Visa run to Cambodia

gold (1)My visa within Thailand was expiring in 2 days. Time to make another run for the border. Usually we are off in another country at some point during our time in Thailand so this is not an issue. But this year we just stayed domestic. Poipet on the Cambodia border is the closest border crossing to our village so we headed out that way.

We reached this dusty chaotic border town in 2 hours. As is always the case we were met with enterprising men who offer to escort you across the border – inviting you to give them your passport photo and passport so they can help you get the Cambodian visa. These are unlicensed vendors and if you aren’t aware of their ways, you can end up paying more for a visa. Heading straight to the official government office for visa processing I was pleasantly surprised to find no lines. I had my visa within about 3 minutes – proudly taking up an entire page of my passport (you can actually order an eVisa online which won’t take up a full page in a passport).

Within minutes I was in Cambodia. It was tempting to continue to Siem Reap – I spotted a number of backpackers waiting for a bus. They were dusty and looking ragged – like they had been on the SE Asia backpacking circuit for months. It was all I could do to resist the urge to join them – but alas, I turned around after merely 20 minutes in Cambodia and crossed back over the border into Thailand.

gold (2)On the way back we were pleasantly surprised to find a sign advertising “Gold Mine Museum” – in between the towns of Kabinburi and Sa Kaeaw. I’ve been hobby gold mining ever since I was a toddler, so seeing this sign was like lighting a match. We pulled off the main road – and stopped in front of the small museum. Packs of dogs were running around – one was beat up, mangy and had danger in its eyes. Locals told us to stay away from these dogs – there was a recent litter nearby and they were in attack mode. We found shelter inside the museum.

This was a hard rock mine with workers going down deep into the ground, taking out the rock and then crushing it and processing the gold from the extracts. Locals still look for gold in this area; in fact we have family with metal detectors nearby who have found some small pieces in and around what are now eucalyptus forests (grown for paper processing).

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A night of fun in Bangkok

lebua-stateWe started the evening meeting up with the engaging and very accomplished @somcity for a tour of Lebua State Tower Hotel. Lebua made appearances in the movies, Bangkok Dangerous starring Nicholas Cage and the crazy Hangover II. As a result a visit here is also popular with tourists. Lebua tried to maintain strict standards of dress but when Hangover II came out, tourists started showing up in shorts and t shirts and flip flops and during our visit, the dress code was interesting – certainly they have relaxed things as you now have both extremes.

We bumped into executive French chef Dominique Blais in the elevator. He told us to enjoy our stay – we were already having a great time and we were only in the elevator!

There a number of restaurants in this high rise – Breeze, ten floors below the top boasts a beautiful bridge (lit up blue at night) that leads out to a lookout over the city. The circular Skybar gets crazily crowded and is on the roof along with the fine dining Sirocco restaurant. In fact this skybar helped usher in a new trend of what are now a number of other Bangkok Skybars on top of tall hotels. You can enjoy a dinner up here, certainly the amazing views especially along the Chao Praya River at night as it snakes through the city – or simply a drink. The “ball” that drops every New Year is also on display here – it is the world’s highest ball drop!

maggie-choos (2) maggie-choos (1)We stopped by the lounge up here for some small bites and drinks. We noticed several bottles of wine in the $15,000 to $18,000 dollar range. We brought a bottle of wine to uncork. The corkage fee for one bottle was $350 dollars. With that price, they certainly discourage bringing your own wine!

Next up was a visit to the swank Maggie Choo’s for dinner and after dinner drinks. Dinner is under colorful paper umbrellas – definitely an old Shanghai theme / opium den. In the club, swings are setup and often sultry women will be slowly swinging back and forth.

Music is part of a visit in the evening – we watched the popular duo, Jul and Co – a French flutist and pianist who bring a unique style of music to the night time scene. During their performance a lady was sprawled out on the piano blowing bubbles and slowly waving a fan while Jul was bursting the pipes on his flute. Job description “lie on piano for several hours blowing bubbles, waving a fan and look pretty”. Not a bad gig I guess!

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Running around seeking Cemeteries and Farmers Markets, Los Angeles

Great Grandfather's Gravestone, Calvary Mortuary

Great Grandfather’s Gravestone, Calvary Mortuary

With such a plethora of activities offered in Los Angeles on any given day, I tend to focus narrowly into specific destinations or activities. During these past few days it was cemeteries and fruit markets!

