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Return To The Southern Cross

By: Sandra Smith

Getting There

Three years ago I spent a month in Australia and a month in New Zealand. Now I'm back in Australia for 6 weeks, followed by a month in Asia.

My plan is to spend about 2 weeks in the Cairns area diving and snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. It's also an energetic city to hang out and swim, drink coffee, read books and just live my daily life. I don't like to rush and sightsee all the time. I'm living today and happen to be doing that in Cairns.

In planning I look for availability of hostels or affordable hotels, good weather, activities I enjoy. Traveling alone at 63, I'll combine the ease of familiarity in language and customs in Australia with adventure of four new Asian destinations.

At home months spent poring over maps and travel literature have produced an itinerary I'm happy with as well as reservations at hostels and hotels. I have my own customized menu of things to do and see. Doing this research legwork saves lots of time during the trip.

Tropical North Queensland

Cairns ( pro: canz) was my gateway from the United States. It is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the major city in this northeast section of Australia.

At the end of September it is Spring and the end of the dry season, beginning to be the wet. The Far North Queensland Wet Tropics contains amazing diversity in plants and animals. I've only traveled as far north as Port Douglas but yesterday at a wildlife reserve I saw a cassowary, a flightless bird with a horned head. It's endangered and very important to the rainforest. The cassowary is the size of an ostrich and carries seeds from "beak to bum" spreading plant life wherever it ranges.

Birds are nesting now and I saw a large black necked stork tending a single egg on her nest of sticks. At one point the mate jumped onto the nest and there was a very ritualized display of wings and neck nuzzling before he took over the egg.

Koalas spend 19 hrs. a day sleeping but I saw some eating. The presence of eucalyptus on this coast encourages these shy animals. They eat nothing else. At this wildlife shelter a wild breeding colony of bats, flying foxes, has taken up residence to raise their young. They were sleeping but quite active. They stretch out their wings and then wrap up in them as in a mummy sleeping bag to sleep again. When you have met the aggrressive flies of Australia, you grow to love bats. Even though this is the wet tropics there aren't many mosquitoes or flies.

Saltwater crocodiles live here in abundance. Cains has a saltwater lagoon in a park near the ocean. And many places around here warn you not to go into the water, especially on or near river banks. The newspaper today is accounting the story of a local man who made the mistake of checking crab traps from the river bank. He was evidently taken by a 6 meter ( 18 ft.) croc.

I'm off for a swim in that lagoon. Check it out on you tube sometime. Tomorrow some of the ladies I've met in the water aerobics class are having a barbie for me. One said it's not a party, just a barbie. But I told her that getting together with even one person is a party when you travel alone for 3 months.

The Great Barrier Reef is closest to land near Cairns. It's a living organism so huge that it's visible from space. Snorkeling is easier and cheaper than diving so I'm mostly snorkeling this trip. Have made two trips to see reef.

Right off into the water near Green Island a white tipped reef shark cruised by, sleek and gray. They are curious, not usually aggressive. Parrotfish, trevallies and butterfly fish were just a few other species I saw.

The soft and hard corals were in excellent condition. The tips of yellow coral fingers are white though. This can indicate coral bleaching as a result of heat stress. The coral loses its covering or fires out tiny organisms into the water and the coral can die or recover, depending on how long the stress continues. Coral colonies are formed over decades and centuries. Growth is slow. Destruction can be immediate. Crevices, caves and tunnels in coral reefs provide shelter for uncountable species.

According to a National Geographic article ( Jan. 2001) a single coral wall holds more species than an entire continent on land. The Great Barrier Reef covers 135,000 square miles and is really an archipelago of many reef structures and islands. Australia declared the Reef a Park in 1975 and since then diving is strictly regulated there. The Reef is in the Coral Sea and extends to the Gulf of Papua.

My last day in Cairns today. I swam in the Lagoon at dawn, had a coffee and now on to pack. Tilt train tomorrow to Townsville and Magnetic Island.


