Faces of the Chao Phraya

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The under belly of King Taksin Bridge from Sathorn Pier where we boarded the Chao Phraya Express Boat to Wat Arun.

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Enroute to Wat Arun, I spotted this very interesting & inviting  riverside home.

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Some other houses on stilts along the Chao Phraya.

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Colourful long-tail Boat Taxis plying the Chao Phraya river. Lower Chao Phraya underwent several man-made modifications during the Ayutthaya Period (1351-1767) where shortcut canals were constructed to bypass large loops in the river, thereby shortening the travel time of ships carrying goods from the capital city to the sea.

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In Bangkok the Chao Phraya river is a major artery  for a nework of transportation that includes river buses, cross-river ferries & water taxis or long tails. More than 15 boat lines operate on the rivers & canals of the city & it is definitely one way to beat the horrendous traffic jams on the roads especially during peak hours.

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Wat Arun, Temple of Dawn is a Buddhist temple sitting on the Thonburi west bank of the Chao Phraya River. An important landmark in Thailand, it is beautiful especially in the mornings when the first light is reflected on the surface of the temple creating a pearly iridescence. This temple was built during the 17th century but the spires were later additions  built during the reign of King Rama II in the early 19th century.

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Sunset over the Chao Phraya River. This river is about 372km long & it starts in the North at Nakhon Sawan Province at the confluence of two rivers the Ping & Nan & flows from the central plains to Bangkok & finally out to the Gulf of Thailand.

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The Somdet Phra Pin-klao Bridge is just one of the many major bridges that cross the Chao Phraya. Others include the Rama VI railroad bridge, Phra Pin-klao near the Grand Palace, Rama VIII a single tower asymmetrical cable-stayed bridge, Rama IX a semi-symmetrical cable stayed bridge & Mega Bridge on the Industrial Ring Road.

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  Along the Chao Phraya River from the north to the south, cities have sprung up due to their access to the waterway. The many tributaries of the river delta are interconnected by canals that serve irrigation & transportation purposes.                                                                                                  A  romantic light envelops Bangkok as the evening fades into the night & we anticipate a lovely dining & wining experience at Asiatique Riverfront.             

It may come as a surprise to many who have been to Bangkok & crossed the Chao Phraya countless times to be unaware that the river is actually 372km long; that the Chao Phraya Watershed covers an extensive area of 157,924 sq km or about 35% of the country of Thailand & over 280 species of fish live in the waters of the Chao Phraya basin.

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No need to Crane your necks!

 

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This was one of the highlights of my road trip to Kyushu & certainly a day that held much anticipation. I read about the migratory birds in one of the webpages & thought what a cool idea it was to see them  even though I am not much of a bird-watcher. Over 10,000 cranes make their annual southbound journey between mid Oct to Dec from Siberia & these amazing birds remain here till around Mar every year.

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As we approached the padi-fields of Arasaki in Izumi City of Kagoshima Prefecture, things seemed kind of quiet in this sleepy farming town. The autumn crops have just been harvested so I was surprised to see the fields water-logged. Apparently this was done deliberately for the cranes, as they roost standing in shallow waters in the rice fields at night.

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We parked at the large parking area right in front of the Crane Observation Center which was mostly empty & I figured it was a little inaccessible for most tourists unless you drive. On this notice board, the center has the actual figures of the different bird life spotted on that day. The total headcount was an astounding 15,360 with the majority of them Hooded Cranes standing at 14,907. How do they actually keep count of the flying birds, I wonder?

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It was said that the cranes started to arrive on this site around 1700 after the reclamation project in Arasaki by the Satsuma Domain & Shimazu Domain;  which were administrative units during the Edo Shogunate.

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This area was registered as a natural monument & sanctuary in 1921 & is one of Japan’s largest wintering places for cranes. Subsquently in 1952 the Izumi migration grounds was designated a special natural monument.

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I tried to get closer to the cranes to capture some shots but the warden kept a watchful eye & I was advised to keep off the fields which was out-of-bounds. The cranes are protected & given ‘space’ so as to keep them coming back to this safe wintering haven.

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Bird watchers take delight in observing the cranes as they engage in activities such as pecking for food, grooming their feathers & even dancing. Cranes feed mostly on aquatic creatures which they quietly stalk through the shallows.

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The total area of this migration grounds is 254 ha & most of the cranes here are the Hooded Cranes(Grus monacha) which are the smallest in species. They breed in south-central & south-eastern Siberia & over 80% of its population winters at Izumi, Japan.  Some sightings of them have been made in South Korea & China.

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These amazing Hooded Cranes are about 1m long, weight approximately 3.7kg & have a wing span of 1.87m. Soaring high, flying free!                                                                                              Herons & cranes do have a great semblance but Herons fly with the necks bent & head tucked in whilst the Cranes fly with necks outstretched like a goose & its long legs trailing behind as seen here. Cranes are monogamous & can live up to 30 years in the wild & 60 years in captivity.

