Archive for December, 2012


“Oh, it’s raining again!” says Jonathan with a smirk as he comes downstairs for coffee this morning. I don’t think we’ve experienced a dry day since we arrived in N. Yorkshire in two weeks ago, although we have caught a glimpse of enough blue sky to “cut out a pair of boy’s trousers” on a couple of occassions.  The wet never ends (yesterday’s headline read “Rainy year-end poised to seal 2012 as UK’s wettest ever”), but at least we are mercifully free of bugs!  And although it is wet and cold, it is not bitterly cold, so who’s complaining.

The short days invite laziness.  The weather invites pub visits.  I hope this won’t prove to be an impediment when we attempt some more serious hiking in New Zealand.  We have taken a few short jaunts through the countryside, as of my favorite aspects of England are the public footpaths, which generally allow one to walk from any Point A to Point B on a car-free path.  Jonathan downloaded the Ordnance Survey to his iPhone and I’ve taken to affectionately calling him Map Man because he finds an excuse to pull it up every time we leave his mum’s cottage.  One day we’d love to do the Coast to Coast walk in England (preferably, in summer), where one can walk across England yet with the creature comforts of a country inn and a pub dinner each night.

One of the other great characteristics of this part of Yorkshire is the ease (although not necessarily the cost!) of train travel. J’s mum and sis live in the cute village of Burley-in-Wharefdale and it is a 10 minute walk up Station Road from his mum’s Cranberry Cottage to trains that connect us to the hub of Leeds or the nearby town of Ilkley (as well as plenty of other destinations).   From King’s Cross in London to the Cottage took us less than 3 hours and was a much more pleasant experience than navigating a final plane leg would have been.  The bus system is also incredibly convenient and offers the added thrill of a double-decker. Thus, despite being car-free, we can happily get to most of our desired destinations easily.

Bolton Abbey

We visited Bolton Abbey in Christmas Eve for breakfast with Santa.  Zara commented how much weight Santa had lost!   Bolton Abbey is a place I’ve visited regularly since coming to England with Jonathan and it is a lovely place for walks.  The abbey was constructed circa 1154 AD and the estate was formerly owned by the Duke of Devonshire.  The River Wharfe meanders through the property, adding to the already picturesque scenery.

Playing a recorder at Bolton's Abbey

Playing a recorder at Bolton’s Abbey

River Wharfe at Bolton's Abbey

River Wharfe at Bolton’s Abbey

Harrogate

A charming spa town where Jonathan’s mum used to live.   We did our last minute Christmas shopping here (preceded, of course, by a pub lunch).

York

This old walled city was the birthplace of WH Auden, whose name we borrowed as one of Z’s middle ones.   We took the train there via Leeds, and upon arriving learned from a station plaque that the station had been the world’s largest train station upon its opening in 1877.  We had another tasty pub lunch which was slightly marred by Jonathan finding what looked like an old filling in his sausage, and then wandered around the charming central district, still adorned with Christmas lights.  We walked by York Minster, a gorgeous cathedral where Jonathan and I have attended the Lesson of Nine Carols with his mum for many a Christmas Eve.

Jonathan also showed Zara and I the tree and very branch that he’d fallen off of at the age of 7 and broke his arm for the first (but unfortunately not the last) time.

We were hoping to take  a walk on the city walls that protected York since the Roman era, but we missed our opportunity as they’d already closed for the day by 3:45pm.  Like I mentioned, short days here, although the pubs were full and inviting.  Instead, we took a ride on the York Wheel, where the buffeting winds triggered a spell of vertigo in me when we were stopped at the top.

The infamous tree

The infamous tree

The York Wheel

The York Wheel

View from river in York

View from river in York

York Wall

York Wall

York Minster

York Minster

Streets of York

Streets of York

Gorgeous sunset (even if it isn't 4pm yet)

Gorgeous sunset (even if it isn’t 4pm yet)

Purple Man in York

Purple Man in York

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Last Hurrah in Bangkok

As I write this post wrapped in a fleece jacket sitting in a cozy cottage in Yorkshire looking out at the leaden skies, the sweltering heat of our last days in Bangkok seems a distant memory.  Our tans took all of 24 hours to fade, but at least we’ve been able to dump the mosquito repellant (although, against all odds, a mosquito seems to have hitchhiked in our luggage all the way to N. England)!

