Travel Insights

I said I was a lover of travel, that’s true.  My husband and I have traveled extensively and it is only now when glancing back through the many photos that ideas for stories come to mind.  I find often it is the unexpected and the little things that happen which make for a memorable trip.  Check back here, I would love to share with you some of those which either make me smile, or go “oh my, I am never doing that again…”


12 February 2011

When thinking about what to share with you here I looked back over some of my many albums of photos that my husband and I have accumulated, over the years.  Many bring a smile to my face of wonderful friends we have made, of the unexpected, the fun, and the laughter.  Always there is the adventure, the excitement, the wonder at the amazing things one sees in worlds, oceans away.  It is truly magical, and at times I feel as though it were almost a dream.  So I want to relive some of those wonderful, magical moments’ in short narrative stories here with you.  And what better way than to share the first, in one of my favourite places in the world, Austria.


According to legend is a mythical creature that scares off bad children, and during the first two weeks of December in some of the villages of Austria, even today, young men dress up and roam the streets scaring children, while St Nicolas is usually accompanied by angels giving out sweets to the good children.  

It was mid November of 2005 and we had flown via LA  to Munich and then train down to a small village not far from Innsbruck in Austria.  Not long after we arrived and staying at a dear friends place it snowed heavily non stop for three days solid.  When we finally emerged from where we were holed up, the path outside was knee-deep in snow.  Now this had not been the first time that we have visited Austria, nor was it the first time that we stayed with out dear friend.  So it was decided that since it was nearing Christmas our friend and other members of her family would take us to see a Krampus Parade, something we had never seen before.  This is an event that happens in a different village throughout Austria once a year.  We were very fortunate that there was one on this particular year at a village not far from us.  Still snowing we arrived an hour later and followed the hoards of people who had descended on St Johann for this spectacular parade.  Spectacular being the understatement.  They started, making their way through the streets, coming down from the mountains and villages of Tirol.  Men and some woman (so I am told) dressed in the most amazing costumes I had ever seen.  The noise is what you notice first.  The louder the better.  Mostly dressed in fur with masks or faces cleverly painted and the most humongous horns you had ever seen.  I kept expecting someone to get their eye gauged out, although luckily spectators were kept well back by the fences on the sides of the road, allowing these frightful figures to wander aimlessly down through the main street, some rolling on the snow-covered ground, others carrying small fire lanterns burning a red incense, others staffs, or forks, or riding motor bikes.  Always with their chains and creating as much noise as they could, shaking their very large cow bells.  Some lunged at the crowds.  Me, with my video camera was fair game, …so I found out.  While videoing one frightening creature till he passed, I then proceeded to lean over the fence, just a bit, to get better viewing for my video camera of the next lot of shaggy ugly faced demons, when suddenly, I heard this almighty growl and turned just in time to step back as the first creature that had passed me, lunged at the fence, sending me screaming at the top of my lungs, camera still rolling, backwards into a group of children and adults behind me.  There was huge laughter from everyone around me as I staggered to pick myself up shaking from head to snow boots.  The kids thought it a real hoot and I was careful after that to keep my distance.   There were a few St Nicolas”s in the Parade donned in gold drapes or bright red and white, always accompanied by angels looking rather freezing in their skimpy white dresses, dishing out the sweets to waiting small hands.  Naturally the odd Krampus would take this as an opportunity to try and sneak in close to the kids to scare them.  All meant in good fun of course……mmm.  At the end of the parade which by the way, went on for some hours, there was a cage being towed on the back of a small bike with a couple of kids inside.  These were obviously representing the bad ones that had been caught…

It was an amazing event to be apart of.  It snowed at times during the parade, but no one seemed to notice, it was noisy and fun.  Many afterwards clambered into overflowing bars and tiny restaurants.  I left with heaps of photos, memories, and a video clip with a part of me screaming in it, which I will never forget.  Would I go again, given the opportunity…..?  You betcha!

Since writing this story for you, I have felt the need to start a draft of a children’s story…. Amazing how ideas just seem to pop in…., has it sparked an idea for you, if so, I would love for you to share it with me…


3 March 2011


My next story takes place in February 1992. Towards the end of our Eurail travel around Switzerland, (now that is a must for breathtaking winter wonderland scenery,) and I could go on and on about it but I won’t, at least not this time.  Later perhaps.   We had spent eight hours on the “Glazier Express” train (another must do), and arrived at

