Death Railway – day 341

An early-ish start to the day saw us eating Milo cereal and fruit on our riverside veranda, watching the boats charge up and down the river Kwai. Had decided to take the train over the historical ‘Death Railway’ and wanted to catch the first train up to Nam Tok. Arriving at the station, we found out that you could only buy tickets 30 minutes before the train departure time, unless you wanted to buy a souvenir ticket for an extra 200 baht which included a complimentary drink… (FYI, the train ticket only cost 100 baht each). With just under an hour until the train was due to leave, we headed over to the ‘Death Railway Museum’ however, they recommend at least 40 minutes to look around and, knowing what the two of us are like for losing track of time in museums, we decided to save it for another day. Across the road was the war memorial cemetery. The railway was commissioned by the Japanese during WWII as a way to transport supplies overland for their troops from Thailand to Myanmar rather than by sea which had been compromised several times by the opposition. The railway was constructed by thousands of prisoners of many nationalities who cut down big trees to make the rail supports. Many thousands died during the construction of the railway (the memorial claims it to be as much as 1 in 3) due to the difficult terrain, the tropical climate, malnutrition and disease. The war graves were beautifully maintained and there was a real feeling of respect for each of the men who died here. We wandered up and down a couple of the rows, noting that some plaques merely had the individuals name, D.O.B and rank whereas others had been inscribed with a poem or a sentence from their families. Sad to think that some of those families never got to visit their loved ones resting place.Back at the train station, we bought our tickets and were on the train heading along the death railway. Sat opposite a couple from Bournemouth who rent out property for a living and pretty much travel all year round (they are my new idols!!!). About an hour into the journey, we pulled into a station and suddenly saw a bit of a hullabaloo going on… Turns out, the train engine had caught on fire and the guards were putting it out with fire extinguishers. We then had to wait for over two hours for another engine to turn up so we could carry on our journey. All of the tour groups, including the couple, were put back on buses and visited the ‘Deadly Curve’ part of the railway whilst we waited… And waited… And waited. I went off in the search to get something to eat and found a shop that was doing a storming trade to everyone stuck on the train. They were even offering people hot water to make instant noodles, which we ate although we did have to have a Milo ice cream first (it was hot after all!!). About two and a half hours later, we had a new engine and were back on our way. The death railway was set against a superb scenery backdrop but I have to admit that even my heart was beating fast when we slowed down over the bridge and it was still creaking. Arriving in Nam Tok, we should have had two hours to look around before catching the train back but, as we were so late, we had no time and simply sat back down and made our way back to Kanchanaburi. Deciding that since we hadn’t done very much all day except sit on a train, we got off one stop early with the intention of walking to the night market for dinner. The stop was the River Kwai Bridge which you are allowed to walk over – so we did!!! It was very strange walking over a bridge we had just ridden over, even more so that they were safety platforms regularly on the bridge to use if a train did come along! Walking back down the main road, it almost felt like we had taken a wrong turn. It was so empty and quiet! And then the bars offering fish and chips started popping up! Before long, we were back to an area we recognised and headed to the market. Much smaller than last nights (clearly it was a weekend thing), we still managed to find some amazing food for dinner. Sausage on a stick to start, noodle soup for main and a custard chocolate toast dessert thing. A quick shower back at the guesthouse before watching the final episode of Friends in bed. Monday 12th September 2016

