Exotic India 

The Intrepid Duo have spent the last 2 weeks 

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Exotic India

The Intrepid Duo have spent the last 2 weeks on a whirlwind trip arose northern India. We arrived in Delhi on January 1,2017 after a 30 hour trip from Portland to Frankfurt to Delhi, spending the turning of the year flying somewhere over Asia.

The visit to Dehli was short but sweet and included a bicycle rickshaw ride thru the old city, my introduction to what life in India is truly like.


In Praise of Wet, One-Way Streets

On our first real day back home, downtown Portland’s wet, one-way streets have been something of an old friend helping this wayward, 20-hour jet-lagged resident appear near normal.

The background:  In the past 14 months the overwhelming majority of my driving has been in right-hand drive vehicles on the left side of the road.  Okay, just imagine that you are driving in sort of a mirror.  Not so difficult, eh?  Steering wheel on the right and stay on the left side of the road and try not to hit anything.  Cool.  However, there are some kinks.  Initially shifting with the left hand and turning right (into the appropriate lane) are most challenging, but those are soon mastered.  However, and important for this story, the controls for lights, turn signals and windshield wipers are located on the opposite sides of the steering column.  So, in a right-hand drive car, one must remember that turn signals are on the right side of the steering column and the wiper/lights controls are on the left. (For the most part; there are, however, exceptions which are well beyond the scope of this entry.)

And trust me, those are difficult habits to get into the mirror.  How many times, wishing to indicate a right turn, did we just smear the Australian dust across the windshield?  Or how many times in the mists of New Zealand did we indicate a turn to a non-existent roadway when what we needed a little wiper action?  Maybe Thai mothers teach their children to watch out for crazed tourists; if their wipers are flapping on a rainless day, they are probably going to turn.  Right or left?  Hard to say, my son, just stay back.  And consider what Buddha would do.  Perhaps driving instructors in Sydney include a unit on North American tourist turn signal errors; three blinks right, followed rapidly by panicked blinks left really means that the wipers will soon be deployed.  Without any turns.  Wait a minute – – driving instruction in Sydney???!!  Just kidding.

So, to get on with the story, it was with considerable trepidation that I took the bus downtown to pick up our very left-hand drive rental car.  I had to undo the right-hand drive habits very quickly.  Could I remember to stay on the right?…and that turn signals were accomplished with the left hand, wipers with the other left hand?   But, as if to extend a welcoming and helping hand, Portland came to my aid.  Imagine my relief and comfort when I pulled out of the rental agency’s parking garage onto a one-way street and in a gentle spring rain.  The one-way street meant all lanes were going in the same direction – it didn’t matter which side of the road I was on!  And when I wanted to turn, the flapping wipers didn’t seem at all out of place.  Windshield needing a wipe? How about a nice turn first?

Home, sweet home.

Kiwi Days Two

On the jet boat ride up the Whanganui River our guide paused the boat in an eddy beside a stretch of roiling white water and announced: “This is called Fifty-Fifty Rapids, because chances of making it through in a canoe without capsizing are about 50-50”.  He then asked, “And who is canoeing back down this afternoon?”  We, the Duo, but no one else in the boat, raised hands.  Gulp.  I wonder if it is too late for a refund.  Or at least some insurance.  But I am getting ahead of the story…. results below.

It is Tuesday, 6 March and here we are on our flight from Auckland back to Sydney.  And, once again not wanting to forget some of our NZ times, I’m feeling the need to pick up the play-by-play from Motueka.

From Motueka we caught an early nature cruise along the coast of Abel Tasman National Park (far northwest corner of the South Island).  After a few sights along the way, the boat dropped us off way out in the park (at Awaroa) and we had a great day hike back toward the starting point.  The coastal trail had lots of ups and downs, rain forest and ocean views and included a stretch of beach, translated from the Maori, called “Dancing Sands”….love the name….which required a low-tide, pack-on-head wade across a stream.  The boat met us further on (at The Anchorage) and we were soon back at our camp for dinner.  A tiring, but excellent day.

Then yet another twisting, turning, climbing and plunging road to Picton, in preparation for our ferry crossing to North Island.  A beautiful drive with lots more views and lots to explore.  We have resolved that on our next trip to this land to spend more time in this area.  The trek along Queen Charlotte Sound is as gorgeous a setting as one could hope for.  And, the enterprising boat owners in the area will ferry your pack from one camp to the next.  I think the Kiwis have got this coastal tramping thing pretty well figured out.