Celerina in darkness at 8pm, and alighted at their very small railway station.  Now, for those of you who don’t know this area, we had wanted originally to stay at St Moritz but you would need to stay seven nights minimum unlike, the two nights stay we had requested.  Therefore staying at the Cresta Palace Hotel in this very tiny village only a stones throw across the frozen lake from the main street of St Moritz it had to be.  A porter dressed in black pulling a small sleigh behind him, was waiting for us, and after loading our suitcases beckoned us to follow.  Trudging through a narrow path, snow shoulder-high on either side we eventually made our way to our hotel, an impressive six story high building that possibly hosted many famous celebrities in its day.  Walking through the front doors we were greeted by our Host, his wife and their great dane, and after being informed that we were english speaking, wished us a warm welcome and looked forward to dining with us the following evening.  We decided after being shown to our room on the fourth floor, which was equally impressive consisting of two handbasins, a huge bed to sleep at least four, an ensuite room with separate bed and bathroom facilities and one length of the main bedroom had a massive mirrored wardrobe, that we would finish the evening off with a quiet drink in the little english bar we had spotted situated not far from the lobby.  Watching the dinners emerging from the dinning room next door I was stunned by the exquisite clothes and jewellery the women were wearing, and later that evening hunted through my suitcase to find something that looked halfway decent, and one would hope, I could spruce up to meet the expectations obviously expected in such a place as this.  The following day was spent leisurely wandering the streets in St Moritz, window browsing shops of Coco Chanel, Louis Viutton, Georgio Gucci and many others.  We took photos imagining the rich and famous who had wandered these same streets, went riding in a horse-drawn carriage on the lake and watched greyhound racing, also held on the lake.   Back at our beautiful hotel we hurriedly dressed for dinner, joining the rest of the quests near the lobby participating of Champaign that was being served while waiting for the dining room doors to open.   As they eventually opened my darling hubby and I made our first blunder of the evening.  Not realising people were gathering in a line, we slipped through into the dining room, and were waved out to by our hosts who had spotted us.  We smiled and waved back, and in doing so, realised that we were suppose to have lined up to be received by our charming hosts to dinner.  Oh dear! I thought, lets hope our down under upbringing improves during the course of the evening.  We found ourselves at one of the six seater round tables furnished with heavy silverware on crisp white  linen, and gorgeous chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.  We enjoyed an eight course meal, and about six courses in, the waiter arrived with a very large platter of a variety of vegetables laid out in rows, and as he leaned over, my darling hubby thought the platter was being given to him and proceeded to take it off  the waiter, who tightened his grip, only to have my hubby pull harder at his end, and so it went on for some time, first my hubby, then the waiter, trying desperately to keep hold of the platter.  Realising what was going on I quickly kicked my darling in the shins, under the table, and he immediately let go of the platter, much to the great relief of the now totally confused and exasperated waiter, who nearly fell backwards, with platter and all.  My face went scarlet as the thought of a room full of eyes must surely be watching us, as I continued with the rest of my meal, eyes downward.  The main steak meal was expertly cooked over open fire infront of each table.  As we later mingled with some of the guests enjoying very strong coffee, our hosts came over to check if we enjoyed the meal and after some time we managed to slip away to our room.  The next day saw us leave Celerina and the Cresta Palace Hotel, with photos and memories of a warm homely atmosphere and such personal attention, unlike I had ever received in such an exclusive hotel.  No wonder it has 4 stars. 

I still wonder, what our hosts thought of the simple kiwis who visited from down under…..


25 March 2011

“Me Jane you Tarzan”