Every hostel is different. It's the only way I could afford to do such a trip alone so there are trade-offs. is a worldwide network and they have pretty consistently high standards. In Magnetic Island they have a koala sanctuary on their grounds.

In Cairns' AYH the pool and room were very nice, industrial kitchen and lots of cold and dry food storage. I met Gabriela from Switzerland and Ray and Evelyn from Canada there. Gabriela came by container ship and the voyage was 1 month long. She liked it. The ship only carried four passengers.

The Port Douglas AYH hostel picked me up in Cairns ( a 70 km trip along the stunning Coral Sea) and brought me back 2 days later--free. My 4-share room had ensuite and the hostel had a lovely pool, cafe and bistro. It cost $26 per night. Julia from Berlin and I palled around a bit, went to a bar to see the big grouper they feed at 5 pm. We had a bucket of prawns and a beer. Jeff stopped by to join us. Hostels make for quick friendships and lots of good-bye parties. There is never a day when someone isn't leaving.

Base Backpackers hostels have a section for women called Sanctuary. They have some nice hostels but only in Australia and New Zealand. I'm staying at Base in Magnetic Island. Six of us are sharing a room on the beach. The bathroom and swimming pool are a few steps away from my room. It's just a room, clean bed, air conditioning and nothing else. There is a big drawer under the bunk beds to unpack if wanted. Most live out of backpacks or suitcases. My only objection there is the loud music at night but it seems the nightlife is a big draw for most of the kids, most are about 40 yrs. younger than I am. I must say that after a day spent at the beach or on the reef it hasn't hampered my sleep at all.

Sitting Around

A good holiday requires a great deal of sitting around.

I watched the sun rise and the ferries making the 20 minute Magnetic Island - Townsville run while waiting for the hostel's breakfast bar to open.

Took a bus to Arcadia and sat in a resort's comfy chair for an hour. Caught the bus to Horseshoe Bay. I had a freshly squeezed orange and pineapple juice and read The Australian, the national newspaper. Exchange rates are a bit better for me today: capuccino in my future.

There are a couple of working boats, three cabin cruisers and nine sailboats out beyond the stinger net(safe swimming area free of box jellies.) Palm trees provide shade on the sandy beach but I'm writing in a picnic pavillion, less sun for me under the metal roof. Even the swimmers wear hats here with the high UV risk.

It is a lovely protected Bay with light sand, azure water and no noise. Not one radio or loud voice disturbs the waves' gentle lapping. Holidaymakers here seem to respect public space.

Schools in Queensland started this week. New South Wales starts next week. Generally Australian long summer holidays are in December and January with two-week breaks at the end of the other terms.

I think I'll take a stroll, get a coffee and go hang out at the Koala Sanctuary.

Byron Bay

Heading south along Australia's East Coast 3 1/2 hrs. south of Brisbane is Byron Bay. It is a small holiday town with an artsy vibe. Captain Cook named the penninsula after George Gordon Lord Byron's grandfather who sailed around the world in the 1760's. It is Australia's most easterly spot.

The Byron Bay YHA hostel is centrally located near the dive shop, grocery and movie theater. They cater to backpackers and the hostel I'm in has a nice pool, clean kitchen and 4 bunk room with bath down the hall.

A 10 minute boat ride from town is Julien Rocks Marine Reserve. After a wet ride in a Zodiac boat with twin 100 hp motors we slide into the water and see sharks sleeping on the bottom, lots of fish and a few of the 3 kinds of turtles which live here. I must admit it is cold, visibility is limited and it's much less colorful than the Great Barrier Reef. The plankton clouding my visibility is drawing whales though and later I see humpbacks from shore cavorting in the bay.

Coffs Harbor

Another four hours on the Greyhound a couple days later and I've arrived in Coffs Harbor. The Greyhound network is extensive and frequent clean coaches convey backpackers and people who live down deserted-looking lanes in the interior from city to city.

