A Travellerspoint blog

Cochin, India

Thursday, December 1

(We apologize for this entry being out of order. We had to wait till we reached land on Dec. 11 where we had access to unlimited wifi in order to add the photos. The editing process has pulled this blog entry out of sequence. This port of call was actually after Mangalore and before Colombo.) We hope you enjoy the pictures!

Our boat pulled into the harbor of Cochin (Kochi), India after sunrise so we could watch the approach past colonial buildings and fishing boats. It’s always interesting to see the industrial activity near the harbor. Each harbor has oil storage tanks. By far the largest number we have seen (hundreds!!) was at Fujeirah, UAE. Cochin had the fewest! As we were approaching the terminal, we saw a dolphin swimming alongside the boat.

Our choice of activities today was to cruise the tranquil backwaters of Kerala state – a highly recommended outing! This required a 1.5 hour bus trip to the community of Alleppey where we boarded double decker boats that navigated a network of canals.

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The Kerala backwaters run about 90 km along the coast and cover about 900 sq. km. Lyle’s engineer side was intrigued by the infrastructure involved in creating this canal system: massive stone walls lined the canals and each house along the canal had stone steps down into the canal that were being used by women for washing clothes and by men for accessing their canoes.
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It’s hard to describe what we saw. This backwaters area is more water than land and the homes are built along narrow strips of land with a path along one side to allow for pedestrian or motorcycle traffic. Some strips of land had water on both sides. In other places, we could see rice paddies behind the houses. They looked green at this time of year, but at some seasons, they would be flooded.

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The most common boats on the canals were thatched roof, wooden houseboats of various sizes which we learned could be rented for about 150 USD per day. Most of these boats seem to have been rented by Indian families, some by young Indian couples, and some by foreigners. There were also a number of working boats transporting bags of rice and bales of rice stalks.

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We visited a large Catholic school along the canals and figured that most of the students would have to travel from home by boat each day. We peeked in their classroom windows and heard the students reciting work as a group. We also visited a typical home – surprisingly spacious, with an abundance of fruit trees in the garden. They served us small bananas off the stalk and fresh coconut water.

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We stopped for an elegant buffet shore lunch at a resort – just a little different from our shore lunches on our canoe trips!! We have found in India that it is normal when being welcomed to a place to be given a blessing of a dot on your forehead between your eyebrows. Sometimes the dot is red; other times it is beige. Today, the blessing tray had a lovely array of flowers.

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As always, there were fascinating sights along the way, including at least 300 people marching in an AIDS awareness march. There were “ice stores” (cold storage buildings the size of houses), saw mill operations chopping up the huge limbs of trees (in this tropical climate, the trees grow like giants!), interesting billboards and street vendors everywhere! One billboard that caught our eyes stated, "Don't be just a good engineer. Be a great one. Nurturing globally competent, socially committed, innovative engineers." (It was promoting Providence College of Engineering.) Apparently the literacy level in this part of India is very high and many folks here speak at least 5 languages.

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Our last stop of the day was at a beach where a number of boats with “Chinese fishing nets” were pulled in for the evening. The boats and nets have this name because this system of fishing was introduced to the area by the Chinese many centuries ago.

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Our onboard destination guide showed us a map of the Traditional Trade Routes and we realized we are following the Spice Trade Route that has been used for thousands of years. We have also been pleased to learn that many of our excursion destinations have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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This is our last stop in India. Next port of call: Sri Lanka!

Posted by HosMiniTravels 04:45 Archived in India Comments (0)

Langkawi, Malaysia

sunny 33 °C

Wednesday, December 7

Langkawi is certainly the prettiest location we have stopped at so far.

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The port is quiet, surrounded by hilly green islands and jade coloured water, clear enough that we could see a whole school of small red fish. There are lots of colourful fishing boats in the water and a few sailboats.

We took a break from temples and urban sightseeing and visited the Kilim Geoforest Preserve to see a bat cave and mangrove trees. On our way to the bat cave, we saw long-tailed macaque monkeys and the crabs they are supposed to eat when they cannot get enough tourist food.