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This shot was taken from the 3rd floor of the Crane Observation Center which offers a 360° panoramic view of the site for a small token of ¥210. On the 2nd floor is a smallish museum with some photo exhibits & information on these migratory birds plus a telescope that would give you a close up magnification of the cranes.

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The various species that can be observed here besides the Hooded Crane are White-necked Cranes, Common Cranes & sometimes Sandhill Cranes, Siberian Cranes & the rarer Demoiselle Cranes. They forage in the day for grain that has been scattered in the rice fields to feed them & may take off in smaller groups across Izumi but would return at night to the safety of the roosting ground near the Crane Observation Center.

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(From Left to Right) The Aosagi (literally Blue Heron in Japanese) is the Grey Heron; Kosagi the Little Egret, a species of small Heron from the Ardeidae family. Magamo or Mallard a dabbling duck; Tageri (Vanellus vanellus) the Lapwing, a wading bird that can be seen on cultivated land, marshes, mud flats & estuaries. Nabe Zuru the Hooded Crane is endangered as it faces major threats like the loss of wetlands & degradation of wintering grounds in China & South Korea due to reclamation for development & dam building. The last one in line is the Manazuru or White-naped Crane which breeds mainly in Russia, Northeast China & Northeastern Mongolia.

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The Orizuru or Paper Crane is the most classic of Japanese Origami. It is a representation of the Japanese Red-Crowned Crane (Tanchozuru) which the Japanese believe carried souls to paradise on their wings.

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A thousand folded paper cranes strung together is called Senbazuru & here at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park you would see many fine examples of them. It is said that a thousand cranes need to be made for a wish to come true.

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Orizuru is often associated with the story of Sadako Sasaki who lived in Hiroshima at the time of the atomic bombing. She was just 2 years old when the “Little Boy” was dropped on 6th Aug 1945. At the age of 12, it was discovered that she had developed leukaemia due to radiation exposure & was told that she would not  have much time left. Her friend advised her to fold origami paper cranes in the hope that her wish to live would come true.

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Sadly, Sadako passed away on 25th Oct 1955 & her friends & schoolmates published a collection of letters to raise funds for a memorial to her & all the children who died from the effects of the atomic bomb. So here is the Statue of Sadako unveiled in 1958, holding a golden crane’s wings at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (Genbaku Dome)

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A Grey Heron(Ardea cinerea) Aosagi in flight. This long-legged predatory wading bird is native throughout temperate Europe,  Asia & parts of Africa. Spotted this bird at Sakurajima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture.

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Smooth landing! The Grey Heron belongs to the Heron family Ardeidae & it is a bird of wetland areas & can be seen around lakes, rivers, ponds, marshes & on the sea-coast. They feed on aquatic creatures & can be a metre tall & weigh in at between 1 to 2 kg.

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Grey Heron perched on the pier railings of Sakurajima Island, attracted to the small bucket of bait that the anglers were using to fish.

This has been one happy adventure for me. I now better understand  why the crane especially the Red-crowned Crane is referred to as the “Honourable Lord Crane” in Japan.  This popular & beloved bird is featured in artworks & kimono motifs, used as a logo of Japan Airlines & ubiquitous in all things Japanese. Fabled to live for a thousand years, the white feathered, soaring & graceful crane is a national symbol of longevity & good fortune.

You do not have to look very hard nor crane your necks to see cranes here in Kagoshima Prefecture if you come to Arasaki between late Nov & Mar or catch the Tanchozuru up North in Hokkaido at The Kushiro Marshland (Kushiro Shitsugen), best seen in winter when they gather at the winter feeding sites.

The World Above Dubrovnik

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A short 5 mins ride on the Dubrovnik Cable Car took us up to Mount Srđ but the 10mins walk we took from the Stradun towards Buža Gate crossing a parking lot, was a bit more challenging with lots of steep stairs leading to the cable car station on Ulica kraija Petra Krešimira IV. This is apparently the quickest route but it left quite a few of us huffing & puffing! There are two other ways to get to the cable car via Pile or Ploče Gates taking about 8-12mins walking around & behind the city walls.

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This cable car system was first constructed in1969 & it scales a steep incline of 412m high up over the old walled town of Dubrovnik. There was a  disruption in service during the War of Independence (1991-1995) & these gleaming orange cable cars operating since 2010 have transported millions of visitors who wanted to catch a glimpse of the beautiful panoramic view of Dubrovnik & the surrounding areas.

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We savoured both the magnificent view & Coffee paired with a delicious Apple Crumble Pie at Restaurant Panorama which overlooks Lokrum Island, the Adriatic Sea & the Old Town of Dubrovnik.

