New Caledonia

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Tomorrow (Monday) we board our cruise ship the ‘Pacific Jewel’, older than the other cruise ships in which we’ve sailed, so it’ll be an education. She might be ‘old’ (launched 1989), but she does look more like a ship than a block of flats.

Maureen & I sail, with our daughter, son in law and three grandchildren, for a family holiday afloat, so communication might not be as efficient – or as cheap!

An eight night cruise to New Caledonia, so named by Captain Cook in 1774, because the southern tip reminded him of Scotland.

New Caledonia is now French, but they don’t use the Euro currency, but Central Pacific Franc CFP – I wonder if I have the price of an ice cream left in the tin I use for odd coins from our travels. . .

The last time Maureen & I were in Noumea (the capital of New Caledonia), was in 2002, so it’ll be interesting to see the changes – if any. The Pacific islands work to ‘island time’ . . .and we will have to learn to slooow dooowwwnnn and to enjoy the experience.

jewel-032The Pacific Jewel seem s to have a focus on family fun from ‘rock climbing’ to flying fox from fore to aft, or it could be the other way around.

p_and_o_edgee_2The wire is the flying fox . . . .at my age I might give it a miss.

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Noumea – New Caledonia

From Noumea we sail to the Isle of Pines – see below

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and then on to Lifou Island, again below

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and finally Mare Island before sailing back to Sydney.

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As you see, I plan that nothing will be too strenuous – except in the pool with the grandchildren – a nice break before the madness of Christmas / New Year, and I thought the above pictures would be a gentle reminder for those in a northern hemisphere November. . . . . I can be cruel :-o)

If anyone is interested in the South Pacific try James Michener’s books such as Tales of the South Pacific, The Return to Paradise, and Rascals in Paradise – all three are factual.

Bridge on the River Kwai

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bridge1In 1945 the Americans bombed the real bridge on the river Kwai. The centre parts of the bridge (the flat bits) are new, and the original part of the bridge has the curved sides.
We could walk on the bridge; it is a rail bridge only, and not available for road transport.

imgp1899rThere was a wooden bridge built about one hundred meters up river from this bridge, and that bridge was used while the prisoners built the metal bridge, which was #277 of over 600 bridges built to accommodate the railway. Later the wooden bridge was used again after the bombing of this bridge.

Before we caught the train to Numtok, which is now the end of the line, we visited the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery – a very emotional place as you walk passed thousands of plaques, which list the name, rank, regiment, age and date of death.

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Lest we forget the 6,982 Australian, British and Dutch prisoners.

imgp1845rThere is another cemetery a couple of kilometers away with a further 1693 prisoners.

One hundred and thirty three Americans also died on the railways, but their bodies were repatriated back to the US.

It is estimated that half of the 180,000 Asians, (Malays, Burmese, Thais, Chinese etc) who were forced to help build the railway, also died, but they are not buried in these cemeteries.

Our destination, by train, is Numtok – the line used to go to the Burmese / Thai border, but after the war the line from Numtok to Burma was ripped up. I have heard that there is a very small possibility that the missing line might be reconstructed.

imgp2890r The notice tells us that the station is the River Kwai Bridge, but it is Kanchanaburi, with a thriving market on the platform area to keep the tourists happy.

imgp2893rOur train has arrive.

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Open windows, open doors and ineffective fans trying to keep us all cool. On looking down I was able see the sleepers and track through cracks in the floor. Not something I was used to on European or Australian trains, but all part of the ‘adventure’.imgp2909rThe line is a single line track so if you miss the train you have to wait for it to do the round trip.

imgp2913rWe are about to cross the viaduct, which was built by the prisoners in seventeen days.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApproaching the end of the line – Numtok.

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imgp1887rThe Wang Pho viaduct – hand made . . . in 2016 it is 73 years old . .

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One dead prisoner for every sleeper of the 415 km railway –

They only had elephants to help, because they didn’t have any earth moving equipment.

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Along side the viaduct was a large cave. This cave was used by the POWs as a ‘hospital’ it is now a Buddhist Temple in remembrance.