Brisbane – day 297

A lovely lazy morning enjoying the view of the city from the rooftop terrace and soaking up some sun! Having decided to skip the Lone Pine Koala sanctuary for three main reasons – it was expensive, we had seen loads of wild koalas, and it was the weekend so was going to be incredibly busy – we had to decide on a plan of action for our one day in Brisbane. Decided to head for a walk around the CBD and along the riverfront towards South Bank. I was in charge of navigation today and got us lost within the first ten minutes of walking… Oops! A quick map check and we were back on track for Central Station. Our first stop was the sobering Shrine of Remembrance which is located above the edge of Anzac Square. The shrine itself was beautiful with its ‘Eternal Flame’, the Shrine is a war memorial dedicated to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The whole area was calm and peaceful and the gardens surrounding it were full of bulbous boab trees, which Jayne impersonated, and some wandering ibises. We continued down the street, using the pedestrian subway to cross the road to get to Post Office Square where we went down an alley to visit the St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The 19th Century, neo-Gothic building with a modern extension built in 1989. The cathedral houses sculptures and has a beautiful collection of nineteenth century stained glass windows from Germany, France, England and Ireland.We walked through the grassy courtyard, stopping to peek inside the adjacent chapel, before sneaking through the Eagle Side Pier shopping complex to get to the river. Another slight bit of mis-direction on my part(!) which meant we were able to enjoy the views of the river for that much longer… Also got to see where the 2011 flood waters came up to – must have had such a devastating impact on the restaurants and businesses down on the riverfront. Having corrected myself, we were down heading in the right direction for the City Botanical Gardens which is the city’s oldest park, originally planted by convicts in 1825 with food crops to feed the prison colony. The gardens include ancient trees, rainforest glades, exotic species, a bamboo grove, weeping fig avenue, mangrove boardwalk and ornamental ponds. We even saw a giant lizard lazing around by the pond which we pointed out to some, very grateful, Italian tourists. Walking around the gardens, we spotted some people abseiling at Kangaroo Point across the river, before crossing the Goodwill Bridge, a dedicated footbridge that links the Brisbane River’s north and south banks, connecting South Bank with the city at Gardens Point. It is just under 500 metres long but the brief walk along this structure gave us a whole new perspective on South Bank, the Brisbane River and the city. At the end of the bridge was The Queensland Maritime Museum which features the historic warship Diamantina. Berthed in a dry dock, the Diamantina has been restored to her 1945 condition and she is the only one of her kind left in the world. We didn’t go into the museum as it was too sunny to be inside, but it was great to see the Diamantina, the steam tug and the lightship from the walk way. From here, we headed north into the South Bank Parklands. Nothing at all like the South Bank back in London, this beautiful green strip is home to performance spaces, sculpture, buskers, restaurants, cafes, bars, pockets of rainforest, barbecue areas, pagodas, an epicurious garden and hidden lawns. The best attraction by far was the Streets Beach, a kitsch artificial swimming beach that resembled a tropical lagoon… If only we had brought our swimmers!!Crossing back over the river on Victoria Bridge, coming off just outside the gorgeous Treasury Building before going down an alley to walk along the shops on the Queen Street Mall. Found a tourist shop to try on a typical Australian hat…We finished off by admiring the towering City Hall and it’s attached clock tower which was built between 1920 and 1930, and has recently undergone a $215 million restoration. Headed back to the hostel via Coles to pick up some food for our dinner with Dennis. So good to catch up with him over dinner and wine on the roof top. He tried to explain ‘Pokemon Go’ to me and even managed to catch one of them on the roof of the hostel, although (sorry Dennis!) I still have no idea what is going on!! He then, very kindly, drove us to Mount Coot-tha lookout. Mount Coot-tha, which is 287 metres above sea level, has the highest peak in Brisbane and the lookout gave breathtaking panoramic views of Brisbane City and as far out as Moreton Bay. Back at the hostel for a quick scan of FaceBook and check of emails before heading to bed, Jayne reading a trashy magazine whilst I read a trashy novel…