Coffs is lovely with a marina full of sailboats in a natural harbor. There is a jetty out to Muttonbird Island. Wedge tailed shearwaters, called mutton birds migrate here to breed from the Phillipines. They don't seem to be here now but you can see the sheltered burrows they use. The bird flies all this distance to nest in its original burrow. The Aboriginal story of the area says the Moon is the protector of muttonbirds which were hunted for food. The moon protected the birds from overhunting with tides, riptides and floods so they could be food for generations.

The YHA hostel here is my favorite so far. They pick you up at the bus and bring you right to the clean, bright and cosy hostel. It's rainy so it's nice to be here.

A friend from Byron Bay hostel has come here too so Chloe and I dine at a nice restaurant run by a woman who is originally from New York. Australian fusion, a menu with meat and seafood offerings as well as some Asian dishes and lavish desserts. It's a BYO which is an unlicensed restaurant where you bring your own wine. We choose a nice Australian merlot.

Tomorrow I'm going out whale watching. Hope to see some dolphins as well. Then I'll take the overnight train to Sydney.


Sydney is a city of 4.5 million but the CBD ( Central Business District) is small enough to be walkable. Most points of interest are around Circular Quay ( pronounced: key), Darling Harbor or Hyde Park.

For $35 I bought a one week rail, bus and ferry pass. It has taken me everywhere I've wanted to go.

The weekend was gorgeous weather so I took ferries to see harborside landmarks like the Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge, visit the zoo and just all around enjoy life.

Circular Quay is a hub of commuter, ferry and cruise ship activity. There was a cruise ship in for 2 days. Facing north toward the water the Opera House is on your right and the Rocks area extends out on the left to the Harbor Bridge. High above on the right is the Royal Botanic Garden. There are benches and cafes everywhere in this area. The Rocks is the site of the first European settlement, mostly convicts sent on the long sea voyage from Europe. And today it is very a sought after housing area with shops and museums. YHA is building a new hostel there next year.

Manly and Bondi ( Bond eye) beaches draw wall to wall visitors on nice days. I opted for Bondi so I could also view the Sculpture by the Sea walk. My favorite was a giant irridiscent bubble which looked to have just landed on the water.

The small Museum of Sydney is near Circular Quay as is the Contemporary Art Museum. In the Sydney Museum I learned about the Aboriginal origins and stories of the area. I also learned that Captain Bligh was a governor here after navigating in a small boat with a few sailors after the mutiny on the Bounty. He was hated here and run out of Sydney only to be rewarded with another ship and promotion by the British Navy. He died in London.

Australia only has about 21 million people but the land itself is about equal in size to the United States which has 300 million people. Here the dry interior is sparsley populated by humans but a million camels live there. After the railroad connected north and south through the "red center" the camel caravans were unnecessary and the animals were released. I guess they found each other.

Darling Harbor is home to an excellent aquarium. I was most fascinated by the platypus. Only found here, it is one of only two members of its type. The other is the spiny echidna. The platypus lives in water and breathes air. It is covered with fur, lays eggs and feeds the young milk. The mother also protects her young, keeping them in the nest till they are almost as big as she is. They are nocturnal and reclusive so you're not going to see one in the wild. The aquarium manages the light so it's night during the day for the platypus.

The Aborigines saw a platypus as a good omen. Their Dreamtime story tells that the birds and fish wanted the platypus to be part of them but the platypus preferred to be part of many kinds of animals while being unique so it is a unity symbol. It fits to enjoy the platypus here in this open minded and open hearted city, home to so many diverse people and embracing of differences.

Rainy Day

Sydney is a sunny gorgeous water city--except when it isn't.

The rain is blowing at a 45 degree angle and the unbrellas are turning inside out. It's nice to be in the cozy Sydney Central YHA; and as one of the driest continents on earth, rain is good here.

Tomorow I'll move on to Melbourne so this day I do laundry, charge the battery in my camera, call home and regroup. Using up groceries, lunch is tomato soup and egg salad. The mayo, salt, pepper and bread have all been left by hostellers on the Free Food shelf of the fridge. I'll leave my left over oranges and cereal tomorrow.

