A Travellerspoint blog

Dirt roads of Cambodia lead to extremes

A country tries to balance beauty with poverty

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View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

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FROM ELIZABETH:

Crossing the border between Thailand and Cambodia is an adventure sport not good for the faint of heart. A couple we met earlier in our trip advised us to immediately book a flight to Cambodia and not even attempt the feat, but our wallets had another plan, and we were confident we could beat the scams.

The website www.talesofasia.com pretty much walks you through the process if you are planning to do the trip. I won't give you all of our details, but the journey involved one bus, two taxis, two tuk-tuk rides, three fake Cambodian Consulate locations and two very tired travelers by the days end!

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After waiting in line to check out of Thailand, you have to walk about a half mile to reach Cambodia's border patrol. This walk is a step back in time about 50 years. Paved roads become dirt. Manicured landscape becomes dry and filled with garbage. The pickup trucks full of goods fade out, and massive, wood wheel barrels pulled by one man start to fill the street. The zone between countries is also lined with casinos that look lifeless and beggers.

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Poipet is the town just outside of border area in Cambodia. We do not have photos of the details I describe above as it was not safe to pull out our cameras.

We made it to a building with military men and a sign that said Cambodia visa $20 USD, which is the price we expected. But once the officer had our passports and $20, he asked for 200 baht, which is around $6. He wouldn't give us a clear answer why, but I suspect it was the lunchtime fee as it was noon and his staff was eating. So long story short, after avoiding about a dozen scams along the way, we ultimately were scammed by the 'real' officials.

From the border we shared a taxi to Siem Reap with Roger and Chloe, seasoned travelers from England who are wrapping up an impressive two-year stint on the road. We met them on the bus from Bangkok.

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The taxi driver made stops along the way, including one to get his car wash, conveniently at a store for us to buy snacks, and he wouldn't drop us off at our requested destination in Siem Reap, rather he left us on the side of the road near two tuk-tuks who claimed they would take us for free to our hotel. Buyer beware - nothing is FREE in southeast Asia! We crossed a highway to make a phone call to our hotel to pick us up.

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We made it! Our hotel welcomed us with a drink!

The next morning we hired a tuk-tuk to take us to Angkor Wat and many of its surrounding temples.

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Angkor Wat is a massive temple dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. In the past decade it has also become Cambodia's most popular tourist destination. The temple is surrounded by a moat, is full of empty reflection pools, and many of its walls have carvings from Hindu mythology. Unfortunately, much of the temple was destroyed by the Khmere Rouge, which Dave writes about below.

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We hiked up a mountain to get an aerial perspective of Angkor Wat.

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Walking into Angkor Wat is an awesome site!

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Chloe and Roger on top of Angkor Wat.

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On the way to neighboring temples you go over and through a bridge with a collection of Buddha heads along the side. On one side of the road the heads represent good, on the other the heads represent evil. We like the happy Buddhas!

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Bayon Temple includes 37 towers of faces.

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Monks getting a tour of the Buddhist mecca.

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While other temples are getting repairs, Ta Prohm Temple has been left partially untouched. It is now full of fig and silk-cotton trees growing from the towers and corridors.

The sites at and around Ankgor Wat were pretty amazing, but the overall experience was not pleasant. At every step we were immediately surrounded by children asking for money or asking us to buy something. All day I heard, 'Lady, lady, lady, just one dollar, just one dollar. Come on.'

Tourists are left with a choice: engage in conversation with the children or ignore them. At first I engaged, but this only led them to follow me and beg for money. For many reasons I would not donate, rather I'd ask them about school, which I firmly believe none of them attend.

By the end of the day I was ignoring the children, trying not to make eye contact, but it felt awful. One girl about eight years old held her two year old brother in her bike basket. When I refused to give her money she started hitting him on the head with a plastic water bottle. It was horrifying, and I felt extremely helpless as she wouldn't stop and locals I approached wouldn't intervene.

What killed me most was that all of the local Cambodian women selling fruits nearby, and the male tuk-tuk drivers just turned a blind eye. No one wants to admit that this is a problem, or attempt to fix it.

The next day we took a bus to the capital city of Phnom Penh, primarily to get our Vietnam visas. Dave and I decided that with just three and a half weeks left in southeast Asia, we wanted to devote more time to Vietnam and Laos, hoping for a more positive experience, but who knows what lies ahead.

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On the road we stopped for a Buddhist ceremony where locals give alms to the monks.

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Check out the young motorcycle driver!

Driving across the country by bus gave us many hours to check out the landscape. Unlike parts of Peru where traditional garb is still warn, people in Cambodia are wearing jeans and t-shirts like us, but bicycles are from the 60's, houses are made of bamboo and rarely finished, and rivers are dirty brown.

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Exercise is not a problem in Cambodia, as most children and adults ride bikes, usually alongside cars, motorcycles, trucks and tuk-tuks.

