Tag Archives: cave

Wildlife Park & Jenolan Caves

After leaving the farm I stopped by to see my friends ‘J’ and ‘A’ once more before departing Australia for good.  During that portion of my time with them we got our adventurous spirits on once again and visited the Featherdale Wildlife Park just about a 20 minute drive from Marsfield and the Jenolan caves nestled in the Blue Mountains.

For this post I will let the pictures do all the talking as my words won’t be able to give the proper justice to the beauty found at the Jenolan caves!  As for the Wildlife Park, it was both awesome and sometimes a bit nerve-wracking to be in such an open area with kangaroos and wallaby bouncing around!  Though they were all quite used to humans, I was still pretty nervous to pet them.  The variety of native birds, mammals and reptiles were quite impressive and was a wonderous way to spend the day!  Both would recommend both of these attractions for anyone visiting the area.

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Elephant Trekking

The morning of our tour started out interesting.  Long story short, Win (who set up our tour on the ferry ride over from Phi Phi) didn’t alert the tour people that we needed a pickup and the women at the hotel (the first unfriendly people we had come across on the entire island) weren’t at all helpful.  In fact, we were even yelled at for not making the reservation through them!  But, eventually we were able to get a gentleman from the hotel to help us call the elephant trekking people to let them know we were scheduled for a tour that day.

We were at least a half hour late from when our tour was supposed to start, but when the pickup came for us the employees were very apologetic for having missed us.  And once we arrived to the tour location, the vibe was so chilled and relaxed that you could immediately tell that even though they had tour “start times” they really didn’t pay that much attention to them!

Instead of starting with the elephant trekking, we went off on a guided hike (on foot) through the jungle to the bat cave and waterfall.  We started with the bat cave and while it wasn’t that deep to walk through, the most impressive thing about it was that there were trees growing just inside the cave and the trunks of the trees had grown through the roof of the cave!  Also there was a very large mushroom (magic??) growing deep inside the cave beyond the point of light reaching, which I’d never seen before either!  The bats were teeny and so freaking cute!!  Every now and again one would stir and fly around a bit or simply stretch its wings then curl back up for a nap.

After the cave we walked to the waterfall, which unfortunately due to lack of rain was rather lackluster.  However, it was still quite pretty and due to the heat of the day felt very nice to stand under the water to cool off!  The best part about the waterfall were the cleaner fish AND a cleaner shrimp!!  After cooling off under the waterfall Anna and I stood around in the shallow areas of the waterfall pool and watched as the fish surrounded Anna’s feet nibbled away.  None of the fish were interested in my feet until suddenly I felt a little tickle on my pinky toe and looked down to see a cleaner shrimp nibbling!!  He was just adorable to watch as his little front pincers hacked away dead skin around my toe:)  I could have stayed there all day getting my free shrimp pedicure, but alas it was time to head back and hop on an elephant:)

When we had first arrived to the elephant area, another couple were coming in from their elephant trek and one of the people was sitting in the “saddle” while the other was riding on the front of the elephant… I wasn’t sure if this was allowed for everyone to do, but I was going to ask anyway!  I was informed that it was ok to sit on the front of the elephant, but I had to properly, meaning I had to sit as far forward as possible on the elephants neck so that the sensitive area would not be damaged or strained.  We climbed the stairs to a platform and first I mounted on the head (essentially) of the elephant while Anna got on in the saddle.  I asked if I was sitting forward enough to which the trainer said “more forward”.  So I pushed forward.  “More forward” he said again, so I moved further forward…

Now, I’ve been a horse back rider for over 20 years, so I do know my way around riding horses and the feeling and sensation of that, so I figured it couldn’t be THAT different to ride an elephant… I was wrong!!  You literally had to sit so far forward on the neck so that you were tucked directly behind the elephants ears and all you had in front of you was the head of the elephant and then the ground.  You would think that with the size of the elephant’s head, that it would give you comfort of not falling off, but seriously, once on top, it really isn’t that much space!  The safe space on the neck is so far forward and so narrow that it was hard to feel 100% comfortable about not falling off.  I had to keep my palms flat on the top of the elephant’s head to help with balance and her movement was so foreign that I had to hold on for dear life with my thighs too!

About half-way through the trek Anna and I switched places (with the trainer again telling Anna several times to “move forward” before continuing on) and what I found amazing was we both had similar stories in that every time either of us felt like we were losing balance to the left or right, the elephant would flatten her ear against our leg as if she was holding us steady!  Throughout the ride her ears were constantly flapping around to keep the mosquitos and flies off of her, but the minute we felt like we were losing balance in either direction, the corresponding ear would stop slapping and it would snap shut around our leg for a couple of seconds until we were back in balance, then they would resume their regular fly swatting action.  Absolutely amazing!!!