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Inside the limestone cave, we saw stalactites, stalagmites and about 300 mosquito-eating bats taking a rest, hanging from the ceiling.
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December is tourist season for the local people, so there were crowds in the cave and the humidity was around 95%!

The mangrove adventure primarily involved a high-speed boat ride along the main river (very welcome to cool us off!) out to the open sea where we were just about 10 km from Thailand, and then a ride up a smaller river to see white-bellied fish eagles and brahminy kites.

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The guide told us a little about how mangrove trees are different from normal trees (they’re able to tolerate salt water thanks to their unique filtering system, and they provide a nursery for fish and water mammals). We had learned much more when we kayaked in the mangroves in Costa Rica, but, today, we were just delighted to be out on the water on a lovely sunny day!

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Along the river, we stopped at a fish farm to see various kids of local fish. The archer fish was new to us. It can shoot out a strong spray up to 3 feet to knock insects out of the air and it can also jump up to capture food. One sucked a piece of bread off Donna's finger a foot above the surface of the water!
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On the way to our adventure, we drove past homes with lots of green space, trees and rice fields around them. We saw a few cattle and buffalo but were told that most farming is mechanized now and very few farmers use water buffalo for rice farming these days.

We’re enjoying meeting our fellow travellers and learning tips from their travels. Some fellow passengers got on this repositioning cruise at Rome in mid-October. We’ll be disembarking on Sunday in Singapore but some are going on to Hong Kong and then down to Sydney, Australia – arriving near the end of January! One passenger is apparently on board for 6 months!

We learned today that there was an earthquake yesterday in Aceh province, Indonesia, just across the Malacca Strait from where we are. We have had no indication of the earthquake: no tremors and no big waves. Whew!

Posted by HosMiniTravels 12:54 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Phuket, Thailand

32 °C

Tuesday, December 6

It struck us today that we are exactly halfway around the world from Regina and 300 km north of the equator. We’ve turned our clocks forward a total of 12 hours and the heat and humidity are confirming our location. Here's a link to our map:
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Our ship had to anchor out in the bay of Phuket, Thailand this morning so we used “tender” boats (passenger ferries) to carry us into the dock, right beside a public beach which was very busy with swimmers, sea-doos, parasailing and speed boats.

Our tour bus took us first to Prom Thep Cape lookout (also called Sunset View Point) which gave us a lovely view of the southern coast and islands, such as Phi Phi Island, where the snorkeling is reputed to be outstanding. At the lookout, there was a golden statue of a 4-headed figure surrounded by many different sizes and colours of elephant statues.

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Our next stop was Wat Chalong (‘wat’ means temple), an exquisitely beautiful Buddhist temple complex. Our guide advised us to climb to the top floor of a tower if we wanted to see the container of the Buddha relics. He also indicated some activities we might see and hear: people placing flakes of gold on some of the Buddha figures, people consulting with a fortune teller who would shake a box of sticks noisily until one fell out, and fireworks being set off by people who were grateful for the answering of their prayer requests. There is a story about this temple being spared from Chinese invaders in the late 1800’s by the temple abbott who exercised some protective powers. As a result, the temple is regarded as being rather magical.

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After exploring the temple grounds and buildings, we attended a dance performance at a Thai cultural village. Thai dancers, dressed in very fancy, traditional formal clothing, performed dances to music from the four regions of Thailand. One unique aspect of Thai dance is the curve of the dancers’ fingers. Our guide explained that schoolchildren take lessons in traditional dancing and are taught to press their fingers back to develop this special curve.

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Our guide was an androgynous-looking person that we guessed was in his/her early 20’s. The name ‘Pong’ didn’t help us! At the end of the tour, he shared that he was 46 years old! He advised us to always smile as it helps you to have a younger looking face! (We got the same advice from our guide in Langkawi too!)

