Wednesday, February 17, 2010
The Public University
The public University was perhaps one of the most fascinating sites we visited in that this University was build during Rama 8 dynasty after the introduction of European influence in Thailand. The King ordered all the disciplines of Medicine, Reflexology, Anatomy, Physiology, physiotherapy etc.. to be inscribed on stone tablets and mounted in sequence on the University walls. The university was free for all those people who wanted to study these disciplines.
November 22, 2009, Tour #2 – The Tuk Tuk tour. Bangkok Subways, Tuk Tuks, Buddhist Temples, The Amulet Market, The Wholesale flower market, The public university, the street market and navigating our way back to the hotel.
Today’s adventure starts out with us trying to locate the Lamphoung central train station where we are supposed to meet our guide who will guide us through the sites of Bangkok on three wheeled scooter called Tuk tuks ( pronounced touk touk). We could either take the taxi there and risk getting stuck in a traffic jam (which is all too common in Bangkok), or take the subway and pick the correct line, platform and destination. Keep in mind that our Thai is a little rusty if not nonexistent, but the average berson can mutter out a few words of English so we thought we would choose the subway and try it.
We arrived at the central train station without a hitch, just like a bunch of old travelling pros and sought out to meet our guide for the day Mr. Betong, (Mr B for short). Mr. B. was trained as a Buddhist monk for the past 13 years and chose to leave monastic life to find a job and support his ailing parents who are too old to continue to farm. Once his obligations are over he intends to return to the monastery as a teacher and spiritual guide. His background made the tours of the temples a little more interesting as he could really dive into the subject matter. For those of you who are like me and don’t know a lot about Buddhism, I found out that Buddhism is a faith that is centered around behaviour and consequences and rewards. If you were good and charitable and faithful in a previous life you would be blessed in your next life and so forth. You would continue to return to the earth until you had achieved the 9 levels of spiritual enlightenment. Aside from reincarnation, they believe in living a life prescribed by a similar 10 commandments. One thing that differs greatly in Buddhism versus any of the monotheistic religions such as Jewish, Christianity or Muslim, is their great reliance on luck and amulets that bring on luck and ward off evil. The high use of these symbols is a throwback from the Hindu faith and their 10,000 gods and symbols. Similarly, the Hindu spirit house has also been incorporated into Thai Buddhism. Located on every property is a spot where the spirits are strongest as determined by the local community of Buddhist monks. A spirit house is then build on that spot before any other construction can take place and everyday they must burn incense in the spirit house and give an offering of flowers, food and coins to make the spirits happy and help them meet their requirements in spirit world. Weird but interesting all the same. The Thai people are perhaps the universally most spiritual people that we have ever encountered. They are generally very peaceful and pure of heart.
We found Mr. B and went out to climb aboard our tuk tuks. Tracie and Lizzie, Nicholas and I , Christopher and Emily and Stan and Mr. B teamed up as you could comfortably fit 2 passengers in a tuk tuk (that is not to say that we didn’t see families of 7 riding in one but the operative word here was comfortably. Tuk tuks are a really fun and affordable way to get around in Bangkok. Put is on one of your top things to do if you get here. We quickly set off to the white fort on the river bank of the Po river and then went to the amulet market located in the courtyard of a monestary. We then took off to the largest reclining Buddha in the world made out of solid gold. What was fascinating about this Buddha was that it was it was built in 1750 by the King Rama 5 for 50 million dollars when gold was only 5 British pounds for an ounce. Today, gold is over $1000 per ounce which means that the cost to build this Buddha today would be about 300 times its original cost which means that it would be 1.5 Billion dollars worth of Gold.
Reclining Buddha and the River Boat Cruise
After a few novel stops such as the outdoor reclining Buddha which was about 100 feet long, we drove to the Po river ( Kings river) and boarded a river boat where they served us lunch and cruised the river and we explored sites from the water’s edge. The waiters kept bringing the boys beers (Singha) during the cruise so I am not sure they will remember it very well.
From the summer palace we journeyed to the original capital of Thailand which was only about 50 Km from the Miramar border (formerly called Burma). After 5 wars and 5 consecutive losses all that remains of the former capital are a series of ruins left from the cannons of Miramar back in the 1600’s. All the same we took some great shots. I particularly like the Buddha head embedded in the tree.
The Summer Palace
We joined a tour bus this morning at about 6am and assembled a few more people from other hotels before we embarked on a long drive outside of Bangkok to the site of the Kings’ summer palace. This palace wa built for the 9th Rama and held his residence in the center and the houses of all his concubines around the perimeter. This King fathered over 130 children from 23 wives and 70 concubines.
This guy rarely slept alone and not a single gal was jealous. He was rumored to be good in the sack but suffered from bad breath. No wonder they weren't fighting over him. it was all they could do to bear him. Seriously though, the concubines were only banned by the present King however all those before him enjoyed their polygamous habits
November 21, 2009 Tour #1-The Summer Palace of the King, the ancient temples of Bangkok, the Gold Temple and the Reclining Buddha finished off by a dinner River Cruise on the King River .
