Football News

Starting last weekend (18/7) Buriram United have a run of games that could make the difference in this being a great season instead of just a normal, win something, season.

That's what we think.

That’s what we think.

Thai Premier League games at home to BEC Tero and our greatest rivals, the dreaded Muang Thing (sic) United plus away games at Saraburi and Srisaket should bring maximum points and we should certainly being aiming for nothing less.

We also have an away Toyota League Cup game at our most recent major rivals, Bangkok Glass (22/7) which should have a little

maxresdefaultadded spice after the league game at our place last week which resulted in two players receiving bans and just a little bad feeling.

Finally on the 29th July we have an FA Cup tie with Nakon Ratchasima, our most local rivals which is also a repeat of a recent league game, albeit it at the mighty Thunder Castle this time.

There’s no reason why we can’t win every one of these games and set ourselves nicely for a strong second half of the season.

Let’s support the team as always and cheer extra loudly for the next few weeks. This could be a defining few weeks for us.

#GU12

Wat Khao Phra Angkarn

วัดเขาอังคาร or the Temple of Mars Mountain (literally) 

Perched on a small hill, about the same height as it’s big brother at Phanom Rung, sits this quite strange but enchanting temple. I’ve read many stories about its purpose but it appears more shrouded in myth than seems possible. It’s a newly built temple on an ancient sacred site and built in an old style.

Exiting Nang Rong on the way here, there is a lonely sign post hidden in a small village. If you don’t have Google Maps or an amazing sense of adventure and incredible sense of direction then you may struggle to find your way! Down a nondescript side street, through endless brown fields waiting for their crops and the life giving rains that should come soon, along a tree lined dirt track that reminds you of someplace in Belgium, you finally reach a small crossroads where there is another sign, very handily written in Thai, pointing you the way. It’s a little disorientating because although you’re in the middle of traditional Buriram farming country, where the smell of buffalo poo and durian waft into your nostrils, every 100 metres you encounter a 16 wheeler truck. It’s as if you’ve inadvertently stumbled into a Colombian drug cartel’s manufacturing plant. Of course, that would be crazy but, in fact, just down the road there is a quarry and a factory producing gravel and stones to be sold at some distant place. This has a plus side and a down side. The plus is that the tracks are well used and passable at this time of year, in the dry season. The down side is the sheer amount of infernal dust that is thrown into the air both from the crushing process and the monstrous lorries.

That explains the dust

That explains the dust

Passing this rather surprising place, the track continues and ahead there is a hillock which, surely, must be the location of our temple. (It’s really an extinct volcano.) Five minutes later, after a winding climb, you’re at the summit, faced by a 20 metre long, golden Buddha, in his best “I’m lying down and relaxing” pose.

Just take a 5 minute nap

Just take a 5 minute nap

The site is very compact and is free to enter. There are many wonderful small statues dotted around and it’s a good idea just to wander amongst the trees looking for lost treasures, whether they be an upright Buddha staring at you from a clearing or a small shrine slowly being overgrown by the creepers. It’s a peaceful place, the quiet only broken by the glorious sounds of birds chattering away (or the occasional motor bike revving it’s engine as it parks) and the melodious rhythm of the monks chanting their prayers.

The Chocolate Temple

The Chocolate Temple

The main attraction is the sepia coloured temple that stands as high as a 3 storey building. The choice of colour is rare as most Thai temples are white but this is one of the great things that makes it unique. Inside there are some murals which are in a sad state of decay, telling the tale of Rama (I think) and his journey across India in search of Sita. In fact, with the outer walls looking like they’re covered in chocolate, there is a similarity to some of the old Indian forts. Surrounding the base of the temple are dozens of small statues resplendent in their orange robes, all looking to the distance wary of the marauding forces approaching from all sides. On top of the temple are some fabulously carved towers with intricately designed scenes (from where I don’t know). On closer inspection there are also hundreds of small Buddha figurines sitting in their pose, looking serene as always.

It’s worth taking some time to stroll around and enjoy the atmosphere here. I would suggest a visit as part of a day trip to include Non Din Daeng also. Keep Phanon Rung and Muang Tam for a new day.

