Category Archives: Architecture & Design

Angkor Wat

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library, Angkor Wat

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relieved Richie overcomes vertigo after descending the near-vertical stairs from the Bakan (inner gallery)
relieved Richie overcomes vertigo after descending the near-vertical stairs from the Bakan (inner gallery)
queuing for a sunset moment (shades of Vatican Museum)
queuing for a sunset moment (shades of Vatican Museum)
Bodhi tree growing from the ruins
Bodhi tree growing from the ruins
Ta Prohm, the 'Tomb Raider' temple
Ta Prohm, the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple

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swarming over Bayon
swarming over Bayon

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a dissolving apsara
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enigmatic faces, Bayon
Richie's remarkable elephant photo
Richie’s remarkable elephant photo
taking it all in
taking it all in

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Angkor art in action
Angkor art in action

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a cheeky face amid the ruins
a cheeky face amid the ruins
Richie & Paul, tomb raiders
Richie & Paul, tomb raiders

To see some more photo galleries of Angkor Wat check our Richie’s blog

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Stealing Jackfruit in Luang Prabang

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If there’s one crime that suits my disposition better than others it’s stealing fruit. In England, harvesting fruit without permission is a sport fondly referred to as ‘scrumping’. It’s a right of passage. No stigma attached. Even the prime minister would be forgiven fruit-stealing proclivities so long as he atoned by lowering the tax on apple cider.

Here on the banks of the Mekong, in a country twice removed from the grassy orchards of Somerset, there’s every chance that scrumping is an offence punishable by more than just a slap on the wrists.

The fruit that has got me wondering whether it’s ever right to steal, is none other than the king of fruits, the mighty mighty jackfruit: big as an Ox and knobblier than granny’s crochet blankets. This one’s a beauty: the fruit is roughly wombat-size, irregular, oblong, kissed with black at its extremities, and anchored to the trunk by a stem as thick and sinuous as an umbilical chord. The tree has delivered one hell of a baby!

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Thai jackfruit for sale in the market in Jinghong, China

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Jungle Fever

Warning: this blog contains gratuitous references to diarrhoea.

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Bumping through rapids in rubber kayaks is a sport that’s dear to me. It’s how Richie and I met 6 years ago, and coincidentally, how we chose to celebrate one year of life on the road together, in Laos. This time, it was brown water and not white water I feared. River kayaking is a dangerous activity at the best of times, but kayaking with diarrhoea is a sport that only the hardiest attempt!

There comes a time, whilst travelling in South East Asia, when the only thing to do is ‘man up’ and carry on with whatever activity you’ve planned for the day, in spite of cramps, nausea and the persistent need to relieve yourself.

In the lean hours of the morning, moments before sun-up on the first day of our 3-day trekking/kayaking adventure, I considered it might be prurient to give the experience a miss. Richie would be disappointed, and there was also the risk of losing our deposit to consider, but all in all, staying in and waiting for the deluge to pass seemed a wholly more attractive and sensible option. Continue reading

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3 Pagodas, Dali

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Dali Photo Galleries

MUM’S VISIT TO DALI

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RICHIE AND PAUL’S MUSICAL EXPLOITS

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ABOUT TOWN

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MARKET DAYS

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The Many Temptations of Dali Old Town

Dali, in China’s Yunnan province, is a pleasant place to connect and re-root. There’s plenty of sunshine, good food and a multitude of comforts: hot showers, western loos, pizza, cake and coffee. Invasive foreign species like Brits, Aussies, Japanese and Canadians have long found a toehold in Dali, grafting themselves onto the cultural landscape. Yunnan is, after all, China’s most biodiverse province.

The melange of east and west, old and new works magic on Chinese tourists, who flock from all over the country to experience a neat and palatable version of their history. Trailing like unruly schoolchildren behind garishly dressed Bai cheerleaders, they traverse the city form south to north, parting enthusiastically with money for broiled Dali cheese, roast chestnuts and bolts of blue and white hand-dyed batik. Chinese tourists with oversized Nikon cameras startle hippy travellers, who make faces behind cocked pints of beer. “5 kwai a photo,” the reluctant models joke.

