Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Ratchaburi, Thailand. 2007

I’ve been to Thailand several times over the years since 1974 and on each trip I’ve avoided the “Floating Markets” because I thought they’d be too touristy. On my latest trip this year in October I finally went and had a look at them.

The markets are about 110km (about a two-hour drive) from Bangkok by car. Many hotels in Bangkok sell tours to the floating markets and would have you believe that tours are the only way to see the markets as you can’t walk around there.  That’s not true and you can catch buses there and you can walk along the canals (known locally as “khlongs”) in the main part of the markets if you want to. Having said all that, I’d say that it is worthwhile and much easier to get around if you hire a boat to see the markets from the water. Damnoen Saduak is basically a small town built on the edges of canals and the waterways are used like streets.

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My wife and I hired a private car with a driver, as we wanted to relax and not have to deal with public mass transport or tour groups and then we hired a powered boat all to ourselves so we could go at our own pace and see what we wanted to see.

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There are two types of boats that you can hire. The larger ones are propelled by an outboard powered with what looks like a small car motor

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and the smaller boats closer to the markets are propelled by an oarsman. The powered boats move along at quite a clip and it’s nothing like a quiet punt down a stream.

Hiring a powered boat, came with the added advantage that we were taken through some of the side canals away from the markets, and we got to see some rural canal life.

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If you go on a tour you’ll be packed into a boat with many others and you’ll be trundled from one little tourist nick-knack shop to the next without much chance of seeing anything else.

When one arrives at the actual markets the outboards are turned off and the boatmen paddle the boat along. Although we hired a boat for ourselves, we were still taken by our boatman to various little shops, but we were able to get him to move on without much trouble.  It’s pretty obvious that the boatmen get some kind of kickback from the shop owners, which I don’t really mind as the wages in Thailand are very low.  A word of warning though, the souvenir shops at the floating markets are about two to three times more expensive than the Lumpini night markets in Bangkok. The floating market range of goods tends to be the cheap nasty end of the scale as well.

Even though the floating markets are a tourist destination, they are still authentic markets

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where the locals go to sell each other goods, and I’d highly recommend going there as I was quite surprised how interesting it all was, despite the fact it was crawling with tourists just like myself. 

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Barbecue and kites at Clovelly beach. Sydney, NSW, Australia

I don’t really care about the Christmas season in a religious sense, but I do enjoy any excuse to get together with friends and there’s nothing like an Aussie Christmas at the beach!

from bottom left clockwise. Stuart, Mai, Engogirl and Ollie

I haven’t been able to catch up with many of my friends since before I left for my Asian trip in September.  So I jumped at the invitation from Stuart and Mai to go to a barbecue at Clovelly here in Sydney. Stuart owns a yacht charter company and surf tour company in Indonesia and is overseas quite often and Mai is an artist who has been very busy working on her next show so I haven’t seen them for a while. If you’d like to see some of Mai’s latest work, click here.

Mai

Clovelly is a lovely little family beach, nestled in a small cove between Coogee Beach and Bronte Beach.  I particularly like Clovelly, as it doesn’t tend to be very crowded, and the people who go there seem quite mellow and relaxed.  Another thing about Clovelly that I really like is that it has very good free barbecue facilities.  I just think it’s great that I live in a society where the government provides cooking areas for people to have barbecues on electric hot plates, completely free of charge.  

Since there are usually sea breezes on the coast, my wife and I took our kites in the hope that we would be able to give them a bit of fly.  We weren’t disappointed as there was a good breeze. 

It’s quite amazing how many people actually enjoy flying kites.  Quite a few people stopped to watch and they all had smiles on their faces. 

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 I think kites bring out the kid in us all.  In the picture below, of my wife and Stuart, you can see that the wind at times was strong enough that two people had to hang onto the kite string.

Engogirl and Stuart

This beautiful double star kite, my wife and I made together, based on a design we got off the Internet requires a fairly decent wind to fly well.

