Amazing Piece of History – Củ Chi Tunnels

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We were picked up by small coach at 8.30 am from our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City for the short 45 minute drive to the district of Củ Chi where the tunnels are located.

On arrival to the underground tunnels we were shown a short film of the Củ Chi  Tunnels so that we had more of  an understanding of how the tunnel system actually works
Củ Chi tunnels are an underground tunnel network, stretching almost 200 km’s, constructed by the Vietnamese fighters during the struggle for independence. This underground city which took about 25 years to build was home to around 10,000 people for several years. The tunnel system was an excellent way for the Vietcong to move around the countryside undetected by the Americans.  The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped to counter the growing American military effort. It surely would not have been any easy life.

 

It was fascinating to see the tunnels. If you keep an open mind it is interesting to see the way the government portrays the war from its perspective.

 

The network includes countless trapdoors, entangled living areas, storage facilities and weapons factories, mini military hospitals, command centre and even kitchens. Many of our group chose to crawl through some of the tunnels but just keep in mind that this is quite difficult for anyone with health or physical issues.

 

Cu Chi Tunnels are a must-visit for anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh City. Being able to hear and have a firsthand look at the tunnels where the Resistance hid and fought was amazing. And then seeing their huts where they cooked, made weapons and how they dug their trenches and hideaways was a great experience and very eye opening.

 

Not only do you get an insight to the history, but for a few dollars you can take the opportunity to fire an AK-47 or M16 rifle at the nearby Cu Chi tunnels shooting range. It was incredibly loud and I found quite unnerving hearing the constant noise of the guns however there were many people who really enjoyed it. There is a souvenir shop at the shooting range where you can pick up items that may interest you.

 

Take a half day trip to the tunnels and you won’t be disappointed. Learn about the incredible ingenuity and resourcefulness of the Vietnamese and the unbelievable feats of engineering to create a safe space to live, work and fight from. The tunnels are not to be missed. It’s absolutely amazing how they were able to fight and survive in such SMALL enclosed spaces.

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Picturesque Sawtell – Coastal Australia

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Situated on the mid north coast of NSW,  approximately half way between Brisbane and Sydney is the very beautiful  city of Coffs Harbour.  Coffs Harbour is where my family lives so I am lucky to visit this beautiful part of the NSW coast regularly and often. It is less than a 5 hour drive for me from my home in Brisbane.

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Safe Swimming Area for families

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Main street of Sawtell

About a 20 minute drive south of Coffs Harbour is the lovely seaside town of Sawtell.

With its idyllic beaches, chic cafes and a stunning coastal national park  Sawtell is a delightful destination for a seaside escape.  Its unspoiled beaches, rain-forest, wildlife, wetlands and estuaries, make it an ideal location for outdoor adventures.

We have stopped often for lunch at the Sawtell Surf club which is right on the beach. It not only offers great food but a gorgeous outlook.

20170926_123117Just about a few minutes drive or a 10 minute walk from the centre of  town is the Boambee Headland with its breathtaking views towards the north and down to the south.

If travelling south towards Sawtell this is an easy lookout to access. Be sure to drive to the second, higher car park where it isn’t even necessary to get out of you vehicle to enjoy expansive views to the north and also south toward Sawtell.  If you have time there are gentle paved paths down to the ocean. Also, timber stairs which offer easy access to the swimming beach.

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Looking north

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Looking north

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Looking north

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Looking north

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Looking north

Buy a picnic, take it up to the headland and just sit and relax looking out to sea. There are regular sightings of hump backed whales and dolphins.

Standing on the headland and looking towards the south the views are spectacular.

The village’s main street is adorned with enormous fig trees, which provide shade for boutiques and outdoor dining at cafes and restaurants. Stop in to one of the many restaurants and cafes for a coffee or great lunch or just stop at one of the many table and benches in the centre of the town for a picnic lunch.  The street, trees and cafes in the evening are decorated with lights giving it a fairy tale look.

River Wonderland along the Mekong Delta

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From Vĩnh Tràng Chùa My Tho, we drove the short distance to the Mekong River. We hopped on to our boat #38 and travelled across the river to Unicorn Island to spend time wandering and exploring. Unicorn Island appeared to be pretty substantial in its own right.

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We stopped at the local markets, saw sting-less bees making honey which we tasted and then stopped for the most refreshing kumquat and honey tea.

It was then a long walk to where we stopped for a short rest, enjoyed many of the local fruits and entertainment and listened to traditional Vietnamese music.