Today is actually February 18th but i am so far behind on the blog i think I am in first place. I will spend the next few days trying to catch you all up on some of the sights and places we've been. Unfotunately many of them seem like distant memories now but bear with me.
As most of you know from either history books, schooling or watching the movies of “The King and I “ staring Yul Brenner or “ Anna and the King” starring Jodie Foster; Thailand society revolves around a beloved Monarchy and Buddhism. They call there kings Rama’s. We are in the dynasty of the 14th Rama’s dynasty. The present king is about 82 years old and is in failing health. The Thai people believe that each day of the week is represented by a different colour. Monday is yellow, Tuesday pink, Wednesday-green, Thursday –red, Friday- Blue, Saturday-Orange, Sunday-Violet. It is good luck to wear the colour of the day you were born on. The King was born on a Monday so most of Thailand is adrnd in yellow to commemorate his birthday.
Friday, February 5, 2010
November 20, 2009 Flying to Bangkok
We woke up this morning in plenty of time in order to pack and make the Airport to catch our flight to Bangkok which did not depart until 3:00pm that afternoon. We had a check out time of 10:00 am from the house but we didn’t take it too seriously as usually the checkout times were not enforced. Today was the exception, the cleaners started pounding on the door by 9:30 and we were not ready. We scrambled to get packed up and out of the door but we made them wait until 11am or so before we had things organized enough to pack the van. Tempers were short and but all the children managed to make it out alive and we didn’t even forget anything.
We drove into Christchurch and decided to send off a handful of Christmas cards and letters and buy a backup hard drive to my computer in the event something horribly wrong happened to the laptop on we would lose all our pictures which by now number in the thousands. Mission accomplished.
We are in for a hectic 24 hours. We first fly to Sydney from Christchurch which is a 3 hour flight over the Tasman Sea. We have a 1 hour lay over and gain two hours. We then depart from Sydney and fly to Bangkok which is a 7 ½ hour flight and gain another 3 hours. We are now only 14 hours ahead of Calgary. We land in Bangkok at midnight local time but it would be 6 oclock in the morning New Zealand time. Our itinerary is such that we begin our first tour at 6:30 in the morning local time. So after travelling from the Airport and checking into our hotel – Surkumvit Xclusive—5 star—and get everyone settled in it would be about 2 am. We told everyone to sleep for 3 hours and then meet in the lobby, have a quick breakfast and then meet our tour guide and the bus.
November 20- Contemplating the kilometres we’ve travelled so far
We have now only been away for 3 months and 2 days but we have travelled many kilometres. We have travelled the same number of kilometres that it would take to circumnavigate the globe over 40,000km. Here is a schedule of what we have covered so far.
Calgary to San Francisco 2400 km Aug 21, 2009
San Francisco to Hawaii 3800 km Aug 21, 2009
Island of Oahu 860 km Aug 22- Sept 6, 2009
Honolulu to Auckland New Zealand 7052 km Sept 7, 2009
Auckland to Brisbane Australia 2293 km Sept 7, 2009
Driving Distance travelled in Australia 8549 km Sept 8 – Nov. 6, 2009
Boating distances traveled in Australia 580km Sept 21-23&Oct 20-27
Brisbane to Auckland New Zealand 2293 km Nov 6, 2009
North Island travel New Zealand 995 km Nov 7-14, 2009
Auckland to Christchurch New Zealand 746 km Nov 14, 2009
South Island Driving travel distances 835 km Nov 15-23, 2009
Christchurch to Sydney Australia 2387 km Nov 23, 20 09
Sydney to Bangkok Thailand 7540 km Nov 23, 2009
Total km traveled August 21-Nov21, 2009 40146 km 3 months
Hamner Springs, Arthurs Pass and Franz Joseph
We took it pretty easy on the south island but a few notables worth mentioning were the natural thermal pools of Hamner springs, Arthurs Pass and Franz Joseph Glaciers. Unfortunately, we missed the ski season by less than 3 weeks which would have been a blast but we did however get to see the yellow mountains on the way to Hamner springs and we did hike Arthurs pass which came from a recommendation from the priest Father Dan from St Mary’s church in Rangoria. We followed his advice and drove 3 hours to the pass. Unfortunately it was a rainy and overcast day but the scenery was fantastic. My only regret was that we did not get to see the Franz Joseph Glacier which is arguably one of the most beautiful in the world. We now have the perfect excuse to come back.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
The Antarctic Center
When you are on the south island of New Zealand you are only 2400 kilometres away from the Antarctic. It’s the equivalent of being in Churchill Manitoba to the Arctic Circle. There are several research stations studying the Antarctic and their launch point for supplies and service is from Christchurch. The kiwi’s established an education center about the Antarctic and we decided it would be a good thing if the kids took it in. They learned all about the polar ice caps, and various other research projects. They went into a simulation chamber of -40 something like Calgary is experiencing right about now naturally. They rode a Hagglund which is a versatile off road Antarctic vehicle made in Sweden. Their Aunt Hanna would be so proud. They had an obstacle course laid out for this thing that would tip, flip and roll most vehicles. This Hagglund handled it easily a 100km/hr. fun ride
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Punting on the Avon
Have you ever been stuck in a time warp? Well we narrowly escaped one. Running slowly through the city of Christchurch is the Avon river which has been the site of many romantic boat rides since the time of Napoleon. The river is quite slow moving and the boats travel along the river being propelled by hand.. punts actually. The punt boats are flat bottom gondolas where a punter stands on the platform at the rear and uses a long stick called a punt to propel and steer the boat.
