly beautiful as well as being totally different to everything we had driven through before.

The other notable event on the drive occurred at lunch. Mike was in the lead and it is the leader’s job to find a suitable location for a lunch break. These breaks are generally a picnic as to try to get 16 people fed in a restaurant always means at least an hour plus in time, and we simply do not have this time when travelling. However, trying to find a lunch stop with the following requirements is not always easy: a safe and easy exit from and entrance to the chosen spot; sufficient room to park 8 MGs, shade, preferably for both the people and the cars; a view; and some suitable trees, river banks, abandoned buildings to provide privacy for a ‘pit stop’, or as the Cambodians and Laotians call it, a stop at the ‘happy house’. This is probably the most challenging of the requirements of the leader and, of course, the whole team tends to ‘rate’ the chosen spot.

16_icecreamThis day, Mike called an early lunch stop as he had found quite an attractive stopping place beside a river. We had all enjoyed a picnic when a local turned up on a bicycle with ice cream cooler attached. A real entrepreneur, talk about seize an opportunity! I think everyone in the group bought an ice cream! And, we did all enjoy them.

Then it was on to Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of Laos.

 

 

Day 14 – Vientiane

We spent the morning in tuk-tuks with guide Johnnie, looking at the major sights of Vientiane, the capital of Laos.

By comparison to the tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok this was a relatively sedate drive, but, given the heat, it was good not to have to spend a lot of time walking between the various sights.

Vientiane exhibits, in its architecture, remnants of the colonial period, Chinese shophouses and most importantly the unique and elaborate architecture of the religious buildings, temples and Buddhist monasteries. The latter buildings stand out wherever you go because of their steeply pitched red tiled rooves, the elaborate, gold bargeboards and colourful external colours. Yellow, green, gold and red dominate the skyline.

First stop was the presidential palace. This is an imposing building but it is only used on ceremonial occasions, it is not the residence of the president.

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Presidential Palace

Probably the most interesting of the wats we visited was Wat Sisaket. The outside of this temple is fairly similar to all the wats, a colonnaded outer wall, often with statues of Buddha lining the walls then a series of outer shrines with the main temple in the middle of the complex. Inside, however, this wat is very unique in that the lower half of the wall is covered in paintings of intricate detail while above, the entire wall is covered in small niches, flat at the bottom and then curving up into a lotus bud shape. In each niche sat a tiny figure of Buddha. There were thousands of these niches around the walls. This was the only temple spared from destruction during the Siamese invasion. However, no photographs were allowed inside the temple.

There is, of course, a similarity to the temples, though each one differs slightly and in particular in relation to the pose of the Buddha as well as the placement of his hands.

We also visited Haw Pha Kaew, once a temple but now a museum. Ironically it is named for the Emerald Buddha which used to be the central figure in the temple. This is the same Emerald Buddha which you will see in Bangkok. It was stolen by the Siamese during the invasion, installed in Bangkok and there it remains. All that is left is the plinth on which it stood, now adorned by a wooden replica to remind people of what should be there. Outside is one of the jars from the Plain of Jars. These are thought to be used for burials.

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Jar from the Plain of Jars

It is Pii Mai, Laotian New year, and so the temples are thronging with people, flowers, wreaths and other offerings to the Buddha as well as water. It is customary to sprinkle water on every holy image in the temple during this festival. People are selling buckets of water and small branches from shrubs to dip into the water to use to sprinkle the water with. Everywhere is wet.

As well, you could buy a cage of tiny finches and, after concentrating on what you wanted to cleanse yourself of and your wish for the future you released the birds to ensure good karma. Lindy did just that. John disappeared with all the money. I am sure he thought I would buy the whole lot and release every bird in captivity!

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Caged finches

Wat Ong Teu, the temple of the Heavy Buddha, was 4-5 centremetres deep in water so you were shallow wading to approach the Buddha itself. This was probably the most beautiful of the Buddha statues we saw.

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The Heavy Buddha being doused in water

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We also visited Pha That Luang a huge stupa said to house the hip bone of Buddha plus other relics.

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The golden Stupa

And finally, Vientiane’s own Arc de Triomphe, or the Patuxai Monument, which celebrated Laotian independence. This monument was a gift from the French, however it was never fully completed by them. The US gave the Laotians money to build an airstrip so they used some of this to finish the Putuaxi. It has a beautiful ceiling inside the dome.

The other sight we visited, the previous day as we drove into Vientiane, was the Buddha Garden, a collection of ferro-concrete Buddhas and Hindu figures. This collection is notable for some of the fantastic figures, most, except the Buddhas, figments of the artist’s imagination. Good fun, but we were all glad we had stopped on the way into the city to look at this rather than drive back 20 odd kilometres today.

Day 13 Driving into Vientiane on New Year’s Eve

Another full days driving, however we are now working a lot better as a team and have a good routine. Peter and Pat lead today and Goldie was tail end Charlie with no mechanical mishaps for us to fix!

A short set of words with 2 themes: the New Year and beside the road.

The New Year is really a water festival: the opportunity for everyone to splash, hose, dunk anyone and everyone with water to welcome in the new year.

Buy your New Year pool and balloons

Along the road kids gather with hoses and blow up swimming pool to water cars and bikes as they go by.

Teens turn the music up load (the base can be felt as the car vibrates) and get fully wet and, again, spray every car that passes by.

We copped a few buckets ourselves

This continued not only as we drove in, but continued into the night as we went out to eat.

Tashi joining in with a beer and a drenching

Boys will be boys even when they are monks.  Do you really think that umbrella will help?

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John copped it during the day: wrong side of the road!

Along the way, well a lot of pictures follow that highlight what the street scene is in Laos.

Houses and shops along the road

Police check point: wave and pass through.  Plenty of statues

 

Roadside bin made from truck tyre.  Teaching them young to clean the tables

Day 10, 11 and 12 Three days driving

And so today we leave Siem Reap and drive to Kratie, basically a transport day of around 350km. However when we started the GPS was lost and it looked like it might be twice that far. And it turned out so.

We have had guides leading us through Thailand (apparently compulsory) and now Cambodia, however this guide has taken us for a ride! We had morning tea at a bus stop (not so bad, but not really our cup of tea) and then to add to our displeasure he took us, on the pretext of seeing a lotus pond, out of our way to, we discovered, so he could visit his family on the way through. We might have been happy if we could have had our picnic lunch under the trees, but he then, despite explicit instructions not to, he took us to a restaurant for lunch.

As a consequence we arrived late into Rajabori Villas, tired, hot and irritable. However, the blessing was that we could relax as the villas are on Koh Trong Island in the middle of the Mekong. Hence a tuk tuk ride from the secure parking to the river edge, walk down 120 steps, onto a boat, ride on the back of motor cycles across the sand, into more tuk tuks to the villas. Welcome drink and 5 beers later we were starting to feel refreshed.

A large pool, wooden accommodation with classic furniture and bath, mossie net and fan completed the relaxed Cambodian / European ambiance. We held our evening meeting in the open veranda overlooking the pool and order dinner at the same time. Smart restaurant, they put the meals on the table and hence you got to sit where your food was, rather than having staff walk around with meals shouting who order the…..

John was up early in the morning to have a walk around the island: agriculture, grazing and fishing with about 300 families living on the island. Now in passing, the Mekong is very low at the moment, the wet season is about to start. Judging by how high the banks are on either side of the river, we must assume it rises over 20 metres in the wet.

Next day was a drive to the Cambodian / Laos border and then onto Paske for the night.

We picked a doozie of a day to travel: 40+ degrees in our car. Ros pointed out that the thermomotor is just under the black roof, but then so are we!

First a stop for a boat ride on the river to see the Mekong dolphins: anyone who has gone dolphin spotting will know that by the time you respond to the yell of ‘look there’s one’ it will have submerged. We did see some fins and tails, but no photos to share here!