Stroll Around

Stroll Around

The Oktoberfest

It was the 3rd October 1984 and George Orwell’s prediction had, as yet, not materialised. I remember it well as it was just 5 days after my 21st birthday and the party had yet to stop. Our jovial local pub had arranged for us to join a 5 day tour to Bavaria and the highlight was to be a day at the world famous Oktoberfest. Our bus was sponsored by Lowenbrau, the famous Bavarian brewery and was loaded with hundreds of cases of beer which seemed rather excessive (or maybe not).

Our Sponsor!

Our Sponsor!

The lengthy bus journey was to be a whole day and we passed the time playing cards, listening to our flashy Walkmans (no iPods in the last century!) and chatting amongst ourselves and making wonderful new friends. I confess that I didn’t really join in the card games as the money being bet in each hand was more than my entire week’s spending money but that didn’t deter the Landlords and Ladies of south Lonfon! Still, it was fun to watch.

Our hotel wasn’t actually in Munich but the quaint, alpine town of Inzell, about 90 minutes away and close to the Austrian border. Our first night was to be an introduction to Bavarian Culture which, naturally, meant beer, lederhosen, more beer and serving ladies with huge biceps! As part of the raucous entertainment, there was music, dancing and the highlight was a little drinking game. Each table appeared to be home to a different pub from around the UK and so each table was required to supply a team of three hefty drinkers. Now, as the scrawniest and youngest I was not going to be involved in this, or so I thought. But, for some reason unknown to anyone, especially me, I was elected along with our landlady and a gentlemen, who shall remain nameless (but worked for a brewery). The first round was to drink a stein glass of beer as fast as possible as a team. The game started, I drank a pitiful amount, passed the glass behind me to my team members and before I could take a breath my team-mates had finished it: what’s more, they’d finished it before all the other teams. Game Won! Time to sit down. Alas no, because as winners we remained on the brightly lit stage for a drink off. Now, there was no way I was going to win this one. Three chairs were brought onto the stage, a litre stein placed under each one and we had to stand on the chairs. Simple rules, using only one hand, pick up the glass and drink. What they didn’t tell us was the ‘glass’ was 50% lead and was heavy, really heavy! I couldn’t even lift it! A quick rethink, I sat down, cheated, got disqualified and took the beer back to my seat. Sadly to say, I’ve no idea which one of our team won but it wasn’t important (to me!). I do believe that the evening went downhill from here but I’d be lying if I remembered anything more. Suffice to say, I know it was fun.

‘Twas chilly and overcast the following morning as we boarded the bus heading for Munich and the main event. A few tired heads and more than a few folks with raging hangovers but you only get to do this once in your life (if you’re sensible) so you have to be brave. After an all too short nap we awoke to the sight of Munich and made a short tour before arriving at the Marienplatz, the spiritual centre of this old city.

The Glockenspiel, Marienplatz

The Glockenspiel, Marienplatz

The Hofbrauhaus

The Hofbrauhaus

 

 

 

 

 

This ‘square’ is famous for two things; the glockenspiel that strikes whilst telling a lovely story with characters that move around the front of the tower, and the Hofbrauhaus which is away in one corner of the square. For some reason, it’s considered a good idea to warm up in here before going to the beer festival so who was I to disagree. A quick drink, some more typical Bavarian music and a snack before we jumped onto the bus and noticed that the hangover had, for the most part, disappeared.

The Lowenbrau "Tent"

The Lowenbrau “Tent”

Entering on a midweek day and in the early afternoon, the queues were fairly short and we were politely guided to our home for the next few hours; the Lowenbrau Tent. It’s a huge tent with room enough for a few thousand revellers, using tables of 8-10 people seated on long benches. Inside is absolutely heaving and in the centre there is a wide stage with the oompah band playing. Everywhere is decked out in the blue and white of the Bavarian flag, colours shared by the sponsoring brewery too and they even supply a rather fetching local standard hat to put you in the correct frame of mind. The service is taken care of by, what we used to call, ‘serving wenches’ (I know it’s not PC but hey).

Don't try this at home - or anywhere!

Don’t try this at home – or anywhere!