Monday, December 28, 2009
On our first day on the South Island we recognized some distinctions from the north island which is much closer to the equator. It is definitely cooler by about 5-8 degrees on average and the terrain is much more mountainous with the New Zealand Alps reaching impressive heights. The mountains are most impressive along the eastern seaboard where you can take the Franz Joseph Alpine train and see the landscapes which were filmed in Lord of the Rings.
Once we got settled in the house we set off to explore, get groceries and see the area. Tracie and Nicholas ventured off for groceries while the girls unpacked and Christopher and I tried to set up a dial up connection via one computer so that they could do some homework in the mornings. When Tracie returned we piled in the van and headed for Christchurch. We parked near the core of St John’s Anglican cathedral. We bought tickets on the scenic tram which is like a pass that you can jump on and off for the same price all day. We explored the Museum of Modern Art which was weird at best and then we explored an outdoor flea market 2 blocks away. From there we went toward the University and did the botanical gardens and the museum of history which was largely celebrating the settlement of New Zealand and the Mauori culture of the south. There was a really wierd exhibit at the museum which was a couples house who had recently passed and they resurrected it inside the museum.
The weird part was that the house was 100% decorated and constructed with shells
Christchurch, Erwywell, Arthurs Pass and the South Island of New Zealand Nov 14-21
November 14- and we discovered that we had made an error with our flights. When we had first landed in New Zealand we arrived in Auckland however we supposed to depart out of Tauranga 4 hours drive away. The vehicle however had to be returned to Auckland so Emily and I drove to Auckland in the morning while the others took a flight. We met them in Auckland after an early morning drive and breakfast at one of the amazing bakeries, returned the van and checked into the airport and then flew together to Christchurch. We arrived in stormy skies and cold fresh temperatures of 6 degrees. Thank god for the Merino wool sweaters we bought in the North Island.
We had a house booked North of Christchurch in the community of Eryewell, which was a 3000 square foot ranch style bungalow with 5 bedrooms 5 bathroom house complete with laundry, a triple car garage, a billiard room and large eat in kitchen. We were not slumming it by any means on this one.
Evening Glow worms
Later in evening Tracie and I returned to the Waimarino kayak park to go on a romantic kayak trip to see the glow worm caves. When we arrived there, we met the two guides and they had two kayaks loaded onto a trailer and we all drove to McLaren Falls which was at the head of the falls and our debarkation point. When we arrived we enjoyed some wine and cheese, then got suited up to go on the kayak. The weather was a cool 8 degrees Celsius, but the water was still and the moon cast a glow across the lake. I has been about 20 years since Tracie and I shared a kayak so we were a little rusty but after 5 minutes we were paddling in rhythm and heading towards the rapids and river to the glow worm caves. After a little navigational error we found the caves which would have been pitch black except for the millions of glow worms emitting their phosphorous glow from their tails. As it turns out they weren’t really worms at all but spiders. In any event it looked like the we were in the middle of the milky way galaxy travelling through space.
The Water Blob
The blob is an air tube that floats in the water. Directly above it is a 30 foot high platform which extends out ward towards the water. The idea of the blob is that one person sits on the blob at the closest end to the water. One or a couple of people climb and jump from the 30 foot high platforms aiming to land on the nearest end of the blob which launches the other person or flyer who is waiting at the other end of the blob into the air and who lands ultimately into the water. Now for those of you who study physics and the conservation of energy when a 130lb person jumps off the platform and lands on the blob the other person sitting on the blob will pick up the kinetic energy of the falling person and get shot up 66% of the original persons height or in this case 20 feet. Now the boys figured this out very quickly and decided to solicit two people to jump off simultaneously and launch them. In Nicholas’ case he found two healthy Kiwi Schoolgirls weighing in at about 140 lbs each fo 280lbs in all to launch him. Nicholas is only about 130 lbs. if you did the math you would calculate that he travelled about 60 feet in the air after being launched. Christopher decided to do the same thing. Here is their flight pattern.