A long drive to the Cambodian Laos border in sweltering temperature. I would saw Ros and I drank 7 bottles of water and didn’t need many ‘comfort stops’ along the way.

At the border we farewelled our guide (gladly) and were escorted through departing Cambodia by Henk, the same guy who helped us in 4 days before!

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Then drive across to Laos to fill in paper work, pay the USD30 fee and then pay a further USD2 to get our passports back. What was the extra USD2 for? We don’t know, but of we wanted our passports, we needed to pay the br!3e.

Our new guide, Johnny, then said the 150 kms to Pakse would take us 4 hours – groan. But I guess he took the approach of under promise and over deliver: 2.5 hours only.

Pakse is on the Mekong, which is still inland of Laos; further north it becomes the border between Laos and Thailand, goes in land again and then becomes the border with Myanmar. A late and very weary arrival after the heat, in the pool, drinks and meeting, dinner and bed!

Day 12 and a new regime: we put the guide at the back! Peter and Paula in Shamrock lead us today and what a great job. A morning tea stop with ‘happy’ rooms and a cabana to sit in, good instructions and, better still, a fast speed. And with the advantage of temperatures staying in the low 30s – almost jumper weather.

Lunch was determined by our first puncture of the trip, Mike and Kay in Shiraz found a nail, fortunately near and open area with shade, so an early lunch was called.

We arrived at Thakhek round 2 which allowed us time to walk around town (the guide advises: ‘there are no tourist attractions here’ which in a way makes it a very pleasant town to wander without touts or loud tourists spoiling the local ambiance.

Along the road were many sights of people, machinery and vistas: here are a few.

with many large and empty gas stations or petrol by the bottle

And unusual trucks and loads

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and finally a couple of Cambodian safety photos

Day 9 – Angkor Wat

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Today we visited Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. The site measures 162.6 hectares or 402 acres. It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple of the god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire and then was gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.

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Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple-mountain and the later galleried temple. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology. The temple complex lies within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 kilometres long consisting of three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west. The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs, and for the numerous devatas adorning its walls. The complex is also famous for the number of carvings of Apsaras, female figures, in seductive poses.

Today was a very early one as we had a 5.30 am pick up so we could see the sun rise over the temple complex. This was certainly a beautiful time of the morning to be there, especially to see the sun rise over the moat and behind the main building complex and see it light up some of the smaller buildings just outside the temple. The hotel had packed us a beautiful breakfast; yogurt, bananas, hard boiled eggs, meats, and pastries galore, so when the sun was up we adjourned to tables under beautiful leafy trees and indulged.

The temple proper is approached across a huge causeway, easily wide enough to hold tree lanes of traffic by today’s standards. The causeway was originally lined by balustrades in the form of giant serpents. Most of the balustrading remains today, though some of the serpent heads have been damaged.

It is important to realize that the whole Angkor complex was covered in jungle when it was rediscovered. It took 50 years for the Angkor Wat temple complex to be ‘unearthed’ and stripped of its encroaching jungle and presented as we see it today.

It was then into the temple with Sam, our guide, to view the interior of the temple buildings.

One of the striking features of the complex is the huge galleries of bas-relief lining the walls of the colonnades. The southern section of the western gallery depicts several scenes from the Hindu epic Mahabharata with the bas-relief showing hundreds or weapon-bearing warriors engages in murderous combat.

We spent some hours with Sam exploring the temple, examining sections of the bas-relief in detail and generally learning about the history of the temple as well as a little about both the Hindu and Buddhist religions.

In the centre of the complex are five towers in the shape of a lotus bud. These temples are stories high and you can climb up to the central level of the four outer towers. This gives you a good view out over the complex itself, It also allows you a very good look at the beautiful designs of the towers and roof tops.

Ironically, it also allows you a very good view of Cambodian workers removing plant growth from the roof tops! This included carrying ladders us the galleries by hand and then balancing them on the roof ridge while climbing higher. Every worker had a hard hat on. Nowhere in sight was there any safety harness and every worker had bare feet. We all stared in fascinated disbelief as two ladders, seemingly roped together, were hoisted up against a tower and up went one worker to hold it half way and another to climb to the top!

Some of the group went back to the hotel on schedule, it was incredibly hot, however, we went back to the Bayon for another look.

Back at the hotel, after a swim and shower we walked into town for a look around and to buy me a hat. The one I have with me does not breath and was like a sauna so I bought an open weave one – much cooler.

That night we went to a cultural diner with traditional Cambodian dancing. The dancing was very stylized and intensely poetic in terms of the movements. The use of their hands by the women dancers was extraordinarily beautiful and expressive. Very reminiscent of dancing I have seen in Thailand. A good night, and thoroughly enjoyed by all who took the opportunity to attend.

Day 8 – The Angkor Complex

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Goldie in front of The Bayon

There are in the world those places you dream of seeing sometime in your life time. Ever since living in Singapore, when Asia became so completely accessible and I became aware of the existence of Angkor Wat, the hope that one day I could visit this amazing place was born.

When we decided to ship the cars to Bangkok as a starting point for the Silk Road trip, the possibility of visiting the Angkor complex, just out of Siem Reap in Cambodia, all of a sudden became a reality.

So, today was the first day at the Angkor Complex and we visited The Bayon, located in the heart of Angkor Thom and Ta Phrom, made famous through the film Tomb Raider.

The Angkor complex is huge, covering many 400 square km. The French when they discovered it in the late 1800s designed 2 routes: the small circuit of 18 km and the long of 27km. Easily one could spend many days exploring all the sites.

Vehicles are allowed within the compound, ranging from big busses to tuk tuks and even to bicycles. Its all very dusty and hot (we are here in the ‘hot’ season) although one advantage of the heat is that it reduces the number of tourists and we can easily walk through the temples without following the one way signs. Even so, it was busy and we really did wonder what it would be like in the ‘cool’ season.

Ta Phrom on its own has 12 kms of walls, surrounded by a 45 mt wide moat (in times gone by filled with crocodiles) and built in the 12th century. The Bayon is shaped like a pyramid, rising through three levels. It features 54 towers bearing more than 200 huge stone faces.

One of the most striking features of the Bayon are the bas-reliefs found adorning the galleries which run around each side of the temple. These bas-reliefs portray scenes of everyday life as well as images of battles, especially those against the Cham. In one battle Chinese soldiers are clearly evident; these soldiers were brought in to the country to help fight the Cham.

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The size and intricacy of the structure of the temple, plus the sheer dominance of the huge stone faces make this an extraordinary place to visit. Also of note is the large number of beautifully carved figures adorning the walls.

Next we went to Ta Phrom, which was once a wealthy Buddhist monastery. The restoration has deliberately retained the trees which smother the remains of the building. Many of these trees are hundreds of years old. The result of retaining these trees is that visitors today experience the same awesome sight as did the original 19th century explorers of the site.

Everyone who has seen Tomb Raider will instantly recognise this as the extraordinary setting for that movie.

We returned to the hotel for a brief respite. However, John had realised that private motor vehicles were allowed into the Angkor Complex and so he quickly jumped into Goldie and headed back out to the complex to capture pictures of the car in front of these iconic buildings.

In the afternoon we went to the floating village on the Tonle Sap Lake, the lake associated with the Mekong River. The lake acts as a reservoir for the river: filling up in the wet season and then gradually draining as the water drops. The houses were originally on bamboo, but the fuel can has replaced tradition. Houses are moved in and out as the lake level changes, into the middle when low and then back towards the shore as it rises. The families are fishermen who go out at night and return with the catch in the morning for sale fresh across the country and into Laos and Vietnam. Fish is very important in the Cambodian diet.

The village is really totally self-sufficient with a petrol station (main pic above) a school, church, shops, restaurant etc. We visited the school. Lindy had the good idea of buying a bag of rice from the ‘shop’ and donating it to the school. hence we visited the school! Classrooms are recognisable the world over!