These adorable ladies have to negotiate between the tables and the hordes of heavy drinking tourists, carrying half a dozen steins of beer, 3 in each hand. If you’ve ever tried this, you will understand what an incredible job these ladies do.  When not serving beer and collecting glasses, they’re delivering plates of chicken and chips to the drinkers. All in all they do a quite amazing job. As the afternoon passes by, the singing and dancing increases and there is one particular song, which is played frequently, that you realise is all important. It’s called Ein Prosit and is a fabulous way of having a drink and saying cheers to everyone around you.

Seated inside

Seated inside

The hours pass by and there is no point trying to calculate how much you’ve drunk or how many steins have passed your way as the drink just keeps flowing until you’re either ready to leave or you fall off your chair and take a relaxing snooze under the table. If you’re feeling a little adventurous there is also a fun fair in the beer fest grounds. Whoever thought of this must have been either crazy or sadistic. Who would send drunken revelers on a roller coaster around the park? Naturally some of us did try this and I think the roller coaster won!

Early evening and we try to locate our bus for the journey back. You remember, it’s the blue and white one. How many similar coaches could there be? The haul back to the alps started in a lively vein but the alcohol soon took hold and all that could be heard on that bus was a cacophony of snores and belches as we sped down the autobahn.

A final night at the hotel following a small nightcap and then the final day brought us to the long journey home. I think this is how it happened but if anyone is able to add or correct me, please do. Suffice to say, I felt so imbibed that when I returned to the Prince of Wales Pub I walked in to the bar, faced the cigarette machine and ordered a beer from it. I also needed 3 day off work just to sober up. All in all, an utterly amazing trip.

 

Reverse Bucket List No. 1: Flying on Concorde

There’s a whole generation of people growing up who’ve never seen Concorde in the air, never heard the thunderous roar as it passed overhead and never felt the amazing feeling of pride in seeing the most beautiful commercial airliner ever built, as it soared to its destination.

When it first entered service in January 1976, Concorde faced many issues in the form of environmentalists, activists, jealous governments and the US! It was only once British Airways started their regular service to New York’s Kennedy Airport that the legend of this long white bird really started.

Was there ever a more beautiful sight?

Was there ever a more beautiful sight?

Ask anyone who flew on her and they’ll tell you who was on the flight and recall their fabulous experience. Every passenger received a certificate to say they had flown and each person was also offered a commemorative gift (I still have the salt and pepper pots). But the experience is not just about the graceful plane.

At Heathrow Airport in London, Concorde had its own private gate for departing which was connected to the Concorde Lounge. This wasn’t just another airport lounge but an exclusive club where VIPs and celebrities met for a glass of bubbly before joining the flight for the 3 hour hop to New York.

The particular day that I flew was a cold and overcast November and I admit to feeling a little overawed as well as incredibly fortunate to be sitting in the lounge with some fellow travel agents waiting for the exciting adventure to start. On this Saturday morning the only well-known customer was Tom Baker, the current Dr. Who at that time, so I assumed his Tardis must have been in for a service so he was making use of the best available option.

Departure time for the morning flight was always 10:30 but Concorde rarely left on time. There were usually one or two late comers and when you pay that much for a ticket you expect a little flexibility. For us, we boarded around 10:30 and as you enter the cabin for the first time you realise how small the plane is inside. Two seats either side of a single aisle. It’s not First Class but IT IS Concorde!  We fastened our safety belts and as we moved away from the gate you could see a long line of planes waiting to take off from the world’s busiest airport. There were maybe six or seven flights waiting in front of us but that wasn’t a concern for us. I’d never realised that Concorde held so much sway with the airport authorities and we immediately taxied onto the runway, jumping the whole queue and a good 30 minute wait; that’s my sort of a plane.

I recall having an amazing sense of expectation for that short moment as we were sitting dead still on the runway, facing due west, towards our destination. Then suddenly the roar started as the engines were opened and we began moving. The slow trot turned into a gallop as I was thrown back into my seat by the incredible acceleration of this amazing machine. It was like being on a roller coaster as the power contorts your face. After a few seconds of this feeling you leave the ground and start your ascent. I was ever so glad to have chosen a window seat and confess to having a little tear in my eye because I’d realised one of my greatest dreams. The feeling of exhilaration as you head through the clouds is exceedingly difficult to explain and it’s so shameful that people no longer have the opportunity to travel in this fashion.