Our 3 1/2 days in Bangkok added yet another SE Asian city to my fave list and it was difficult leaving this part of the world behind. Although we were all excited to spend the Christmas holidays with family in England, in two and a half months SE Asia became home to us.

Jonathan had visited Bangkok a couple of times before but was absolutely staggered by the change in the past 15-20 years.  He kept exclaiming “This is just like Tokyo”.  We stayed at the all-suite In Residence in  Sukhumvit, which was an ideal, central location and adopted an attitude of low-key sightseeing, as the 95 degree heat wasn’t really compatible with lengthy touring days.  Once again, the super-modern, air-conditioned malls of SE Asia became our refuge.

Wat Pho

Zara’s ears perked up when she heard about the Temple of The Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho (its official name is the tongue-twisting “Wat Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan”), as she still lamented our lost opportunity with the Big Buddha in Hong Kong.   We opted to travel to the temple via the super-efficient SkyTrain (which is actually listed as the #1 attraction in Bangkok on TripAdvisor, make of that what you may!) and a ferry on the Chao Phraya River, so getting there was half the fun.   The complex at Wat Pho was larger and more impressive than we’d expected and the 43 meter long Buddha lived up to Z’s expectations.

Jim Thompson’s House

After our Jim Thompson cottage-hunting adventure in the Cameron Highlands, I felt compelled to visit his official house in Bangkok and J graciously agreed despite having seen it 15 years ago. The house is a gorgeous teak house on the banks of a canal.  Photography was strictly prohibited for some unexpressed reason, but the setting was very serene and the house tastefully decorated with his art collection.  Z took it upon herself, however, to make it very clear how tedious guided tours can be for children.  A highlight of the visit was watching them spin the silk in the courtyard before the start of the tour and we wrapped up our visit with a lovely lunch in the cafe onsite.

Rang Mahal

After 10 days of dining exclusively on Thai food in Koh Chang, J needed his Indian-food fix so he took us to a great meal at the Rang Mahal on the 26th floor of the Rembrandt Hotel, which combined Indian food with J’s other passion–great views.  Excellent service and food.

Vertigo and Moon Bar

A stunning venue for sunset drinks.  On the 61st floor of the narrow Banyan Tree Hotel.  Incredible.

Reclining Buddha

Reclining Buddha

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Wat Pho

Wat Pho

Wat Pho

Wat Pho

Drinks at Vertigo

Bangkok traffic

Bangkok traffic

Salon-styled

Salon-styled

Rickshaw driver

Rickshaw driver

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Spinning silk

Spinning silk

Silk production

Silk production

Koh Chang – Elephant Trekking

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“This is something I’m going to remember until I’m 80 years old.”  Not sure what happens at 80, but that was high praise from our almost 6-year old after she emerged from her river swim with two elephants.

“Chang” means “elephant” in Thai, so we thought Koh Chang would make a fitting place for Z’s long-promised elephant trek.  I’d been disturbed by reports of mistreatment regarding the elephant trekking industry in Phuket, so was relieved to discover the Ban Kwan Chang camp on Koh Chang, which was established as an elephant sanctuary and is supported by the Asian Elephant Foundation.

We opted for the 2-hour tour, with the first hour devoted to a trek through a steamy rainforest and the second involving the opportunity to bathe and swim with two of the elephants. Our elephant was a 25-year old female named Numwan and I was relieved to see that our mahout handled her gently throughout the ride.  Jonathan spent the second half of the trek perched on Numwan’s massive neck while our mahout walked beside us snapping so many photos with my camera that even Z (a girl who never turns down a photo op) started to wonder when he would stop.  The ride was interesting, but I was more than ready to dismount after one hour atop our gentle giant.  Not the most comforting or relaxing of rides–can’t imagine exploring continents on one.

After the trek ended, we fed Numwan bunches of bananas (J’s iPhone came dangerously close to becoming a snack) and then said our farewells before heading to a nearby river with two of the other elephants.  After hearing the shrieks of surprise as bare skin hit the chilly waters, I volunteered to serve as videographer while J & Z stripped down to their bathing suits and jumped in.  Z donned her goggles and our little mermaid soon was swimming around the elephants and sitting on their backs, scrubbing them down and laughing at the surprise of an elephant trunk shower.

The camp could serve its purpose better if it focused a bit more energy on the education front, but all in all, it was a great experience.

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