Lets head for a change of scenery shall we, the country is Sumatra. We flew into Medan, the main city in March of 1992, after an overnight stay, were picked up in a van containing a driver and a guide for a 2 day trip out to the Bohorok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, Reserve deep in the Jungle.  (Don’t ask me why, I only know it looked nice in the brochure).  With just my husband and I as passengers we received excellent attention.  Insisting on stopping for any photos we wished to take, answering any questions about the rubber plant we stopped to take a closer look at, visited a Crocodile Farm at Asam Kumbang and lunched at Bukit Lawang Village, (A picnic lunch which really meant sitting in a cockroach infested takeaway bar).  Later in the afternoon as we were driving in the forest our guide and driver became very excited when passing a huge sign on the side of the road.  I asked what it said “Oh no problem, just broken bridge ahead” said our smiling guide.  Sure enough, as we rounded a sharp bend there was the “broken” bridge literally with cross planks missing and leaning terribly to one side.  I screamed at the guide to make the driver stop.  Which he thankfully did.  Hopping out we picked our way across the nearly 18 meter bridge leaving our luggage behind in the van and our guide accompanying us.  Once safely on the other side we watched in disbelief as our driver carefully and skillfully drove the van across.  I would not have believed it, had I not seen it with my own eyes.   Once back in the van, and continuing on our way, I asked the guide if there was another way we could go to get back to the city when it came time for us to leave.  Oh no, said the guide turning to face me with a grin, there is only one way in and out.  My face went white as I turned and looked at my husband.  We both gulped hard as we thought of our return drive over the “broken” bridge in the wee dark hours of the morning to reach Medan and the airport for our 7am flight.  The rest of our 4 hour drive on atrocious roads made by palm oil trucks was completed in silence.  I was beginning to wonder what we had got ourselves into, …… I was in for a bit of a surprise!    We eventually came to a clearing by the fast-moving Bohorok River and a few buildings.  As we alighted the van, some children raced up to us and immediately took our suitcases, carrying them on their heads proceeded to walk briskly along a very narrow swing bridge, to the other side of the river to where our hotel was.  Now, you try crossing a swing bridge after a few small surefooted children have been across, no mean feat I can tell you.  The main part of our hotel was an open air dinning room with thatched roof and poles, with wooden tables.  The rooms themselves were small individual buries, made of thatch, bamboo and flax.  Ours when we entered consisted of one room with a bed , no blankets only a sheet and a mosquito net that hung from the ceiling.  There was a table and chair to one side and at the far end of the room the wall was half-finished off in sheets of newspaper.  In the far corner of the room was a ceiling to floor wall which housed a long drop and a pit of water with a bucket for which you used to pour water down the long drop.  The place to wash I soon discovered was the river.  The guide, when I had asked on our drive here, continually told us that fast running water was safe, still water, was unsafe.  That night dinner was in the open air restaurant and while sitting eating my meal I became aware of Lizards, huge ones, running up and down the poles next to the tables, when I glanced above my head I was horrified to see them running along the ceiling beams and quickly ate my meal for fear of having one fall and land in my plate of fried chicken and rice, or worse, land on top of me.  Returning to our buries we found the automatic light above the door had attracted these huge lizards and my husband used his shoe to hit the door scaring them off so we could open and let ourselves inside.  After setting up the mosquito net, my husband laid down and soon fell asleep.  I on the other hand, sat cross-legged beside him, thinking of the lizards, cockroaches, snakes and all manner of animals that were somewhere just outside , and wondered what protection did a wall of double thickness newspaper actually give us.

To be continued….


3 April 2011

“Me Jane you Tarzan”  part 2

After a fitful night and a hearty breakfast, we were met by a young boy no older than 10years, he guided us along a narrow path that ran along side the river and deep into the jungle.  At one point we had to wait while he retrieved 

a canoe and with my husband and I squatting (because the seats were too wet and it was fulling up with water) he pulled us along by using a rope tied across the river, hand over hand to the other side.  We continued for another 10 minutes.  My young guide often taking my hand and helping me up the steep muddy track.  Suddenly there he was.  I hadn’t noticed till I was nearly within a foot of him, red and hairy.  We each slowly moved past and around him as he hung on a branch blocking some of our pathway.  Each one making the most of a photo opportunity (as you can see).  We continued on and eventually came across a platform built in amongst the trees, where the young guides fed the orangutans as they came.  Many were mums with cute babies clinging to them.  They seemed blaise about having us standing so close and watching them.   A couple would venture up to the guides taking food from there outstretched hand.  Usually while the guide sat still at one end of the platform tossing bananas and fruit they gathered along the other end eyeing him and us while eating.  The younger ones more cheeky would swing back up a branch or two after snatching the fruit from out  of the guides hand.  It was amazing to watch these gently giants so close in their natural environment, and we quietly clicked our cameras to record the memory.  On our return back down the narrow path and across the river, we stopped to watch young adventure tourists on rubber tyres screaming past us down the river narrowly avoiding spilling out.  All the while my young tentative guide holding my hand and assisting me down the muddy tracks.  After just leaving our river crossing and continuing through a very wet pathway. I stepped down onto a plank which unbeknown to me had the other end buried in a huge puddle of liquid mud.  You guessed it! The blank flipped up spraying me from head to foot in mud, much to my shock and the laughter of my young guide and others near me.  My blue and white top now in three tone colour must have looked a sight.  Seeing the funny side and wiping mud from my face I continued on, passing our red-haired friend still hanging on the same branch.  From front view he looked like a teenager with attitude.  We slip quietly pass him making our way back to our hotel.  Changing into my swim suit I ventured into the river along with the locals for our daily wash, taking my clothes with me to clean.

At 1am in the morning we were helped back across the swing bridge to the waiting van for our return trip through the dark jungle to Medan for our flight onward.  Reaching the “broken bridge” the driver stopped and our guide with his torch assisted us across the bridge and we again waited while our driver brought the van across.  I am still amazed today when I think about it how he managed to do this.  Needless to say we made it to the airport in plenty of time.


It is this trip, the young boy who was our guide to see the orangutans, and the wild jungle, that sets the scene for a new novel I am at present drafting, which was inspired, and is a tribute to a well-known actress, who along with Operation USA,  offered help to those affected by the Boxing Day Tsunami that had devastated much of Sumatra and other nearby countries.