That experience was one of the most amazing I’ve had.  And again, while I was a bit reluctant at first to sign up for the tour because of not knowing how they treated the animals, I can say with assurance that these elephants are well taken care of and loved.  The trainers were constantly loving on them in one way or another, none of the trainers had a hook prod that you often see at other elephant places, but rather they only had a thin bamboo stick, which they used as walking sticks for themselves more than anything else.  They never once struck an elephant and during the trek, they walked behind the elephants simply chatting amongst themselves.  If the elephants stopped to grab a bite to eat, the trainers would say something to them, give them a pat, and wait until the elephant was ready to walk on.  They were all so chill, comfortable and good with the elephants that it was amazing to see.

After our trek we spent, I don’t even know how much money, buying bananas for the elephants to nibble on as a thank you.  Of course a gazillion pictures were also snapped and lots of loving and praise was given to the beautiful beasts.  It was an experience I won’t ever forget and feel so grateful to have been able to do.  Thank you Anna!!!

On to Hangover to Koh Ngai (Hai)

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Wat A Cave!

While there are several fabulous things to do while in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand, perhaps one of my favorites was visiting the Ao Noi Wat.  ‘Wat’ simply means Temple, but what sets this one apart from every other Wat I’ve been to so far is that it is located inside a cave!  In college I took a biospeleology class in college where we went all over the state of Texas and even into Mexico to different caves and the idea of finally getting back into one was thrilling!  Mind you, this particular cave wasn’t one that required to wiggle on your belly to get from one point to the next as it is quite large and easy to simply walk through.

I headed out about mid-day on my own to track down the Ao Noi Wat with a bottle of water, my camera and favorite all around walking shoes, my Keens.  The walk there really wasn’t all that interesting per se, since it literally was just walking along the side of the road.  The views however became more and more breathtaking as I got closer to the Khao Ta Lai Forest Park.  The beauty of the hills jutting out from the ocean was so beautiful and picturesque, I had a hard time continuing without stopping to take a gazillion pictures!

I walked past the over 150 year old fishing community of Ban Ta Monglai toward the Ao Noi community as the sun beat down on my skin making me wish for shade!  I knew I was going in the right direction, but I also knew the Wat was located in a cave, so some form of hill had to be ahead.  But as I walked past the fishing community and the Khao Ta Lai Forest Park, the hills disappeared.  The only ones visible were about 11 kilometers away in Myanmar (Burma)!  I continued to trek on however stopping every now and again to ask locals which direction the Wat was, and armed with the confidence that even they were still pointing for me to continue on, I figured some hill structure would have to show up soon.

As I didn’t have a watch with me, I honestly don’t even know how much further on I walked until some hills became visible again and until I finally hit Wat Ao Noi.  I was drenched in sweat from the sun and had been guzzling water as if my life depended on it (which let’s face it, it does!).  Finally I arrived at the base of the Wat and started an over 300 step climb to the entrance of the Wat.  The views of the town and beaches as I climbed were spectacular!  I will say that while most of the stairs up were in good condition, there were a few bits that had me worried as they were split in half and sliding toward the edge of the cliff.  Up and up I went until finally coming to the entrance where a box with 2 rechargeable flashlights sat.  A little sign said they were for the borrowing, and just to plug them back in when done.

Of course, the one thing I SHOULD have thought and known to bring (a flashlight) I didn’t, so it was really quite nice that they provided them there :).  I headed into the cave armed with my flashlight out of the sun and into the darkness.  I was literally the only person in the Wat and I won’t lie, at some points little bits and flashes of the movie “The Descent” went through my mind that at times freaked me out.  An especially heart-pounding moment was after I left the only naturally lit area of the cave and headed to the first reclining Buddha.  As I grappled with my camera while attempting also hold onto the rather large flashlight, the light flickered on something alive on the cave floor.  I immediately scanned the light back to what I had seen to discover 2 little black dogs!!  They lived in the cave!!