We loaded ourselves and our intrepid camper on the ferry and made the three-hour crossing to Wellington, just ahead of the next cyclone which came roaring through with lots and lots of horizontal rain.  Which unfortunately limited our time in Wellington (but we did perfect our technique of positioning the drip-catching bucket in our bed as the camper shook with each gust of wind) to a quick look around the city and a visit to the national museum.  Next time:  more time in Wellington.

We made our way north, dodging cyclone-related road closures, to a little village, Pipiriki on the Whanganui River where we had signed up for the jet boat ride/nature tour up the river, a walk to The Bridge to Nowhere, and then canoeing back.  We hadn’t heard about Fifty-Fifty Rapids.   And so, after the walk and lunch, the jet boat put us and our canoe (and life jackets) off on a rocky bar in the river.  The other tourists wished us luck, the guide just smiled, waved and shoved the jet boat throttle forward and raced down river.  Content in the knowledge that NZ’s wilderness rescue services are top notch, we shoved off for a few hours of mostly quiet canoeing through the deep gorge of the river back to Pipiriki.  Beautiful scenery, just a little white water and only the occasional jet boat to break the silence of the peaceful ride back.  Until we came to Fifty-Fifty, that is.  The length of churning froth got the Duo into survival mode.  But, after a few white-knuckle moments and some lucky maneuvering, we made it through Fifty-Fifty without going over….admittedly, there was a fair amount of water in the canoe by the time we cleared into calmer water, but we had made it!

Then further north to the most geothermally active region of NZ, the area including Lake Taupo and Rotorua.  Highlights of the region included a stop at a hot stream/small waterfall for a soak with the locals; a visit to Wai-O-Tapu, a park with an impressive variety of thermal features: pools, mud lakes, mineral colored pools, steam vents, and so on.  Our Rotorua campground featured a “steam oven” where guests could imitate the Maori cooking technique of a hangi.  The surrounding steam vents all around the camp site completed the very surreal setting.

On to Hot Water Beach where, during the four hours surrounding low tide, literally hundreds of kindred spirits converge on a small section of the beach to dig soaking pits in the sand that admit really hot (like scalding hot) water from the nearby hot spring.  Temperature management is by sea water.  The whole affair takes on a festive air as shovels and hot water sources and pits are shared by all.  Not your typical day at the beach.

The final hectic days with the camper included a quick circuit around the Coromandel Peninsula and a long drive to Paihia, our base for exploring the far North.  A blitz tour (on an absolutely stunning day) included a visit to a kauri forest (mammoth trees, reminiscent of sequoias); Cape Reinga, the northern-most publicly accessible point of the North Island; sliding (on slippery plastic belly board sort of sleds) down huge double-diamond-steep sand dunes and then across the shallow stream at the bottom (mercifully, no necks or limbs were broken); and a drive down Ninety-Mile Beach (which really isn’t 90 miles long).

Then back to Auckland.  After two rolls of duct tape, water system and electrical systems repairs, rain leaks, an impromptu patch for a blown off roof vent, two bottles of power steering fluid, and nearly 3,000 miles of oohing and ahhing around this amazing country, we returned our camper, gasping and wheezing (the camper, not us), to its Auckland depot.

A few very pleasant Auckland days capped our Kiwi stay: exploration of our delightful harbor front neighborhood, Devonport; a stroll around the bustling downtown that ended up at the harbor-front race village where the Volvo around-the-world race yachts were “on the hard” preparing for the next leg of the race (across the Southern Ocean, around Cape Horn and up to Itajai, Brazil); and, a sailing dinner cruise around the harbor.

All in all, six weeks in NZ was a continuous stream of beautiful and amazing sights all presided over by the nicest, most helpful and genuinely warm people one can imagine.  We are already plotting our return.

Kiwi Days One

Wow.  What a place.  This will probably be thought more fragments, a series of notes to myself, than a coherent developed theme.

We arrived on New Zealand’s South Island almost a month ago and the sights and experiences have been washing over us at a torrid pace.  First a few observations…then some play-by-play.

Observation 1.  The only thing that is really difficult in New Zealand is taking a bad picture.  Everywhere you turn is new beauty; each turn in the road, each destination offers all sorts of photo opportunities.  Some places are just quietly beautiful, others assault you with their scale and drama.  This island is truly a travel junkie’s paradise.