Clockwise from left: school canteen, classroom, church, restaurant and crocodile farm

The floating buildings are anchored in place by a huge collection of branches stuck into the muddy floor. The lake is very shallow. Obviously boats are the only form of transport, including being used to beg for money from passing tourists. Babies are always present when women are begging.

A sunset over the lake and a return to the hotel.

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Day 7: Welcome to Cambodia, the land of the Camry!

Mike and Kay were leaders yesterday with Ros and I being tail end charlie, so today we swapped. Not really too hard being leader when we have a guide in a vehicle leading us (plus a further vehicle bringing up the rear)!  saw some young monks along the way.

In passing, here are a few pictures of the very pretty hotel we staying, spread over acres with lots of water features including a swimming pool large enough as it winds around the resort that you can get lost.

Out of the car park at 1 minute to 8: a great team all ready on time! A 3 hour drive to the border with a quick stop on the way and then a slow drive the last 3 miles as we wended our way around the truck queue to the border. Into a car park to await for the customs agent to arrive with our papers and then into the border proper.

Remember that late last year the king died and Thailand is now in a year of mourning with banners along the roadside.

Departing Thailand, a piece of cake: sign here and then hand a form in, have photo taken and passport stamped. I was the first processed and then they asked me to drive on, until they asked ‘lady belong car’ and quickly pushed Ros to the head of the queue.

I did not really understand the hand signals to go this way, however quickly worked out that this was the line when we changed from driving on the left to the right and so I popped out on the right side!

We were meet in Cambodia by our new travel agents who took passports, lead us and cars to the side of the road and had the Cambodian customs officials come out from lunch to ‘check’ the cars: yes that number plate is correct. Right, ready to go, passports will arrive in our hotel tonight: all through in an hour. Amazing.

Follow our new guide, Sam for a 3 hour run into Siem Reap. By this time most of us were melting: the temperature gauge in the car was reading 40 deg C inside the car: thank heavens for the zip out rear window to provide flow through breeze. A drink stop on the way helped.

Gone are the Thai motorways and we are back to 2 lane roads running through the middle of towns and villages. Back to swerving around motorbikes and leaping out to overtake between oncoming traffic. And, of course, moving over when an oncoming car is creating a third lane down the middle of the road. Back to the passenger being critical in overtaking decisions: yes there is room or NO!

And why the title for today: I would guess that 60% of the vehicles on the road are Camrys. And overall 90% Toyotas or Lexus. Where do they all come from? I initially thought second hand from Japan or Singapore, however that can not be as they are all left hand drive. Perhaps they are actually sold new: I wait to find out. [Next day: they are grey imports from the US}.

We worked out where all the goods from the trucks approaching the border went: into the boots of overloaded Camrys – see pictures.

Plus we now have the ubiquitous tractor powered flat top, motorbike trailer and overloaded mini van.

And then to out hotel in Siem Reap: Michael really bungled this one up: about 5 stars, large rooms 2 pools, happy hour by the pool from 4 till 5 (cocktails USD5, but then second free!) followed by happy hour in the bar from 5 to 7.

After our 6pm meeting, out into the warm Asian street market and in particular Pub Street full of restaurants. Such a change from Bangkok where we were staying in a local Thai beach side resort to a very tourist town.

Although Cambodia has its own currency the town is dollarized with everything quoted in USD, how easy is that (1USD = 4,000 Reil no wounder).

 

 

Day 6 – but is it really Day 1 as we start to drive

Finally the day has arrived when we start our mighty MGs and begin driving on our adventure.

Last minute packing, finding hidey holes for those left over items and trying to fit ourselves into our MGs.

An eight thirty start with a picture in front of the hotel and then we all pull out heading towards the north east. At least Thailand drives on the left hand side of the road so we don’t have to be worried about where we should be.

We have 2 escort vehicles. Apparently all foreign vehicles need to be accompanied: there have been accidents due to people driving on the wrong side of the road and then driving off! Our escort vehicles even have their own sticker for our trip!

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Leaving Bangkok was not too bad, not too much traffic. At first we are driving along an eight lane motorway, we then turn off onto a 6 lane highway, then turn onto a 4 lane arterial road and finally a 2 lane country road on our way to Prachin Buri and the Khao Yai National Park.

Mike and Kay lead the way (well, followed the lead escort vehicle) and radioed when the lead vehicle went a different way to the direction the GPS was suggesting.

Although the GPS suggested 2 hours to our accommodation, it took us 4! Not unusual early in the trip with additional stops and wrong turns.

First stop as we neared the National Park, was the resort for coffee and ice cream. Well it was a round 30+ degrees and MGs are not known for their coolness. Not one car overheated but a few people did!

The Khao Yai National Park has walking trails through the rainforest (yes it teamed with rain for half an hour as we had lunch) plus the attraction of elephants. But first we needed to put on putties to keep the leaches out of our boots.

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Our only sighting of elephants was their droppings beside the road! We did however see deer, porcupines and gibbons beside the road.

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Goldie starred in another bridal photo.

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When we entered the Park we were joined by representatives and a photographer from the MG team in Thailand. As we drove up the mountain they interspersed with the cars and videoed the team on the delightful tree canopied winding road. We drove up a classic MG road from sea level to 800 metres and enjoyed the (slightly) cooler weather at the top.

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On the way down I bummed a ride with the MG photographers and tried to get a few photos of the cars for ourselves.

In a car park we had ‘the’ promotional photo take. See photos below:

and Mike and John got to be special!  Plus the setting up process

Day 5 – Markets

Folding Umbrella and Floating markets

Today was a tourist day. We set off very early, 6.00am on the bus with a boxed breakfast. Upon investigation the boxed breakfast consisted of half a ham sandwich (one thin layer of ham between crustless white bread) an apple and a boxed juice. Less than appertising.

The reason for the early start was that we had a three hour bus drive to get to our first destination, the Folding umbrella or Dangerous market and we needed to be there no later than 9.00am.

I am pretty sure most people slept or dozed most of the way to the Folding umbrella market. When we got off the bus at our first destination, Guide Win began to lead us down some railway tracks. He did so with the assurance that it was quite safe as there was o train due until 9.00am, it was now 8.40am.

The further along the tracks we walked, the more densely the market stalls crowded either side of the railway tracks with canvas awnings on poles providing shade over the tracks themselves.

The markets were very local, selling all types of fruit and vegetables, chicken, seafood of all types and of course meat.

Think typical Asian market but strung along a railway line with the tracks providing the access to all the stalls – people simply walked along the tracks and stopped in the middle of them in order to haggle with the stall holders and buy produce. We all thought it was simply impossible for a train to run along these tracks with the market in full swing. The tracks did, however, look shiny and well used.

We reached the end of the markets to find a roadway with a level crossing and beyond that a railway station! You simply stood and looked in awe as the train began to very slowly leave the station and move through the level crossing heading for the tiny, canvas covered corridor of the market. This was not some skinny, tiny train. This was a full size suburban commuter train. As the train inched forward the baskets and stands (now we realised these were on wheels) began to be pulled back away from the tracks. Only the lowest baskets were left in place. And suddenly, as the train reached the first stall, the canvas awnings were retracted and the train progressed slowly but majestically through the markets.

All the customers had squeezed themselves into tiny side corridors and the only things left in place were shallow baskets whose produce was low enough for the train to pass over the top of it! As the train disappeared the canvas awnings and produce rolled back into place. This was worth the three hour bus trip!

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Then it was back to the bus for a short ride to a coconut oil and coconut sugar production site – very rustic with both products still being produced by traditional methods. There was also a beautiful display of orchids.