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The correct name for the River Kwai is Khwae Noi, meaning small tributary, which merges with Khwae Yai River to create the Mae Kong River.

Pierre Boulle, a Frenchman, who had experienced great hardship after being captured by the Vichy French on the Mekong River, wrote a novel called ‘Le Pont de la rivière Kwaï’ – The Bridge of the River Kwai, which was later made in to a film, which became a great success.

poster-bridge-on-the-river-kwai-the_02It was such a success that people flocked to Thailand in an effort to find the Bridge of the River Kwai. The river didn’t exist, but the Khwae Noi did . . . .so in 1960 the river was renamed Kwai, which helped the Thai economy considerably.

The other small detail is that the film Bridge on the River Kwai was made in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) not Thailand.

It’s an odd world – on checking a few facts for this blog I came across Lt Col Philip Toosey, who was the real Colonel in the camp that built this part of the railway.
He was nothing like the Alec Guinness character who collaborated with the Japanese – I believe Alec Guinness was not happy portraying this type of character.
Col Toosey had his men commit as much sabotage as possible, and I heard that he even collected termites and spread them around the wooden bridges in the hope that they would start eating  . . . .

At the end of the war, during the war trials in Japan, Col Toosey spoke up for Sgt Major Saito, who was second in command, (he was portrayed as a Colonel in the film), because he treated the POWs better than many of the guards. Saito respected the Colonel and later they corresponded.

Over two hundred Japanese were hanged for war crimes, and a large number of others spent many years in gaol.

Saito said that Col Toosey showed him what a human being should be, and this changed his life. On the Colonel’s death in 1975 (he was 71), Sgt Major Saito travelled from Japan to pay his respects at the Colonel’s grave side. Not until Sgt Major Saito’s death in 1990 did his family realise that he had become a Christian, because of Colonel Toosey.

After the war the Colonel returned home and worked in Liverpool, UK.

The odd bit for me is that Col Toosey came from Birkenhead, which is across the river from Liverpool. He lived in Upton Road and went to school at Birkenhead Park High School.

I lived about a hundred yards or so from this school, and between 1956 and 1960 I used to deliver newspapers for the news agency in Upton Village. My delivery area included all of Upton Road to Bidston hill, I just wondered if I used to deliver to the Colonel’s house.

Boats, beer and bananas

imgp1929rFloating Market outside Bangkok.

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imgp1930rHire a boat and enjoy the experience.

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They cater for all tastes.

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Access to the market can be made from the landward side. We walked through the market to get to the boats.

imgp1936rThe locals also buy from the boat people. The young girl had just bought a hot meal.

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Most spices that I’d heard of were available, so we bought various packages.

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It did cross my mind to buy a ‘boat’, but getting it back to Australia, in one piece, stopped me.

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Bangkok is famous for its traffic jams – can you see my new friend?

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The only way to calm down in a traffic jam in Thailand – the Singha beer was cold!

Once free of the jam we cruised away from the market to see how some Thai people lived.

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 I know the floating market can be ‘touristy’, but it is worth the effort, and we enjoyed the trip.

To market, to market to train a fat hen.

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During our time in Thailand we decided to visit the ‘railway’ market, and on the way we stopped to see the salt fields. The salt is not mined but created through evaporation from seawater.

The railway market has grown in popularity since out first visit about eight years ago.

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The market is across the road from Maeklong Station.

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The train has to cross the road to reach this station, so local people have turned the railway track area, before the rail crosses the road, in to a market.

imgp1911rIn many ways it is just a normal market – except for the railway lines.

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Let’s say that some of the food offered was not to my taste.

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Anyone for a lightly BBQ water bug ? Bugs of the day!

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Fresh crabs tied with cord to stop them escaping.

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Fresh fish in a bucket until required to be chopped up for sale.

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The centre of the rail lines is used as a walk way – keep an eye out for the train.

imgp1922rBut everything changes when they hear the train approaching – drop or pull up the awnings and shade cloth. Clear the sale goods off the line and stand back.

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The train slows down, but doesn’t stop, and it has right of way – might is right.

imgp1925rAs you see the side of the train is just high enough to pass over the farm products.