And speaking of paradise, let me relay a little bit of travel irony.  A few days ago we had set our sights on camping at a rather obscure, smallish but reportedly beautiful lake way out in the middle of nowhere.  Failing to adequately consult my maps on all the required turns on the various gravel roads, I managed to miss a critical turn and continue merrily along for quite some time, but not until we approached a small settlement with a sign announcing its name, of all things, Paradise.  Which is finally where I realized we were lost.  Only in New Zealand could you be lost and still end up in Paradise!

Observation 2.  There are other things that make NZ stand out for a traveler.  A big one is the unrelenting cheerfulness, kindness and helpfulness of Kiwis (the people, not the birds).  One theory (Maureen’s) has it that if you lived in such an unrelentingly beautiful place, you would be cheerful, kind and helpful too.  Maybe.  But I think it is something in the water.  Even the many of young people on “working holidays” seem unreasonably happy here.

Observation 3.  We’ve now stayed at numerous DOC (Dept of Conservation) campsites, hiked many and diverse trails and enjoyed many other public facilities and 1) almost without exception, they are well maintained (functional, clean, etc.) and 2) there is no obvious vandalism or graffiti that one often finds in comparable US Forest Service/National Park facilities.  This respect and care for the public good seems to be well embedded in the social fabric.  Whatever the case, it makes for an extremely nice place for us visiting visitors.

Now a little play by play:

Christchurch.  After the destruction of the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, Christchurch is recovering, but it is a slow process.  Central CCH is largely a series of construction sites.  There is a great spirit of community and recovery, but it is going to be a long slog.  Earthquakes are devastating to the emotional fabric of a place, not just the physical stuff of buildings and bridges.  But Christchurch seems to be resilient, with lots of creativity making it up as they go along.  Highlights included the “cardboard cathedral” (a temporary replacement for the severely earthquake-damaged cathedral), lots of shipping containers turned into temporary housing and commercial space, the International Buskers Festival (street performers of all stripes doing their thing in public spaces all over the central city), the Botanic Garden (a perfect venue for a warm afternoon’s nap), punting on the Avon River, a National Geographic exhibition of 50 great photographs, and a visit to nearby Akaroa.  A particularly moving site is the assembly of 185 miscellaneous chairs, all painted white, sited on a vacant lot downtown, honoring those killed in the 2011 quake.

Down the eastern coast.  Most memorable is our visit to Dunedin and camping at Portobello on the Otago Peninsula where we visited the Royal Albatross Recovery Center.  Most impressive birds, long distances and long periods away from “home”, but they return to their place of birth and to their life-long mate.  They are threatened by habitat encroachment and all the friggin plastic that is floating around the oceans.

Further south we fled into “forest” of very tall NZ flax at a place called Curio Bay amid a massive wind/rain storm.  But on our evening walk we saw some extremely rare yellow-eyed penguins come ashore.   In the morning, we had to have our trusty (?) camper jumped started.  Again.  This is getting to be aggravating.

Then Te Anau.  Camped at a “holiday park” in a beatiful lakefront/mountain surrounding setting.  Nice walk along the lake shore.   Then an early bus ride to and boat cruise on Milford Sound, one of NZ’s signature sights.  Pictures can’t prepare you for the scope of this astounding fiord, jaw droppingly beautiful.  (Back in Te Anau, I found some black duct tape to hold our van together for a little longer.)

Then on to Queenstown and a new camper problem; a broken water system fitting resolved without excessive drama by some unreasonably cheerful garage staff.   Queenstown is perhaps the South Island’s center of the mass tourism industry, jammed with monster tour buses, designer shopping and over-marketed adrenaline-fueled “adventure” activities (they are building an indoor skydiving facility, for crying out loud).  It feels like Marin County meets Lake Tahoe, meets Boulder.  All of which drove us to seek quieter, more rural digs after the obligatory lake cruise on a vintage, coal-fired steamer, the Earnslaw.

Astoundingly beautiful drives followed: lakes surrounded by high mountains, waterfalls, etc, beautiful new vistas at each turn, and the aforementioned unintended landing in Paradise.  Remote campsite, flat battery again (arrghh), but we were rescued by a jump from Flora and Elizabeth, two delightful young Belgian women off on their great travel adventure.  On the side of their old van they had inscribed “Mum, I’m okay”.

Back to Q’town for diagnosis, but not resolution, of the electrical problem.  Actually fixing it had to wait until we landed in Wanaka, yet another lovely small (and quieter) town where the real issue was found, the relay between the starter and “house” battery.  Delightful walks, a little kayaking, and a monster ice cream cone capped our stay in this delightful, especially for cyclists, area.

