Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Bridge over the River Kwai and the fab River Rafts

Next up we took a James Bond style speed boat tour upto the iconic bridge over the River Kwai. A sobering reminder of Thailand's part in the 2nd World War.

During its construction, approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along the railway. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, chiefly forced labour brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, or conscripted in Siam (Thailand) and Burma.

We also visited Hell Fire Pass.This is a railway cutting on the former  Death Railway which was built with forced labour during the war. The pass is noted for the harsh conditions and heavy loss of life suffered by its labourers during construction.

Hellfire Pass is so called because the sight of emaciated prisoners labouring at night by torchlight was said to resemble a scene from hell.

Moving on from the horrors of the pass, we headed to our accommodation for the next two days, the River Kwai Jungle rafts.

Inaccessible except by boat, on a bend in the river at Kanchanaburi, these were fantastic. With no electricity, they were lit by wick lamps after dark.

If you fancied a dip you just jump off your floating pontoon into the river (just be sure to grab the last handrail or you'll be swept down stream on the fast currents!

Neil takes the plunge!


 Our pontoon out front.

A few random pics of Bangkok streets

Tempted by a golden deity or two to pop in the back garden?

An eclectic mix of things for sale, disco balls and gourds anyone?

Delicate lotus blossoms form part of serene rituals in the Buddhist temples.

China Town and a taste of luxury

After our Buddha extravaganza we headed to the China Town district of Bangkok for two nights stay in the sumptuous Shanghai Mansion.

A lovely little taste of luxury in the middle of manic China Town. It's a little hard to find, but once there is well worth it.

Rooms are each exquisitely decorated in 1930s Shanghai style, complete with water garden in the lobby. We stayed in the Peony Classic room with a huge free standing tub! Lovely!

You definitely need a little oasis of calm before heading out into the chaos that is China Town!

Crammed full of stalls and shacks selling every conceivable food, textile, craft or ornament, this is a whirlwind of colour, smells and humanity.

The small alleys and streets between Yaowarat Road and the Chao Phraya River are crammed with market stalls and small shops

Once crossing Chakraphek Road you will enter Pahurat – one of Chinatown’s premier attractions. Goods such as flip-flops, toys, household items, and herbs can be bought here.
There's some uneasy practices too such as Sharks Fin soup, Birds Nest Soup and many exotic and unsustainable ingrediants in the pharmacy.

Just a taste of some of the food on offer!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Ayutthaya and endless Buddhas.

Next up was Ayutthaya, one of Thailand's old capital cities. Strewn with epic sized Buddhas, swaddled in vibrant orange cloth, busy yet still serene.

Here you can see the scale of some of them, they make the tourists look like little ants. Once again Neil scaled the heights while I sat and "contemplated" (mainly how to get out of climbing steps in 36 degrees heat!!)

Here's one of my favourite pics of the whole holiday. Neil passing a line of serene, saffron clad Buddhas.

Travels in Thailand

After getting all nostalgic over India I've decided to go back in time by a year and put up my pictures of Thailand too. We travelled there in December 2009, flying into Bangkok.

We stayed at the New Siam Riverside ( on the bank of the Chaophraya  River. It provided a much needed respite from the hustle and bustle of the crazy city. Having breakfast overlooking the majestic river was fantastic. This is a wonderful hotel and I can't recommend it enough!

So first on my hit list was obviously the Grand Palace in Bangkok. With its myriad of glittering spires and epic grinning demons, it has been on my travel wishlist for a long time.

So braving 36 degrees and a lovely heat rash that was developing nicely, off we trundled!! After being way laid by lots of helpful people telling us the Grand Palace was closed! (it wasn't) and offering us alternative trips in their tuc tucs (we politely declined) we arrived.

The sunlight was so bright it was almost blinding as it hit the golden tiles and intricate details of the temples. It was a beautiful sight. But sunglasses were a definate must!!!!

Huge demons grimaced and guarded the gates, detailing covered every surface. The work involved was immense.

Then it was on to Wat Po.

Wat Pho is one of the largest and oldest wats in Bangkok (with an area of 50 rai, 80,000 square metres), and is home to more than one thousand Buddha images, as well as one of the largest single Buddha images: the Reclining Buddha.

Here's Neil trying to out gurn a local deity!

                                And a monk keeps cool in the heat of the mid day sun.
We also visited Wat Arun - The temple of the Dawn, perched majestically on the edge of the river. The full name of the temple is Wat Arunratchawararam Ratchaworamahawihan !!!! 

The whole temple is decorated with broken porcelain and seashells, creating an amazing, if somewhat bizarre spectacle! Neil braved the steps, I however sat sulking and sweltering in the little shade on offer! (I should point out that i am not good in hot climates, ironically)

Then day one was over, so we retired to the hotel to sip cocktails at the rivers edge. Fantastic start to our trip!!

Thought of the day

If you're skating on thin ice you may as well dance

Monday, 22 August 2011

Train journey

The next leg of our trip involved a train trip to Varkala, the final stop on our trip. here's me not looking too comfortable on our little window ledge!