The flight path takes you in a westerly direction towards the Bristol Channel, but at this point you’re cruising at subsonic speed, being over land. Once you hit the coast just south of Bristol the pilot is able to take us up to full speed and you know when that happens as you’re hit with this increase in speed akin to a motorist putting his foot to the floor in an Italian Sport’s Car! It’s quite majestic as Concorde rapidly heads for its supersonic target and climbs towards Mach 2, our current speed being shown on a screen at the front of the cabin. Everyone’s eyes are watching and a little cheer rings out around the plane as we hit the target speed of Mach 2. It was like being at a kids’ party, most of the customers never having travelled quite so fast and was an excellent excuse for another glass of champagne.

The next two and a half hours were fairly uneventful; the champagne continued to flow, the conversation was jovial and we just sat back and enjoyed the ride. As we started to see land again the pilot informed us, in his wonderful upper class British accent, that we were starting our descent into New York. The final approach took us within sight of Long Island and as you make the final banking manoevre to line yourself up for landing you get your first view of the Manhattan Skyline. As this point the plane would be visible to all on the ground and you’re sure that many people are looking up to the sky and watching, wishing they could make the trip of a lifetime as we are doing now.

Touchdown in the Big Apple

Touchdown in the Big Apple

Slowly, this beautiful white bird approaches Kennedy Airport, the wheels screech as they hot the tarmac and we turn off the runway and taxi to our special gate ready to disembark from the journey of a lifetime. It may have been only three hours but it was a fantastic and memorable three hours and, sadly, something that cannot be repeated any longer. Long Love the memories.

 

 

Reverse Bucket List No.2 – The City of London on a Sunday Morning

There are quite a few places that lay claim to being the ‘best’ city in the world. New York has an unmatched vibrancy, Paris has a certain chic, Rome has incredible history at every turn, Tokyo is just busy (in a lovely way) but nothing can quite match the feel of the City of London on a Sunday morning. It’s especially inspiring when the sun is just rising and the light gives it a certain colour that highlights the architecture, old and new.

London by The Thames

London by The Thames

The square mile that is the City of London is, on any given weekday, a bustling, crowded part of London where much of the country’s financial companies are based. If you were to stand on the western edge of the city, next to the Dragon in Fleet Street that marks the boundary of the city, in front of you would be centuries of history. Out of sight but ahead of you is St Paul’s Cathedral, so long the dominant landmark on the London skyline and past that is the financial hub.

By doing this walk on a Sunday, one has the chance to take things at a slow pace and allow yourself to admire all the buildings that you pass without the interruption of millions of people. Starting out along Fleet Street, which used to be the centre of the journalistic world (most publications havg since moved a few miles east) and heading east, you pass the Reuters Offices and St Bride’s Church with its steeple designed like a wedding cake (or was the wedding cake designed after the church?).

Crossing the eerily quiet approach to Blackfriars Bridge you enter Ludgate Hill, one of three hills in the city. Nowadays this is a commuter path to Blackfriars Railway Station but once it was better know as the road to the cathedral. At the top of the hill is Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral. Consecrated in 1708, this

The highlight of the London skyline

The highlight of the London skyline

mighty place of worship with its distinctive west facade, featuring a single clock on the southern side, has seen many great events, the most recent being the 1981 wedding of HRH Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.

Passing to the north, through the unspectacular graveyard, you reach Cheapside. Taking a northerly route from here you quickly reach the home of the Museum of London, perched aloft the site of London Wall, the northern side of the city. From here, stroll along some of the side streets and head for the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street aka The Bank of England. Even though it’s a Sunday Morning and the bank is obviously closed, you can almost feel and hear the sounds of financial transactions in the air and city gents busying themselves.

Moving slowly down King William Street you notice that the majority of the buildings are constructed with the same stonework. Many of them appeared in the century following the Great Fire of London (1666) which started in Pudding Lane, the sight of the Monument, a 62m high tower located 62m from the starting point of the fire. If you’re feeling energetic you can climb the 311 steps to the top for a spectacular view of London.

Leaving here, head along Great Tower Street with your aim being the millennium old Tower of London. This one time castle, prison, palace is a great place to chill and take a thoroughly educational tour to learn something of the history of London. Ensure that your guide is one of the Yeoman Guards, aka Beefeaters, the ceremonial guardians of the tower.