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Nearly time to reopen and drag out the awnings again.

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Time is money the train’s passed start selling.

Hanoi and Hanoi Hilton.

p3111087We visited the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, where we saw his embalmed body in a glass case. He died in 1969.
His body (so we were told) is shipped to Moscow every year for the embalming fluids to be changed – the jokes at the time spoke of his annual Russian holiday.

Queuing to get in to the mausoleum was different – shorts were not allowed to worn by ladies, and men’s shorts had to come down below the knee – this was fixed by loosening our belt . . . A large number of school children, as well as adults were always milling around.

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A parade ground type of square was in front of the building. Armed guards patrolled the queue to make sure there were no unseemly movements or comments and of course laughing was not encouraged. Yours hands were expected to be by your side, definitely not in your pockets. Being guests in another country we accepted the host’s rules, but they did make one feel uncomfortable, particularly because they had automatic rifles.

Of course photographs were not allowed to be taken while in the long queue, nor inside the mausoleum. Once inside the building, the body could be seen lying on a bed, which was encased in a glass ‘room’ suspended from the ceiling. Stairs led upwards and around the suspended room and down again at the rear of the ‘room’ to ground level, where you exited the building. One followed the person in front – you didn’t stop and stare. Every few meters armed guards kept waving at us to move on – move on.
There were many children on a day out to see the ‘father’ of their country, Uncle Ho. Some cried, but I don’t know if it was out of respectful emotion, or because they’d seen a dead body.

To me the body looked very wax-like and I wondered if Madam Tussauds had got there first.

Across the way from the mausoleum is the house and offices where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked.uncle
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Further on we saw the outside of the Presidential Palace.

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The whole area seemed to contain a never ending queue, but I don’t know for what  . . .

The silver lining is that I can not remember if they had a souvenir shop as you left the area, I don’t think they did – which was a plus.

While in Hanoi we had a constant barrage of propaganda blaring out of speakers all over the city, urging the workers to work harder, to stop spitting or to be polite to each other – all in Vietnamese of course, so after a time it became just background noise to us, similar to the roar of traffic. I asked at the hotel for a translation of the constant broadcast and the above is what I was told.

Sometimes called

HANOI HILTON

 Our next stop was a visit to the French colonial Hoa Lo prison, which was an eye opener. It was also known as the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ during the Vietnam / American war. The name Hoa Lo also means ‘fiery furnace’ after the street in which is stands. The street being famous for selling wood fired stoves.

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I hope you can read the above which describes the prison, mixed with propaganda against the French.

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Aerial view of the prison.

 It was built from 1886 to 1889 to house 460 prisoners and was expanded in 1913 to hold 600. In 1916 the prisoners being held were 730, by 1954 it held 2000 prisoners and in the 1960’s it held American prisoners of war.

Being originally French it held a

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I think this guillotine was last used in the 1930s.

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Once strapped in you were not released to eat or to visit the toilet.

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Outside garden area, but within the walls of the prison, created as a memorial.

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Walk the walk that never bores.

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I consider myself to be very fortunate to be living in Australia and in particular in a leafy suburb which is a forty minute train ride from the city of Sydney.

For the past twenty odd years, I have walked every morning in my suburb around 6.00 To 6.30 am and I never get tired of the view even when the scenery changes with the seasons.
The change is mainly the light rather than the vegetation, because our local pine trees and gums trees don’t shed their leaves to the same extent as European trees, and in many cases the gum trees shed their bark, rather than their leaves.
At the moment it is still Spring (November) and most of the early flowers have bloomed and died off.
Our National flower the Golden wattle has bloomed and faded.

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I took the above picture just before dawn some weeks ago – the flowers are reflected in a ‘duck pond’, which is really a run off from the surrounding cliffs, but there is a small dam to hold back any rubbish from entering the river.
On leaving home I have a slight climb – my house is at the bottom of this hill.

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bb02Looking down the other side of the hill.

bb03The river below, which is tidal.

bb05I can see fishermen getting ready for an early morning outing.

bb06Bottom of the hill and this view always catches my eye.