4th July 2011

“Lok” or “Lok Srey” (Cambodian Greeting)

Our trip to Cambodia 2 years ago in 2009 was to attend a friends wedding. The bride of Cambodian parents and her husband to be, a New Zealander, flew to Cambodia a week before the wedding, and my husband and I flew 2 days before with 8 other family members of the Groom. After being met at the airport by the bride’s family we climbed aboard a 30 seater bus with driver and a guide which had been organised as our transport for the duration of our 2 week stay. The drive to the hotel through the city streets left ones heart in their mouths while gripping the sides of your seat and closing your eyes, even in the bus you watch gasping as motorised bikes and pushbikes tear madly across in front of the bus in all directions. While vehicles seem to at times keep to one side of the middle line it was only an option and one could change there mind and veer right or left without warning or overtake on the wrong side of the road heading straight in your path. The hotel in the downtown Phnom Penh was more a bed and breakfast and very small. But was accommodating as it was within walking distance to the Brides parents’ place where the three day wedding was taking place.  Oh! Did I not mention it spans three days, well yes it does.  (and in 33degC that is no mean feat).

Our first day was spent in a city tour, finishing with an evening meal at a “wake”… it turned out the Bride’s grandmother had died a week before we arrived and funerals generally take seven days. In both weddings and funerals homes are dressed in drapes of bright orange, yellow and reds with awnings spreading out into the street to accommodate the flow of visitors often staying to eat and chat. Food is plentiful, greetings are warm and there is always music, Cambodian music.

The second day, the first of the Wedding, we walked to the home of the bride’s parents, after fending off eager tuk-tuk peddlers. The home situated along one of the main busy shopping roads, is also a shop as they are sellers of mobile phones and the narrow home is divided into three levels. The ground floor by day is a shop and by night doubles as a garage housing the family car, with a bedroom come office in the back. Stairs lead you to the second level of two bedrooms and room that we walked through leading further on up to the top level where the kitchen, and large dining come lounge is situated.with a small balcony. The front of the home was covered in brightly coloured awning spilling onto the main road housing tables and chairs for all the visitors, it is also customary to see the neighbours either side, close their shops to allow the awning to stretch over their frontage also. Inside the entrance four monks were seated cross legged against one wall. The bride dressed in metallic gold (Sampot Lberk) Cambodian dress was walked in by her parents and joined her partner also in matching gold Cambodian dress for blessing and chanting from the monks This went on for three hours followed by the throwing of petals over the bride and groom then it was their turn to offer gifts of food to the monks as a thankyou. All posed and directed by the photographer.

After eating freshly prepared sweet cakes, we were excused for the rest of the afternoon. On the second day of the wedding early morning saw us gathered along with a hundred other guests representing the gooms family bearing gifts that had been made for us to carry along down the middle of the street to the brides home. (I could not believe the bride and her family had spent all night making these beautiful bowls of fruit representing gifts to show the grooms worthiness for us to carry).The bride was dressed in orange and the groom in a dark suit. After we ate finishing with sweet cakes the bride and groom changed again this time she in green and he in silver for the presenting of gifts to the brides parents and the exchanging of rings.

Later in the day they again changed into matching bright red for the ceremony of cutting of hair.

The third day back at the bride’s parents home both are dressed in rich gold traditional costumes for traditional cleaning of feet and the tying of cotton threads soaked in holy water around the brides and grooms wrists, passing a candle around the happy couple and throwing of heavy scented petals by thenow two hundred visitors that have gathered, taking turns in squeezing into the small opening.

With more food, a lot of chatter, music and singing and at least three more, yes thats right, three more that I know of, costume changes, one in blue, one in pale violet and another in red we are then taken by late afternoon to a huge lavishly decorated hall where the bride and groom turn up in western look of long white dress and he once again in dark suit, (whew! One would not wish to divorce so quickly, for the idea of going through this again would be both exhausting and very expensive.) The final evening is finished off with a huge cake, speeches, more food and both western and Cambodian music to dance to. Those of us who flew to Cambodia had by choice, pickedup a traditional Cambodian style dress to wear for the evening as a mark of respect to the bride and her parents, they were also very surprised and delighted.  My husband and I learnt a Cambodian dance and had a great deal of fun.

I would love to tell you about the rest of our time in Cambodia, but you will have to wait for another post and another time.


23 July 2011

“Postcard”   Part 1

Winging our way to Cambodia via Bangkok this time, one is prepared (having been before) to leave behind expectations of orderliness, quiet moments, familar smells as well as familar tastes, and tight heavy clothing, and arm oneself with strong stomachs, good walking shoes, hat that will stay on in fierce winds, very little clothing, a medicine bag of diarrhea and sickness tablets and a sense of humour.  Actually it’s not really that bad at all.