Only two Asian countries into our trip, I have a better understanding for their chaotic driving style at home. Simply put, there are no road rules here and oddly everyone seems to get through the intersections in one piece. We have driven on the wrong side of the road, gone through traffic lights, and driven on sidewalks among other things.

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Cars and trucks are often packed to the max with people overflowing out the back, windows and on roofs.

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Garbage lines most city streets, especially near markets.

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Pollution is awful. You have to cover your nose and mouth to prevent ingesting all of the fumes.

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Women usually work at the markets or sell fruit on the street to make money.

We realize we may not be giving Cambodia a fair shake. We are skipping Sihanoukville (a beach town we heard was beautiful on the south coast of Cambodia), Kampot (a rural town with rice paddies and farms) and Battambang (a French inspired village), but we just don't have the time to do everything.

A few final thoughts...
- Even though I saw plenty of solo western women traveling through Cambodia, I don't recommend it. Even with Dave I felt uncomfortable on most city streets in Phnom Penh, feeling stares and creepiness from men just sitting on the street.

- The front desk manager at one of our hotels makes $3 a day. He says he has multiple jobs to just afford food and housing. He's never ordered a pizza, because that would break the bank. Now that's food for thought that made me lose my appetite.

FROM DAVE:
Understanding Cambodia's poverty and the destruction caused by the Khmere Rouge ...

The Khmere Rouge led by Pol Pot was in power from from 1975 to 1979 and committed genocide on the Cambodian people in a sick attempt to achieve a radical vision of a Maoist society. One point seven million people (although some people argue up to three million) were brutally killed.

While in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, Elizabeth and I visited the S-21 museum and the Killing Fields, which you may know from the movie by the same name.

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S-21 was the name given to an elementary school that was converted into a jail and torture unit for prisoners including women, children, highly educated Cambodians and foreigners, who could not be brainwashed.

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After being tortured using methods such as water boarding, these victims were sent to the Killing Fields, a farm just outside of town, to be shot and buried in mass graves.

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Today a memorial monument holding the skulls of many victims stands in the middle of the field.

It was incredibly powerful to see the museum and field in succession, as well as observe the affects of the war on Cambodia today. While walking around the graves and monument at the Killing Fields you could hear laughs of young children at a neighboring school, which gave us some hope that things are improving for the Cambodian people. However, as Elizabeth described, the country still has a long way to go and throughout most of Cambodia, the amount of kids not attending school and begging is heart breaking, and the amount of unemployed people on the street waiting to pick up odd jobs is eerie.

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It is a common site to see Cambodian's just squatting on the street with no place to go.

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Men with motor bikes offer rides to try and earn a dollar.

The troubled infrastructure and economy in Cambodia is partly due to how the Khmere Rouge regime broke up families, eliminated the school system and free market to achieve a classless society of peasants and workers. From stories we've heard, current government corruption and a strong mafia presence isn't helping the situation either. Further, I can only imagine the psychological damage caused by the Khmere Rouge. I watched The Killing Fields at our hotel with a worker who lost a lot of family and our tuk-tuk driver who lost his dad told us, “everyone lost someone.”

The fact that the US had a part in sending Pol Pot into power made us feel even worse. Under Nixon's leadership, our country indirectly supported China and Thailand in arming the Khmere Rouge to fight the Vietnamese. We also carpet bombed Cambodia, destabilizing the former government, which allowed Pol Pot to rise to power.

Elizabeth and I think all US politicians should be required to travel across Cambodia to see what poor decision making can do to the common person.

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On the way out of Cambodia our bus was surrounded by children banging on the windows for money and food. Elizabeth got really emotional and started to cry. We opened the window and gave this boy our remaining Cambodian change, equivalent to $.15. It was as if he won the lottery!

Posted by daveliz 08:54 Archived in Cambodia Comments (2)

Thailand Hike, Bike & Kayak

On the move in Thailand for a month ...

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View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

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From infant to elderly, motorbike is the main form of transportation in Thailand. I cringe when I see families of four on one bike, or a ten-year-old or ninety-year-old behind the wheel.

It didn't take long for Dave and I to learn that Thai people work extraordinarily hard, often seven days a week from sunrise to sunset, with just two days off a month. The economy is weak so people work to survive, rather than take part in luxury activities like travel. With that said, and with all of you working hard at home, I feel a little guilty about sharing our adventures, but when it comes down to it, the Thai people depend on tourist dollars as a main source of income. With political unrest becoming public globally, the Thai people worry about the future of its tourism industry.

For two weeks, Dave and I went on a trip with the tour company Gap Adventures. We will also travel with them in China and parts of Africa, primarily in areas that are harder to reach as independent travelers. With the group we are able to visit places we may have otherwise not gotten to, giving us better insight into the people and culture. Thank you Gary, Lisa, Cheryl, Jared, Joanne, Sue and Art for your GAP wedding gift. It was such a treat!