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Further along the fishermen are making their ‘tinny’ read. (Tinny = aluminium small boat) A 3.7 mtr tinny boat and trailer can be had for around $950 (USD $720).

bb08Someone is making ready for a dawn kayak paddle.

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The children’s area of the park. A lonely trike forgotten from yesterday – there would have been tears in someone’s home last night.

bb10Part of the park with wood fired BBQ and picnic shelter.

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I prefer the picnic table to overlook the river – the sun is just coming up behind me.

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The notice on the shoal marker states that the speed limit is 8 knots, I doubt that our kayak friend will be breaking the speed limit.

bb14Drinking in the views

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I’ve reached the end of my walk and cannot go any further, so it is time to make tracks home for breakfast.

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My camera is only a point and click, but I tried to use the trees to protect the lens from direct sunlight. Taken as I turned to return home.

dsc07071Homeward bound, the river is now on my right.

dsc07072 Civilisation in the distance.

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This is the end of the road on which I live (it is a cul-de-sac, but quite a long road). The end of the road is behind me.
Further up on the left-hand side, near where the fishermen were putting their boat in the water, there is a bird nesting.

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It has been nesting for the past few weeks and managed to stay alive. Someone has painted a circle around the bird (several metres from the bird) and written that the bird is nesting to keep people away. I have seen foxes around the area, and I am surprised that the bird has not been disturbed.
In this area I have been dive bombed by magpies who are protecting their nest. In certain areas of Sydney children on the way to school wear their peaked hat on backwards to protect the back of their neck from nesting magpies. The attacks don’t go on for long just while they are nesting.

This area also has a number of kookaburras who are meat eater so I don’t hold out much hope for any chicks. The kookaburras around 5.30 am in the Spring are our local ‘dawn chorus’ – not unpleasant unless you’ve had a late night.

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Kookaburras are not frightened of us, so why would they fear a small bird nesting – this fellow joined us in our back garden for lunch.

Hoi An Historic Hotel

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When we visited Hoi An this hotel was just called the Hoi An Hotel, I am not sure when it became ‘historic’, although we did enjoy staying there at the time.

Hoi An had the feeling that the town was just beginning to attract foreign tourists. The main attraction at the time seemed to be the ability to buy tailor made suits / dresses much cheaper than back home in Australia.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe driveway to the front of the hotel.

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The pool was clean and very pleasant for swimming. The rooms were dark wood furniture, with wooden floors for coolness. Fully air-conditioned, plus a ceiling fan.

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We found the staff keen to please, very polite and friendly. I had a small problem when I asked for couple of small (20 ml) containers of milk for tea in our room, because we had used the original two the previous evening. I was given the milk and asked to sign for them, because they would be charged to my room.

Later, as the person who had made the booking on behalf of our group, I was asked to fill in a guest form, obviously because we were foreigners. I was happy to so, and commented that charging for 20 ml containers of milk will turn people away, because tourist object to rip-offs.

I posted the comment card in the box provided and we all went off for a day of sightseeing.

On our return I was asked by the Manager to join him in his office because he had read my comments and wanted clarification.

We had a very friendly chat and he accepted my ‘comment’ about the charge for the milk – the charges were immediately cancelled, and he also put out an instruction to the front desk that they would no longer charge for small items.

I was flattered that the Manager was so interested in what I had to say. He asked me many questions about the different hotels that we’d stayed in during the previous couple of years. He told me that his problem was only having local hotels to judge if he was offering the right level of service to international travelers, so he was very keen to learn.

It was a pleasure to help him out, but I only wish certain other hotels (no name, no pack drill), would ask for their guests’ opinion while the guest was still at the hotel, rather than making excuses on Trip Advisor, after a guest has made a public negative comment. In my opinion the standard in any hotel is set by the manager – poor service to a paying guest, shows poor management.

If (hopefully when) we return to Hoi An I wouldn’t hesitate in staying at the Hoi An Hotel again, historic or not. . . . .

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We had a decent size room (36 sq mt) on the third floor – the above picture is from the hotel web site – I can’t find my photographs of our room.