From here we walked in to the centre of the island where we took boats up the stream through the mangroves and jungle.  I have never been to the Amazon Jungle but the thought of it crossed my mind as we were making our way along this very narrow river through thick dense forest like trees.

We stopped at a coconut processing workshop. The busy ladies there will not be disturbed as we watched their fast hands get the most out of a coconut. You have no idea how much can be produced from a coconut, from oil, water, candy to cosmetics. Every part of the coconut is valuable and nothing goes to waste. We tasted the coconut candy which was really sweet and 100% natural.

After this I tried the local snake wine which reminded me of some grappa that I have had after a meal when in Italy.

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From here we headed off to a very large outdoor restaurant to enjoy a typical Vietnamese lunch which consisted of whole fish, pancakes, sticky rice balls, soup, spring rolls, green vegies and watermelon to finish off.  Wine and beer was available which many of us indulged in.

The Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam is a vast maze of rivers, swamps and islands, home to floating markets, Khmer pagodas and villages surrounded by rice paddies. Boats are the main means of transportation

My trip on the Mekong Delta was a great way to enjoy a day away from the hustle and bustle of the city.  

Travelling by boat was a wonderful way to see the sights from the water

Amazing Palace-Like Pagoda, in Southern Vietnam.

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It was an early start for us to go to the Mekong Delta which included a visit to Vĩnh Tràng Chùa Buddhist temple on the way.

At about 8am, we were picked up by coach at our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (which is commonly referred to as Saigon, its former name) and driven to My Tho city. A drive  which took about 2 hours. Mama Mia, the traffic driving to My Tho was so bad that I made a promise to myself to never complain about Brisbane traffic again. Of course that was a silly promise.

Mỹ Tho city is located in the Mekong Delta region and is where we stopped to visit the Vĩnh Tràng Pagoda and Buddhist temple which is one of the best known temples in the region.

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Vĩnh Tràng Chùa

The architecture of Vinh Trang Pagoda is a harmonious combination of Asian and European types of architecture, creating the splendid, but simple features of this Buddhist pagoda.

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The complex has been renovated and looks outstanding with three huge Buddhas: reclining, sitting and standing outside signifying the past, the present and the future.

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The beautifully landscaped grounds are magnificent. It is an easy place to spend some delightful time wandering around taking in the stunning architecture, the gardens, the statues and the serene atmosphere.

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Vĩnh Tràng Pagoda and Buddhist temple

The pagoda is surrounded by gardens of ornamental trees, ancient trees and bonsai, creating a peaceful atmosphere. It provided shelter for Vietnamese patriots and is recognized as a national historical and cultural relic by the government.

The gardens of the temple are decorated with many pot plants full of exquisite flowering shrubs, flowers and trees and my favourite, the water lilies in the beautiful ponds.

If you truly enjoy the outdoors and beautiful Asian and European types of architecture, you should not miss Vinh Trang Pagoda, an ancient southern Vietnam architectural gem.

Shop Shop Shop – Central Markets, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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Since I published this story a couple of days ago I have learned that my friends have not been able to open it so I am posting it again.

We were in Phnom Penh for 2 nights and after the planned sightseeing, as always, we found time for the local markets. Anyone who knows me, knows that I always like to spend time at the markets.

The Central Market is a large market constructed in 1937 in the shape of a dome with four arms branching out into vast hallways with countless stalls of goods. The unique Art Deco building is a Phnom Penh landmark.

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The entrance to the market is lined with souvenir merchants hawking everything from T-shirts and postcards to silver curios and kramas. A krama is a sturdy traditional Cambodian garment with many uses, including as a scarf, bandanna, to cover the face, for decorative purposes, and as a hammock for children.  Inside is a dazzling display of jewels and gold. Electronic goods, stationery, clothes and flowers are also sold.

These markets are a bargain shopping paradise. The shops are full, and when I say full, they are bursting at the seams with watches, sunglasses, mobile accessories, t-shirts, ladies dresses, clothing, shoes and all kinds of souvenirs and gifts.

This is an enormous market. It is jammed packed with all kinds of stalls from food to bling. No matter what you are looking for it will be there.

Be prepared to barter, there is a good deal to be had but they are hard, however, don’t insult them by going too low. You will no doubt find something you like here, the prices are good and most of the sellers can speak English which makes it so much easier. Just remember to take US dollars as that is the preferred currency in Cambodia.

We had initially planned to go to the Russian markets which I had heard so much about, however the Central Markets were much closer to our hotel and very easy to get to. We certainly were not disappointed.