Top right: the coconut flower from which the sugar is made through a boiling process

The next stop was beside one of the large canals which throng the city to catch a long tail boat to the floating markets. I have been to Bangkok’s famous floating markets twice and both times found them fascinating. The first time was in the 70s to the original markets in virtually the centre of Bangkok. The second visit was in 1998 with Steve and Jo. However this was not to the original markets but to the markets about an hour out of Bangkok which had grown as the old market was squeezed out by a developing city. Both these visits were fabulous, dozens if not more than a hundred floating produce stalls and take-away food boats. We were on another boat which made its way between the stalls along with all the customers. Lining the shores of the canals were other businesses and even houses all who made purchases from the floating stalls.

A spirit house beside the river                              Long tail boats ply the river

Now, you are basically dropped off in a huge tourist souvenir shop at the edge of the canal. The entire canal is lined with more tourist shops selling the predictable Thai souvenirs. The floating stalls would have been numbered less then 30. To even see the floating stalls you had to run the gamut of all the tourist shops. Incredibly disappointing and this visit was really a complete waste of time.

Some of the floating stalls at the Floating Markets

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Stall holders at the Floating Markets

Back to the bus and off to the Rose Gardens for lunch before heading back to the hotel. Was the day wasted? No, because the Folding umbrella market was so electrifying.

Pavilions on the lake at the Rose Gardens

Day 4 – Trying out the new MGs

Mike had originally planned today as a rest/car preparation day, however finally the MG company caught on to what we are doing and invited the team to spend the morning at the ‘MG Experience’. Because that meant driving new MGs around a track at high speed, Mike immediately said yes and so went our rest day (I mean to say, we arrived tired, spent the day collecting the cars, then a day touring Bangkok in the heat – who needs a rest when you are awake at 4am everyday!).

So on to the bus at 7:30. We are getting quite friendly with the bus – it’s a 40 seater for the 16 of us so plenty of room to spread out – however after a 1.5 hour ride from the airport on Sunday, spending most of Monday going around in circles between the port authorities and the bond store (I am convinced we went through one intersection 7 times), 2.5 hours into Bangkok yesterday (and of course, 2.5 hours return) we hopped on for another 2 hours each way ride! Just wait until tomorrow’s post – we have been told it’s 3 hours each way!

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Ros following the map in betsy

Arriving at the MG Experience we were royally welcomed by the team and admired the selections of MGs on display. As well as the 3, there is the 5 and 6, plus the SUV named GS.

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Arriving at MG Experience

The objective of the MG Experience is to allow anyone the opportunity to hop in and drive a MG: what a great idea. Set in a paddock it has 4 sections: the acceleration (up to 100km) and brake test (about 50 mts), the swerve at speed section (drive towards cones at 60 and the instructor tells you when to drive around the obstacle while still accelerating) and the swerve with brake test (drive towards cones at 80km and the instructor tells you when to drive around the obstacle while braking hard) and finally drive through the curves.

 

We were given a history of the centre. It started 2 years ago on a parking lot that was only used on the weekend, hence on Monday the team laid out the 1,200 cones and then collected them in on Friday. Evidence of the way in which cones wander is amazing, all around Bangkok are remnant MG cones!

Track layout and the new site with Spirt House already there

We all were able to drive as many different cars as we wished, including the 2 different spec SUVs (one 1.5 lt turbo charged and the other 2 lt – I thought the tubo went best).

MG 6, MG 5, MG 3 and MG GS

We spent around 2 hours driving faster and faster, until we were informed it was now ‘race’ time: each of us to do a timed lap in the 3.

Racing 

Well, John went first and found the car had great understeer and collected a cone. Bad luck. Ian topped the men and Pat the ladies (indeed faster than most of the men).

Ros and John at the wheel. The pitt crew

The current site was set up a year ago and now runs as a customer experience centre, a driver training centre, plus a training centre for sales and service staff (one training room has a car in it).

A great day – quite tiring – followed by a big lunch. I think the kilos are mounting on already.

John had a few chores to do during the day. When packing the car I removed the face of the radio and both Ros and I have no idea where it went. Both were quite sure it was in the box under the seat, yes the box was there but no face. 25,000km without music was not an option, so in the morning I removed the faceless radio and visited a car radio shop and bought an updated version which meant I could use the same plug at the back and did not need to rewire – thank heavens my stupidity was matched by some intelligence in buying the same brand.

I also achieved another great dumbness: I purchased a hand held 2 way radio so when we have a guide car we can supply them a radio to communicate. As I packed I saw that it comes with a charger plug for in the car and hence did not pack the cradle. BUT guess what – the car charger plugs into the cradle, not the radio. A quick call to Steve in Sydney and I am hoping he can find the cradle and courier it to us in Vientiane.

A night out together at an up market restaurant with band and overlooking the bay bookended with a local pickup truck taxi ride. The price was a shock, after paying 200B each for the previous night’s dinner, this was 800B each. However 200B = AUD 8.00, so the expensive night with wine, beer and too much food was still only $36.00!

Mike is making sure the team is getting into the mindset of daily activities (I actually think he is like one of those instructors on ‘fattest person’ shows and is pushing us all to our limits so when we hit the road we think life is easy). We have our evening meeting at 6pm each night: the Sydney contingent was in trouble on Sunday night – our plane was delayed and so we didn’t get to the hotel until 8pm and were noted as being LATE!

Sunday night’s meeting was a signathon: we needed 9 documents in triplicate with the 2 copies certified as a true copy (lucky we have Peter, a QC along with his signing arm) and then Tuesday night’s meeting was another signathon: Ian (Clare: the Stans manager) and Tony (VISAMAN) were going to the Uzbekistan Embassy on Wednesday to get our visas and we needed to provide passports, money, pictures and signatures.

Well done Ian and Tony for getting our visas – only the Turkmenistan visa to go!

Its now Thursday as I write this – I have dropped out of today’s activities, a trip to the floating markets plus cultural experience – not that I didn’t want to be on the bus at 6am and spend 3 hours each way, but because I was worn out and starting to be anxious about packing the car, getting my new camera to work, making sure the maps were loaded on the GPS, putting the 1,200 pieces of paper in order, working out the dashcam, filling the spare fuel tanks, and getting my head into the right space. I am sure Ros will be able to relay the great day to me!

Tonight is the ‘night before we drive off’. Will we all be ready? Mike will outline the next day’s drive and I will update the team on travelling as a team: we are in this together and we will all get through as a tram (which by the way we are already working as a well oiled machine with everyone more than willing to go the extra mile with no one boiling over or anyone suffering a flat: sorry just had to get a few motoring terms into today’s blog).

Day 3 – Bangkok city

Day 3 – Bangkok city sights

Today we became tourists for the day. With a bus at our disposal it was off to the city to see some of the sights.

In brief, as many of you will have visited Bangkok, we visited Wat Pho and the Grand Palace followed by lunch at the Navy Club and then a canal boat ride through some of the many Bangkok canals and waterways.

We also took a Tuk-tuk ride from Wat Pho to the Grand Palace and talk about hairy! These guys treat the streets of Bangkok as a race track and see themselves as dodgem car drivers. We did all arrive in one piece – pretty exhilarating really!

We have been to Bangkok before and I am always in awe of the extraordinarily decorative and beautiful traditional Thai architecture. Wat Pho and the Grand Palace are probably the best examples of this.

I thought I would let the photographs do the talking. So here are pictures of our day.

Above: John with Guide, Win inside What Pho and one of the many temple bonsai

Above: Reclining Buddha and Standing Buddhas at Wat Pho

Temple flowers

Phra Buddha, and a statue in the temple grounds

Pagodas in the grounds of Wat Pho and the Navy Club

On the canal – left, a shop and right, a restaurant

Long tailed boats ply the canals at speed! Water height is controlled by locks

 

Silk Road – Day 1 and 2: Bangkok

The Sydney contingent arrived in Bangkok late in the evening to join the Melbourne contingent which had arrived early in the morning. So, there was a welcome drink awaiting us and the excitement of finally getting going was affecting all, despite some serious fatigue on all sides.