Our group was a fabulous international collection of people ranging in age from 19-48; Lucy (Australian living in London), Graeme (Scotland), Brigitte (Austria), Essa (Sweden), Paul & Lindsey (father & daughter from Canada), Matt & Alice (brother & sister from Wales), Gernot and Katja (dating couple from Germany) and us (Team USA), plus our guide Koko (Thailand).

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Our first overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. You sleep better after a few drinks with Lucy and Graeme - a.k.a. Grrrrrraaaaaame (say it with a Scottish accent!)

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The sleeper car is meant to host one person on top and one on the bottom - insert appropriate joke here! But since our bags wouldn't fit under the chairs, they got the top bunk and we squished below.

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No time to rest in Chiang Mai. We got into a pickup truck with seats in the back to head for the mountains for a three day hike.

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It is common to pass elephants along the roadside.

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Our Hilltribe trek took us through small villages in the mountains where people live, work and go to school. The people live a rural lifestyle in these mountains with many young adults moving to a bigger cities when they grow up, putting the survival of these communities at risk.

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We hiked like warriors uphill for about four hours the first day. Paul led the charge!

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The first village we stayed at was quite rustic. The second photo is of the bathroom....inside you'd find a hose for the shower and a hole in the ground as the toilet. There was one western-style toilet with a seat, but as you'll notice on the far right, there is no door.

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The hilltribe children loved looking at themselves in our modern cameras.

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We cooked, ate and slept on this floor. Yum!

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The next morning, we made lunch; noodles held in a bamboo leaf wrap. We ate it with bamboo chopsticks. A delicious meal with completely biodegradable trash.

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The second day of hiking was for much longer, but it was a little easier on the legs with more ups and downs, plus a few watering holes to cool off in.

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The second hilltribe village we stayed at was much more modern. Each of us had a bed, western-style toilet and shower. The village people also gave us traditional Thai massages. Child labor laws prevented the little one from working solo.

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By the end of the third day I was ready for a beer! But before we got to our accommodation for the night, we got a ride on an elephant.

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These animals used to work on farms and in construction in Thailand, but now much of the work for elephants is against the law, so many owners have turned to giving rides to make a penny. According to the locals the elephants now have a much better life.

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Dave and Koko help two school girls with their homework. They want to learn conversational American English. Dave writes that for them in English for their teacher.

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One of the best things we did in Thailand was Smart Cook Thai Cookery School in Chiang Mai. With the instructor we visited the market to learn about local produce and then we made ten delicious Thai dishes ranging from curry to sticky rice with mango to pad Thai. Whose coming to dinner at our place (of course when we have a place)?

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Along the River Kwai we stayed on a raft house, allowing us a perfect spot to kayak or swim, and a beautiful sunset. Other raft houses either floated by or rested by the shoreline.

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Autthaya, a city surrounded by water, was the capital 0f Thailand for more than 400 years until the Burmese destroyed it in 1767. What remains are extensive ruins of temples, palaces and pagodas. We toured the area by bike.

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On a scorcher of a day we strolled the seven tiers of Erawan Falls at Erawan National Park. Each level has its own unique waterfalls, many with swimming holes full of snipping fish. None-the-less many in our group jumped right in!

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On a bike tour, we visited the bridge over the River Kwai which was built by prisoners of war during World War II under Japanese control who wanted a speedy route to Burma to supply their troops with ammunition and food. At a local museum we learned the Japanese pushed thousands of POW construction workers to their death from grueling environmental conditions and malnutrition. Engineers estimated construction should have taken five years, but under Japanese control it was completed in 16 months. During the war the bridge was blown up by the US, later rebuilt by Thailand to use for regular service train travel which continues today.

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We stopped at several Buddhist temples. We liked glutton Buddha. Here we learned that a Buddha is assigned to you at birth based on the day you were born. I suspect Dave and I were not born on the day honoring reclining Buddha.

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There were also several mini monks, children dressed in traditional Monk orange at the monasteries. These children live and get educated by the Monks. They often come from poor families who feel the Monks will give their children a better quality of life. The children can decide for themselves if they want to become a Monk when they become an adult.

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Graeme turns 40-something...shhh..... The group lets loose and celebrates with cake, drinks and dancing in Au Nang, a touristy ocean side town outside of Krabi.

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Alcohol is often served in buckets in Thailand. We shared a bucket of rum and coke for the cost of one drink in Boston.

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Clearly, I had one too many sips....is the US gymnastics team looking for a new member? To my future boss...this is a rare occassion!

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Again, child labor laws are out the window. The youngest DJ in Thailand knew how to get his groove on!

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Before heading to the ocean we kayaked through mangroves and caves outside of Au Nang. Lucy and Graeme are looking for wild monkeys....they hear them....just can't find them!

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Dave tries some coconut juice, a traditional drink in Thailand.