I sighed a sigh of relief upon seeing them as I called them over for a pat, but then had another second of slight panic as I wondered whether they could be rabid!  I mean, bats can carry rabies, bats live in caves and who knew whether the dogs had been vaccinated or if anyone actually took care of these dogs…  Luckily however they were very friendly and showed no signs of being rabid and quite frankly their presence made it easier to be the only one in the cave.  Because surely if some crazy creature crawled out of some crevice to attack me, they would bark first to alert me, right?? 😉

I carried along the length of the cave past the first reclining Buddha and to my surprise found a second next to a series of about a dozen large Buddha’s in seated position.  Along to the right of the seated Buddha’s was another walkway that led to another large area where tons of visitors had stacked rocks in a variety of patterns, making their mark to show they were there.  And in the very back of this last large room sat yet another Buddha watching over the whole show.

I spent probably twenty minutes (it’s not THAT large a cave) walking around and searching for various other avenues to explore while listening to the nothing sound of caves, linked in with little chitters from bats above every now and again.  I will say my favorite thing about caves is the nothingness.  There is no sound most of the time and when the lights are turned off, you could hold your hand an inch in front of your face and still not see it.  There is such a peace about caves that is so very hard to find anywhere else and being back in the environment again was so very delightful.

As I headed out of the cave, my two little protectors followed.  At the entrance I noticed that indeed there was dog food scattered about the entrance around two blue dog bowls (I hadn’t noticed this detail before) but I also noticed there didn’t seem to be any water source for them.  As one of the dishes was empty, I poured it full with water.  One seemed to be quite thirsty, the other not so much so again it was a good sign that they were being taken care of somehow.

I headed back to the ground floor as the dogs chose to remain behind and wait for the next cave guests.  Back on solid ground I visited the actual Wat of Ao Noi.  The Cave is simply where there are several Buddha statues, but the actual Wat isn’t in the cave, yet decoratively set along the base of the cave hill near a pond, the ocean and a monk community.  After visiting the Wat, I headed back toward my guesthouse back in Prachuap, stopping along the way at a very delicious (I should have gotten the name!!) restaurant with some of the best khao pad gai (chicken fried rice) I’d tasted anywhere.

I was quite shocked to learn that the whole trip only took me about 5 hours or so, including a leisure lunch!  I am generally quite a fast walker by nature, but even this surprised me!  One not so good outcome from having walked as far and as fast as I had, however was my feet.  It had been a long time since I’d actually worn my Keens and by the time all was said and done with the walking for the day, I’d developed quite a large blister on the bottom of my foot.  Luckily it hadn’t popped, but I wasn’t so sure the same could be said after the walk we had planned for the next day at Khao Lommuak…

On to Hiking Khao Lommuak

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A Real Gem

I’ve debated several times whether to actually give away the location of this next place we traveled to (are still are after a week, with no plans to jump up and leave just yet)…  I honestly can’t believe it hasn’t been discovered more!  While there are a handful of Europeans living here, foreigners are a very uncommon sight.  Thai tourists and locals (of course) are the ruling majority.  It’s just my kind of place to really feel like a part of the culture and life!

We bought tickets for the mini-bus to this gem of a place from Hua Hin, and though were told it would only be an hour wait for the bus to arrive, it turned into almost 2 before we even got on.  And when we did get on, the bus was so full that literally 2 of the passengers had people sitting on their laps, all the seats were taken AND 3 people had to stand (rather uncomfortably by the looks of it) in the aisle of the bus.  Essentially a bus equipped to seat 14 passengers had 19 PLUS our huge travel bags (which are about the size of a small human).  Luckily within the hour or so however people started exiting the bus, so space opened up a tiny bit to at least allow everyone to have their own seat.  I suspect that the bus was so crowded because of the upcoming Holiday of Songkran.

Once we arrived, we set off on motorbike taxis to a place called Ban Thai Hut, where we were told had cheap accommodations.  We settled on a tiny hut complete with a bed, bathroom, fan and TV (which we’ve yet to actually plug in or turn on) just a short walk across the street from the beach.  The place is absolutely darling, and while very rustic (there are some parts of the room we fear to put too much weight on just in case the floor falls through) it has been suiting our needs quite well.

Prachuap Khiri Khan is the name of this adorable town.  It consists of 3 semi-circular bays separated by jutting hills and islands.  Farthest to the North is the little Ao Noi bay then the Prachuap Khiri Khan bay and finally Ao Manao.  Each location offers so many outdoor things to do that it just boggles my mind when the locals say tourists only stay here for a couple of days because “there isn’t much to do”.  Seriously??  They have a Wat inside a cave in Ao Noi, beautiful beaches on all three bays, hikes to a Wat on the top of a hill in Prachuap, a hike to another tiny Wat at the top of another hill (Khao Lommuak) which gives the highest panoramic view of the entire area, plus snorkeling (I still have to check that out myself!) and within driving distance several day trips could be planned to surrounding National Parks!  There is so much to do around here that when you add in days to just relax and beach, you would need at least a week to get it all done leisurely!