We have a fabulous guide with us, Win, who, when asked, rustled us a bus a took us off to a local restaurant for dinner. A good, simple Thai meal was enjoyed by all before we all adjourned to bed.

So, Day 2, clear the cars through customs with an 8.30am pick up. Every car needed 2 copies of nine documents and every document had to be certified. Luckily Peter is along for the ride and is a lawyer, he was getting hand cramp towards the end of the signing spree.

The port customs facility was about an hour and a half from the hotel. At customs itself it was more signing of more documents. Then, there was a hiatus while all the documents were processed.

So back onto the bus and then off to Pattaya, an upmarket tourist area south of Bangkok city centre, for lunch and to fill in some time in the various shopping centres there. Pattaya has a reasonable beach on a large open bay. The Thai have borrowed the European custom of renting out deck chairs under umbrellas and these lines the beach. You do know you are back in Asia when you look at the telegraph poles and wiring!

Then it was back on the bus. However, half way back to the customs facility we stopped and we’re off loaded at another shopping centre. Obviously the processing of the documents had not been completed, so another hiatus. Just another aspect of thee long trips where cars x 8 have to be imported or cross borders. By this time it was 4.00pm. The question was, “Will the cars really be available today?”

Then at 4.20the message came through, the cars were cleared for pickup. Back in the bus for the short trip to storage facility and there they all were! Such euphoria was felt by the whole team.

All the cars started pretty much first go and then we were off, following one of the team which had organised the importation, who led us with flashing lights all the way to the hotel after a first fill at the petrol station.

Fantastically, the company helping us with the importation of the cars had made us a welcome banner.

2017 Silk Road Itinerary

2/Apr     Thailand – Bangkok

3/Apr     Thailand – Bangkok

4/Apr     Thailand – Bangkok

5/Apr     Thailand – Bangkok

6/Apr     Thailand – Bangkok

7/Apr     Thailand – Khao Yai

8/Apr     Cambodia – Siam Reap

9/Apr     Cambodia – Siam Reap

10/Apr  Cambodia – Siam Reap

11/Apr  Cambodia – Kratie

12/Apr  Laos – Pakse

13/Apr  Laos – Thakhek

14/Apr  Laos – Vientiane

15/Apr  Laos – Vientiane

16/Apr  Laos – Luang Prabang

17/Apr  Laos – Luang Prabang

18/Apr  Laos – Luang Namtha

19/Apr  China – Yunnan, Mohan

20/Apr  China – Yuannan, Puer

21/Apr  China – Yunannan, Yanyang

22/Apr  China, Yunannan, Luoping

23/Apr  China – Guizhou, Guanling

24/Apr  China – Guizhou, Jinsha

25/Apr  China – Chongqing, Chongqing

26/Apr  China – Chongqing, Wushan

27/Apr  China – Chongqing, Wushan

28/Apr  China – Hubei, Yichang

29/Apr  China – Jiangsu, Jingdezhen

30/Apr  China – Anhui, Hongcun

1/May   China – Anhui, Huangshan

2/May   China – Shanghai

3/May   China – Shanghai

4/May   China – Shanghai

5/May   China – Shandong, Qufu

6/May   China – Taishan

7/May   China – Beijing

8/May   China – Beijing

9/May   China – Beijing

10/May                  China – Shijiazhuang

11/May                  China – Pingyao

12/May                  China – Xi’an

13/May                  China – Xi’an

14/May                  China – Xi’an

15/May                  China – Tianshui

16/May                  China – Lanzhou

17/May                  China – Xi’ning

18/May                  China – Zhangye

19/May                  China – Jiayuguan

20/May                  China – Dunhuang

21/May China – Dunhuang

22/May                  China – Hami

23/May China – Turpan

24/May China – Turpan

25/May                  China – Kuytun

26/May                  China – Horgas (Korgas)

27/May Kazakhstan – Shonji

28/May                  Kyrgyzstan – Karakol

29/May                  Kyrgyzstan – Karakol

30/May                  Kyrgyzstan – Bishkek

31/May                  Kyrgyzstan – Bishkek

1/Jun     Kyrgyzstan – Toktogul

2/Jun     Kyrgyzstan – Arslanbob

3/Jun     Uzbekistan – Ferghana

4/Jun     Uzbekistan – Ferghana

5/Jun     Uzbekistan -Tashkent

6/Jun     Uzbekistan – Tashkent

7/Jun     Uzbekistan – Samarkand

8/Jun     Uzbekistan – Samarkand

9/Jun     Uzbekistan – Aydar

10/Jun  Uzbekistan – Buckhara

11/Jun  Uzbekistan – Buckhara

12/Jun  Turkmenstan – Mary

13/Jun  Turkmenstan – Ashgabat

14/Jun  Turkmenstan – Ashgabat

15/Jun  Iran – Mashhad

16/Jun  Iran – Mashhad

17/Jun  Iran – Gorgan

18/Jun  Iran – Ramsar

19/Jun  Iran – Rasht

20/Jun  Iran Sarein

21/Jun  Iran – Kandovan

22/Jun  Iran – Urmieh

23/Jun  Iran – Maku

24/Jun  Turkey – Ezrurum

25/Jun  Turkey – Sivas

26/Jun  Turkey – Goreme Cappodoccia

27/Jun  Turkey – Goreme Cappodoccia

28/Jun  Turkey – Beysehir

29/Jun  Turkey – Pamukkale

30/Jun  Turkey – Selcuk

1/Jul       Turkey – Bergama

2/Jul       Turkey – Cannakkale

3/Jul       Turkey – Cannakkale

4/Jul       Bulgaria – Plovdid

5/Jul       Romania – Craiova

6/Jul       Romania – Timisoara

7/Jul       Hungary – Budapest

8/Jul       Austria – Vienna

9/Jul       Germany – Heidelberg

10/Jul    Rochefort – Belgium

11/Jul    France – Calais

12/Jul    England – Abingdon

2017 Goldie – The Silk Road

Another adventure is about to begin as we prepare to ship Goldie to Bangkok for the beginning of our Silk Road extravaganza.

Since we brought Goldie home from South America she has been completely stripped and beautifully restored and repainted by Andrew Morcom and his team in Bathurst. What a fabulous job Andrew, Shane and the team did – Goldie looked a million dollars when we picked her up. Since then she has driven across the Nullarbor to Perth and all around Western Australia as well as doing some shorter more local trips in NSW.

So, Goldie will be loaded into a container on Saturday 18 February ready for shipping and John and Ros will fly to Bangkok on April 2 to begin their Silk Road adventures.

Travelling with us with be seven other MGs. You will remember Shiraz, driven by Mike and Kay Herlihy, from the Pan American Highway trip. The other six cars and their drivers are ‘newbies’! Little do they know what they have let themselves in for.

John has wanted to do this trip ever since he talked with those of our travelling companions on the Cape to Cairo trip who had travelled the Silk Road in 2010. So, having interested Mike and Kay we were set to put together a group to complete a similar trip in 2017. Planning has been going on for nearly two years, with John and Mike taking the lead and roughing out an initial itinerary. Once the group was finalised everyone was assigned a role and now, two months out from leaving, all is in place and the excitement is setting in.

Next update will be some pictures of the team loading the car and at that time I will also introduce our ‘newbies’! Until then. Ros

 

Heading Home

From Karijini, the point as far away as we can possibly be from home, we turned around and headed off. We have a 1,400 km drive from Karijini to Perth, then a 2,700km train trip to Adelaide followed by a further 1,400km drive to Sydney.

First, we drove to Newman, which is a ONE industry town: mining. We were out of place in the shopping centre without our high vis vest! Goldie wanted us to buy a long aerial with a flag on top! As well, there were lots of road trains and wide vehicles. When I grow up I want to be…. All in all I think we met over 200 road trains, 40 wide vehicles and 4 super wide vehicles for which we had to pull off the road as the trucks took up both lanes.