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From Au Nang, we took a very loud longtail boat to Bamboo Island passing many other islands along the way. The water was a beautiful turquoise blue, which oddly seemed very clear and clean. Longtail boats are quite popular in Thailand and usually driven by 15-year-olds. Unfortunately they seem to use old car or truck engines creating massive noise and pollution in the water.

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We were supposed to kayak around the Hong Islands, but the government was there checking things out, so we had to re-route to Bamboo Island, one of the Phi Phi Islands, which you may remember as the target of a major tsunami in 2006. The islands have rebounded with extra evacuation plans now in tact.

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Bamboo Island is extremely remote and unfortunately our dodgy local leader was not a great chef. That, along with poor refrigeration and poor cleanliness, 90 percent of us developed stomach problems. Let's just say mother nature was a more appealing toilet than what was offered. As a result, we don't have too many photos of the actual ocean kayaking. Sorry!

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Dave did strike a chord or two with the locals.

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On the boat, Matt strikes a few poses for his calendar.

Overall our Gap trip was phenomenal. With a few tweaks to the kayaking portion of the trip we'd highly recommend it. As most of our group headed back to Bangkok, we decided to go to Koh Phangan, an island off the east coast of Thailand to chill out.

The island is known for having some very remote, beautiful beaches that are great for swimming. In one week we checked out three different areas; Haad Rin Nok, Ao Thong Nai Pan Yai and our favorite AO Thong Nai Pan Noi.

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View from La Polita Lodge, Haad Rin Nok.This part of the island is best known for its full moon parties, which we gladly missed by a week. It sounds like a location for 'Girls Gone Wild'.

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Relaxing at Thong Noi Pan Noi.

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A handful of friends who have been here before told us of beach-side bungalows with a hammock for $5, well those days seem to be long gone as the island has been built up in the past ten years. We were able to score some beach front views though for $20-$30 and in some cases, pool included!

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Local digs for clams.

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This week was the closest Dave and I have come to a traditional honeymoon, and we thoroughly enjoyed the peace and quiet, of course with a night mixed in with new friends from Sweden, England and Australia.

A few final thoughts about Thailand as we get ready to travel by bus, tuk-tuk and taxi to Cambodia ...

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In a country where supermarkets rarely exist and street vendors are where you buy everything from jeans to pad Thai, 7-Eleven has invaded. There is one on almost every corner. You can see two from our hotel room on Khao San Road, a popular place for backpackers.

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My favorite treat is Thai iced coffee served in a bag from a street vendor.

- People from Thailand, and I suspect most of Asia, have strong legs and knees. The Thai toilet, or squat toilet, as we like to call it, is everywhere except for hotels catering to westerners. It is basically a hole on the ground surrounded by porcelain with a bucket of water nearby to manually flush. Comfort goes out the window and balance is a must. Try using one of these on a moving train or ferry. Photo to come!

- Thai people are always smiling. They are extremely welcoming, although one smart 15-year-old let us in on a secret. He says the Thai people smile when they don't understand the westerners ; - )

- The Thai New Year, April 13-15, is normally celebrated with massive water fights. This year the festivities were minimal as most locals were ashamed of the violent protests regarding the country's current prime minister in Bangkok. People we talked with did not feel it was an appropriate time to celebrate. They seem divided amongst the two sides of the issue, yellow and red shirts, although all agree Thailand should aim to move forward and try to boost its economy.

- Thailand is full of colorful sex tourists and lady boys. In order to stay kosher I'll keep my thoughts quiet. If you want a story or two...just ask!

- In Thailand you bargain for everything from dinner to a hotel room. Even if the price seems inexpensive to its equivelant in the US, I never know if we are getting a fair deal. I much prefer when prices are marked, and you just have to go with it.

- Dave picked up his sports coat and it looks good. Scam avoided! (reference to last Bangkok blog entry.) Of course it is on the slow boat to the US now.

- Two funny notes about me. In the past week I've been confused for an Israeli several times, by Israelis and shop owners. I gather it is from my tan among other things - don't worry, I'm using 40 spf multiple times a day. I wish I remembered Hebrew and could respond! And many Thai women have come up to me and pointed to my nose and said "so-ay", which means beautiful. I'm flattered, but think many western noses get compliments here!

You'll hear from us soon from Cambodia.
For those of you on the GAP trip, go to our photo gallery for more pictures of the trip. You'll likely find one or two of you!

- Elizabeth

Posted by daveliz 22:46 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Bangkok

Senses overload in Bangkok, Thailand

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View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

We arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, after 16 hours of travel with tiny petite Chinese and Thai flight attendants serving big burly men on their way to see The Sevens, the super bowl of rugby tournaments which takes place in Hong Kong. Elizabeth and I got a kick out of the contrasting people sizes. We got upgraded on the last leg of the trip for reasons we're unsure of, but we didn't ask questions and welcomed the nice seats and delicious food!

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Livin' in style in first class.