This is a market with items for both tourists and the locals. It is definitely worth a visit during your Phnom Penh stay.  A real Cambodian market experience

Shop, Shop, Shop at Central Market, Phnom Penh

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We were in Phnom Penh for 2 nights and after the planned sightseeing, as always, we found time for the local markets. Anyone who knows me, knows that I always like to spend time at the markets.

The Central Market is a large market constructed in 1937 in the shape of a dome with four arms branching out into vast hallways with countless stalls of goods. The unique Art Deco building is a Phnom Penh landmark.

20170306_193825

The entrance to the market is lined with souvenir merchants hawking everything from T-shirts and postcards to silver curios and kramas. A krama is a sturdy traditional Cambodian garment with many uses, including as a scarf, bandanna, to cover the face, for decorative purposes, and as a hammock for children.  Inside is a dazzling display of jewels and gold. Electronic goods, stationery, clothes and flowers are also sold.

 

 

 

 

These markets are a bargain shopping paradise. The shops are full, and when I say full, they are bursting at the seams with watches, sunglasses, mobile accessories, t-shirts, ladies dresses, clothing, shoes and all kinds of souvenirs and gifts.

 

 

 

 

This is an enormous market. It is jammed packed with all kinds of stalls from food to bling. No matter what you are looking for it will be there.

 

 

 

 

Be prepared to barter, there is a good deal to be had but they are hard, however, don’t insult them by going too low. You will no doubt find something you like here, the prices are good and most of the sellers can speak English which makes it so much easier. Just remember to take US dollars as that is the preferred currency in Cambodia.

 

 

 

We had initially planned to go to the Russian markets which I had heard so much about, however the Central Markets were much closer to our hotel and very easy to get to. We certainly were not disappointed.

This is a market with items for both tourists and the locals. It is definitely worth a visit during your Phnom Penh stay.  A real Cambodian market experience

 

 

 

My Home – Brisbane

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Sometimes we forget what we have in our own backyards.  I am always reminded of what a beautiful place I live in whenever I have visitors as I am “showing off” my home city.

However, on Sunday morning while I was driving to church which is in New Farm, I decided to stop and take a walk along the River Terrace overlooking the river.  It was a perfect winter’s morning.  It was about 8C degrees which then warmed up to about 26C.  Yes perfect, but probably too warm for winter.

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Brisbane, which is the capital of the state of Queensland, has a population of 2.4 million and is in north east Australia.   It is the gateway to the famous Gold Coast which is only an hour drive south and also to the Sunshine coast which is north.  Brisbane has a humid subtropical climate with hot, humid summers and dry moderately warm winters. A typical winter’s day would rarely fall below 20C, however our nights can be very cold.

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Brisbane River

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Brisbane River

Brisbane River

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Brisbane River20170813_075142

As I wondered on the walkway along the top of the cliffs in an area known as Kangaroo Point I took these photos.  Kangaroo Point is on the south side of the Brisbane River looking towards the city and central business district.

This is a beautiful location with so many things you can do.  You can walk or ride a bike from Southbank across the river, you can go up and down the steep stairs for exercise, you can have a picnic or BBQ next to the river or on top of the cliffs, using the free gas bbq’s and picnic tables and chairs, you can rock-climb outdoors, kayak, abseil, roller-blade and more. Daytime or nighttime are both beautiful here with the city lights or sun.

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After your walk, if you feel like stopping for a coffee or refreshments, there is a great Café  with these stunning views overlooking the river and Brisbane city.

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Probably the best view of  Brisbane city.  It’s so easy to access, by bus, river cat, ferry or car.

In the Heart of Ferrara – Majestic Castle

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Situated in the centre of the city of Ferrara, you cannot miss this great medieval castle which is surrounded by a large moat. The Castello Estense is a large block with four corner towers.

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During my 2 day stay in Ferrara we visited this fairy tale castle. We thought we might have a short visit, but were soon rapt by the history and magnificence of the place itself and were inside for an entire morning. There is almost too much to take in on one visit: there is so much to see and read. I’d like to give a special mention to the quality of the information boards in English. The writing, the explanations, the translation were all superb – and the information boards were at the perfect height.
Highlights for us included the dungeons, the ‘archaeology room’, the kitchens (and the explanations about the role of the Scalco), the frescoes (made accessible by vast, expertly placed mirrors), the documents, maps and illuminated books.