Sadly we left out tent in Karijini early in the day as we had targeted Meekatharra 685 km away. However, these roads in WA are pretty easy driving: 110 speed limit, no hills, very few curves and a good surface meant that we were driving through Meekatharra at 3:30 so we kept on going for another 125 to Cue. May not sound exciting, but here is a town with a real history and some beautiful old buildings. Yet another Western Australia gold mining town. On the outskirts there were many small time commercial mines and the town attracts visitors with metal detectors for holiday prospecting.

The town is still holding it together: one pub with the only food in town and a B&B which is actually a refurnished unlicensed pub. We were the only guests and had the run of the place, including the motor bike display, the Australiana trivia (engraved emu eggs etc) and car trivia. The landlady was so excited when we arrived and immediately showed us her 1966 MGB. Unfortunately, it was also unlicensed as she said it was not all that much fun driving it in Cue as there are only 2 sealed roads into town, both dead straight and the next town in each direction more than a 100 kms away. The town publishes a newsletter and Goldie may well appear on the cover of the next edition!

Onward the next day and we reached the coast just a little north of Perth and spent the night at Hillarys, on a man-made harbour in a great holiday apartment surrounded by restaurants: oh, the joy of having a choice where to eat.

Friday and a drive down the northern beaches of Perth, yet another long (almost) white beach, into the car wash to remove the red dust and bugs off the car and settle in to our accommodation for the night.

So far we have driven 8,100 miles (about 13,000 kms), we have used 1,155 litres of fuel. This equates to about 32 mpg or 8.8 litres / 100 kms. Not bad I reckon with a full boot and travelling at the high speeds we have been doing. Perhaps not having any hills to speak of and no traffic has meant that the smooth and steady provides the best result.

Goldie went onto the Indian pacific for the final leg home and so did we. A quick stop in Adelaide to catch up with friends and then a two day drive back to Sydney and our trip is over.

We will try to put up a map of the trip, as we have been asked to do, in the next few days.

Until next year and The Silk Road trip, this is the final instalment of Goldie’s WA adventure. She really has not missed a beat and, as usual, has taken us safely and smoothly (we have tried to avoid dirt roads!) wherever we wanted to go. So, 2017 will see Goldie and seven other MGs shipped to Bangkok to then drive up through Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and China, across ‘The Stans’ and Iran and across Europe to finish in Abingdon, England, the home of the MG. Hopefully you can join Goldie on her next adventure.

PS. Many thanks for all the comments and feedback – good to know we have company along the way. R&J

Karijini

Sadly, time to leave the oasis of Coral Bay and endure a hot and long drive into Karijini NP. As we are above the Tropic of Capricorn at 22 deg N, about level with half way between Rockhampton and Mackay, it’s still pretty warm around here. Delightful while on the coast with sea to swim in and get refreshed, however in a ‘classic’ car with ‘classic’ air conditioning (unzip the rear window to obtain fantastic ‘flow through’) on a long drive it was a tough day. The scenery was varied and fantastic but finding a shady spot for lunch was difficult, to say the least.

But we made it to the Karijini Eco Retreat, made up of individual permanent tents with floors, big beds and ensuites. A friendly welcome from Les the manager, a shower and a sunset drink before dinner to cool down. Fortunately at this time of year it does cool down as the sun sinks so nights are balmy and pleasant.

kari_sunset

Right at the resort’s door is the Joffre Gorge, just down a 500 metre rock climb! I woke early and left the sleeping beauty for an early morning swim in the gorge. It was delightful, with no people and still cool from the evening, a great way to start the day. After a breakfast repast, Ros then joined me for a second visit, by now along with ten or so other swimmers.

A rest in the midday heat and then a short drive to the afternoon’s swim, in the Hancock Gorge. This involved walking across the hot dry landscape, then descending a ladder into the cool of the gorge. We walked along the side of the creek running through the gorge and then waded along a section of the creek, but only to about thigh deep.

At the end of this wade we then entered a very narrow section of the gorge and had to swim some of the distance. The gorge at this stage was so narrow that the creek now took up all of the gorge floor and was quite deep in parts. At the end of this is the amphitheatre, a large open air space through which the creek flows but with some dry land, rushes and small shrubs as well.

Then comes the spider walk, an even narrower section of the gorge where, if you want, you can climb with feet and arms outstretched to cover the distance. Then, at the end of the Spider’s walk, the piece de resistance, Kermit’s Pool. A pool of water not too big, but so scenic that you can just sit here and admire. Kermit’s Pool is the end of the line as beyond it the gorge drops away very steeply and this section has been roped off.

We were last out of the gorge but still back in time for a cocktail before enjoying dinner in the open-air restaurant. Even the kitchen is open air, being in the middle of the restaurant!

kari_kitchen

The second day we collected a packed lunch and travelled to the eastern end of the park, firstly to visit the visitors’ centre and then to Fern Pool in Dales Gorge.

The visitors’ centre outlined some of the history of the park, starting with the Aboriginal heritage, the squatters and then the gradual reclamation of the land and culture. There was also information about plants and animals and birds, although I must say the area is very low on animals and birds, excepting for the dingo who came to breakfast and can be heard howling at night!

Then it was off to the gorge along a metalled pathway and stairs to see the Fortescue Falls which ended in a beautiful and large pool but we had been advised to head to Fern Pool which was further along the walk.

Fern Pool has a beautifully constructed large wooden deck at one end of the pool and a water entry point, including a ladder for climbing out again. It was a very wise decision to build the deck and entry as the pool is surrounded by ferns, grasses and rushes with no natural entry point. The falls at the end of the pool sheltered maidenhair fern and the sides of the pool are home to tapering, white paperbark trees.

The trees were home today to hundreds of bats and we were told that the fig tree was home to Olivia the snake, an olive python: you could just imagine the snake looking at the bats like a diner in a restaurant selecting from the menu!

A walk out of the gorge had us both longing for another swim. John opted to back down to Joffre Gorge to do just that once we returned to the Eco retreat.

The Eco Retreat is very lovely set as it is among gums and everything has been designed to blend with the red soil and rock and creamy gold of spinifex which dominates the landscape. (The telephone, no mobile here, is set on its own in the scrub about a 100 metres from the resort office.) And so many of the birds and lizards blend with their surroundings so seamlessly. A beautiful place to visit.

Coral Bay – whale shark swim

Then it was off to Coral Bay for three nights. We stayed in the RAC resort which overlooked the beach.

Why go to Coral Bay? Well, it is a beautiful spot with the beach and water right at your front door. But also we went to swim with the whale sharks. These are the largest fish in the world and as they are filter feeders they are totally harmless and so swimming with them is a totally safe and amazing experience.

shark-shark

You go out on a boat for the day. First stop a snorkel on the reef. Again, lots of fish. The real reason for this stop is to get you ready for the whale shark swim. The boat does not stop as you unload for the reef snorkel: everyone is lined up on the swim platform, the boat slows, the swim master yells, Go, go, go,go, go…. And you go, into the water while the boat pulls away. Getting out is equally exciting. You bunch together, the boat comes powering towards the group, the reverse thrust is used to slow the boat and turn it so the swim platform is right there and as the swim platform comes down on a swell you fin furiously and launch yourself (somewhat inelegantly – speed is everything) up onto the swim platform and get out of the way as fast as possible to make way for the next person.

The bat was very comfortable and roomy for the 20 people plus crew on board. We were accompanied by the boat mascot, Charlie, an Alpine Dingo.

Then, swimming with the whale shark. There is a spotter plane above with the boat mooching along below just waiting for the signal to say a shark has been spotted. All of a sudden a shark is found and the boat’s engines are thrust into full throttle and the chase is on to get to the shark, then ahead of it and positioned for the first drop of swimmers. The boat comes alive as people scramble into gear and line up as instructed in a previous briefing. We are divided into 2 groups of 10 each and the first group is poised on the swim platform, and once the boat is in front of the shark the shouted instruction to Go, go, go…. Then the second group goes on to the swim platform and as group 1 runs out of puff and the whale shark pulls ahead of them the second group is dropped off in front of the shark and the boat collects the first group.