After a 24 hour stopover in Bangkok, (where we have enjoyed the bartering in the markets before) little has changed and after many years we were still able to find our favourite market place.  The hotel to be at is the Indra Regent.  Stepping outside this hotel is a market paradise for the shopaholic.  It stretches as far as the eye can see.  The clothes I notice were better quality and design, but the prices still amazingly cheap.  Whatever price she asks, start lower than half and build up to only half the asking price, always stand firm.  I came away with shoes costing only $4.00 US the asking price was always around $12.00 or $14.00 US.  Just one thing I ought to remind you, always wear covered in shoes and keep your eyes firmly on the array of goods around every nook and cranny.  I will not tell you why you should not look down, I will leave that to your imagination.

Arriving in Cambodia, Phnom Penh, was pure delight, mainly because we had a friend from home family waiting to meet us.  From the casual walk through security, where they never even stopped or looked at us, to the arrival doors opening and the sign with our names on waving frantically in front of a crowd by her smiling sister, her father, cousin (who spoke very good english and drove us everywhere) to her sisters two small children, excitedly waving, peering up at these two fair skinned well dressed foreigners who insisted on smothering them with kisses and hugs, it was wonderful to be back.  AAaaaahhhhh  Cambodia – what a delight……….

Part 2 tomorrow.


24 July 2011

“Postcard”  Part 2

The littlest of the two children was merely 3 months old when I last saw her two years ago and she stood hands clasped together in an appreciative gesture and blew kisses at us while standing tiptoe in her 2yr olds shoes.

What strikes you here about the Cambodian people is the respect they show, smiling faces, their humbleness, nothing is too much trouble, they are a delight to be around.  I had already visited the killing fields and S21, a huge school that was turned into torture chambers during the years Pol Pot ruled.  When you walk through S21 it has been left with sketches on the walls by one of the survivors who was asked to draw the prisoners as they were being tortured.  A very grim reminder along with the hundreds of photos of men, women and children, who were tortured, beaten, electrocuted and eventually killed here. There are the shackles, the very small bricked rooms, bars and beds they used still there today.

We didn’t visit these this time, the family took us out to dinner every night trying the Cambodian food and finishing with a night market stroll or taking in the new theme park.  Their home around the corner from our hotel in central Phnom Penh is over a cellphone shop which turns into a garage by night housing the family car.  With my husband and I experts on using the tuktuks we managed to get to the other markets, Central the main and easily accessible for things imaginable. Pour Tom Pong, know as the Russian Market for souvenirs, and Odessy Market, a two story market with food on the ground floor and beautiful seamstresses on the second floor.  Bartering in all markets is expected and we had a lot of fun here.  We also caught up with a local guide whom I have kept in contact with over the past 2 years.  She also works for a non profit organisation assisting children found in the jungle or are unable to be cared for by their families. The Norwegian organisation with the help of sponsors, clothes, feeds, and educates the children.  Similar to UNICEF and others, people can donate money or clothing etc… to help.  After visiting with our dear  friend, meeting the deputy governor and his wife and other friends it was time to bid a sad goodbye to Cambodia.  The city of Phnom Penh had certainly not changed, the traffic as chaotic as ever, with cars and motorbikes coming at you from all directions (it seems the faded white line in the middle of the road is STILL only for decoration purposes), tooting your horn, and the constant calling if you want a tuktuk, or a side saddle ride for 5 on the back of a motorbike and then darting off across the road in the middle of constant noisy traffic is what makes Cambodia unique, along with its lush green countryside.  It was sad to leave a place where we had made so many friends and once again I did not leave without picking up another bio book, this time a group of young people tell their story about what it was like growing up during 1975 – 1979.

I will be off line for a few days as we spend time on a boat, but please stay tuned for part 3 of Postcard.


28th July

“Postcard”  Part 3

Arriving in Laos and shown around this very spreadout and clean city of Vietienne, we meet the rest of our tour group for the next 4 days.  It consisted of a headmistress, a young woman from Australia and a retired woman from England as well as a young man from a small area not far from Walton-on-Thames, in England, (a computor consultant. After the tour of this captial city we were back on a small plane heading for a village in the northern jungle of Laos called Luang Prabang.    Enroute sitting next to the Headmistress our conversation turned to children and literature.  I was introduced to a very interesting and informative sight  called the learner profile and how children’s attitudes to the world around them through books is so important.