The bus then took us to a Gem Gallery where many workers were creating VERY expensive pieces of jewelry with precious stones. This company cuts, polishes and sets stones from around the world. The settings for the necklaces, bracelets and earrings are exquisite but the prices were out of this world, as far as we were concerned!! (e.g. 90,000 Thai baht for earrings - which converts to about $3,000)

As we were travelling around the island, we noticed quite a number of memorials, draped in black, to the former king of Thailand who passed away in October after serving for 70 years. His son has just been named as his successor. The Thai people really loved their former king and we have been advised not to wear red or yellow in Thailand, as a sign of respect for this period of mourning.

After our tour, Donna wanted to swim on the beach at Phuket, so she made her way through the crowds on the beach and plunged into the very salty water. The water was quite stirred up, so no good for snorkeling, but it did a good job of cooling her down!

To get back to the boat, there was a shortage of ferry boats so they put a couple of life rafts into service. These are hard-shelled, covered boats with bench seating for about 50. In Phuket, they were intended primarily for ferrying crew members back and forth but for us, it just added another dimension to our adventure! Lyle found it a bit rough.

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… JK! ;)

Lyle’s evening definitely improved once we met our dinner companions: two American couples. One of them was an 81-year-old professor of veterinary microbiology from New York who referred to Lyle as a ‘young pup’.

Posted by HosMiniTravels 11:44 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

At sea

December 4-5

During these 2 days at sea, we encountered a couple of rainsqualls which came up quite quickly. The captain made an announcement and gave everyone about 10 minutes to clear off the decks and take shelter. The rainstorms didn’t last long.

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Both Lyle and I (along with many others on the boat) are fighting a bug that makes you terribly congested and gives you a deep cough. The air conditioning in the main theatre seems to aggravate the situation, but we still want to enjoy the shows and presentations in that theatre. As a result, we took these days at sea to rest up, relax and read.

Posted by HosMiniTravels 11:11 Comments (0)

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sweet day in Colombo, Sri Lanka! What a contrast to India! Colombo is a relatively small, clean city with plenty of diversity. The architecture around the city shows the influence of Chinese, Dutch, British, Hindu, Muslim and Malay cultures in Colombo. Massive buildings like the Cargill’s Ceylon Department Store and the Museum of Natural History are being preserved and renovated. The street signs are in 3 languages (Singhalese, Tamil and English).
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Buddhism has a strong influence here and it is common to find statues of Buddha and stupas (monuments containing sacred relics), lotuses and lotus symbols - not only in temples but also in parks and along the city streets. The new municipal theatre, built by the Chinese, is shaped like a lotus flower, as is a fountain. An icon tower (similar to the CN tower in Toronto) shaped like a lotus bud is under construction.
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We visited the Kelaniya Buddhist temple, in a little town just outside of Colombo. It’s a large complex that the Buddha visited three times in his lifetime. Outside in the courtyard is an immense Bo tree which grew from sprigs brought from the tree in India under which the Buddha gained enlightenment. Hundreds of white-clad devotees were circling the tree carrying incense, water and bouquets of lotus flowers and leaving offerings on the wall around the tree. Inside the temple, there were frescoes of Buddha’s visits to the area and, behind a veil, was a large golden reclining Buddha.

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We also visited a Hindu temple and happened to be there when a young man had brought his brand new motorcycle to be blessed. A garland adorned the front of the bike; the monk sprinkled the bike with the water of a golden coconut and the juice of a lime, and then had the young man crush the lime under the rear tire, all for good luck. Apparently this is a common practice for any Hindu buying a new vehicle.

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Colombo ranks as the 34th busiest port in the world, and is evidently a major transfer point for shipping containers.
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The posh part of town is called Cinnamon Gardens – a reminder of this island’s historical significance in the spice trade for several millennia. In this area, we visited a store featuring Ceylon tea and wood carvings. We regretted that we couldn’t fit some of the wood furniture into our suitcase!
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By the end of the afternoon, we were dripping with perspiration and anxious to get back on board to have a swim!

Posted by HosMiniTravels 16:40 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

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