The Tower

The Tower

Each place mentioned here deserves time spent visiting them. If you love walking around incredible cities, London on a Sunday Morning is a walk not to be missed.

Reverse Bucket List, No.3 – Bagan, Burma, by Horse and Cart

The best transport around Bagan

The best transport around Bagan

On rare occasions, you are fortunate enough to visit an architectural wonder of the world before it has been overrun by mass tourism and Bagan/Pagan in Burma, for me is one of those places. Before the hordes of camera wielding visitors arrived from all around the world, I was fortunate to spend a few days travelling around this amazing site sitting in the back of some local transportation and enjoying the view.  No, we were not fortunate enough to be in an air-conditioned minibus but in an old cart with a total on one horse power and a guide who was willing to cover every square kilometre of this amazing UNESCO heritage site. If you’ve never thought about it, consider the peace and tranquility that comes with the sound of a horse’s hooves and the gentle rumble of the cart’s wheels on the dusty tracks. It’s so much better than the noisy sound of an engine whining along the local roads and destroying the environment.

A great way to view Bagan

A great way to view Bagan

The current site is home to over 2,000 fabulous temples of varying sizes, built over the centuries but this is only about twenty per-cent of what once stood. Bagan was a Kingdom that controlled most of what is now Burma (Myanmar) during the time either side of the end of the first millennium CE. For many people the sheer variety and volume of temples here makes it a worthy rival to Angkor Wat as the ‘must see’ on a visit to South-East Asia. For me, personally, I truly preferred Bagan just for the tranquility but that may change in the next decade.

Of those that remain, probably the best known is the vast  Ananda Temple, a 12th Century masterpiece in design with its white base and golden roof stretching into the skyline. Also well know is the Gawdawpalin Temple, from the same century and with a similar design with its huge, tall doorways, which is stunning at sunset, and the Shwezigon Pagoda which is similar in design to the Shwedagon  Pagoda in Rangoon and shines resplendently being gold form hear to toe. If there had been ‘bling’ in the era of Pagan Temples, this would be the Bling Temple!

To satisfactorily see all of the sites would take probably a couple of weeks but the advantage of having a good, knowledgeable guide with a slow, reliable horse is that you get to complete the whole viewing circuit while stopping at a selection of sites including the famous ones and the lesser known ones (some of which are excellent photo opportunities because of the lack of other people). Riding in the back of the cart, you can take a leisurely look at everything that passes by and even jump off and walk alongside, giving you the chance to take some amazing holiday snaps to show to everyone back home (and on Facebook!). And, being in the back you get the added advantage of some protection from the sun in the middle of the day.

What a view!

What a view!

Remember to take some bottles of water as it gets hot in the midday sun and make sure the camera’s batteries are fully charged as you’ll be shooting an awful lot of photos. After completing our one day trip and retiring to a cool shower and some delicious supper, we realised there was so much more that we wanted to see so we rented two bicycles and rode around those parts of the site that we wanted to see more closely, taking the time to complete our viewing of all the temples and pagodas that we missed on the first day and revisiting some of our favourites.

Truly an awe inspiring place and well worth the visit. Get there soon, before it’s totally overrun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reverse Bucket List No. 4 – ‘Tiger Hunting’ in India

Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright.

Just a nap before hunting

Just a nap before hunting

I remember being on the slow train journey, and by slow I mean that it was quicker to walk alongside, as we crossed the central plateau of India heading towards Kanha National Park, one of the homes of “Project Tiger”.  I had just been reading an article concerning that excitement generated by one’s first sighting of a tiger in its home environment.  It had said that this experience was something that would never be forgotten, and I was desperate to test that theory.

For anyone who has traversed India by train, the idea of spending 18 hours travelling 600 miles must represent a nightmarish memory but these are the aspects of travel which can provide some of the most abiding and interesting stories.  For most westerners there are never more than a few minutes when you are alone.  Everyone wishes to show you how good their English is and will try and influence you into becoming a pen-friend (in the days before email!).  It is even sad when it becomes time to alight at your destination.