Once in the water the swim leader groups everyone in front of the shark. As the shark approaches you fan out on either side of the shark and swim like fury to keep up. The first swim was a bit hectic with everyone trying to get a good view of this amazingly beautiful and huge creature.

Ros: on my second swim I was the only person to the right of the shark and I had the most amazing swim – it felt as if there was just me and the shark in the ocean and for as long as I could keep up that was the experience, just swimming alongside this incredible and beautiful big fish! The photo on the right below shows the size of the shark just below the surface in comparison to a swimmer just above.

Keeping up is the problem – he was swimming pretty fast into a current and headwind and eventually he leaves the group behind. Clamber back onto the boat as another group is dropped in front of him and then the boat takes your group to the front for another turn swimming with the whale shark.

At one stage we were ‘sharing’ the shark with another boat, which meant that when we came back on board we could sit for 15 minutes as our second group and the other boat’s two groups had their swim. However, when the plane spotted another shark the second boat left and we were rotating through without even getting off the swim platform.

shark_boat

All this, by the way, is taking place about 20 kilometres offshore in rolling waves. John was able to enjoy 5 swims with the shark, but even he was worn out after the last one. Each swim would be about 400 meters flat out swimming, so around 2 kilometres of swimming!

The day was not over yet: back inside the reef for lunch and another snorkel. This time the fish were even more plentiful and Ros and I had the joy of spotting a turtle and swimming with it for 10 minutes.

On the day we were accompanied by a professional photographer, so the photos are his: but what a great idea and we happily paid for the package. Wait till you get the home movies!

Not much happened that evening: we were both buggered and asleep pretty soon after the sun went down.

The next day was more relaxed. A few swims, updating this blog, more swims, walking around the ‘town’ and another swim followed by watching the Waratahs finally win a match (however it was against the Perth Force so our exuberance at each try did not go down all that well in the pub).

Oh, and we were really lucky, there was not a ‘relevant’ AFL match on, otherwise all the TVs would have been locked in. I realise that AFL followers are one eyed, only know one game, treat it as a religion, believe the world is flat, but over here in the west its fanatical. All evening news bulletins have interviews with BOTH coaches EVERY night at the BEGINNING and END of the show. 25% of the news is about the Dockers and Eagles. Plus then some news about last week’s / next week’s opponents and various groin injuries and that completes the news. [Except occasionally politics!]

The unit we were in had a kitchen and BBQ outside the door so a break was had from pub food as we cooked for ourselves.

 

To Exmouth

From Monkey Mia we drove back out to the highway and turned north towards Exmouth. Ideally we would have like to go straight to Coral Bay which is South of Exmouth but it is school holidays and we could not get into Coral Bay on the first night we wanted. We had planned to visit Exmouth, about 150 kms north of Coral Bay, so just opted to go north first. Not quite so bad distance wise as Exmouth is 100 kms up a road onto the headland so we would have to come back down most of the way anyway.

This was a long day’s drive, over 700kms and it was excessively hot. We went into Carnarvon, John was hoping for a seafood lunch which did not eventuate, but at the old town jetty was an interesting museum which was particularly fascinating as it tells of the coming ashore of the survivors from the Kormoran after the dual sinking of the HMAS Sydney and the German ship, Kormoran. As well as the museum there was a café with fabulous views over the water. No seafood but a pleasant lunch. The jetty has an old train running its length, it is a mile long, and for some obscure reason the train is called the Coffee Pot.

The jetty was once the lifeblood of the town, exporting the seafood and fruits from the fields and importing life’s (other) basics. The normal pictures of the 1850, 1920 etc of people parading on the jetty along side the trains running out, the cranes swinging over head and the ships arriving and leaving. Now it just for fishing and tourists: but at least the town has kept it rather than letting ‘authorities’ pull it down in the 1980s.

Carnarvon is also the bread basket of the north as the surrounding river plains are very fertile and heavily utilised for agriculture. Just about everything is grown here thanks to water from the Gasgoyne River. Interestingly, the Gasgoyne looks completely dry most of the time as the water flows under the sands which form the river bed and which help reduce the evaporation rate from the river. The river only flows, as you would expect a river to flow, after heavy rain.

Leaving Carnarvon I was fascinated as the landscape changed again. We have mentioned the landscape across the Nullarbor, and down in the south and the coastal areas, but not too much since. As we drove north, the trees fell away and the flora consisted of low shrubs allowing us to see vista across for miles. With Termite nests across them all. After a few hours of driving through these termite nests we came across the best sign yet: directing us off the road to see, you guessed it, termites nests!

There were two good reasons to visit Exmouth: Cape Range National Park and the associated Ningaloo Marine Park, just outside Exmouth, with beaches where Ningaloo Reef comes so close to the shore that all you need do is don the fins and snorkel on the sand swim out 5 – 10 metres and you are over the reef. The snorkelling is so easy and the fish life on the reef so abundant it is amazing. Also amazing is simply standing in the water and having a school of very big fish simply swim past your legs! You feel as if you could simply reach out a hand and scoop up a good sized dinner. Except, of course, it is a marine National Park as well. We spent the morning at Turquoise Bay which is very aptly named. More glistening white sand complements the turquoise blue of the water.

The other reason to visit Exmouth was to see the town Lachlan, John’s nephew, not only lived in for some years but was the resident Anglican Minister here. When Lachlan, Bec, Tim and Emily arrived there was a parish rectory but no church. Prior to the USA naval base closing the parish used the chapel in the base for their services. After the base closed there was no church. Lachlan came up with the idea of selling the rectory and with the proceeds buying a vacant block of land and building a church and rectory combined. To all intents and purposes this is a very big shed subdivided into house and church. It has been very cleverly done and does not really look like a shed at all and now the parish has all the following facilities: church, church office, gathering space (church hall) and kitchen at the rear of the church and a rectory! It was good to see the end result of all Lachlan’s endeavours.

Ex_church

Oh, and there is a third reason: we were surprised to see warning signs for emus and their chicks beside the main street in the town. However it is true: the emus and their chicks do wander around the town, along the main street and into houses!

Ex_emuchick

 

 

Monkey Mia

Onwards to Monkey Mia, the resort set on Shark Bay at the western most point of Australia.

A longish drive 155 kms to get into the resort from the turn off but well worthwhile. The attraction: long white beaches and dolphin experiences. Plus emus to boot.

The drive in had a few stops to keep us interested. First up a stop to see the stromatolites, the oldest surviving living forms (even older than the mother in law: predating her by a few billion years). These simple forms of life were already around 3.5 billions years ago (not the actual ones we saw, but their ancestors) and look like lumps of rock. They can exist here in Hamelin Pool (actually a bay of the ocean) because it is so salty, caused by very little rain running in and because there is a ridge at the end of the bay that allows the surf to roll in but restricts the flow back out, hence evaporation leading to condensing of the salinity.

Next stop the shell beach. Again due to the salinity the only creatures surviving here are cockles which produce cockle shells that build up on the beach. The beach must be over 100 kms long, 60 metres wide and we were told on a sign that the shells are piled 9 metres deep. And there is another sign saying ‘do not collect shells’! Is someone really worried that they will run out?

Before the sign went up a restaurant and the Anglian Church in Denham were built out of shell blocks. A quick visit to Denham (to take a photo of the church), a pretty beach side town on a white beach. How many of these are there in WA? And we even missed some on the way up.

Arriving at Monkey Mia was a relief after a hot day’s drive. Our room overlooks the (wait for it) white sandy beach with lots of children on the beach. It looks like quite a few families make this a regular visit, coming prepared with BBQ’s, sun shades and extra tables which they set up on the grass in front of their room and then spend the holiday alfresco cooking and dining.