Bai tour guides, representatives of one of the region's ethnic minorities

Bai tour guides, representatives of one of the region’s ethnic minorities

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‘back door’ to Yunnan in photographs

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Suopo village stupa

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autumn blaze, Suopo

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Qiāng watchtowers of Suopo

Suopo village dwelling

Suopo village dwelling

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Qiāng watchtowers of Suopo

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As we stepped carefully across the rotted timber planks of the bridge separating Suopo village from the south side of the Dàdù River the strain and hardship of the past few months began to disassemble. There’d been few opportunities lately to feel as free and unburdened as this: no visas; no language barriers; no early starts; no borders; no rucksacks; no interference – not today.

Prayer flags, nimble and translucent as bat’s wings, threatened to take off in the wind. Gazing at them I was reminded of the weeks we’d spent, four years ago, walking between the villages of the Nubra and Indus valleys in Ladakh, and rejoiced at the persistence of communities, the world over, who live and work in harmony with nature. Continue reading

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Tale of two cities

View of Astana from steps of Khan Shatyry

Acquiring a Chinese visa has become a tale of two cities: Tbilisi (Georgia) and Astana (Kazakhstan).

Hapless bunglers that we are, we had hoped, indeed expected, that the wide world of borders would stay open to us even after we left Europe. As it turns out,  Georgia is the last ‘easy’ country for holders of a British or Australia passport to enter. Since crossing the land border between Turkey and Georgia at Sarpi, border-hopping has become increasingly difficult, time-consuming and costly.

A word of advice to the brave-hearted: it is possible to travel by land from Georgia toRussia, Russia to Kazakhstan and Kazakhstan into western China. The route that we took (we’re not as far as China yet) is as follows: Tbilisi to Kazbegi (mashutka), Kazbegi to Vladikavkaz (private vehicle), Vladikavkaz to Mineralnie Wodi (train), Mineralnie Wodi to Volgograd (train), Volgograd to Aksaraiskaia (train), Aksaraiskia to Atyrau (train) and Atyrau to Astana (train). HOWEVER, if you haven’t already acquired visas for these countries in your home country, then count on it taking some time and a reasonable amount of expense.

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Georgia to Kazakhstan in photos

For a full account of our adventures on the Georgian Military Road, and the rails, border towns and train compartments between Vladikavkaz (Russia) and Astana (Kazakhstan), see Richie’s blog.

Total distance travelled: 3,800 km

                    Total number of changes: 7

                                        Time taken: Four and a half days

                                                            Adventure Factor: High!

The Georgian Military Road: Tbilisi to Kazbegi

high places near the Jvari Pass, 2379m

the bumpy mashutka ride is worth it for the views

misty mountains

vintage transport in Kazbegi

rained-out hiking to the Gergeti Trinity Churth. Any m’rooms about?

ella-mental: rock, wind, ice and eagles!

Mt Kazbek (5,033m)

At the Border – Kazbegi to Vladikavkaz

praying for dear life

a loaded Lada – dropped at the Georgian/Russia border

thumbs out for a lift across the border – no pedestrians allowed

uninspired border architecture

on the Russian side of the border

Inside the Carriage – 4 nights on the rails

still life – snacks & instant noodle paraphernalia

samovar – our saviour

catching up on sleep

Russian sunset

steppe of western Kazakhstan

waiting for the train, Askaraiskaia

platform life, near to Volgograd

smoked fish, Russian speciality

The People – unexpected help arrives!

lift in a Lada from the border to Vladikavkaz

Sam and Dmitry, one of many guardian angels!

sharing food and photographs

a new Uzbek friend, inspired by a photograph of Australia

Richie meets a Kazakh geologist specialising in oil exploration

our new Uzbek friends scrutinising photos on their way home to Tashkent

‘the circle of bewilderment’: Nina and Sam encircled on the platform at Askaraiskaia

I wholeheartedly recommend this route east to China to anyone seeking an alternative to the Tran-Siberian or Silk Road-route through Iran and Pakistan – especially if you manage to pre-arrange visas in your home country (more on this in the next blog). Hello China, here we come!

ps. It’s snowing here in Astana. The coldest capital in the world!

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