Preparing meals on a trip like this presents some challenges. You can never bring fresh food across an international border so I brought some tea bags and stevia sweetener from home, some zipper bags and two plastic containers. These have been great for leftovers or for a lunch to carry on the train or bus.

For anyone starting out I'd recommend learning to cook a couple simple dishes. There is never an oven so stove top is it. Pasta and a jar of sauce, readily available in dozens of flavors, can be doctored up many ways. It is a backpacker staple. I saw an incredible fresh mushroom stroganoff over linguini the other night.

Hostellers run the gamut but I've seen what looks like a rugby team turning out a big fresh salad, pasta with fresh vegetables and garlic bread. That as well as folks eating Coco Pops for dinner. Several nights a week the hostel offers a barbecue with burgers, both beef and kangaroo, veggie burgers and beer or soda. There is also a make your own pizza night.

We also have a restaurant, bar and convenience store as well as vending of all sorts. I love it here.

Tomorrow I'll cross the street and check my luggage with the rail center. I have to check out of the dorm at 10 am but can use the kitchen and lounge all day and I want to do some last minute sightseeing. At 8:40 pm my train pulls out for the eleven hour trip to Melbourne. I find that the sleeper, because it must be a first class ticket, is a little more than flying but I like it better.


Melbourne is Australia's second largest city.

The hostel I liked here is Melbourne Oasis YHA. The hostel is small and it's in a nice quiet neighborhood with the tram nearby.

The first night there I cooked a nice dinner and shared it with a German woman named Gudrun who just arrived from Singapore. We cooked together another time or two and went sightseeing by the Yarra River. The shops and restaurants remind me of Paris.

While here I went on a train and bus trip to the Great Ocean Road. This is surely one of the world's most beautiful stretches of scenery between Geelong and Apollo Bay. In many ways it reminds me of the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur.

The Melbourne Cup is one of the world's great horse races and it's to be run the first Tuesday in November. It's a fancy dress affair and I've seen some elaborate hats. There are races almost daily leading up to the big race. It's also Halloween and some kids are in costumes.


My last Australian stop is for three days in South Australia's capitol of Adelaide. It is about 10 hrs. by rail from Melbourne. This city of 1.3 million spreads out along the ocean and suburbs; but the CBD is walkable. There is also a free tourist bus and the tram is free for everyone in the center, wonderful traffic management.

Adelaide was started by free settlers, not convicts like Sydney and Melbourne. It was designed with wide boulevards, parks and an easy grid system. Their botanic garden and the Museum of South Australia are my last tourist stops in Australia.

Australia has been easy for me with customs, food, language all comfortably familiar. From here I will fly to Hong Kong and begin a month in Asia.

A Change of Continent - On to Asia

Hong Kong

With a population of 6.9 million, Hong Kong is a vertical forest of apartment and commercial buildings. Coming in from the airport at midnight, I was astonished at the immensity. Victoria Harbor is stunning, especially at night with the reflected light of all the buildings on the Hong Kong Island and Kowloon sides. And there is continuous ferry and cruise ship traffic as well as lots of commercial shipping. The Explorer, home of Semester at Sea is docked today.

Since 1997 Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty. A British colony since 1842, it is now a Special Administrative Region distinct from Mainland China in many ways. No visa is needed to visit Hong Kong.

An Octopus card is the easiest way to get around Hong Kiong. Octopus refers to the 8 modes of transit it covers ( everything except taxi). I bought mine at the airport while waiting for the door to door hotel shuttle. Fares are cheap and automatically deducted. The Star Ferry ride, for example, costs about 25 (U.S.) cents.

My first day here I got a tourist map and Star Ferry Terminal and an explanation in English of how to use public transit to reach Ocean Park, Lantau Island near the airport to see the Giant Buddha and the Wisdom Path, Aberdeen and a Circle Bus which takes me around Kowloon.

With emergency taxi fare pinned into a pocket, I set out to navigate the transit system. Ocean Park was my "loose destination." When doing this, I always have plan B and C. I hopped the ferry to Hong Kong Island Central Pier. Ten minutes later I arrived, walked about 15 minutes all on elevated covered walkways and found the tram. Trams are almost as iconic as the ferries here. Both are about 100 yrs. old, crowded, not air conditioned...