But I digress…  This place really is darling though!  I would recommend it over and over but hope that even when it does get properly discovered, the integrity of the place as it currently is doesn’t get destroyed.  The weather is always delightful (though admittedly quite hot), the beaches are never overcrowded, the beach water is deliciously warm and refreshing and there is a ridiculous amount of fun sea life to play with (hermit crabs, clams, sand dollars, etc).  Seriously, what more could one ask for?

On to Songkran 2015

Back to Thailand

Neuschwanstein Castle

Poor “Mad” King Ludwig II… Misunderstood; not properly trained to reign; valued peace over war; declared “mad” by his family; sent away to an asylum and therefore victim to political espionage.  The story I heard of him growing up was that he lived in a beautiful fairy tale castle.  Over the years he went mad and kept building room upon room in his castle for unexplained reasons until one day he passed away.  Though he did commission the construction of the famous Neuschwanstein Castle, it turned out the story I had heard of him wasn’t quite right…

Known as the Fairy Tale Castle (it has inspired the Sleeping Beauty castle in Disneyland) the Neuschwanstein Castle (neu= new; schwan= swan; stein= stone) has become world famous.  September 5, 1869 was the beginning of construction on the castle and though constructions lasted 17 years, it is unfinished today according to the original plans.  It is built atop a hill above the Hohenschwangau village in place of the ruins of the Vorderhohenschwangau Castle, nestled among breathtaking natural beauty.

I rode a bike to the Hohenschwangau village where I then purchased a ticket for the castle tour and headed to an area offering horse carriage rides to the Castle.  It is the fairy tale castle, after all, so why not indulge in a little fairy tale of my own??  🙂

The castle itself is breathtaking, in my view as well.  Room after room was so lavishly decorated, ornate and detailed.  From the chapel to the wood sculptures above his 4-poster bed, the swan room, the Hall of the Singers and even the kitchen, this castle was VERY impressive!  Sadly we were not allowed to take any pictures of the interior, but then again it’s probably a blessing because I would have taken and posted a trillion of them!!

Perhaps my absolute favorite room of all however was the cave room… Yes, he had a room (which was more of a short hallway that lead from the swan room to a longer hall that passed the servants area) that he turned into an honest to goodness cave!!  It was complete with cave formations such as stalagmites/stalactites, had that slight damp feel to it as caves do and even had a little area that led onto a balcony complete with a little round table and chairs!  I could have stayed in that tiny room/hall all day just marveling at how in the world he accomplished that!  Mind you, this room is located on the second or third floor, so it’s not like it was carved on ground level.  I was awestruck!  I really wish that the tour of the castle allowed more time in each room, but alas, with so many people coming to see it it’s just not possible for them to allow longer than a 30 minute tour.

I did pick up a little book in the gift shop called “King Ludwig II: His Life- His End” before making my way to the bridge across from the castle for some pictures and for an unplanned hike up the Tegelberg hill, just on the other side of the bridge and across from the Castle.

Back to poor “mad” King Ludwig II…  to start I should mention that I got my information on him from the book as well as the tour guide and formed my own opinions about him based on both sources.  In my opinion, King Ludwig II was smart and sensible, not able to be manipulated by others, unique and way ahead of his time.  He wasn’t properly groomed to be the King of Bavaria and though the book didn’t specifically say, it’s my impression that his sexuality was questionable.  For example he broke off his only engagement to his cousin, Princess Sophie Charlotte of Bavaria and his only close friend was Richard Wagner, the famous composer.  Ludwig even had a room built in the castle specifically for him- the only room for guests in the entire castle.  Wagner, interestingly was a bit of a revolutionist and unpopular among politicians in Germany in general.

While the above may have been enough to make him an unpopular King at the time, what put the nail in the coffin for King Ludwig in my opinion was that he preferred peace over war.  This combined with the rest made those with other political motives in Bavaria (i.e. his family) unhappy and something had to be done to get him out of the way so they could pursue their wars in their quest for power.

It was true that the King had several castle constructions occurring at the same time and that he was in great debt because of them (no bank would loan him money at one point) and this was the angle that allowed his family to have him declared insane.  They convinced a doctor, who had never seen, spoken to nor treated the King to declare him insane based on him constructing several castles at once and bringing on debt.  Once the declaration of his insanity was made, the man hunt was on to capture the King and put him in an institution.