On this occasion my stop was at Nagpur, a fair sized industrial town in central India and the terminus for many buses which linked the hundreds of small villages in the surrounding areas.  It was from here that my companion and I commenced our slow journey towards our, “Tiger Hunt in Kanha Park”.  (Before anyone becomes too concerned, this is an affectionate title for the game of searching- or hunting- for a tiger in its own habitat.)

Where is it??

Where is it??

 

Having waited for one bus to take us the first four hours of our torturous journey toward the park and passed time with the obligatory tea stops, breakdowns, “no-reason ” stops and real bus stops we arrived at our overnight accommodation at 4.00 a.m. only four hours behind schedule.  At this time you’re willing to sleep anywhere, and you do, knowing that the journey will continue at the same fabulous pace the next day.

Two bus journeys and one park permit later, you arrive at your resting place.  It our case it is at the slightly cheaper end of the market and just outside the park.  Within half an hour of arriving, you have already rented your jeep for the next day and are ready to eat and sleep.

Isn’t it strange how you don’t recall asking the jeep driver to wake you at 5.30 a.m., but I suppose he knows what’s best for game viewing.  Not even time for tea before we leave our site en-route to collecting some extras to cost the cost of the jeep rental. I never realised how easy it was to fit seven tourists, one driver and a guide into a Second World War jeep.  I’m only slightly perturbed by the fact that I’m volunteered to sit in front with one leg outside this open topped vehicle, and we’re off looking for (supposedly) man-eating tigers!  Even at this time of the morning most of the surrounding areas are very alive and, dressed in my safari shorts and Panama hat, I’m prepared for a hot and humid day in the dust and dirt of the park.  I do hope that four rolls of film will be enough (again in the pre-digital age!).

As much as we’ve asked our driver to avoid other tourists, we all (possibly eight jeeps in all) meet up where we are assured that the very best tiger trackers are currently searching for the tigers on their specially trained elephants.

Much excitement suddenly when the radio crackles into life and its men, women and children into their jeeps and off to the first tiger sighting.  It is now possible to feel the excitement as none of us has seen tigers in the wild before and we are all like schoolchildren of their first day out from school.  It only takes 30 minutes to reach the elephants that await us, but in that time we have already seen some incredible wildlife.  They is a family of blue jays which are circling around us, the colour of which reminds me of the blue neon signs seen in many of the world’s larger cities.  It is just so bright that I don’t even think the most proficient camera film could truly capture it.

It’s not too difficult to see the sight where we shall be tiger viewing as the first sound we hear is a herd of roaring jeeps closing in around six or seven elephants. These elephants are themselves dressed for the task in hand, each with their large wooden howdah tightly strapped around their girth prepared for even the weightiest tourists. Despite knowing that there are tigers in the grass around us we all leap out onto the ground and race towards a line of ladders that lead up to the seats on the elephants. Everyone wants to be first. Once we’re all in place the elephant turns around and slowly ambles off toward the long, bamboo grass. It’s only around one hundred metres to where we enter the grass and without alarming us, our “jockey” tells us that if we look below the elephant’s belly we should see a fully grown, rather large, stripy pussycat- also known as a Tiger!

As we look in amazement, we are informed that this is in fact a female and if we look to our left, we shall see her mate. All my excitement was justified as I am now perched three meters above two tigers which extend to around two and a half metres in length stretched out after obviously, we are told, having eaten fairly recently. I suppose that this should re-assure me as they are no longer hungry. At this moment you wonder just how dangerous could they be? It’s similar to being a child in a zoo again when it’s too difficult to comprehend how something so fluffy and “laid back” could ever cause pain. It’s only as you move away and the male stands up and roars at the jeeps that you see the true power of these marvelous animals. As we depart from our morning on safari we are told that there are some cubs around and someone must have driven close to where they were hidden. That explains the roar. As we approach camp and our lunch time rest, we spy three elephants by the roadside and one jeep in attendance. A short conversation ensues between our driver and the owner of the elephants, a quick exchange of money and we find ourselves once more off into the distance in a convoy of slow moving beasts.

