Bangkok is called ‘the City of Angels’ which I really don’t understand, but it’s also known as the ‘Venice of Asia’ which now has meaning to me after having done a day cruise on the canals off of the Chao Phraya River. A short distance from our hotel, but not marked on the map was an express waterway canal that took office workers and commuters to their jobs and home again, while avoiding the wicked traffic congestion of the Bangkok streets. My friend, Chris came across the walkway that lines the canal by accident while out on his daily morning walk. The wooden taxi boats must be about 75 feet long and fly down the canal making waves that lap against both sides. They only slow when meeting another boat or stopping at the stations dotted along the canal. The walk is very interesting because besides being next to the canal transitway, you are walking past the humble homes of many local dwellers. Often we got a glimpse through open doorways of someone eating, or wrapped in a towel headed to the shower or children sitting on the floor watching television. Sometimes the route took us embarrasingly close to homes but the people were always friendly and seemed happy to see us walking in their ‘neighbourhood’. The community is self sufficient with convenience stores. At times the route took you up to road level at a bridge where you have to deal with 4-wheeled traffic or railway tracks to continue our walk on the other side. Homes are built closs to the trail tracks and many use it as their path. I can’t imagine trains actually coming through but I guess they do.
Walks of all fitness and energy levels can be had in the Blue Mountains National Park which is easily accesible from Sydney by train. There is a station at Katoomba from where you can take any number of tours to see the sights in the National Park. We decided to just take a local transit bus to the lookout point and decide how much or how little walking we wanted to do on our own. There are amazing views of the Three Sisters from the lookout. The Three Sisters are rock formations that stand at 922, 918 & 907 metres tall, respectively. According to legend a witchdoctor turned them into stone in order to protect them from three brothers of another tribe. Unfortunately the witchdoctor died before he could reverse the spell.
A short 1 kilometre or so trail takes you to a point where you can view one of the rock formations up close. Or, you can take the 800+ steps and descend 300 metres to the floor of the Jamison Valley. A two to three hour loop will take you to a place where you can then take a funicular to return to the top of the ridge. Since we didn’t have that much time we thought about descending the Giant Stairway to the floor of the valley, take some pictures and come back up. We probably thought about that for ten whole seconds and decided not to. I have climbed the 272 steps at Batu Caves and I don’t think I need to do that times three. So, we had a short enjoyable walk and appreciated the company of the Three Sisters.
The heritage walk from The Spit to Manley Bay is over 10 kilometres long and takes you along many different footpaths and surfaces, along beaches, through woodlands, past rock faces and incredible views of the sea anytime you’re near the water. We started out on a well-trodden dirt path, but at times it was on stone or concrete walkways. Steps were carved out of rock in some places while in others you made your way the best you could on dirt or rocks going up and down grades. At one place when our path ended at a concrete wall closing off a residental area, we were forced to take off our shoes and walk in the sea until we rejoined the path. Often our walk was interrupted by lizards scurring across the path. Some were so used to walkers that they just remained on the edge of the path while you walked by. Unlike the Bondi to Coogee trek there are no toilets or concessions along the trail, so it is very important that you bring your own water and snacks.
At Manley we bought a ticket on the ferry and sailed back to Circular Quay in the harbour at Sydney. We had a great morning workout with a view.
As it turned out February was a good month for walking. First on a visit to Sydney, we did the Bondi Beach to Coogee Walk. Bondi Beach is in the eastern suburbs of Sydney and is easily accessible by city transit. The 6 kilometre walking route is very user friendly on a good surface with railings in all the right places that takes you along the coast with beautiful vistas of the Tasman Sea on one side and many native plants and flowers on the other side. There are a couple of pools or baths as the locals call them built out into the sea with the raging surf giving a new meaning to the term infinity pool. Many tanned seniors hang out here and walk and swim in the pool daily. There are also some rest rooms and cafes along this stretch. The walkway follows the ridge and takes you around beautiful beaches and out to the headlands. The Waverly Cemetery overlooks the ocean and is known as ‘the most scenic burial ground in the world’.
Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam has a population of 6.5 million people. It’s a city on the move and a mere five years ago the population was less than half of what it is today. It is the second largest city in Vietnam after Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.
Our boutique hotel was located in the ‘Old Quarter’ of the city, which is a vibrant district with crowded shops and constantly busy streets. Most of the commuters are on motorbikes and they are quite creative in finding ways of transporting their wares on only two wheels. For pedestrians crossing the roads it works like a piece of art. There is seldom a break in traffic so you just walk into the roadway without hesitating and try to stay calm. Motorbikes and cars will flow around you and you’ll soon find your way to the opposite curb (kerb). Traffic in this country is left-hand drive and drives on the right side of the road as probably influenced by the French during their occupation of Vietnam.
We arrived in Hanoi two weeks before the huge Tet Festival, which is essentially the Chinese New Year holiday. The Old Quarter was suitably decorated with bonbons, lights and other decorations and there was a lot of shopping and commerce going on in advance of the holiday. Residents here get four days off for this festive holiday and most shops, if not all will be completely shut down.
The weather was quite pleasant in the mid-20s during the day with sunny, bright skies, and going down to single digit temperatures at night. There was no rain during our week in Hanoi.