We spent three days exploring the amazing and overwhelming mega metropolis of Bangkok. Extreme sweat and exhaustion followed each day as our senses were continually bombarded by the city's seemingly endless strands of street vendors and shops. Within five steps, we would smell five different odors - delicious, disgusting, sweet, rotten, & intolerable. We were dizzy with the sight of all the colorful vendor food and knock-off clothing. The sounds of deafening tuk tuk taxis, a little three-wheeled vehicle named for the sound of it's high pollutant engine, also dominated the streets.

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Fish and other meats line the streets. Traditional supermarkets are not common.

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In this overwhelming city it's amazing that Thailand lives up to its reputation as the land of smiling people. The Thai people are very handsome and friendly, always greet you with a smile, and are incredibly appreciative for any attempt to speak their language. However, with a smile on their face, many of the vendors and tuk tuk drivers will try to scam you. Never-the-less, haggling is easy, and they will quickly agree to a reasonable price and will happily do business with you.

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Even Ronald greets people with the customary bow and a smile!

Elizabeth and I explored for two days before joining our first organized group tour with GAP adventures. In that time we saw the Wat Pho temple which is known for it's giant reclining Buddha. The temple has beautiful and intricately tiled Pagodas and statues of warrior gods guarding each doorway. You are guaranteed to be within a few kilometers of a temple in Thailand which has a rich Buddhist culture followed by 90% of it's people.

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If I only had a staff like his.

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Gong beware!

We also visited the Chatuchak market. This market is the epitome of the Bangkok vendor scene. It puts all other markets we've seen to shame with 10,000 vendors selling everything from knock-off clothing and accessories to beautiful and original hand made clothing to food and kitchenware. The smell and heat were overwhelming and the narrow alleys and giant matrix of market vendors were difficult to navigate, but everything was dirt cheap! Too bad we can't fit anything in our travel bags. To Elizabeth's mother's dismay, we only walked away with a knock-off Diesel watch for me (my 20-year-old Casio finally gave out) and two tank tops ($4 US total!) for Elizabeth.

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We had been warned that tuk tuk drivers are almost guaranteed to scam you, but we couldn't resist the experience. We hopped on one to show us around town for 20 baht (about 50 cents US), but we ultimately got taken for more of a ride than we bargained for. These guys get kickbacks from jewelery and clothing stores they "convince" you to go inside, so they basically park outside until you promise to go in for five minutes. It works! We had been told by several friends that you can get high quality, well priced custom clothing from the same factories that take orders from top American brands. When the tuk tuk driver stopped at a tailor we splurged for a nice sports coat for me to wear at my sister's wedding. Sensing his profit had been made (and his gas tank full from the jewelery store he stopped us at), on our second to last stop he ditched us before even collecting his 20 baht! We had to take a taxi to our next adventure, a traditional Thai massage, but didn't feel too bad since the tuk tuk experience was exhilarating!

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I didn't know what to expect from a Thai massage. After changing into Thai pajamas, Elizabeth and I lied down side by side, and it didn't take long to realize this was no western-style massage. Before we knew it we were being whipped around and stretched in ways we didn't know were possible! These little Thai women used their entire body to stretch you, walking on your back and legs, using their feet to dig into your muscles, bending you backwards and forwards. Finally, I lost it. With my masseuse's arm under my arm and her leg wrapped around my waste in a way bordering on inappropriate, she rolled both of us back as if we were doing ballet. My back cracked so loud it startled Elizabeth. I couldn't stop laughing for the rest of the massage, yet fearing I wouldn't be able to move the next day! My masseuse and Elizabeth were laughing with me too. In the end, I felt like I'd finished a week of intense yoga in an hour all for $6 US, and thankfully, I felt fine the next day.

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The next day, we joined a tour group whom we'd be with for two weeks. Our first activity was a bike tour of Bangkok, which was an incredible way to see things missed by most tourists. It gave us a better sense of the local lifestyle. We biked through busy streets, over bridges, down narrow alleys, and through people's houses and restaurants! It's all too much to describe, so hopefully the following photos will do it some justice...

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Posters and billboards of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej are everywhere. He is loved by the people and so revered he is on par with a Buddhist god.

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The base of most temples are shaped like boats. Notice how the base of this temple is curved.

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A scripture storage house surrounded by a moat filled with turtles to protect from rats. People donate a turtle for good luck on special occasions.

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Navigating through a restaurant/house.

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Our always smiling GAP adventure guide Koko.

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A common Buddhist theme.

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Safe water is only available in bottles or from these vending machines.

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Copper worker works near flame in 100 degree weather!

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Mmm... taro treats.

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Our wonderful guide Nok, from Grasshopper Adventures, sings us a song of Bangkok's full name. The official name is the longest city name in the world!

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Bangkok's full name is a mouthful.

We're recuperating from our 14 day GAP adventure tour of Thailand on an island in the south east, away from the protests happening in Bangkok regarding the current Prime Minister. The protests should fizzle out after the Thai New Year before we return to Bangkok on our way to Cambodia.