The major difference between our first experience and this is that where we previously headed into long grass, we are now going into trees and bushes. Within a couple of minutes we find out how an elephant can very easily pass through the jungle without injuring itself, but at the same time totally forgetting it’s passengers whose skin is not quite so tough. Much ducking and weaving ensues and after fifteen minutes we suddenly come to a halt. To our left, and under a tall tree we spy to more tiger, both seemingly happy to lay down watching us and having a rather late wash. It is even better seeing them in these surrounding as it seems more natural without the circus of jeeps, elephants and money grabbing hangers-on.  For nearly twenty minutes we just sit still waiting to see if they’re going to move but eventually we are the ones who must give in and return with our elephants to our jeeps. It is really only when you arrive back home with your photographs and you show them to friends who say, “where are the tigers then?” that you realise how good their camouflage is.

Can they jump?

Can they jump?

Later in the afternoon, around three o’clock, we meet up again for a few more hours of game viewing but this time we allowed to go where we want. Kanha Park is also famous for other animals an contains around 2000 dear of many varieties, water buffalo, barasingha, sambhar, jackal and a mesmerising numbers of species of birds including the most incredible neon coloured blue jays. We drive around for maybe one and a half hours but everyone would really like to see some more tigers. What has most surprise me about this park has been the different vegetation from the long grass to the forest both of which housed tigers, and also the open plains stretching into the distance toward what look like watering holes.

It is towards one of these watering holes that we now head, and as we pass it, snapping pictures of buffalo bathing in the muddy waters that we see once again a sight to lift our hearts. An array of jeeps!! This can only mean one thing.

We have once again returned to the scene of our first sightings this morning, but this time there is a greater air of expectation. The female which we saw earlier has moved out of the long grass and is casually strolling around an open area to one side of us. She is pacing up and down and constantly looking at us, looking at her. This continues for some time and everyone begins to look also at their watches as we must leave the park but sunset. There is a silence as the drivers discuss their routes home but this silence is broken by one of my colleagues in our jeep falling backwards out of the jeep having spotted two cubs jogging passed behind all of us. Sadly, before anyone can snap a picture of them, their mother has disappeared back into the grass with them both and they are all lost for today.

On this high point the engines all jump in to life and we sit back and relax, where possible, for the thirty minute ride back to camp and dinner. Darkness comes very quickly, hastened by the most electric of storms that I have ever witnessed. Luckily for us we are left our hut, which has been plunged into darkness and are eating in a local restaurant. At this moment in time, even the thought of the journey back to civilisation canny take away the pleasure if my first, and certainly not my last, “Tiger Hunt”.

Reverse Bucket List No.5: Cruising the Backwaters of Kerala

Lord Curzon, one time big egg in India, called Kerala the “Venice of the East” (a name also given to other cities such as Bangkok!). I guess any city with canals and waterways reminded the early Europeans of Venice so the name was used often. The Backwaters of Kerala are a very special place and, without doubt, should be viewed from the roof of a slow boat on a day long cruise along the palm tree lined waterways.

This version of the Backwaters goes back a few years, in the days before mass tourism arrived in Kerala and the days before there were direct flights from Europe! It was a time of backpackers and people sharing stories verbally rather than blogging or Facebooking.

Staying overnight in a rather cheap but effective guest house the night before the cruise, somewhere in Quilon Town, we ate a lovely cheap thali dinner  for about a dollar, had a shower and went for a snooze. At this we struggled because in the interests of economy both the light and the fan were on the same switch, and there was no way for us to sleep without the fan!

A Houseboat

A Houseboat

In the morning we boarded the small boat. It was a mixture between a small houseboat and a basic cargo vessel. On this day there was a combination of locals and tourists, with most of the foreigners deciding to enjoy the journey from the open rooftop ‘terrace’. The journey, as we left the jetty, was like a scene from Apocalypse Now with people laying on any spare piece of deck and music blaring out. I don’t recall a machine gun post but it might have been there. Progress was at a leisurely pace, passing fishing nets raised out of the water as their owners waited for the sun to go down and the fishing to begin. For some of the journey the deep azure ocean (Laccadive Sea) was visible whilst at other times we swung inland a little and lost the lovely breeze. The whole community appeared to live on small islands with slim canals dividing them. There were mosques, temples and even a very old but still used Portuguese Church along the way giving everyone something to look at and admire.