When I followed the queue into the back of the tram I had no idea where to alight or how I'd reach the exit. I knew the general direction I needed to go. You pay as you exit. As people got off I inched toward the front and when I got off four stops later I was at Admiralty station which is exactly where I should get the 629 or 43 bus for Ocean Park.

The bus waits on the harbor side of Queensway Plaza in case you go, but I did not know that. No one seemed able to tell me where to get the bus. I saw a bus for Victoria Peak and almost gave up on Ocean Park. But...

Sometimes you find things.

I got still and just looked around. There was a small sign in English: Ocean Park Bus -->

Sure enough, I found a kiosk selling tickets and the bus.

Ocean Park is an amusement and water park with animals on the far side of Hong Kong Island. Thanks to an article I had read about seeing Hong Kong with children, I knew I could get close to pandas there.

The four pandas were all asleep when I arrived but I waited and two woke up. One female was actively crunching bamboo leaves and fruit. A panda weighs 100 grams when born and increases by 1000 times to an adult weight of 100 kg. They are solitary except when breeding but Ocean Park keeps a pair who were raised together in the same enclosure. I've seen a lot of sleepy nocturnal animals on this trip. It's always a thrill to see one awake during the day.

On my return home late in the day I realized the 629 bus waits by the MTR ( Hong Kong's subway or metro) and I was exactly one stop from home. My ferry, tram, bus, walk...walk...walk... replaced by 8 minutes on the uncrowded air conditioned MTR. Now I can navigate this city.

It's nearly eight and I'm going to ride the Star Ferry and watch the sound and light show in the harbor. "A Symphony of Lights" is performed at eight each evening.

Next day I take the MTR to the end of the line in Lantau. It's one stop past Disney Hong Kong. This connects me to the cable car for the trip high into the mountains. My destination is the Giant Buddha and Po Lin Monastery. You can also travel there by ferry and bus.

This is the world's tallest outdoor seated bronze Buddha. Seated high on the mountain, it was obscured by clouds when I arrived in the morning. The ride was surreal as we rose high above the harbor and into clouds, traveled through those clouds and arrived at a newly built Chinese village. It's chilly there. Bring a jacket.

I lit some incense in thanks for my many blessings and those received by my family, friends and beings in the world I have yet to meet. There was a peacefulness pervasive at the monastery which is so wonderful.

I had some vegetarian dim sum and green tea. Sometimes I'm reluctant to try foods when traveling but mystery vegetables are OK. Mystery meat is not.

There is a Wisdom Path walkway with wooden figures representing the Heart Sutra, a teaching revered by Buddhists, Confucians and Taoists. These three traditions often share temple grounds here.

The Hong Kong Museum of History shares a campus with the Science Museum. I am interested in the history. Hong Kong was attacked by the Japanese the same day as Pearl Harbor was attacked during World War II and suffered terribly. The scenes of liberation in 1945 are beautiful to watch.

A part of the British Empire, Hong Kong was returned to The Peoples Republic of China in 1997. The border with mainland China is now guarded by the PLA, the Army of China. The soldiers stay 3 yrs. and view it as a hardship post since they can't mix with Hong Kong residents and are only permitted one visit home during the stay.

Hong Kong is electric with energy. I feel safe at all hours. Guns are only permitted to police, army and gun club members. I especially enjoyed the light show at the harbor and went every evening. Now on to Singapore.


Moving frequently takes on a rhythm of its own. On the travel day, getting to the airport, the flight, finding my way into the city, finding the hotel take up most of the day. Then check in, walking around the immediate neighborhood, finding dinner complete the day.

In Singapore I'm staying at the YMCA on Orchard Street, chosen for its central location. I use my Singapore Air boarding pass to purchase a ticket on the hop-on bus. On that circular route I visit Raffles Hotel, the Botanic Garden, Little India Chinatown and glitzy Orchard Road. I also get to see most of the city and locate a museum I want to visit later. The two museums I visit here are the Asian Civilizations Museum and the Singapore History Museum.