The picturesque village of Luang Prabang is very  laid back, temperature is very hot and humid, but there is much to do here.  We spent time visiting the waterfall (which can also be done by (elephant ride if you wish)  and although because of recent heavy rain falls the picnic area was flooded and some of the walkway to the top was washed away, we still managed to get brilliant photos.  (sorry I can’t provide them here at the moment maybe later) Remeber this is coming into typhone season so having had brilliant weather so fare was amazing and a big plus.  We visited bears in a conservation area, rose early one morning to view and feed (if we wished) the young novice monks that came out of their temples at around 5am every morning and walked around part of this old village with their bowls, accepting whatever you wish to place in it.  Another highlight for me was the “cooking class”.  Not just the cooking class but the ride there and back, by tuktuk.  I have never laughed so much.  Remember I had said they have been having heavy rains before we arrived, well, the cooking class was way in the jungle and the road left a lot to be desired! One holds on so as not to be thrown out the back while the drive navigates the huge holes on the muddy and often flooded dirt road.  This all made for a lot of the enjoyment and after visiting the Royal Palace Museum housing Lao art and furniture of the now deposed royal family we also took a short boat trip along the Mekong and viewed some caves known as “cave of a thousand Buddas” at Pak Ou.    As I said we had a lot of fun here and eventually my hubby and I took leave at the end of this tour for our flight to Hanoi, but not without being inspired with new ideas for future manuscript writing (Time for pen and paper, I think!).

While writing this post I couldn’t help but think of one of my Children’s Hub friends, Joanna, who would just love this place.

See you in part 4.


31 July 2011

“Postcard” part 4

“Sin Chao” from Hanoi, or as we say “Hello”.  Vietnam is home of some 87 million people and 29 million motorbikes and today joining a new group of people on our city tour I would think most of them have decided to spend the day here in Hanoi.  It certainly felt like it.  We had been warned about the crazy traffic in Hanoi, but you have to be here to believe it.  Seriously though there are 6 million people in Hanoi and 3 million bikes.  From Ba Dinh Square we visited Ho Chi Minh Quarters, his humble house on stilts  (as he preferred to live simply without all the modern comforts).  We also saw the Presidential Palace and the Temple of Literature dating back to 1070.  It is now dedicated to Confucian worship.  We also visited the “Hanoi Hilton” – prison made famous by the incarceration of Vietnam National Liberation leaders and later US Air force pilots shot down over North Vietnam.  Part of this prison has been kept as a museum and has gruesome stories to tell.  We enjoyed the street markets, that literally closed off a number of streets for some distance every night, ad tackling crossing the busy traffic.  The trick here is to just step out and walk calmly and slowly across, avoiding making any sudden movement.  Crossings are ignored as are lights, buses have presidence over cars, and cars over bikes, but if your careful they will weave there way around you……. good luck!

Zang our lovely local guide for Hanoi spoke of how there is no sex education in schools with many like herself learning at the age of 16 or 17 yrs from magazines and news.  Abortion in Vietnam is on the increase mainly due to pressure to have a boy and also because they are only allowed to have 2 children per couple.  Should the 2nd child be a 2nd girl they may abort or try again for a son and if it is the longed for son they will then adopt him back into the family.

On our second day we headed out to Hun Gai, 170km to beautiful Halong Bay.  No wonder this place still continues to capture the imagination of all who visit, with 3000 islands rising high out of the sea it reminded me a bit of our South Island Mitre Peak.  It seemed we drifted on glass-like waters alongside other junks, visited some caves and enjoyed lunch and dinner on our own beautiful boat (junk).  After a karaoke session, a glass of wine in hand, one reclines in a deck chair to soft music and watches the sun set between the islands………….. see you in the morning…zzzzzzZZZZZZ


3 August 2011

“Postcard” Part 5

Waking up to a beautiful sunrise and a cooked breakfast, making the most of this special place, we once more cruise through the islands of Halong Bay and after lunch head to Hanoi airport for our flight to Hoi An.  A trading center for many centuries, the architecture is influenced by Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, French and British traders.  This was a lovely place to shop and barter, in the quaint old town.  We also visited the Hoi An museum and the Japanese covered Bridge.  Two days was spent here so those of us who wanted to, got shoes and clothes made.  It was amazing how they managed to whip them up in a couple of hours.  Mrs Bong’s Laundry across the road was great value to, with 3 trousers, 4 tops, socks and knickers costing only $4.00 US.  We also enjoyed lovely resturant meals and swiming and relaxing around the pool… quickly got sunburnt.      –   A tip I learnt many years ago, when one is the colour of a lobster instead of using sprays or cream buy a pot of yogurt (dosen’t matter if it’s flavoured), and smother yourself in it twice a day for two days for fifteen minutes at a time, rinse off, works instantly taking the sting out and you turn lovely and brown two days later.  Everything including the early morning food market was in a two minute walk from our lovely resort hotel.

We continue on to Hue situated on the Perfume River.  Previously Vetnams captial in the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 – 1945.  In Danong Bay one of the small towns we past through we were told there were no homeless people as the government/council here provides housing and the people pay $1.00 a week rent. Cost of housing is generally paid by the width of the house, not square footag.  There was no surpise to find some very skinny homes.  When I asked why they only painted and decorated the front of the often two or three story homes the reply was “well you only put make up on your face never your ears, sides of your body and back …do you!”  Hmmmm.