- Dave

Posted by daveliz 23:13 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Reef to rainforest

Our final two weeks in Australia . . .

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View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

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Daintree Rainforest meets South Pacific Ocean with the Great Barrier Reef just miles off shore.

There isn't much to say about Cairns unless you are crazy about tacky T-shirt souvenir stores. There area heaps of them everywhere. For us, Cairns was a home base to explore the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, which is one of the few tropical rainforests to meet the ocean.

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Cairns does have a pretty swimming lagoon right in downtown.

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Great Barrier Reef below and around this boat near the Frankland Islands.

The Great Barrier Reef extends roughly 1100 miles, primarily down the northeast coast of Australia. There are more than 1500 species of fish living in the region, 400 types of coral, and more than 100 boat operators who want to take you there. We decided to visit the reef surrounding the less traveled Frankland Islands, allowing us to snorkel around the islands and hike inland to check out the rainforest.

It was sunny on the day of our visit, but the ocean was murky from recent rainfall and storms. Regardless, we thought the view through our novice masked eyes was exceptional. There were plenty of coral and colorful fish. A highlight for Dave was swimming with green turtles.

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Snorkeling without a waterproof camera. Sorry! Please note the funky one piece jumpers we are wearing. These are to protect us from jelly fish.

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We also viewed the reef further from shore through a glass bottom boat. The photos don't do it justice.

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On the island, there was plenty washed up coral and shells to check out on the beach. Inland was full of enormous trees and spiders.

A few days later we headed north to visit the Daintree Rainforest. We hopped on a tourist bus from Cairns to Cape Tribulation where the driver started with something along the lines of
"since you're all in your 20's..." Shhhhh.....

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Along the way we visited a part of the forest with massive trees. The leaves are bigger than me.

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The Strangler Fig Tree wraps around another tree, ultimately strangling it over hundreds of years. It is nourished by the nutrients of its host, which ends up decomposing and leaving the Fig Tree hallow.

We also went on a crocodile wildlife boat ride along the Daintree River. Unlike our ride in the Adelaide River (last blog) the ride was very tame.The captain of the boat told us it was illegal and inhumane to feed the crocs meat to get them to jump out of the water, as we had seen before. We couldn't agree more. The last croc ride was bothersome; very contrived and unnatural.

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We saw two crocs in the Daintree River sunning themselves on the shoreline. Look closely! You'll be able to see one of them.

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Mangroves along the Daintree River.

Dave was in Cape Tribulation ten years ago with his friend Matt and had memories of beautiful, white sandy beaches, colorful birds, incredible hikes and probably hammocks, cabana girls and free beer, so expectations were high. What we failed to digest ahead of time is that his experience in September would be very different than his experience in March.

The northeast of Australia has two main seasons; wet and dry. We are here on the tail end of the wet season, which has made the tropical rainforest extremely lush, but the beautiful, white sand has been flattened and hardened by harsh rain, and long hikes to watering holes are out of the question because it is breeding season for crocodiles, which means young crocs and their moms are hiding in creeks, rivers and along the ocean edge. It is also breeding season for box jelly fish who flock to the ocean's edge in this area. If stung by a box jelly fish, it will paralyze the part of the body it stings.

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Cape Tribulation Beach during the wet season. The beach isn't too welcoming!

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Warning signs for box jelly fish, as well as crocs, are on every beach in tropical north Queensland.

All of the amenities in Cape Tribulation are run entirely on generators. The area has few stores (not even a real supermarket), and although very peaceful, five days was a bit much, especially with the hiking and swimming restrictions. On the flip side, we saw our first Australian snake on a mini hike (not sure what kind.)

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It rained buckets at least once a day during our visit. It was an unbelievable site.

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We spent a little too much time playing backgammon.

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When the sun shined, we splurged on a pina colada. Ok...we shared it. Pretty lame, but I'm cheap and was craving a tropical drink!

We also participated in jungle surfing, which if done right, is a great way for an adrenaline junkie to view the rainforest.

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Unfortunately, we were disappointed with the tour as the zipline was pretty slow, and although we did get a great view, we expected to see more colorful birds, flora and other wildlife. Additionally, our 'expert' nature guide didn't seem too knowledgeable about the area.

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Dave went on a night walk to see nocturnal creepy crawlies. Ironically the guide was from Jungle Surfing, but this time she shined with knowledge.

(FROM DAVE) The best way to appreciate the tropical rain forest is definitely on a night walk. All of the interesting critters are nocturnal and their adaptations to the rain forest are fascinating! Here are some of the creatures I saw.

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The Boyd's Dragon is only found in this part of Australia. It always sleeps on vines hanging far away from any trees. This is so snakes, it's main predator, can only get to it is by climbing up the vine. The snake would either shake the vine or bite the lizard's long tail first, which would wake the dragon up and allow him to escape.