Singapore is one of the twenty smallest countries in the world. An island, it is a city state and relatively young as countries go. The ingenuity and talent of its people and the strategic location of its port are the only natural resources. English is widely spoken along with Chinese and Malay.

Sir Stamford Raffles brokered a deal in the early 1800's to bring Singapore under Britain's protection and governance. The colonial administration buildings are still there.

Japan attacked and occupied Malaysia in 1941 and Singapore in 1942. The British pulled out and many civliians were interned. Many thousands, mostly Chinese, were killed on the beaches of Changai and Sentosa. Those places today are the site of the airport and a big park.

After the war Singapore was part of the Malaysian Federation but they parted ways in 1965 and they are now two countries. Malaysia is much larger.

The press is censored here and everything is pretty orderly. I've noticed a tone of support and praise for the government in the letters to the editor section of the Straits Times, the regional newspaper.


Malaysia was originally added to my trip so I could travel by rail from Singapore to Thailand. There were so many warnings about the hassles of doing this that I decided to fly. Kuala Lumpur is the largest city in Malaysia and I am here for four days. Everyone calls it KL.

The airport is about an hour from town and I bought a taxi ticket before leaving the customs area. That saved a lot of hassle from the numerous touts and questionable fares. The taxi was about US$21. There is a fast airport train into the city but with luggage and alone in a strange country that's too adventurous for me.

My hotel is in Chinatown and pretty close to the metro station ( a 10minute walk) but I opted for a city tour the first day. It is an enormous city of 1.4 million and I have only a vague idea of where I am. The city tour was excellent. Two Chinese men from Australia and I comprised the tour and our driver was wonderful. He's a Hindu man who was born here and he seems to speak all the Malaysian languages, Malay, Chinese, Hindu and English.

We visited the King's Palace. There is a President and Parliament here so the King's role is ceremonial I think. We visited the National Mosque. Islam is a majority religion here--that of most Malays. The Mosque can hold 10,000 people and was open to visitors. Women are required to wear a head to foot covering while men were allowed to enter wearing short sleeves and shorts. I admired it from the outside.

In the older section of the city is a big green square which is blocked off from traffic on weekends for the enjoyment of the people. Colonial buildings mix with modern skyscrapers there. We ascended a viewing tower with 360 degree views. We also visited the National Memorial to those killed in wars which was designed by the same man who did the Iwo Jima monument in DC. It's strikingly similar and the Malaysian flag has red and white stripes with a blue rectangle with a crescent and star. Our last stop in the city was the twin Petronas Towers. They are lovely. We then drove outside the city to Batu Caves, a Hindu temple complex to which believers come by the thousands for festivals in Jan. or Feb.

After our tour the 3 of us decided to venture out together and try to ride the Monorail for more sightseeing. We were standing in the metro station there are 3 lines here plus the monorail. They are not called metro, each having a name.) We could not figure out the details and a young man joined in the discussion. He is from Guatamala and recently arrived too. He offered me a map he had just gotten and I said "Why not join us? We don't know exactly where we'll end up but we are off together on an adventure." He did and we were a little United Nations. I later found out he's a UN peacekeeper on holiday from Darfur.

The short version is that we found the central station, found the monorail and had a good time together. We ended our day here in Chinatown at a restaurant where platters of raw things on skewers were offered, You could choose and cook them in the boiling broth pot set into the table. I couldn't deal with eating things which look so much like what they are. So they all enjoyed their meal and I ordered mixed vegetables and rice.

The four of us are off again today for an underground area built in a spent mine. It'll be something new.

Mine City is an entertainment complex south of KL built into the crater of a played out tin mine. Where the crater filled with water there are two lakes with a hotel, golf course and spaces for private homes. The four of us arrived, shopped and took a boat ride. David, Kai and Roger, my friends from yesterday.