Saturday 30th July 2016

Canberra – day 284

Getting off the bus at 6.00am was actually a blessing – not sure what happened but Jayne was surprisingly warm whilst my feet had effectively turned into blocks of ice!! We quickly navigated our way through the dark and deserted streets (apart from a couple of hard core drinkers still partying from the night before) towards the YHA. Too early to check in, we made ourselves a coffee and sat in the communal kitchen waiting for the spa and pool to open! Might as well warm up in a civilised manner!!! Sat in the sauna for a while, still trying to get feeling to my extremities although we both ended up bypassing the pool and spa as neither of them were heated… A warm shower and we were good to go! Had some (free) fruit toast for breakfast as we waited for Julie to pick us up. Decided to head to the Parliament House first to do one of their free guided tours. The roads were still surrounded in fog, we made our way to Capital Hill, through airport-like security to enter the building which is dug into the hill. The tour was actually really informative and the guide, Shaun, was clearly passionate about his job and the 45 minute tour passed really quickly as we visit the Great Hall, the House of Representatives, the Senate and past seemingly endless corridors. The House of Representatives and the Senate reflect the same colours used in the British Houses of Parliament, although using the hues from the Australian flora and fauna (apparently!). We also learnt why the kangaroo and emu are used so much to represent the Australian government (cause they can only move forwards, not backwards) and that when the lights and bells ring in the house, the delegates have only four minutes to get to the correct chamber before the doors are locked, preventing anyone from entering or leaving, which can have a great impact on the passing or blocking of new laws. 
We then took a lift to the grass topped roof which is topped by an 81 metre Hugh flagpole. The rooftop lawns encompass 23 hectares of gardens and provided superb 360-degree view, especially now the fog had lifted. 
Next stop was a drive by the old Parliament House and, located on the front lawn, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, which is an impertinent site in the struggle for equality and representation for indigenous Australians. We then drove to the Australian War Memorial. Considered Canberra’s most rewarding museum experience, it wins ‘Australia’s best tourist attraction’ regularly and features halls dedicated to WWI, WWII and conflicts from 1945 to the present day. A spectacular aircraft hall located below the memorial was also really interesting, showcasing original fighter jets and other equipment used whilst a sound and light show blares out in the Anzac hall.  The entrance to the museum is via a commemorative courtyard with a roll of honour of the Australians war dead. Family members have attached bright-red paper poppies to the names of the relative. These poppies of remembrance reflect those that flowered on the battlegrounds of Belgium, France and Gallipoli in the spring of 1915. Spent time looking at the seemingly never ending list of names, fully aware that some of them represented entire families that had been wiped out. Managed to find a few ‘Stockdale’ names in the plaques but no ‘Langford’. Behind the courtyard is the mosaic encrusted Hall of Memory. This is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, representing all Australians who have given their lives during wartime. The mosaic images of the four representatives of the Australian Military Corp (army, navy, airforce and nursing) was absolutely stunning as was the four plain sculptures in the back of the hall all made in different material to represent the different corps. Walked down the Anzac parade, enjoying the glorious sunshine and visiting the different sculptures as we chatted about past and upcoming holiday destinations. All feeling hungry, we headed to Julie’s favourite noodle restaurant and had the most incredible Laksa soup – a combination of Chinese and Malaysian cuisine, the coconut and chilli, meat and vegetable noodle soup was perfect and just what we needed to keep us going on our tour of the city.
After lunch, we went to the National Arboretum. Located on land previously impacted by bushfires, the arboretum is a ever-developing showcase of trees from around the world. It has excellent views over the city as many of the plantings are still small as they are in their early years. There was a sculpture at the top of one of the viewpoints that shows the words ‘wide brown land’, three words from the famous poem ‘My Country’, written by poet Dorothea Mackellar when she was living in England and missing her home country, Australia.Drove through the streets, looking at the university in our way to Black Mountain which is located northwest of the city. At the summit of the mountain is the 195 metre high Telstra Tower. Allowed to visit the viewing platform at 66 metres up the shaft we had panoramic views of the city, including Lake Burley Griffin which was filled by damming the Molonglo River in 1963 with the 33m-high Scrivener Dam. Dropping us back at the YHA, we said goodbye to Julie – grateful that she was happy to be our personal chauffeur and tour guide for the day. There was no way we would have seen so much of Canberra under our own steam and on public transport! Were picked up again from the hostel soon afterwards by Connor who took us out to a nearby bar for a few drinks and a catch up. Fortunately, not as messy as the last time we went out for ‘a drink’, all three of us were giggling about various stories and the evening passed really quickly. Connor dropped us off at the supermarket so we could get some stuff for our coach to Sydney tomorrow before we walked back to the hostel, climbed into our bunk beds and passed out, exhausted from the night bus followed by a brilliantly busy day. 

Sunday 17th July 2016