Forest Lawn is the “mother” of all cemeteries in the Southland. They operate several locations around town – but none is as large or prominent as Forest Lawn in Glendale. Acres of graves and green are surrounded by residential and urban sprawl. A visit here is an oasis among the city. This is not just any cemetery and one can spend several hours touring the grounds and attractions. Beautiful statues, churches and even a museum with contemporary rotating exhibits are part of any visit here. The current exhibit was on the art of Movie Posters. An upcoming exhibit will be about motorcycles. The Hall of the Crucifixion- Resurrection features some of the largest religious paintings in all of the Western Hemisphere.

My Great Great Grandfather is buried here – a visit always includes a search for his headstone. Some visitors come to see graves of famous actors – several prominent ones include Clark Gable, George Burns, L. Frank Baum and Humphrey Bogart. While it might seem a bit odd to be married at a cemetery – Forest Lawn also offers sites for weddings. Ronald Reagan was married here. Newly wed or newly dead, as they say…

Then it was over to the Calvary Mortuary in East Los Angeles to visit my Great Grandfathers grave. A bit of grass and other debris had covered the headstone which I soon cleaned up. I presented a gift of four palm fruits and placed them on the headstone.

Over the course of several days we visited a number of Farmer’s markets. With year round desirable climate, Southern California is an ideal region to grow a large diversity of fruits and vegetables without fear of freezing temperatures. There are so many farmers markets in Los Angeles one can stay busy every day of the week. First up was the Hollywood Farmers Market – it is squeezed into several streets not far from Hollywood Blvd – organics among the at times urban chaos that this part of town creates so well. Besides plenty of fresh fruits and veggies highlights included the individuals giving free hugs and a lady hunched over her typewriter – typing poetry for passing visitors.

Cherimoyas are in season – I consider myself a “fruit hoarder” at times and this fruit is among my favorite. We purchased bags and bags of these all picked that morning. Once they ripen have the consistency of creamy custard and a flavor between Banana, pineapple and vanilla. A perfect Cherimoya has great acidity with a balance of sweetness and flavor. Asian markets carry these – but often they are imported, have been bounced around so much they don’t ripen well and are sickly sweet at times. These have no balance compared to these freshly picked California grown ones. The furthest north I have seen a Cherimoya tree growing in the state of California with ripe fruit is in Marin County (Novato). This fruit does well in Central California near the coast and or in the foothills near the ocean – San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara County.

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Travel Massive Meetup, Los Angeles

Travel Massive events are excellent venues for meeting other travelers and or those working in the travel industry. Mary Ann of JetSetExtra recently started these Los Angeles based events up again in January – a talk by someone in the travel industry is given followed by networking. These meetups are held in cities around the world – visit www.travelmassive.com for more details.

The venue was the Roof on Wilshire. The last time I was here it was cold and windy – this time it was just plain cold! It is a great place to hold an event – a rooftop bar serves a variety of drinks and snacks – and there are great views overlooking much of Hollywood and the western side. Heat lamps keep one warm on chilly evenings.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand, Los Angeles provided the talk for the evening; they gave an update on tourism in Thailand. Thai Town and parts of North Hollywood combined have the largest community of Thai’s outside of Thailand. Of all the Thai restaurants I have eaten at around the world, I have found the most authentic Thai restaurants outside of Thailand to be in parts of Los Angeles.

It was nice to meet the following individuals: @WhittieBittie @RTWgirl_ @joshuaheller @TravelTalesPod @SonarTravelPlan @jillianmg

…and say hi to old friends, @michelleyam @jetsetextra and @TravelistaStyle

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A relaxing day in Fiji

View at the Seashell Momi

View at the Seashell Momi

After the stresses of non stop travel the past month I was ready for some serious R&R. Seashell Momi is a Diver’s and Surfer’s hangout about 45 minutes south of the capital Nadi. Arriving in the dark after passing through beautiful green hills as far as the eye could see, I simply crashed. It was 8pm. I awoke the next morning, 14 hours later at 10am – still tired but certainly more refreshed. Apparently there are only 5 people staying here out of what looks to be many rooms and private bungalows on a large property overlooking the ocean – myself and two couples.