He was eventually caught at his Neuschwanstein Castle, betrayed by those he trusted most, and was sent to an asylum.  The doctor who had declared him insane (without having previously met him) oversaw his treatment at the asylum.  One day the two men went for a walk on the grounds of the asylum.  The doctor waved away the staff, who usually would accompany in case of an attempted escape, and walked with the King to Starnberger Lake.  When they didn’t return to the hospital when expected, a search party was dispatched and the bodies of the doctor and King Ludwig II were found drowned in the Lake.  The King, it was noted was a good swimmer, and what actually happened in that Lake that led to his death, well no one will ever know.  What we do know however is once King Ludwig II was declared dead, the family stopped construction on the Neuschwanstein Castle and immediately opened it as a tourist attraction to “pay off it’s debts”… Sounds rather fishy to me.

I do have to write one last little note here… On the tour a gentlemen from the States (I should have gotten his name so I could give him proper credit) made a very interesting and rather smart comparison between King Ludwig II and Michael Jackson.  It went as such:

KL.II- King of Bavaria
MJ- King of Pop
KL.II- built the fairy tale Neuschwanstein Castle
MJ- built the fairy tale home “Neverland”
KL.II & MJ- sexuality questionable
KL.II- unpopular controversial political opinions
MJ- controversial in music and life
KL.II- declared insane by his family
MJ- made insane by his family and all but abandoned by them
KL.II & MJ- died under suspicious circumstances in the presence of a doctor
KL.II & MJ- both families monetarily benefited as a result of their death

Gotta admit, it is an odd but very interesting connection!!

On to Scots in Italy??

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Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre in Italian literally means the 5 lands.  The 5 lands in this case is made of 5 villages on the Tuscan Mediterranean coast including, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.  Monterosso al Mare is the northernmost village, and the Riomaggiore the southernmost.  In the summer time these spots are quite a popular vacation destination, and from the few pictures I’ve included, it’s easy to see why!!

My dad and I drove there on a sunny late-summer day through the windy roads and arrived in Vernazza, #4 village of 5…

Seriously I will put this out that if you get car sick easily, you may want to consider taking a train into any of the villages of Cinque Terre… Because those roads are seriously no joke!!  It’s really amazing that there is even a road to begin with that connect each village, as I’m sure that they started as simply foot paths then expanded to allow cars!  Mind you, they haven’t really expanded that much… The roads are barely wide enough for 2 cars, and of course Italians speed around the blind corners of the really windy and narrow roads as if they could see the other side…

Since I’m on the topic a little, I’ve just got to vent for a few seconds that Italian drivers area absolutely NUTS!!!  I’m not even being prejudice in that statement because I include my father in there too, lol!!  And he knows about it, lol!!  But seriously, anyone who has ever been to Italy knows exactly what I’m talking about!  If there is an inch of space, it will be taken by a car or Vespa or bus!!  It amazes me how there aren’t more traffic accidents than there are!!  They are all crazy drivers yet somehow it just works out!!  It’s beyond me how, but it does!  My only saving grace on this trip was the absolutely stunning views around each and every terrifying corner!!  Simply beautiful and amazing!!

Sorry for the tangent!  Back on course here: We arrived in Vernazza about mid-morning, parked the car in the lot outside the village and walked down to the village for some exploring.  Now, this area of Italy is sometimes quite prone to dangerous and damaging floods.  Everything is literally built on the edge of the mountain that dives into the Sea, so when the floods come, it leaves lots of damage in the wake.  About 2 or 3 years ago a flood had happened in the Cinque Terre area and in fact as we walked down the road to the Village, you could still see evidence of the damage it did years ago.

We wandered around the village, spotted a cave that led to a little beach that is only visible (and passable) when the tide is down, wandered up to the church and tower at the top of the village, then had some lunch at one of the restaurants with a view of the water:)  The region of the 5 lands is in Liguria, which is famous for its pesto sauce!!  Yum!!!  In addition, Liguria is also known for a special shape pasta called Trofie, which is a hand rolled pasta made from pieces of dough that are twisted together.  So “when in Rome” I of course had to have a plate of Trofie al pesto!!  It was quite delicious and hard to stop eating until of course the plate went empty… So I had to stop, lol!!  We wandered a bit more, had a gelato then headed back to the car for Portovenere.

Oh, before I leave this section- for those into hiking, there is actually a pedestrian trail that goes from the first village to the last!!  It is quite a long hike though (remember to calculate in stop times to take a gazillion picts!) and the terrain has lots of ups and downs (literally)!!  It would probably take all day to walk one to the next, but I imagine it would be well worth it for the views alone!!

On to Portovenere

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