The sun shone down on us the whole day and some of the fairer skinned folk moved indoors but the conversation didn’t stop, most people trying to discover where the others were going once they arrived in Allepey (and therefore which was the best guest house to run to!). We chugged slowly along, passing more palm trees and fishing boats as well as local boats which actually resembled gondolas (maybe linked to the early European visitors).

Net Fishing in Kerala

Net Fishing in Kerala

The whole journey lasted from dawn to dusk and was a memorable and enlightening time. Seeing so many beautiful sights along the way, meeting so many fabulous people and sampling some delicious local food too made it a really amazing trip.

N.B. Since I visited this wondrous place, most of the names and changed, reverting from their colonial spelling to something closer to their pre-colonial names. The province of Kerala hasn’t changed but many of the towns’ names have. I apologise now but I shall continue to use the names as they were when I visited.

 

 

 

 

Reverse Bucket List No.6: Seeing the Pyramids of Giza for the First Time

They appear in both the ancient list and the modern list of the Seven Wonders of the World and that makes them quite unique. The Great Pyramids of Giza are truly a  matchelss sight to see and should be visited by anyone and everyone. The sheer size is unmatched anywhere in the ancient world and there is a strange and mysterious feel about the whole plain of Giza making it an ‘must visit’ wonder.

Just incredible.

Just incredible.

 

In years gone by you could see them as you as you exited Cairo heading south but now you need to be much closer for your first sighting. As you sit in your air-conditioned taxi and crawl into Giza you’ll begin to catch sight of these almost freakish relics from another time. You snake amongst the perfume sellers and the rug shops and then suddenly, you turn into the parking area and ahead of you, slightly raised on the plateau, are the most amazing buildings on this planet.

Leave your car and stroll up the hill just to understand the fabulous view across from one pyramid to the next. Breath in the warm air and wonder at the majesty of them and applaud the builders who created these (assuming they were terrestrial beings!). For a small fee you can enter into the belly of them too, providing you’re willing to stoop very low at the start. It’s a fun exercise, standing in the very centre of the pyramid, looking up at the design that supports thousands of tons of stone above your head and looking into the worn burial chambers, imagining what or who was once in there.

Take a stroll inside!

Take a stroll inside!

On leaving, take a casual walk around the base. Each side of the Great Pyramid (the largest one aka the Pyramid of Cheops) is over 200 metres in length. On your walk you will pass the boat pit where an ancient boat was discovered as well as three smaller pyramids, like baby pyramids. What is very noticeable when you are close is how ragged the stones have become allowing someone to climb to the top if they so wished to (although of course it’s illegal now!).

Originally, they must have been an awesome sight to behold for early travellers, covered in limestone, gleaming in the morning sunshine. I firmly believe that your first sighting of these, along with the Sphinx close by, will be one that you’ll never forget.

South East Asia – Highlights

If you’re planning a trip around South East Asia then you’re going to need time to visit all these places. All within a few hours’ flight of Bangkok, and all well worth a visit. Of course, you should, ideally, plan to return again and again to ensure that you see everything but if you have only one chance, plan carefully. Make a circuit and check on the seasons as, for example, you might find the rice fields of Bali have just been ploughed and don’t look the same.

Generally, the weather is warm to hot all year round, it’s just the occasional monsoon rain that may interrupt you.

Once in Thailand, there are many historical sights such as the ancient capitals of Ayuthaya and Sukhothai. Across the border and we find the temples of Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Phrom. Continuing, we travel though Vietnam passing Hoi An, Hue and the marvelous Halong Bay. Returning through Laos and seeing Luang Prabang before returning to Bangkok to fly on.

In Malaysia, there is the ancient town of Malaca and on the island of Java in Indonesia we have the quite amazing temples of Borobudur. Whilst in this area, don’t forget to pay your respects to the Land of Dragons to see the prehistoric Komodo Dragons in their natural environment.

There are also volcanoes, both active and extinct and plenty of beaches to relax in between your adventures.

Hop over to Borneo and interact with the orangutans in their home, deep within the forests. Stay over and listen to the incredible jungle at night. If wildlife is your thing, don’t forget to take a few extra days in Java and trek for some of those elusive tigers. There is nothing in this world quite like coming face to face with a wild tiger and being wowed by the size and their majesty.

Come and enjoy South East Asia. It’s a very special place.