In the afternoon I met up with Ash, a driver from the local village of Tau – we were soon joined by Joe, one of the villagers who guides people when they come to visit. The destination was the Tau Cave. Joe’s ancestors used to live in the hills above this cave and retreat into the cave during attacks by warring tribes. Casualties of war were then dragged into the cave, cooked and eaten. The locations where they cooked the casualties in the cave were still clearly evident – they would build fires and heat rocks and then do the cooking under the ground. These locations were strategic – they were near two of the main entrances to the cave so the smoke could easily escape.

This cave wouldn’t have been the most pleasant place to hide in – it is wet, there are small flies, it is dark, there are plenty of bats flying around and the floor is covered with mounds of guano droppings (essentially natural nutrient rich manure).

Climbing high in to the jungle to reach the cave we passed workers building a zip line (the village of Tau is leasing their land to a gentleman originally from Sacramento California who moved here 7 years ago). We also heard the noise of cell phones ringing. Looking down at the trail I saw plenty of shells that Joe’s ancestors had brought up here after many fishing trips from the ocean far below and in the distance. The contrast between how life used to be and how it is now is great.

I had picked up 1/2 kilo of Kava root prior to meeting Joe. After visiting the cave we went back to his village where I enjoyed a Kava welcoming ceremony with a number of the villagers who had just returned from work. Words were said, words were sung, then a hollow clapping of hands followed. A wooden scoop went into a large wooden container, pulling out a healthy amount of Kava drink – which was then given to me. Several more scoops ensued and I downed them all. After this, my mouth and tongue were numb for some time but I experienced no other side effects.

Looking to try some local Fijian food, we returned to a beach-side restaurant – a short 10 minute walk on a dirt road near the Momi Resort. Sandwiched in the middle of a small bay between Momi Seashell and the construction of what is going to be a new Marriott Hotel is nice lady named Lendua – who operates a one room no-name restaurant next to her home. Her family catches the fresh fish in nets in the bay. The prices are great, the food is fresh and she enjoys visitors. Her son Jr. was quite shy and wary of strangers when I first arrived. After several visits he opened up and when I left for the last time, he came running down the path leading to their home waving goodbye.

Fiji is certainly known for its well distributed spring water and its pristine beaches but there is much to learn about the culture, foods and local village life. Joe is an excellent guide – and an afternoon spent with him was very educational. He enjoys introducing visitors to the Fijian village way of life. You can reach him by sending him an email: here to schedule an “insiders” tour of this part of Fiji and or to arrange other logistics for your travels.

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Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, Cairns Queensland

Cables in the mists

Cables in the mists

I have spent the last few days exploring the Daintree Rainforest (the world’s oldest rainforest) from the ground; now it was time to see it from above the canopy level. Fortunately the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is located just outside of Cairns.

This is one of the do not miss Daintree Rainforest experiences. 7.5 Km of cable opened in 1995 and now brings passengers from near sea level up to 545 meters at its highest spot. Cable cars are becoming more innovative these days – select cars have a glass floor so you can look down on the passing canopy. And other cars (available starting April 2014) are completely open to the air – more like open cages hanging from the rails.

Three stations are located along the length of the cable – local Djabugay Aboriginal guides can be arranged to guide you at the first two stops. Being in this incredible bio diverse rich region is a fantastic experience in and of itself, but having a guide with you who grew up in the area and has an intimate relationship with this particular rainforest is a valuable asset.

Jeremy, a local aboriginal guide provided unique insights into the rainforest. He pointed out a red berry which if you crush it and put the juice in a drink, you will go blind for up to two days. Not a nice party trick. Or the “wait-a-while” vine with its razor sharp thorns – you get hooked by this, you “wait a while” and slowly remove yourself – rather than running!

After a visit here it becomes clear why film scouts for the Avatar movie visited this location via the tramway several times prior to their filming. Giant trees, a thick canopy, waterfalls and exotic Jurassic looking landscape are all part of this ecosystem.

The last stop is within a short walking distance of the charming town of Kuranda. In the 1970′s this became somewhat of an arts and market community with a number of vendors and artisans setting up shop. Today there are plenty of boutique shops focusing on artisan products as well as numerous dining options. Look for Mango and other exotic fruit wine tasting and delicious home-made ice cream from the Kuranda Ice Cream truck.

Visitor’s can return via the Cableway or elect to go back via a 90 minute train ride through the rainforest (buses connect passengers from the train back to the Skyrail parking lot).

Visit: www.skyrail.com.au

#ad I have been commissioned by and will be working with Tourism Australia for this program and resulting content.

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