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The Golden Orb spider is the largest web spinning spider in the world and gets it's name from the golden glow of it's web. We saw these all over north eastern Australia and the female orbs are huge, but harmless to humans. The male is very tiny comparatively. The fiber they spin to make their web is the strongest natural fiber in the world. Apparently scientists are trying to recreate the fiber artificially for human needs. Female Golden Orbs sometime mistake their mate for another insect in their web and eat them. Oops!

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This looks like a leaf that fell and got stuck in a spider web, but what you are looking at is actually the home of a spider. The spider carries the leaf up the tree and hangs it in the middle of the web as protection from rain and predators.

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This Huntsman spider doesn't spin a web and is harmless to humans. When I was working in Port Stephens they had a huge huntsman spider that lived on the office wall. It protected me from mosquitoes. Thankfully, we never saw some of the world's most poisonous spiders Australia is known for... namely the Funnel Web spider.

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This cricket has super long antennas - of course good for getting local gossip on other crickets. It is always found about a meter above the forest floor in little trees to increase it's cell reception. Airflow is poor on the floor and much better off of the floor.

On the way back to Cairns we took a ferry over the Daintree River, stopped at an ocean lookout and pulled over to view the Mossman Gorge. Then we stopped in Port Douglas for two days, primarily to take our second painting class. Port Douglas is a classy coastal town just north of Cairns.

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Dave busy at work.

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The results: I painted an embrace, shown on the left. Dave's post box is on the right. Start your bidding now! The early paintings of Chernack and Greenstein are slated to be big sellers!

Back in Cairns, we spent much time at this McD's as it was the only free internet spot in town. To help keep the economy going we bought plenty of 50 cent (30 cent US) ice cream cones while we were there.

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We are definitely sad to leave Australia, but we are excited for the unexpected in Asia, as neither of us have traveled there. We fly to Bangkok, Thailand, tomorrow morning and get things rolling with a two week biking, hiking and kayaking tour of the country. We will extend our visit in that country by a few weeks and hope to volunteer with a charitable organization.

We wish you well, and happy travels wherever the road shall take you.
Stay tuned for details from Thailand.
-Elizabeth and Dave

...................
Three general observations about Australia that we've yet to mention in a blog, but thought were interesting.

- Australians can drink! Granted we are light weights who drink about one beer and call it a night, we are more than savvy to know that a case of beer or three bottles of wine a night for seven nights in a row can't be good for you. This is a trend we saw to some degree everywhere. More puzzling is how Aussies can afford to drink. Alcohol is heavily taxed and prices in the smallest of towns are comparable to New York City. More concerning is that the government has a strong “drink driving” (DWI) campaign in the media and on the roads, but with no laws to prevent drinking on the streets, or even as passengers in a car, it doesn't seem to be working.

- Backpackers in Australia are from all over the world, but primarily from Europe and Japan. The crowd is in their early twenties, a lot younger than the 30-somethings we met campervaning in New Zealand and hosteling in South America. For one, most of these 20-somethings are on holiday working visas, which Australia readily hands out for jobs like fruit picking and bar tending. (Not sure of all the rules, but these visas seem to be available for those under age 30, and especially those from a British commonwealth.) Residents of other British colonies have reciprocal rights to health care here making it an appealing country to visit and live. Australia is also a great place for these travelers to practice or learn English, which seems like a prerequisite for many jobs these days. (We are very lucky to be native speakers.) And reputation is everything. Positive word or mouth from traveler to traveler has continued the cycle of tourists visiting and living in Australia. It is unfortunate that this form of traveling is not part of the US culture. It is great way to showcase ones country.

- US tourists we talked with were primarily college students on their study abroad programs, or adults in or entering retirement. With such a great distance between the US and Australia it is an understandable challenge to visit, but we urge everyone to take at least two to three weeks in their lifetime to make the journey. It will be worth it!

Posted by daveliz 05:23 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Modeling at Litchfield and Kakadu

Move over Giselle and Tom, Elizabeth and Dave are on the rise!

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View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

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I'm scared, how about you?

We arrived in Darwin, on the northern central coast of Australia, at the end of the wet season. During this time of year the weather is very hot and humid, and several areas are closed to the public due to flooding. Thankfully we missed most of the torrential downpours and were allowed to visit nearby national parks, including Kakadu and Litchfield, which are both on aboriginal lands.

However, given the potential for flooding, the extreme weather, and the danger of aggressive estuarine crocodiles (a.k.a. saltwater crocs or salties), we joined a small guided adventure tour. Our guide Hamish came highly recommended, but little did we know the tour company was on a maiden voyage, breaking away from one of the bigger operators in town.

We quickly became models for Territory Expedition's first brochure and website. Along with two women from Singapore, we were also joined by a photographer, Wade, and his wife Fae. Let's just say 96 degrees and 90% humidity aren't the best conditions to launch into your modeling career!

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Wade taking action pictures of our Land Cruiser for the Territory Expeditions brochure and website.

