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Saturday, 31 January 2015

Memories of Mandalay cruise....

We continued to be moored in Mandalay because there were several sites which had to be visited.  After breakfast, we left for the first site to be visited - the Kuthodaw Pagoda.

The Kuthodaw Pagoda is significant primarily because of the 729 white-washed pagodas which were erected in 1872 to individually house the marble tablets upon which the entire Tipitake was recorded in Pali script, veneered with gold leaf.  These pagodas are often dubbed as "The World’s largest book". 

Then to the Shwenandaw Monastery - this is a beautiful wooden building decorated with exquisite carving.  The King had used the building for private meditation, but he later gave it to the monks as a monastery.  It was dismantled and moved, piece by piece, to it's present site.

And before lunch, to the Myanmar Buddhist Orphanage - basically a boys’ orphanage, but not all boys are orphans. 

Sometimes, parents will send their children to Buddhist orphanages to get an education that they could not afford otherwise.  After a while, some of the boys go home, while some stay and become Buddhist monks. 

Viking arranged for lunch at a private restaurant, the Royal Mandalay.   It was excellent - there were eight people per table with a turntable in the middle. They placed about a dozen different dishes on the turn table  - everyone could turn it to the dish which they wanted.

Next blog - continuation of day...
Photos belong to Phil Bianco.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Memories of Mandalay cruise....

It is hard to do justice to just how magnificent, amazing, and beautiful the Grand Palace in Bangkok is.  Of all the man-made sites that I have seen in the world, I think I have to rate the Grand Palace as the most beautiful site.

The Grand Palace has so many positive and inviting qualities, and entering it is like discovering the Shangri-La in Hinton’s novel The Lost Horizon.

When I get a chance, I intend to try and find a large (coffee-table type) book with numerous photos of the Grand Palace.

My only criticism of Viking’s tour was that we should have spent more time there, especially going into some of the buildings.

The Royal Palace was the only site that we visited today.  This was the first full day for those who did not take the pre-extension, and some people were still recovering from jetlag.


Photos belong to Phil Bianco.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Jaro and his bike are now in New Zealand.....

Continuing south-west on the return leg, there is a choice of two routes in Parua Bay. The easier one is along the shore of the bay through Onerahi (where Whangarei airport is)....
but this is a busy, often narrow road, with all the traffic going to-and-from the beaches at McLeod Bay and Whangarei Heads in the south-east of the peninsula.

The other choice is Owhiwa Road and Mount Tiger Road, turning inland, north-west. This is another very quiet road, but extremely hilly, with forests instead of beaches around.  It is the better pick in my opinion, and definitely safer.

So, having done this loop a few times, does that make me a Patauan Apprentice?  And will The Force be strong on the hill climbs.....

Route map and profile:  Distance 76.5 kms.  Max. alt. 320 m  Max. grade 16.5%
Total climbing: 1,308 m.
Photos belong to Jaro Franta.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Jaro and his bike are now in New Zealand.....

OK, this is definitely the nicest bike route around here that is also within easy distance – good for a four hour ride going east from home, on the south-west side of Whangarei.


After a quick pass through downtown Whangarei, a short section of Riverside Drive to the climb up Memorial Drive and Abbey Caves Road, and heading north to the end where it intersects with Whareora Road.

Turning north-east past the junction with Mount Tiger Road and continue to the junction with Pataua North Road.

This long scenic road loops a bit to the north, before turning south and terminating in the town of Pataua North.
The road is practically deserted, because it is a dead end - only a footbridge connects Pataua North to Pataua South across the bay, from where the road resumes as Pataua South Road.

The footbridge is what makes this such a great ride, free of traffic. 

Photos belong to Jaro Franta.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Memories of Mandalay cruise....

That evening, Viking gave us a welcome dinner at a open deck restaurant along the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok.  We used boats to go between the Shangri-La and the restaurant, and then back to the hotel for the rest of the evening.

There were six people to a table, and they brought out platters from which everyone helped themselves. The menu included soup, three appetizers, lots of mains and dessert.  The meal was various Chinese/Thai dishes, which were very good.

The next day, after enjoying Shangri-La’s breakfast buffet, we went as a group to the Bangkok airport for a flight to Mandalay in Myanmar, lasting just about two hours.  As soon as we arrived in Mandalay, before boarding our ship, we went to the Maha Muni Pagoda.

The weather deserves a comment - it is hot and very humid. The temperature is about the same as Florida, but the humidity is higher.   Being from Florida, even I noticed the high humidity - it wears a person out.   

We have to drink a lot of water, which is complementary in hotel rooms and during tours and excursions. Wherever we went, they were passing out complementary water bottles. 

Photos belong to Phil Bianco.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Memories of Mandalay cruise....

 Bang Pa-In Palace

I opted for an excursion outside Bangkok to an area called Ayutthaya.  This was the capital of an independent kingdom until it was sacked by the Burmese in 1767.  Today, Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it's ruins give a sense of former size and glory, as well as offering an insight into Thailand's cultural heritage. 

The Ayutthaya area is about 55 miles north of Bangkok, or about a 90 minute bus ride.  We returned to Bangkok on a river boat - a very good buffet lunch was included.  We were picked up at our hotel at 7:00 am and arrived back at about 4:00 pm.

The first place we visited was Bang Pa-In Palace, also known as the Summer Palace. It was originally constructed in 1632, but destroyed and lay empty throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries.  Most of the present buildings were constructed between 1872 and 1889.

The facilities include vast gardens and landscaping, a Chinese-style royal palace and throne room, a royal residence, a brightly painted look-out tower and a famous pavilion constructed in the middle of a pond.

Today the palace is used occasionally by the Thai royal family as a residence and for holding receptions and banquets.  I thought this was an excellent trip/cruise to the Ayutthaya area and highly recommend it to anyone who is staying an extra, full day in Bangkok.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Jaro and his bike are now in New Zealand.....

Bream Head......

In late October, while I still had the rental car, I drove out to Bream Head, a very popular park about 35km east of Whangarei....

and hiked the trail up to the lookout at an old World War II radar station.

There is not a road that goes along the coast, like in Mauritius -  not in this particular place anyway.

They also abandoned their railways north of Whangarei - like in Mauritius - so now there is too much truck traffic on the main highway.

Photos belong to Jaro Franta.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Jaro and his bike are now in New Zealand.....

Mount Tiger.

This route, east of Whangarei, is easily one of the best in the region for biking.....

And is also part of the Pataua loop.

The hill climbs are not huge, but quite steep and numerous....

And there is very little car traffic on this route.

Photos belong to Jaro Franta.