March 27, 2007

Gold Coast Australia

Surfer's Paradise is in the centre of the Gold Coast. Critics say it is too built up, which is probably true, but I liked it. The weather was fabulous & no hurricanes. Kris was working, so I stayed close to the Marriott where we were staying (belive me, this was NOT a sacrifice).

The organisers invited spouses to the evening events. I enjoyed the evening dinner cruise but LOVED the "Behind the Scenes Night Tour" of Currumbin Sanctuary. I held a young crocodile, viewed a gigantic crocodile, fed kangaroos, enjoyed an Aboriginal dance troupe, and petted a koala bear. I am always ready for close (but safe) encounters with "wild" animals.

March 26, 2007

Lady Elliot Island - Great Barrier Reef

While we were at our hotel in Surfer's Paradise, we learned about an excursion to the Great Barrier Reef. We flew on a tiny plane 2 hours north to land on a grassy strip on Lady Elliot Island, the most southern part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

We started with a "fish feed" in the tidal pools where our guide threw in the equivalent of Purina fish food, and soon many beautiful fish arrived. We also saw many sea cucumbers, purple sea stars, and sea anenomes.

After the fish feed, we walked across the landing strip (looking both ways for incoming planes) and took a glass-bottom boat out to the reef. On the way to the reef, we saw a gigantic manta ray on the ocean surface and several sea turtles. We did NOT see sharks, dudongs (like manatees) or whales. We snorkeled for several hours. I got very sunburned but I did not want to get out of the water.

We then walked around the island and arrived back just in time for lunch and a local "Queensland Brew". After lunch, we learned more about Elliot Island in the Visitor Information Centre and then napped on the beach. Unfortunately, it was soon time to get back into our tiny plane and fly back to Surfer's Paradise.

I have always wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef and thought this was a great way to spend Kris's birthday. He is now saying he will get me Sky TV with comprehensive cricket coverage for my birthday.

March 23, 2007

Sydney Australia

The weather in Sydney was perfect - sunny and at a comfortable temperature. The Sydney Harbour and Opera House were beautiful.

We loved the fact that we could take ferries to so many places. We took the ferry to Watsons Bay and walked from Macquarie Lighthouse to Vaucluse. Our reward was lunch at Doyle's seafood restaurant.

We took the Bondi explorer to walk around this famous beach. I had to take a picture of the Bondi Icebergs clubhouse. Prospective members must swim every Sunday, regardless of weather, 50 weeks of the year for 4 years to join.

We did many other touristy things - Aquarium (platypus), Wildlife World (cassowary), Chinatown, evening ferry tour, afternoon ferry tour, Sydney Explorer, Bondi Explorer, Queen Victoria Building (shopping), The Marble Bar (several visits), Anzac Memorial, and the Australian Museum (excellent Indigenous Australians exhibit).

March 17, 2007

Ta Prohm and the Roluos Group - Cambodia

What makes the Buddhist temple Ta Prohm so special (in addition to its vastness), is that a decision was made to only cut the jungle back part way. This leaves many of the buildings covered with the roots of banyon and kapok trees. Ta Prohm was used in the filming of the movie "Tomb Raider".

The Rolous Group of Angkorean temples includes Lolei, Preah Ko and Bakong. Lolei was founded by King Yasovarman I (889-910) and dedicated to Shiva. Preah Ko was built by King Indravarman I (877-89) and dedicated to Shiva. Bakong was built in the late 9th century and also dedicated to Shiva but now has to share the site with a modern Buddhist temple.

March 16, 2007

Tonle Sap Lake & Land Mine Museum - Cambodia

Life here is truly "on the water" including homes, schools, and playgrounds. We even saw a young girl sitting on a small platform a few yards from her home, reading a book next to her pet cat that was stretched out on the platform.

We didn't take pictures of the landmine museum because it was too depressing. Cambodia is the most densely mined country in the world, with an estimated 8 million landmines. It is not safe to stray from known paths.

Banteay Srei & Banteay Kdei - Cambodia

Banteay Srei, completed in 967, is an intricately carved temple of pink sandstone. These carvings are based on themes derived from the ancient Hindu epic “Ramayana”. We also couldn’t resist taking a picture of the little boy making flower strands.

Banteay Kdei was used as a Buddhist monastic complex until the mid-20th century. We saw a woman collecting red ants which our guide explained adds a delicious crunchy sour garnish to some dishes.

March 15, 2007

Angkor Wat - Cambodia

Angkor Wat is the "must-see" of Siem Reap.
Angkor Wat was built during the reign of Suryavarman II (1112-50) and at the peak of the Khmer Empire. The complex was built on 500 acres surrounded by a moat that is 650 feet wide. Amazing bas-reliefs depict great Hindu epics and apsara (celestial dancers). Kris especially appreciated the huge stone Vishnu, whose head was replaced with a Buddha head and is now also venerated by Buddhists.

Angkor Thom - Cambodia

Angkor Archaeological Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Khmer Empire started in the early 9th century and at its peak was bounded by Vietnam (east), China (north), and Burma (west). The Khmer cult (“devaraja”) was founded on the belief that the Khmer kings were earthly incarnations of Shiva, Vishnu or the Buddha.

Angkor Thom (“Great City”) was the last Khmer Empire capital and was founded by King Jayavarman VII (1181-1215). It was surrounded by a defensive wall and moats.

Bayon was built on the site of a former Hindu temple in the late 12th century by Jayavarman VII and is famous for the serene stone faces and bas-reliefs.

Baphuon was an early Hindu temple built by Udayadityavarman II (1050-66) and is currently being restored.

March 14, 2007

Journeys Within B&B - Siem Reap Cambodia

We flew to Siem Reap and were picked up and taken to the Journeys Within B&B. In addition to having the cleanest pool I have ever seen, our room had every amenity including DVD player and free DVDs.

When the American owners arrived, there was a house on a dirt field similar to a photo I have taken of some adjacent land. It took an amazing amount of work to turn this property into a lush garden and fantastic accomodation.

Associated with the B&B is the Journeys Within Foundation that provides micro-credit and also works to improve water supplies and education. Many of the staff, who are gracious and competent, are involved with this Foundation in some way.