After visiting the impressive home of the emperors – the Citadel, destroyed during the Tet Offensive in 1968, now gradually being restored, we also saw TuDuc’s tomb.

The next day we flew on to Saigon, known as Vietnam’s commercial captial with clean wide streets and what appears to be less traffic…or is it just the wide streets that are fooling me……??  It is home to some 8 million people and 4 million bikes.  Our local guide Mr Long took us for a walking tour past the Rex Hotel, Ho Chi Minh Square, Municipal Theatre, Notre Dame Cathedral and we also saw the War Remnants Museum with touches of propanda and its many pictures of what Agent orange had done, a very sad reminder.  The following day saw us travelling out to view the Cu Chi Tunnels.  These are situated in an area known during the Vietnam war as the “Iron Triangle”.  The tunnel network stretches over 250kms (155miles) and extends to three levels underground.  Such determination of Communist forces during that time.  Some of our tour including my hubby went down and along a small portion of the tunnel only to come up feeling very stiff from having to crawl on all fours through most of what they covered.

Next day saw us off again to Cholon, the Chinatown district of the city to visit the huge Binh Tay wholesale market and the ornate Thien Hau Temple, dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea.  We continued our trip via boat down the Mekong River to an area known as the Mekong Delta where the river having originated in China, through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia ends in the South China Sea.  There is a great source of rice and tropical fruits here, and we watch the locals sell their produce at the floating market and managed to sample some local produce.  In this area there are also many snake farms and snake wine is plentiful and available to buy. (believed to a good aphrodisiac for men

Our lunch stop just as the heavens opened up with lightning, thunder and torrential rain, was thankfully under cover eating “elephant ear fish”, the regions speciality, and watched rice popping and rice candy making…… these were also lovely to sample (I got to send some home to). We stayed the night in a river town of Can Tho.  The next day saw us on the river again in the morning watching the local farmers trading their produce at a floating market at Cai Rang, before heading back to Saigon.  We spent another one and half days in Saigon visiting markets, and it is easy to see the Veitnamese have been influenced by the Chinese very superstitious ways, such as burning fake money when someone dies as they believe their ancestors will use it in heaven.

It was noted at this time that a cyclone had hit the top part of Vietnam, Hanoi and the beautiful Halong Bay with one person killed.  Hence our one day of torrential rain through our whole tour.  I would like to mention that during Vietnam we also had a Tour Leader who traveled with us, and my husband and I were delighted to discover she was a fellow kiwi.  Her lovely easy going nature  made this a very lovely and enjoyable trip for all.

This has truly been a wonderful holiday and we have made some more new friends along the way.  I came hoping to be inspired with ideas for writing children’s books…… did I succeed?   Well, yes there are a couple of ideas that I have hurriedly jotted down….you will have to stay tuned.  I did how ever pick up a couple of children’s books that I will endeavour to review here later.  In the meantime I have now landed in LA this afternoon and after a very, very long flight its time for a shower and some sleep, tomorrow brings more adventures of a different kind, when I meet my fellow Children Hub Members before attending the SCBWI conference.

I hope you have enjoyed these postcards, I will promise to send you one more with photos when I reach home………..


12 August 2011

“Postcard”    the 6th and Final part.

2000 photos and video clips is an awful lot to go through but as promised I have picked out a few that I thought you might like to see.  They may have some meaning to me, be spectacular in scenery, thought provoking for story ideas, or simply cute, interesting, or unbelieveable – whatever the reason, I hope you find them interesting to look at.

shopping in Bangkok



Riding in a “tuktuk” in Cambodia – notice we have crossed the double yellow line.  It still amazes me how they seem to drive anywhere, with no worries constantly tooting.

A very dear friend whom we met up with again is soon to face chemo…we will keep in touch on Facebook.

A sweet child dances for me and when she finishes blew me a kiss  – – she blew me away.


Lovely ornate temple decorated in tiny tiles depicting a life in story of long ago embedded in the walls and doors.- Vientiane, Laos

Night markets close one of the main streets down everynight in the village of Laung Prabang.  A barters delight.


Laos style cooking lesson in the Jungle of Luang Prabang, the motorised tuktuk to get here was just as adventureous as the lesson.

Novice monks walk the streets of Laung Prapang early hours of the morning receiving morsels of food.


Notice they have “pink” eggs here.  Luang Prabang is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Bear in a Conservation Camp here in Luang Prabang. 


Things move slowly in Laos, there are many handicraft shops tucked away in the jungle area around Laung Prabang and the scenery is lush and green.  Here a waterfall not far from the Bear Reserve.