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Cruisin' around in the Land Cruiser. Dave, Grace, and Jo.

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Elizabeth strutting her stuff for a picture on a suspension bridge crossing. Too sexy!

In the parks we did several hikes while also learning about the area's flora, fauna and aboriginal rock art. The highlight though, was definitely ending up at watering holes at the end of a long hikes to cool off. Hamish assured us there were no crocodiles where we were swimming because we were sticking to parts of rivers above waterfalls, and salties who migrate up the rivers from the ocean can only crawl up to the first waterfall it reaches. This information, plus stories about crocodile attacks didn't make Elizabeth, who gets creeped out swimming in unknown waters to begin with, feel much safer, but dripping in sweat she was one of the first to jump in ... I don't think a crocodile could have gotten in her way!

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Elizabeth about to brave the unknown. Look out crocs!

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Elizabeth and I swimming at Motor Car Falls. Ahhhh, an escape from the humidity.

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Motor Car Falls.

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Some of the aboriginal rock art in Kakadu NP. This is the most famous site. This form of art was popular amongst the aboriginal people to communicate their social, cultural and natural history. The oldest sites are thousands of years old.

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[i]Our guide Hamish next to a magnetic termite hill. The hills always face north and south within a few degrees for warming and ventilation purposes.

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Baby wallaby with his mother.

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Tolmer Falls in Litchfield NP.

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Old buffalo hunting vehicle. The animals are so strong they need serious protection for the side of the car!

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We saw lots of lizards throughout the trip. This was a guana crossing the road. We saw some really big Monitor lizards as well.

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Jabirus. This bird is endangered worldwide. It looks like a prehistoric creature when it flies!

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Water lillies at Fogg Dam Conservation.

The trip ended with a 'Jumping Croc' cruise along the Adelaide River to see estuarine crocodiles (they also have freshwater crocs that are smaller and not aggressive), as well as birds of prey in their natural habitat. This river is the second most crocodile infested river in Australia (not sure what #1 is, but I think I'll keep my distance.) Our boat captain told us to keep all arms and heads within the walls of the boat since the salties can surprise you and jump out of the water without much warning! He also mentioned that the life jackets on the boat wouldn't do us much good if we went overboard due to the aggressive nature of the salties ... comforting!

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Our guide feeding the raptors.

As we moseyed up the river we began to see croc eyes lurking near the shore. All the captain had to do was put some meat on the end of a stick, splash it in the water, and then the croc was on the prowl. These are incredible and scary creatures. The oldest known reptile has been around for 200 million years, surviving several extinction periods, and believed to have changed little in all that time. They're extremely aggressive, typically grow up to five or six meters (the size of the largest salty is controversial, but was measured around seven meters long with some claims of a nine meter croc), can live up to 100 years, and can jump out of the water using the power of their tail.

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Typical crocodile warning sign found throughout northern Australia.

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Saltwater crocodile approaching our boat.

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I'm scared.

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Woah.

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Yikes.

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Another salty we saw in the wild. Don't worry, it's not eating the birds! It's just cooling itself.

Feeding the wildlife goes against everything we've been told throughout our travels. It's bad for wildlife and people as the wildlife starts to expect food from humans causing more of a safety concern. So while we were surprised and a little disappointed to see the boat operator feed the crocs, the resulting jumping crocs definitely gave us an appreciation for their strength and it certainly scared us away from hiking in any croc infested areas. We also heard about four fatal crocodile attacks in Australia just this year.

We returned to Darwin to spend a few more days exploring the town. Darwin is definitely a city catered for backpackers. We used the time to mainly relax in air conditioning, use the library for free email, explore a market, and take advantage of a free backpacker dinner at a local bar.

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Dave emailing and blogging at the Library

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Darwin's Library/Parliament Building

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Emblem of the Northern Territory, of which Darwin is the capital.

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Elizabeth ordering crepes at the Parap Market.

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Eating our free, healthy meal. Lasagna and french fries. Yum!

We also experienced one of the sad sides to Australia. Darwin is home to many aborigines who have a rich, yet humble culture. As the first known people in Australia, they believe they were put on earth to be caretakers of the land and animals, and in most cases they do a good job of it. The government has even adopted some of their traditions for land "cleanup".

However, many aborigines have issues with alcoholism and psychological disorders. Quite possibly their problems are a result of being a part of the "Stolen Generation". This is a long period, from around 1869 to 1969, where aboriginal children were taken from their families for "reeducation" and assimilation into European style society (see the movie Rabbit Proof Fence if you haven't). This process caused a lot of emotional wounds that many aborigines are still recovering from today.

For us, it was difficult to witness these challenges up close, but it is a reality in Australia and we're told the government is finally taking steps to correct it. (google Stolen Generation apology by Kevin Rudd and aboriginal land rights acts).

Hopefully some care given back to the aborigines will help lead them to a better future.

- Dave

Posted by daveliz 21:57 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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