The trip to the eastern side of Mt. Cook took us through relatively dry, rolling foothills of California and Colorado-like landscapes.  Mt. Cook:  a great walk up the Hooker glacier valley, again jaw-dropping vistas of high mountains, glaciers, jagged peaks, lakes.

Then over the Haast Pass to the West Coast.  Steep, winding road through incredibly rugged, heavily rain forested terrain.  Just an amazing journey to the Fox Glacier.  In addition to the “standard” view the glacier, we did a side track, regrettably missed by most, the Moraine Walk, for astounding rain forest views and detailing the advancement of the glacier through relatively recent recorded history.  Fascinating and beautiful.

And one final note:  The past two days we spent at Hamner Springs, a naturally heated mineral spring that has been developed into a very pleasant tourist venue.  Soaking in the hot, minerally pools, one hears a babble of languages as the tourists from many lands unwind from the mountain drive to get there.

Then over the Haast Pass to the West Coast.  Steep, winding road through incredibly rugged, heavily rain forested terrain.  Just an amazing journey to the Fox Glacier.  In addition to the “standard” view the glacier, we did a side track, regrettably missed by most, the Moraine Walk, for astounding rain forest views and detailing the advancement of the glacier through relatively recent recorded history.  Fascinating and beautiful.

And one final note:  The past two days we spent at Hamner Springs, a naturally heated mineral spring that has been developed into a very pleasant tourist venue.  Soaking in the hot, minerally pools, one hears a babble of languages as the tourists from many lands unwind from the mountain drive to get there.  But, when I asked what all these hot minerals were going to do for me, Maureen replied that they would soak all the “bad” out of me.  I must confess that, implosion avoided, I am relieved that I am still here.

Closing note:  Now I am just glad to be here in Motueka, our next stop.  Today was a long drive, we found the bottle shop, and our campsite is reasonably level.  Life is good.  Stay tuned.

Under Down Under Two

Subtitled some other memories and impressions of Tassie

 

Gorgeous physical beauty.  The mountainous terrain, proximity to the ocean, an endless supply of beautiful bays and inlets, rolling farmland and the wildness of the west coast combine to make Tasmania a true gem of natural beauty.  Every turn of the road exposes new beauty.  There is one turn on the road just south of our temporary home which is high on the hillside and providing an open view to the rolling green fields below and the shimmering bay beyond where, thank goodness, there is a small pull out space where a driver can stop, enjoy the view and resume normal breathing.  When I told a local person that I had to stop there every time I passed, he said, “yes, me too.”

And Tasmania is a hiker’s paradise.  Deep forest walks to thundering waterfalls, walks along quiet bays, multi-day treks into the west coast rain forest or along the coastal cliffs overlooking the Southern Ocean.  Trails are generally beautifully built and maintained and free of trash.  And there are walking paths everywhere.

And finally, boats.  I am convinced that Tasmania must have one of the highest rates of sailboat ownership anywhere.  Every little cove, every bay, every bit of sheltered water has marinas and moorings that harbor dozens if not hundreds of boats.  The waters of Tasmania are a sailor’s delight; I should not be surprised.

Under Down Under One*

[Note:  This piece was originally written in September 2017, please excuse its inexcusably late posting.]

Where??!!

Put coordinates -43.1229564, 147.222505 into http://www.latlong.net/Show-Latitude-Longitude.html

That should yield you the location of our recently completed house sit, just south of Hobart, Tasmania in the small, mostly rural township of Kettering.  We were maybe 2 km outside of “town” tending a house and a collection of animals; three dogs, seven chickens and three sheep.  And if you ever doubted that sheep have personalities, you can forget that.  From the house, the property slopes down to a small stream.  The steep slope opposite is densely wooded with tall eucalyptus trees that are home to all sorts of birds.  To label this quiet and pastoral place “peaceful” would be an unforgivable understatement.  We were also incredibly well-located to access the small, but delightful, city of Hobart and to enable our explorations further afield in this beautiful corner of Tasmania, Australia’s island state.  Some highlights:

Hobart – A few impressions:  A vibrant food, drink and arts scene.  A “drowned river” harbor reminiscent of Sydney’s, but distinguished by 4,100 foot Mt. Wellington that provides a dramatic backdrop for the city and the harbor and, from the top, some spectacular views of Hobart and for many miles around.  It also provides some freezing temperatures and high winds for those intrepid few who venture to its summit.   The hilly/mountainous setting of the city also provides for some very peculiar traffic patterns which, at first, had us navigating neighborhoods in seemingly endless loops of successive approximation.  It is a walkable city, especially the harbor front.  The Saturday Salamanca Market brings together a riot of crafts, food, music, jugglers.  All in all:  an easy city to like.