Malay Muslim women cover their head and neck with colorful scarves. These sometimes look hot; but at Mine City I saw four different Muslim couples where the women wore head to toe black burkas with just an eye opening. One of them even wore long black gloves. I have no way of knowing but I'm guessing they might be honeymooning couples from other countries. Malaysia encourages tourism and these couples were all alone, no children or other family along that I saw. The thing which struck me is that while the women looked so hot, the men they were with were wearing shorts, tee shirts and sandals. It is very humid and hot in Malaysia. Buildings are air conditioned usually but in the street you're drenched with sweat in about 15 seconds.

The other difference is that no man offered me his arm or hand when I visibly struggled with the steps and boarding the boat trip. Perhaps if I had asked for help, but suggesting they touch a woman might not be OK here.

Putrajaya and Cyberjaya

Taking the express train about a half hour from Kuala Lumpur toward the airport you reach Putrajaya. It is the newly built and not entirely finished seat of government. KL is very crowded. Sidewalks are narrow and difficult to navigate. The roads are not wide and congested so they have decided to move the government away from KL.

Cyberjaya is close and is the seat of the high tech sector and university. Both cities have housing around them, high rise and single family but usually connected row houses.

Upon arrival at the Putrajaya station I bought a ticket for an hour taxi tour with an English-speaking driver for about 10 US$. He took me first to the lookout point at the enormous modern conference center. They also take pride in the varied bridges over the river there. They are using differing types. Some are very modern and some more traditional styles. A dam on the river makes for a nice lake and some hydroelectric power.

Looking down the broad boulevard from the conference center you see the Prime Minister's Palace with its green domes. It's about a mile away. Lining this boulevard are the Ministers' office buildings. I think the Ministers make the laws here, combining the legislative function with the executive. I'm no expert on this. The other large buildings are two mosques on the lake side. One has what looks like a stainless steel roof and the other a beautiful pink dome with Arabic script. On the right side is the Palace of Justice with its cream colored dome. In the center is a plaza with the 14 flags of states in the Malaysian Federation.

I didn't see any commercial buildings in this area but there must at least be restaurants. There is a food court and some small shops on the lower level of the larger mosque. There were many bus and family groups and several groups of school children touring the day I was there. You could take a boat ride on this lake also.

Putrajaya is not to be missed but I'm surprised it's not hyped more in KL. I found it by accident in my research and had to email my friends who had parted by then to tell them to check it out later.

When I left KL for Thailand the next day I checked in and left my luggage at the Malaysian Airlines counter in the Central Station and took the high speed KLIA Express to the International airport. Smooth.

Snorkeling the Andaman Sea

Khao Lak is about 1 hr. north of Phuket International Airport in southern Thailand. I flew here from Kuala Lumpur to take a live-aboard snorkel boat trip to the nine Similan Islands.

A live-aboard has many pluses but comfort isn't usually one of them. It's no cruise.

We can tie up to a buoy and drop into the water above the coral gardens in this smaller low-draft boat. The other folks who have come to do this are seasoned travelers from all over the world so we quickly talk travel and become friends. Sleeping 15 in one cabin with curtained bunks makes for a certain intimacy as does dressing, brushing teeth etc. on deck. We spend the four hour boat ride on wooden benches at the dining table on the second deck. Below, down a 7 step ladder are the two marine "heads" or toilets. You wait till the last minute to use these fume-filled, airless toilets. The floor is always wet and therefore slippery. While not expensive in money, having this much fun is costly in some other creature comforts. I'm grateful and happy to arrive and get off the heaving bull ride.

The beaches are sugar sand with huge granite rocks and rain forest going up the mountains on the islands. The entire area is national park; but the absence of many adult reef fish makes me suspicious that some fishing is taking place illegally. The water is healthy because there are huge schools of small fish.

Boats speed into the harbors and I'm amazed that the snorkelers are not run over. It's like the lawless wild west. One time my snorkeling partner and I came very close to being hit. I saw the boat coming and got out of the way but she was underwater and I couldn't make her hear me. I waved the distress signal enough that the boat signaled that he saw us. I was livid. It's like the roads in this area. The right of way for pedestrians isn't an Asian idea.