Neil however was delighted to get a full meal for 50p plus the coffee man who hopped on and off the train at each station was very appreciated!!

At long last we arrive at our final destination, Varkala, a laid back little resort, strung out along a cliff top, overlooking a long beach and serene ocean.

We stayed at the Seashore Resort on the quieter South Cliff. what a fantastic end to our trip. In our own air conditioned apartment, looking out towards the sea.

A series of steep steps take you down to a virtually private beach from where you can walk to the main sands.

I'm glad we choose to do the North first, to get the crazy, hectic side done and then take the chance to chill out in the South for the final five days. Doing nothing but swim, eat and sleep!

It's like two completely different countries, personally I feel that the North holds far more of interest and what I would class as the "real "India (If such a thing exists).

The south is hot, laid back and easy, lovely in its own right but not that different to any other beach resorts around the world.

But the North was a challange, in every sense of the word an experience.

Half the time I loved it, half the time I hated it, I went from tears of frustration to awe struck amazement within minutes! It was dirty, polluted, bewildering and frustrating. It was the worst poverty I have ever seen.

But also it was incredible, awe inspiring, uplifting, colourful, friendly and amazing. I swore I would never go back. I know I will.

Balmy Kerela

Arriving in Kochi we hail an old Ambassador taxi and soon we're bumping along the back streets to our two day stay in Fort Cochin at Saj home ( a lovely homestay just a few minutes walk from the Chinese Fishing nets.

The nets are a bit of a tourist and photographers hot spot! Here's Neil getting in on the action . . .

During our stay we arranged a seven hour back water cruise - organised by the lovely owners of Sajhome.

As we lazed around and took in the scenery, the hard working ferry man kept on with his back breaking labour!! Yes this is the only method of power for the converted rice barge we were in!

Leaving Jaipur and heading to Agra via Ranthambore

So after spending a fantastic couple of days in Jaipur at the lovely Dera Rawatsar hotel (See their website here we were heading off in the car again to Ranthambore national park in search of the almost mythical Indian Tiger!!

We stayed overnight at the Hotel Ankur Resort ( which is a basic but clean place to rest your head. 

Sadly I was by now in full grip of hideous chest infection and cold picked up in Jodphur and also a rather gripey stomach so not a happy combination!!

Needless to say we didn't see any Tigers - but we did spot a leopard in the distance, thrilling if somewhat small . . .

But then we were heading to the highlight of my North Indian odyssey, Agra and the TAJ MAHAL!!

After a pleasant night at the Howard Park Plaza hotel we were ready and raring to go. Only to find the fog has descended yet again!!

Determined, we visited the Agra Fort first and waited for the fog to burn off. And it was worth the wait! 

There's so much said about the Taj Mahal, so many superlatives, so many poetic descriptions, and often, things are never as good as you hope they'll be. But this was. 

From the minute you board the electric bus to be taken to the gateway (no polluting vehicles are allowed within the vicinity of the Taj) there is a palpable sense of excitement.

Through the security gates, where any food, drink (and as my other half discovered to his horror tiny teddy bears) are confiscated, to the epic gate way. 

Then we were there, admittedly it was still foggy to begin with . . . But it was still amazing!!!!!! It is hard to put into words how it feels to be stood in front of one of the most iconic buildings in the world.

Then the fog cleared . . . .
Then we were back to Delhi, via endless road blocks and cross country diversions, and so ended our North Indian leg of the journey.

Hopping on a plane we were headed for Kerela. From 8 degrees to 32 in a four hour plane journey . . 

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Thought of the day

To respond to violence with violence is to darken a sky already devoid of stars.

The Pink City Jaipur (AKA the slightly black, grimy city!!)

So we finally arrive in Jaipur,  I am eager to spot the Palace of the Winds and visit the Amer fort, but the weather has turned against us again!

Thick fog rolls in and dismal greyness descends. Plus a local dignatory has passed away meaning pretty much every where is closed!

But later on it gets brighter and we visit the city palace complete with its beautiful ornate Peacock gate.

Here's the guard outside another ornate one.

There's yet more pics of food too!

Pushkar, colourful camels and the pink City Jaipur

So we rolled onwards to Jaipur via Pushkar, home of the legendary camel fairs and Ajmer. No fair on in Pushkar sadly when we were there, but still spotted a few brightly coloured specimens!!!

Pushkar means Blue Lotus in Sanskrit and is a sacred town for Hindus, situated 11 kms to the North-West of Ajmer.

Hindus believe that the gods released a swan with a lotus in its beak and let it fall on earth where Brahma would perform a grand yagna. The place where the lotus fell was called Pushkar.

Delicate blue temples line the hillsides down the the ghats where devotees bathe, watched by the cheeky monkeys that line the streets and swing from every house.

Cheeky monky!!

There are also fantastic, colourful markets to be seen (you may have spotted a favourite photographic theme of mine - piles of produce!!)

After getting snap happy with the food we were off again - Jaipur here we come!!!