MONA – The Museum of Old and New Art is a new, privately funded art museum several miles up the river from downtown Hobart.  You can drive to the MONA, but the fun way to get there is aboard the ferry boat from the Hobart waterfront to the museum’s landing.  The collection emphasizes the modern and challenges tradition…think random words “written” with falling water…but the building itself, carved from a sandstone cliff, is of at least equal interest.  A fascinating place that goes way beyond traditional museum functions.  And it is putting Hobart on the world art map.  David Walsh, the  founder/owner describes it as a “subversive adult Disneyland.”  See more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museum_of_Old_and_New_Art   and, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MONA_FOMA

Bruny Island – Closer to “home”, a short ferry ride from Kettering took us to Bruny Island, a largely rural island of some unmatched natural beauty and that is enjoying growing interest in specialty foods…think oysters, bread, cheese, beer for starters.  In addition to some great walks on Bruny, we joined an amazing boat tour of the towering shore cliffs.  Outfitted with spray ponchos and secured with seat belts we raced along the cliffs while the boat pounded into the swell of the Southern Ocean, pausing to explore caves and photograph seals at very close range.  On a somewhat sad note, while we were on this absolutely wild boat ride, my trusty camera was bounced from the pocket of my spray protection gear into the salt water sloshing around in the bottom of the boat and gave up its electronic ghost.  .  Bummer.  Hundreds of photos….two years worth….gone.  Makes a great case for instant back-up to the cloud or somewhere….

Ewe Whey Gin – Yes, it is true.  Just a few short kilometers down the road from our temporary digs, there is Grandvewe Cheesery, making some very nice cheeses from sheep milk.  They are also distilling the whey from the cheese-making process to make gin and vodka.  And I am here to tell you that it is quite good.  It is also very expensive which is why I’ll not be bringing any home for summer G&Ts.  Nonetheless, ya gotta love a place that doesn’t waste it’s whey.

The End of the Road – Yep, it is here in Tasmania.  The Duo drove to the southernmost drivable point of Australia, Cockle Creek at the very southern-most tip of Australia…and yes, there is a sign, in typically understated Australian manner, announcing “The End of the Road”.

The Tasman Peninsula.  Just a little further afield, we drove over to the Tasman Peninsula, perhaps best known as the site of Port Arthur, location of one of the most notorious of the prisons that date back to the early days of Australia’s development, when British prisoners were transported to the penal colonies of Australia     The vision for the prison at Port Arthur was “…to grind rogues into honest men”.  For more on the UK’s policy of “transportation” to Australia see   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convicts_in_Australia

Dear readers, generally I try to steer these postings well outside of politics or social issues; please permit me the following exception to that self-imposed rule.

The other timely note regarding Port Arthur is that, in April 1996, it was the site of the worst mass shooting in modern Australian history.   Thirty-five people were killed and 23 wounded by a lone gunman in a shooting spree spread over two days.  The gunman was captured and sentenced to 35 life sentences, without possibility of parole.  Immediately following the massacre then Prime Minister, John Howard, introduced a program of strict gun control laws. Before the end of 1996 the program was passed and implemented with bipartisan support by all the Australian states and territories, giving the country what are regarded as the most restrictive gun laws in the world.  While it is impossible to prove that those laws are the single reason, it is notable that Australia has not had a mass shooting in the 21 years since the horrible days at Port Arthur.  Also notable, in the larger picture, is how promptly and how aggressively the state and federal governments were able to work together putting in place a program that actually reflected the overwhelming support of the Australian public.  Hmmmm.

*From Wikipedia:  “The term Down Under is a colloquialism which is variously construed to refer to Australia. The term comes from the fact that it is in the Southern Hemisphere, “below” many other countries, especially Western countries, on a globe oriented with the north towards to top.[1][2]

And then there is Australia’s island state of Tasmania which lies to the south of continental Australia and which is hence “under” Down Under.  A sense of place unmatched.

Thailand – A Few Parting Thoughts

[Note:  This was written in June as we were scrambling to wrap up our affairs in Thailand.}

Four months has flown by; there is a collection of things that come to mind that I wish to remember about Thailand and Chiang Mai.