Night markets in Hanoi, Vietnam, these are found along the main road of the old area of the city.


The infamous “Hanoi Hilton” – Hanoi’s former central prison  made famous for incarceration of Leaders of Vietnam’s National Liberation movement and later US Air force pilots shot down over North Vietnam.  Viewing the lifesize figures.

Gridlock traffic in Hanoi, a bustling city. We also toured around on cyclo which made it very interesting.


Halong Bay here are some beautiful scenery shots I could not pass up. The glass like waters gave way to steep grassy cliffs towering up over 3,000 islands to provide this spectacular natural environment. This place evokes mystery  suspense and wonder and I felt stories from under the sea emerging and engulfing me.  This boat was our overnight accomodation and as the sunset over the cliffs glowing from a bright orange to a seductive pink and proved a very romantic place to be.

Food market in Hoi An, where tailors welcomed you with open arms and outfits and shoes were whipped up in just hours.

Small children doing there early morning Hai Chi in a nearby school.


One of many narrow houses being the norm in Vietnam as cost of rental is based on width of housing.



Cu Chi Tunnels, located in an area known during the Vietnam War as the Iron Triangle on the outskirts of Saigon. These tunnels stretched for  over 250kms (155 miles), and extends to three levels. There also were many traps.


The Thien hau Temple, dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea, located in Cholon, the Chinatown district of the city of Saigon.

Boarding our small boat  we carry on down the Mekong River through the Mekong Delta and visit the many floating markets and sample some of there wares.

This is a walk through with pictures of a holiday filled with adventure, discoveries, and mystic.  I hope you have enjoyed the (sorry) many pictures I have picked out for you.  It has been very hard to reduce the number and there are many more I can assure you.  We hope oneday to return as there is much to see and uncover. 

Thankyou for joining me on this adventure.

12 Responses to Travel Insights

  1. Patricia says:

    What an interesting trip. I’m smiling. Makes me want to travel to Austrailia. Have never been down under. You really have given yourself so many possibilities for your blog. I find it very interesting and thought provoking. The variety is nice and allows you some freedom.



    • Thankyou Patricia for your kind words. The Country is actually “Austria” in europe….*smiles*, and yes it is a very beautiful place and a must on everyones European itinerary. You will find I will be posting more from Europe over time. “Downunder” is also and area not to be missed. Thanks again.

  2. Joanna says:

    I just love this idea of a travel section on the blog. I really enjoyed reading of the Krampus Parade which I had not heard of before. I have done both skiing and Alpinism near Innsbruck and the area is just breathtaking. Next time you go you could head over to Salzburg and do the Sound of Music tour. 😉

    • Hi Joanna, so pleased you have joined me here, and love my idea, thankyou very much. Yes I have been to Austria many times and the Sound of Music was one of my first tours in Salzburg. While we have traveled to various places around Austria, and indeed Switzerland and Germany, the small village of Schwaz near Innsbruck is where we usually make our base. I think you will really enjoy and be familar with some of my other stories in the future. Thanks again Joanna.

  3. Patricia says:

    Sorry for the error — I was intrigued by your article, knew it was Austria, but somewhere in the back of my mind I was thinking of your being from New Zealand and down under??? I can’t explain it — but I appoloize for the error since I entered first. Have always wanted to travel to Austria — tops my list. I just love it that you are sharing your travels! You speak to my heart.


    • Patricia No worries, an easy mistake. You will have to visit Austria sometime then. And thanks again for your kind words, you have given me faith to push on with this idea.

  4. Patricia says:

    Enjoyed your second story about your trip to Celerina, in Switzerland. Have always wanted to visit Switzerland. And, to do so in the winter and ride in a slay — must have felt like stepping back in time. Your memories are so vivid. You are so foturnate to have the opportunity to travel and visit different cultures. Like your travel log idea.


    • Thankyou so much Patricia for your comments on my second Travel Insight story. Glad you are enjoying the stories and like the idea. Some of them will be very interesting indeed, I can assure you. Stay tuned.

  5. Katrina says:

    I’m enjoying the travel blog. Not only are the stories informative and visual they are also amusing !! Please post more 🙂

  6. Thankyou for your lovely comment Kat, nice to see you here. I will certainly post more, stay tuned.

  7. Patricia says:

    Really loved reading about the Cambodian wedding and all of the traditions. It reminded me a little of weddings in India. My son was best man at his friend’s wedding and he talked about both mothers bathing the groom in oil, a purification. So, I read with great interest how beautiful the ceremony was and the involvement of the community closing down businesses — unheard of here.

    Diane, you have so much to write about. I hope your eyes are focused on children stories, and things that grab your interest in terms of children while there. Would love to be a tag-a-long. Sounds like great fun. You already have contacts. You should be leaving soon. Let me know.

    Again, beautiful post.


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