It is very interesting to get different aspects of how life was like in the medieval days outside Florence (and the Medici’s). The Este family was the ruler of Ferrara and this was their home. The castle is not too big and exhausting so well worth a visit. Besides, it’s a stunning building in itself. It was absolutely worth the visit. The ticket price is 8€ for adults, plus 2 € if you wish to see the Torre dei Leoni as well with great view to the city.

This fabulous building and the exhibits give you a real understanding of the importance of the Este family to Ferrara, as well as insights into life in the Renaissance (and earlier) in Italy.

The Castle Estense is the most imposing of Ferrara’s Renaissance buildings, worthy of being the city’s symbol. Surrounding this huge structure is a moat filled with pea-soup green water, which is aerated – fortunately. The city tourist office is inside, just off the courtyard decorated with cannonballs.


Touring the castle involves clambering up rough brick herringbone ramps. To access the prison, which is one large room, we had to stoop through a doorway less than five feet high.


We got a good view from the deck, which was just beyond a conservatory where potted orange trees were already bearing ripe fruit.


Castello Estense is an absolute ‘must visit’ when you are in Ferrara and is at the very heart of Ferrara’s history throughout the ages. If you want to know about Ferrara, visit here first, it is all there!

Our Trip to Australian Tea Estate – Madura in Murwillumbah NSW.

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We left Brisbane early for our trip down south to Northern NSW. After about 90 minutes we stopped at Chinderah for a morning tea break by the Tweed River.  Then we continued another 30 mins west towards Clothiers Creek/Murwillumbah.

 

 

Nestled in the rainforests in the hinterland north of Byron Bay is the Madura Tea Plantation which is set on 30 acres of rich pasture land that was once a cattle farm. This unique Australian family business is the only tea plantation in the world that grows, harvests, packages and distributes its 100% Australian grown tea.

 

 

Upon arrival at the plantation we were warmly greeted by a lady named Rose who was in fact our guide and was born for the job she does. Our first stop was to visit the actual estate where the tea is grown. Rose explained to us that these tea bushes/shrubs are part of the camellia family which is so apparent when you see the shape of the leaves. The bushes are harvested every 9 – 14 days just taking off the tips of each plant. This well kept tea estate is planted over rolling hills with superb outlook and is surrounded by Australian native trees and wildlife.

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Rose had all the facts and figures. She was more than happy to take photos for people and answer everybody’s questions. She explained the process of growing tea, processing it and the differences between black, green and white tea which was fascinating. We also learned how to make each tea, the temperature of the water and how long to infuse the leaves to deliver the best flavour.

 

 

 

 


For the modest $7 entrance fee this was so well worth it. Although I am a tea drinker I had no idea how tea grew or what was involved between planting it and buying it in the supermarket but I now have a new appreciation of the work it takes and the process. We also received a lovely hessian bag with tea samples and were able to purchase items in the shop, including some special flavours not available in supermarkets.

 


It was a very well run tour and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Very good value for money as well as educational and a great morning out in heavenly Australian countryside.

Real Ruins of South East Asia – Mỹ Sơn

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Hidden in the Hills not far from Hoi An is this small but impressive collection of brick Hindu Temples, Mỹ Sơn, which was constructed between the 4th and the 14th century AD by the kings of Champa.  Like many historic sites around the world, Mỹ Sơn was destroyed by time and wars and after lying neglected for a long time it was rediscovered and renovated by the French in 1898. Sadly the most recent war did great damage to the complex as the Americans bombed this area knowing that the Viet Cong used it as a hiding place, mistakenly thinking that the enemy would not touch a holy site.

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We were picked up by coach with our guide  from our hotel around 8 am reaching Mỹ Sơn about 9.15. Upon arrival, we took the shuttle bus from the entrance gate to the start of the path leading to the ruins.  We then walked along this path about another 2 km in a very pleasant valley up to the temples.  The walk to and from the site itself is lovely,  through a tropical forest by a bubbling, sacred stream.


Overwhelmingly quiet, the site has a distinct feeling of history.  Also a visual memory of how close during the war they could have lost this wonderful site.

As an attraction this is definitely something different and well worth taking the time to see. We were there for about 2 hours in the morning and it was hot. You will do a reasonable amount of walking and this is not a place I would recommend visiting during the heat of the day. The best time to visit is early in the morning before it gets too hot and when it is not too busy with loads of  buses and tourists.  It is a small site which is much more pleasant with few folks around. Sun hat, water, sun block, and sunglasses were necessary for us .

 

Mỹ Sơn is a fascinating, short and easy  attraction. We were extremely impressed and highly recommend it.