Poseidon Bungalows have been built after the tsunami on high ground. Most of the new construction I see in this region is on the hillside. Structures on the beach are temporary and moveable. There is also a tsunami warning in place and evacuation routes set up. South of Phuket where I am now, in Karon Beach, the land is hilly, providing many uphill escape routes. Looking at that calm azure Andaman Sea, it's impossible not to replay that tsunami footage in my mind. I am happy to be part of the returning tourists who support employment in the area.

Krabi Thailand

Day 65

My luck is holding and I'm congratulating myself on a trip I spent six months planning. But...a potential glitch.

Political change is wanted here by many in Thailand and protestors at the two Bangkok airports have brought air travel to a halt. Fortunately I've arrived here a week earlier and have been traveling by minibus and boat.

Today I arrived at The Maritime Park and Spa. for a much-deserved kick back. This trip has included many shared dorm rooms and at times been very cheap. So I planned three nights in a luxury resort before flying to Bangkok and then home. It may be longer; but what luck that it happened here. The hotel isn't full so I can probably spend my extra days here if need be.

Another good thing is that I have copies of the electronic ticket confirmations with me as well as the original emails saved in my internet-based email account.


It's hard to write this while it's happening; but I'll try.

The airports in Bangkok have been closed for six days. Over 100,000 travelers and Thais are stranded.

No one seems to be helping us.

I'm in a nice hotel, comfortable and safe but frustrated in my attempts to find a way home. I've been offered the choice to go to the Phuket airport and queue with the hundreds of people who are there waiting for a seat on the two flights a day out of there. Then I can queue with all the thousands of people who are trying to get out of the next place. I think it better to stay put. Compounding the problem is that the internet is down here and it's the weekend.

Or I could go to Kuala Lumpur by minivan. That takes 20 hours and I don't even know that I could fly home from there.

Home Sweet Home Almost

It's always difficult to change plans at the last minute. Doing so eats up your day. For that reason I try to plan every overnight and transportation in advance. Activities go onto a "menu" from which I choose daily.

As an example, I knew I'd fly from Adelaide to Hong Kong and spend eight nights there. I had a list of places to visit and if I hadn't I would not have known about the pandas at Ocean Park or the Giant Buddha on Lantau Island. I let Macau go to another trip. I would have missed Putrajaya in Malaysia.

My flight home was scheduled for Bangkok. So when the Bangkok airport was closed and I read about calls to "take the law into our own hands" in the newspapers, I decided to try to get out of Thailand.

I could not get a call answered within Thailand, the internet at the hotel was down, it was the weekend and you can't call the airlines in the US because they only give 800 numbers. The hotel's travel service was only accustomed to easy things like a snorkel trip or long tail boat ride. I could get out of Thailand from Krabi by land but didn't know where to go to catch up with my homebound flight.

The short version of this very long story is that I managed to get an email out to my sons and sister. They called my hotel and I appreciated the help and support. My son, Mike, came up with the answer. It took us about two hours but he called me from the U.S. and conference called the airlines. Once I could talk to them they were helpful and if I could get to Hong Kong I'd have the best chance of finding availability to the U.S.

Armed with a goal of Hong Kong, I was able to find two connecting flights through Kuala Lumpur and arrive in Hong Kong arould 8 pm. They have a nice airport hotel and I stayed a 5 minute walk from the airport. The next morning I boarded a 3 1/2 hr. flight to Narita Airport in Tokyo and a 9 1/4 hr. flight to San Francisco.

I'm sure the protestors didn't set out to damage the tourism industry which accounts for 40% of Thailand's Gross Domestic Product. They have damaged it at least for the short term. At the minimum, everyone who was there and inconvenienced by this has spent extra money to get home.

I feel mostly sorry for the wonderful Thai people who have built a few bungalows to rent, set some tables out for a restaurant, borrowed money for a car or van taxi service.

For me, I am now very happy to be two hours from arriving home. Thanks for traveling with me.

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