Rain –  The rains have started in earnest.  Our early weeks here were in the very dry…and hot season.  The mountains were brown, the air very hazy with smoke of burning fields and mountains.  Now the rains have come, cleared the air and everywhere from the roadside to the mountains the vegetation has exploded in green; the jungle encroaches on the secondary roads, slow motorbike rides among the green fields are a treat.  Mornings are delightful; cool and the clear air allows sunshine to be direct and crisp.  Evenings are equally gorgeous.  The distant mountains stand out with their newly pushed out green.  Not quite as hot as it was in April, the lawn and landscaping are growing rapidly.

This evening, a massive very dark cloud rolled over our location with lots of thunder and lightning and torrential rainfall, we kept candles near at hand, fearing a power outage….which never came.

“Too much hot” – The quote is from a restauranteur whose establishment was closed in the very hot afternoon when only the farangs (foreigners) are out seeking lunch.  She was, of course, right.  It was too much hot.  Back in March and April we’ve had many days well over 100 degrees.  One morning that I really do want to remember I went over to the workout room at the clubhouse…which is not air conditioned, nor is there a single fan…struggled to complete 6 km on the treadmill…thinking it pretty warm.  Back home the weather service reported 104, with “feels like” heat index temperature of 117.  Too much hot, indeed!

Thai cooking.  Let’s just say that Thai cooking has a wonderful range of tastes, textures and combinations that amaze.  We will be looking to duplicate some of it once home in our own kitchen.  Or maybe we’ll just camp out at Pok Pok  (Portland’s premier Thai restaurant, for our non-Portlander readers).

New friends.  One of the things that we will surely miss is the company of new friends, Tracy and John.  British expats with nine years working in Bangkok, they are now in their transition to something like retirement at CM Highlands.  Most helpful to us bumbling Thailand newbies, they have generously shared their knowledge of Thailand, helping with everything from the water-throwing celebration of Songkran to motorbike repairs to finding the best stocked markets in the city.  Over and above a long list of their favorite places, we enjoyed many wide-ranging conversations lasting long into the evening, in the sala beside the pool, interrupted only occasionally by the resident geckos announcing their presence with great authority.  Perhaps the very best thing John did for us was to, upon reading our blog, challenge us to write more about the “why” of our world-wandering adventures.  Such soul searching will appear soon in another entry — watch this space.

Angkor Wat

 

Siem Reap, Cambodia

June 8, 2017

At the Siem Reap airport, just wrapping up our second visa run, a way-too-short visit to Cambodia.  The star attraction in this smallish city is the access to the Angkor Archaeological Park, a sprawling complex of ruins from the Ancient Khmer empire that flourished here for six hundred years starting in the early ninth century.  Most of the world knows this amazing World Heritage Site as just “Angkor Wat”, the undisputed premier site within the overall park of many, many individual sites.   Movie-goers immediately recognize these jungle-strangled sites as inspiration for the Indiana Jones-type adventurer films.  Quoting from our trusty guide book, the temples of Angkor are “an astonishing profusion of ancient monuments remarkable both for their size and number, not to mention their incredible levels of artistry”.  Amen.  We spent two days riding in the back of a tuk-tuk from temple ruin to temple ruin, climbing up and down impossibly steep and high steps, dodging the tropical monsoon rains and generally wearing our little selves to an over-heated frazzle.  Our second day started at 4 AM so as to get out to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat.  After two exhausting days we had seen the major, must see temples, monasteries, and other sites within easy reach of Siem Reap, but there are many more scattered through the jungle over an area of 400 square kilometers.  We’ll leave them to Indiana Jones; the pool back at the hotel sounded like a much better idea.

Impressions:  Judging from our quick visit, Cambodia is a sweet country, not nearly as prosperous as its southeast Asian neighbors, but easily as interesting and welcoming of visitors.  On the other hand, given its relatively recent history of wars and the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge, it shows remarkable resilience and recovery.  From all reports, Siem Reap is something of an anomaly (a tourist ghetto, an oasis) since it is basically a small country town, grown up to predominantly serve the tourist masses that beat a path to its airport.  But the result is a pleasant, largely walkable town with wide choices of hotels, bars and restaurants all competing to earn their share of the tourist dollar.  Interestingly, it does project a hint of its French colonial past; broad verandas wrap around gracious old French colonial buildings, croissants and good coffee are everywhere, streets along the (muddy) river are lined with large shade trees, wine lists are more extensive (and more reasonably priced) than we find in Chiang Mai.  And the people are polite and eager to welcome and, with good humor, to take care of visitors.  One could easily get stuck in such a comfortable and fascinating place.

Now, for just one more week, back “home” to the bunnies and to wrap up our Thai adventure.