The sunset on our arrival was pretty spectacular and made us feel like we were here for a relaxing seaside holiday.

Local inhabitants include emus who demonstrated the origin of ‘emu parade’ when they walked through the restaurant and coffee tables in the morning (just in case there was a tasty morsel). There is also a huge camping area which allows dogs. The only emu / dog contact I saw left the dog a bit more confused than the emu.

The main attraction however is the dolphins who come in to feed each morning.

The feeding is strictly managed. Only mature dolphins are fed and only less than 20% of their daily needs to ensure that they continue to hunt for themselves. They all have names and the Parks have even been able to prepare family trees as juvenile dolphins stay with their mum for up to 3 years.

While we were often told the dolphins are wild and not trained, the process of feeding was very tightly arranged.

7:45 meet on the board walk and be given directions

8:00 move down to the water’s edge

8:10 move feet into water to ankle depth (this lets the dolphins know to arrive) and be told what will happen

8:20 move back onto the sand: the sign for the dolphins that food is on its way. While this is happening the Park’s staff have radioed the names of the visiting dolphins so their personal bucket can be carried to the beach with their daily allowance of fish

8:30 the buckets arrive and guests are selected to feed the dolphins.

When the last fish has been fed, the buckets are extrovertly washed out as a sign to the dolphins that breakfast is over.

This can occur up to 3 times a day. If the dolphins reappear, and it’s been at least 15 minutes since the previous feeding, then a second and then finally a third feeding may take place. It is all up to the dolphins. They do have the drill down pat, however, and there was no sign of them bothering to come back in case there might be a fourth handout. They know three is the limit.

Between the 2nd and 3rd feed Ros and I decided we could do with a feed too. The restaurant is right on the beach and does the usual classics. Conveniently the dolphins delayed their 3rd breakfast just long enough for us to finish the coffee.

The afternoon was taken up with sitting and reading under the swaying palm trees to the sound of laughing children with the emu ‘experience’ continuing all around us with a few ales and swims (John) or editing Opposite Lock (Ros).

Dinner at the beach side restaurant with sunset, lapping waves, WA wine and fish finished the day of well.  And what can you say, quite stunning and spectacular. In sync with nature. Great kids and adults’ entertainment. A real experience in a beautiful location. Well worth the drive!

To the West Coast

After our tour of ‘hidden doors’ at New Norcia, we saddled up and headed for Cervantes on the coast.

WA suffers like many Australia states – all the roads radiate out from Perth with indifferent cross roads. Hence from New Norcia on the north east highway to Cervantes on the coast highway (north west of NN) we needed to travel south and then north again. On our way to New Norcia we had tried the ‘very thin line’ roads marked on the map trying to travel a more direct route but found ourselves zigzagging along not so excellent dirt roads and with a just resprayed Goldie we were always thinking of the paint job.

We did stop on the way to Cervantes to view the pinnacles. These limestone pinnacles of varying heights and sizes stand out from the surrounding sand like rows of soldiers (let the picture explain). The information centre was fascinating in stating that ‘while there are many theories, no one really knows why they exist’. Could they be dead trees covered with sand, decomposed and then filled with water containing limestone or previously weathered outcroppings.

Anyway, regardless of the reason, there they were standing out in the desert, with a road through the pinnacles that wound around and around allowing you to drive up close and get the compulsory picture of Goldie with the latest sight!

On to Cervantes, a great little sea side town only a few hundred kms north of Perth. Not much to mention: a lobster town with even the pub and the club serving lobster. Unfortunately, we picked the hotel restaurant which was slow and we each had lobster. One great, one not so less than great and so they did was charge us for it.

Then continuing on to the coast road and heading north. We planned a quick stop at Greenough a sea side village just off the main road with little there (I expect that’s the attraction). When I suggested Ros follow the coastal walk as displayed on the board at the look out she quickly jumped at the option. However….the length of the walk on the board looked about 2 to 3 kms while it was around 700meters. I casually waited at the look out and went to pick her up at the jetty after around 20 minutes, by which time she had decided that the walk must continue further and had kept walking – into the wide blue yonder. By the time she worked out that it was a path of no return I had driven to the jetty, not found her, decided she had walked back, driven back to the look out until finally she borrowed a phone and called me: where was I? So a little behind schedule, but all in a day’s excitement. Some more beautiful bean scenery along the way.

Gerald_Greenough

Continuing north we rounded a corner we came across the the remains of the Lynton Convict Camp, a camo set up to hold convicts until such time as they were lent out to surrounding farms. A few remaining buildings and a lot of foundations, but a fascinating story convict times: sending 70 convicts and soldiers into the wilderness, building their own accommodation (canvass for a year or 2 until it fell apart), setting up a quartermasters store, officers accommodation (2 rooms for teach family) and leaving them there!

Gerald_Lynton_convict

One story attached to the camp was that the wife of one of the officers was Anna, who, after the officer died ended up teaching the King of Siam’s children upon which the story ‘The King and I’ is based!

A lunch time stop at Geraldton to visit the HMAS Sydney II memorial on top of the hill. Very touching with all the sailors’ names inscribed and the memorial made up of 645 metal seagulls representing the 645 Australian sailors lost. A statue of a lady looking to sea for the return of the ship. And finally the memorial to the finding of the ship off the coast. Fittingly, although the statue of the waiting woman was positioned prior to locating the ship, when it was discovered it became apparent that her gaze travels along a ine of sight directly to the ship’s position on the sea floor.

Later we found out that many of the sailors on Kormoran, the German ship, made it to shore in lifeboats (to end up in internment camps).

Then to Kalbarri another seaside town full of families enjoying the sea, the river and the beach.

While Ros OL’ed I went for a sunset walk and ended up in the pub listening to 2 old guys playing songs I knew only too well (guess I knew the songs as I had older sisters, or just that I like the Doors, Clapton etc).

The place was packed: at 6pm there was a line 20 long to place food orders as families fed the the hungry hordes of school children (yes we hit WA holidays). In front of the pub on the lawn was a roundabout which you used to find in Sydney parks before children became wrapped in cotton wool. Well here was one still going and at any particular time loaded with 20 to 30 kids pushing, screaming and laughing. What a great asset for the pub.

When the band finished at 9pm Ros and I looked over our shoulder to discover we were one of the last 6 people there. Conclusion: a couple of pages of Opposite Lock completed, good food and great music.

In the morning we watched pelican feeding and found a market for Ros while I went to get the oil changed in the car. We have travelled 5,600 miles and with at least another 3,000 to go I though it better to have fresh oil. Very friendly guy (a few calls to find the right sized oil filter – I forgot to bring a change with me) and discussion about his historic and fast Falcons.

Gerald_kalbarri

The car is going well – we are sneaking up to 110 km/hour as the distances get longer but no problems on that front. A bit of pre-ignition when stopping (could be because not much 95 petrol around so filling up with 98). Most irritating problem is the driver’s door inside opening handle has disconnected inside the door so the door can only be opened with the outside knob. Ros and I tried to fix it, the 2 pieces of metal that join (up inside the door panel just next to the window and out of sight to anyone but a cross eyed person) had come adrift. Should be easy to stick the fallen one back into the hole except that piece has a spring on it (to return the door handle to neutral) and hence one needs to retract the spring, insert the metal into the joiner, clip the catch on the joiner over, all the while in a space smaller than a hand and without seeing anything. Needless to say we eventually gave up and the passenger is very polite and opens the door for the driver!

On then to Monkey Mia with a few stops in the Kalbarri National park to see the specular gorges created by the Murchison River as it wound its way through the cliffs or, more correctly, over the centuries carved out the gorges. Reminded me a bit of the Fink River in the Northern Territory: not much of a river for most of the year so it must have taken ages to create the cliffs and gorges that we admire today.