1.5m wide double star kite

Champa ruins at My Son, Vietnam.

During our trip to Vietnam this year in September, my Wife and I visited “My Son”. My Son is a Hindu Champa Temple complex, 70 km southwest of Da Nang and it is a UNESCO world Heritage site.

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 It is thought that My Son was started in the 4th century AD, and the last stupas (dome-shaped monuments, used to house Buddhist relics or to commemorate significant facts of Buddhism) were built in the 14th century AD.  Although My Son started as a Hindu temple complex, archaeological work has shown that Buddhism had become the main religion in the area by the 10th century. 
 
The photograph below shows a stele (an upright stone or slab with an inscribed or sculptured surface, used as a monument) written in Pali, a literary language, written by Buddhist scholars.

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Unfortunately the Vietnam War took a heavy toll on this amazing place.  The Vietcong used the temple complex as an occasional base, and the Americans tried obliterating it with bombing, but without much success.  So they sent in a sapper (in the old days they were the military engineers who specialized in digging under castle walls to undermine them, now they destroy field fortifications with explosives) team by helicopter to blowup of the last remaining large buildings so that all one sees nowadays are heavily damaged piles of rubble where fairly well preserved buildings used to exist up until the mid-60s.

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To tell the truth there is not much left in My Son and I felt a certain amount of disappointment when I saw how little decorative art had been left at the site.  I guess most of its been put in museums to save it from being plundered.
 
One of the things that makes My Son quite interesting is the fact that they built their buildings of baked clay bricks and then carved their decoration on the completed buildings afterwards.

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 Most temples, one sees in Asia tend to be built out of stone, which have carvings, sculpted on to the outside of them.
 
One of the only reasons, one would go to dreary Da Nang is to see the Champa Museum there. 

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 It is in the museum, one can see all the best art works missing from the archaeological sites, in one place. 

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 It is also interesting to see displays at the Museum illustrating how widespread the Champa civilisation was.  The Champa controlled the southern part of Vietnam right up until the early 1800s when it was supplanted by the Chinese influenced Vietnamese culture from the North. 
 
The Champa civilisation was basically, an Indian influenced Hindu culture that reached as far as Bali in Indonesia.  The decorative arts of the Champa look very similar to Balinese art works such as the mask I bought in Bali, shown in the photo below.

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Grand Canyon North Rim, Arizona, USA. 2005

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The Grand Canyon is one of my favourite places in the world.  I love the place and I’ve been there three times. The pictures below are from my most recent trip there in 2005.

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Unlike my previous trips this one was to the North Rim and I was accompanied by my wife. I was glad my wife was with me because places like the Grand canyon should be shared.

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The North rim is a lot more remote and higher in altitude (2683m or 8803 ft) than the South Rim. I wouldn’t say that I prefer one rim over the other, although the North Rim is way less crowded in that it receives about 10% of the visitors that the South Rim gets.

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A car is essential on the North Rim because many of the points of interest, such as Point Imperial, below, are quite a few miles away from the central tourist part and there is no free transport like there is on the South Rim.

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We stayed at the Grand Canyon Lodge in a basic and extremely expensive cabin.  I guess as the only show in town, so to speak, it was a sellers market.  One has to also book to eat at the Lodge restaurant many weeks or even months ahead to get a table even if you are a guest.  The outlook of the restaurant is to die for but the food is very ordinary.

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Stupas near the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), Bangkok Thailand 2007

The Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) in Bangkok is a must see.  It really is spectacular.

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Be careful if you walk there as seemingly friendly people will come up to you and tell you it is closed for some reason and offer to call over a tuk-tuk (a three wheeled taxi) so you can see other temples instead. 

Trouble is that you will eventually be taken to a tailors of some other kind of tourist store and the tuk-tuk driver will flip out and get abusive if you don’t buy anything.

 So if you get approached near the Temple of the Emerald Buddha just ignore the touts and keep walking.  If you engage in conversation you will find it very hard to shake them off.

Trust me, they aren’t your friends.