One of the best ways to get introduced to a city is with a local bus tour. Our tour took us down the wide boulevards as well as narrow market streets and we visited a pagoda, a temple, museums and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
Ho Chi Minh died in 1969 and contrary to his wishes for cremation and a simple funeral his body lies in an embalmed state for the general public to view. The last two months of the year the Mausoleum is closed so that the body can be sent to Russia for ‘maintenance’.
Hanoi is very ‘green’ with lots of lakes, parks, trees and flowers within the city. Some of the flowers are stationery as in gardens but many are also on the move on bicycles and motorbikes. Former President Ho Chi Minh was a lover of trees and planted many of the ones around his home near the Government building.
Halong Bay, a 4-hour bus ride outide of Hanoi is a Unesco site and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. From a Google Map satellite view of Halong Bay you can see that the bay is filled with triple-decked tourist boats. At this time of the off-season there may have been less boats than usual but still many in every direction you looked. We visited a stilt fishing village that is totally independant with stores, schools and communication.
We visited the Army Museum, the History Museum, the Museum of Ethnology and the Fine Arts Museum, all of which were very interesting. The Army Museum has a massive display outside the building of wreckage from several downed American airplanes from the Vietnam war.
Bikes of burden – It is interesting to sit in a street side café and just observe the tourists and locals passing by. The bicycles and motorbikes are most amusing to watch as they make their way through the congestive traffic with their massive loads.
Friendly faces of Hanoi
It’s no wonder that many travellers agree that Vietnam, and Hanoi in particular, is a favourite place to visit. A couple things that make it a great city is that the locals are friendly & helpful and the streets are safe. I certainly hope to return.
We are never satisfied. A short week ago we were in Pembroke, Canada amidst the snow and cold and yearning for warmth. Now, a week later, we are jacking up the air con to deal with the 30+ degree weather here in Malaysia. Our return home was bittersweet. Some parts of me wanted to return to Malaysia but a voice inside was telling me that I belong in Canada. The five weeks in Canada passed quicklly and now we sit in our air-conditioned condo dreaming about the next visit to Canada.
This is how it went.
The weather: Winter came early to the Ottawa Valley this year, bringing an old-fashioned winter with lots of snow and cold that began around the deer hunting season in mid-November. Over the past few years it’s been questionable as to whether or not we would have a white or green Christmas. This year however, there was no mistaking it– this weather was here to stay. For those of us coming from Malaysia where the temperature was in the mid-30s, this was a 60 to 70 degree differential (30 degrees to -30 degrees!).
We felt a little bit displaced because for the first time in our lives we had no home to go to as ours is rented out. Our daughter Linde & her husband Chris, and children McKay and Josephine, opened their home to us. We celebrated three family birthdays as well as the usual celebrations and parties at this time of year, which made for a busy household! When our two younger children came ‘home’ for the holidays, the 3-bedroom house was a little bit cramped so we booked a week at Grey Gables Manor Bed & Breakfast around the corner from our home.
Staying at Grey Gables was a dream come true for Arlene. She had known two ladies from Killaloe who worked in the mansion many years ago and remembered stories they told her about the elegant parties there. Grey Gables Manor is about as close as you can get to a castle in Pembroke, Ontario. It was built around 1911 by EA Dunop at the time of his marriage. EA was a politician and industrialist who also owned a hardware store in Pembroke. EA Dunlop’s father, Arunah Dunlop, one of the early settlers of Pembroke had made his fortune in farming and logging in the mid to late 1880s. EA Dunlop had a son Eddie Jr who was blinded during WW2 and later in life he became one of the most important founders of the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind). Today the bed and breakfast is run by Art & Shirley Nugent, who have done a wonderful job of retaining the flavour and atmosphere of a turn-of-the century mansion. We were fortunate to spend a week in this historic home over Christmas and had our family gift opening around the giant Christmas tree in the foyer.
Christmas morning at Grey Gables Manor
McKay, who turned 3 years old only two weeks before Christmas, has seen four yuletides in her short life, but this was the first Christmas for Arcadia and Josie. These milestones were well documented with photographs.
We not only were without our home this holiday, we also didn’t have our car, as it is in storage while we are away. Michael and Gina graciously lent us their car, and our good friends Mary and Glen offered us their car to use as well. There were times we needed both vehicles for running around town and frequent trips to Ottawa for appointments. We are indebted to so many people for their kindness. From borrowed cars and festive get togethers we were always taken care of. Our friends Patricia and Dean even treated us to a pampered weekend in their home! Our excursions and visits continued throughout the holidays. When we picked Lexi up from school in Toronto we managed to meet up with our ‘Malaysian’ friend Frank and his sister for dinner and then visited Ralph and Diane in their newly built home in Barrie on our return to Pembroke.
Animalia: Kane, Cato, and Loki!
Despite the juggling of babies and cars and residences we were able to visit a lot of our friends. We just couldn’t fit everyone in but we’ll be around to see them next summer when we’re back.
Friends & family
Historical notes about Grey Gables Manor courtesy of Bruce Pappin, Pembroke
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 24,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.