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Mount Srđ was in the thick of action during the 1991-1995 Croatian War of Independence & home to one of the fiercest battle, namely the Siege of Dubrovnik where the southern slope once rich with pine trees were completely gutted by fire.

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It takes between 1hr 30mins to 2 hrs to hike up Mount Srđ on a well defined trail to Fort Imperial. Along the way there are outdoor sculptures depicting the Stations of the Cross & a final panel of Christ being laid in a tomb.

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This 20m high  White Procession Cross  & altar was rebuilt after it was destroyed during the 1991-1995 Croatian War of Independence. A gift from the Archdiocese of Brac (an island located between Spilt & Hvar), it was made from pure white limestone that was quarried there. Apparently the limestone used in the White House in Washington D.C. was also acquired from Brac.

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Mount Srđ was once forested with oak trees which the locals called dubrava (Slavonic word dub means “oak tree”) & that was how the city got its name, Dubrovnik.

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Lokrum Island is the closest to Dubrovnik & it is a popular getaway for locals & tourists. You can catch a ferry from the Old Harbour of Dubrovnik (bottom right of the photo) which takes about 15mins & cost about €5 to get to Lokrum.

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The amazing view of Dubrovnik’s Old City from Mount Srđ. Look at the impressive stone walls & citadel that protect the city & the attractive orange terracotta rooftops.

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Looking north-west at the modern part of Dubrovnik city from Mount Srđ’s cable car station.

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A picturesque view of the Elaphiti Islands which was named after the large number of deers that used to inhabit them. The ancient Greek word for deer is elaphos & the Roman author Pliny the Elder, was the first to identify  the islands as Elaphiti Islands.

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Interestingly terraced silhouettes of the Elaphiti Islands which comprises of about 13 isles dotting Croatia’s Dalmatian Coastline. The other 3 isles closest to Dubrovnik besides Lokrum are Kolocep, Lopud & Sipan.

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The setting sun swathes the Adriatic Sea in gold & bathes Dubrovnik in a romantic sepia hue as evening approaches.

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After spending such a lovely afternoon on Mount Srđ, it is now time to get back into the Old Town for a sumptuous dinner with a toast or two to round off this beautiful day!

Dubrovnik has the honour of being called “The Pearl of the Adriatic” & this gem truly lives up to its name. It was augmented further & cast into the limelight with the TV series Game of Thrones being filmed here as well.  When you walk down the Stradun, it is like going back in time to centuries past or is it just the diehard romantic in me?

Mysterious Penglai

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Penglai belongs to Yantai County in Shangdong Province of the People’s Republic of China. Penglai Pavilion which sits atop Danya Mountain is crowned one of the “Four Famous Pavilions in China”

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This is recorded that Emperor Wu from the Han dynasty came to Shandong on several occasions seeking the ‘fairyland of Penglai’ as legend has it that this is where the 8 immortals of Chinese mythology cross the sea. 

 

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 This photo is taken near the West Gate leading to Penglai Pavilion which is part of a large complex of ancient buildings, palaces & temples which covers about 18,900sq km.

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Depicted here in a small temple are the 8 Immortals who got drunk at Penglai Pavilion before using their special powers to cross the sea.

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Numerous calligraphic works by famous writers, stone inscriptions & couplets hung on the columns of halls can be seen everywhere as it was once the literary gathering place for renowned scholars & poets.

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Not only is Penglai Pavilion a good place to witness a magical mirage, it is also a good place to catch a magnificent sun rise. 

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This charming side of Penglai Water City with the ancient fishing boats is sadly no more, instead modern motor boats & yachts which take tourists out to sea are moored here. This ancient naval base built around 1376 during the Ming dynasty is most complete & was designated a national cultural relic in 1982 along with Penglai Pavilion.

Mine’s Hidden Treasure

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I did not get accurate information on how to get to Akiyoshido Cave & the telephone no. I keyed into the GPS brought me to the Mine Tourism office instead.  Fortunately I met a young man fixing his jeep nearby & asked for directions. He went out of his way & led me to the cave’s entrance which was nearly 20mins drive away. I met a good Samaritan today!

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The distance from the parking area to the cave entrance is about 1 & a half km walk. Entrance fee to the cave is JP¥1,200 & it opens from 8:30am till 4:30pm daily.

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Emerald green waters,  beautiful moss covered rocks, a smallish waterfall & autumn colours in perfect harmony  adorning  the entrance of Aikyoshido Cave (秋芳洞).

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Akiyoshidai Plateau (秋吉台) & Akiyoshido Cave (秋芳洞) is notably Yamaguchi’s premier scenic spot & they are designated as a special natural treasure by the Japanese government. This area is a limestone plain & also a karst plateau that was formed by the movement of submarine volcanoes & the ocean plates over a span of 350 million years.

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The ground changes which formed Aikyoshidai Plateau (秋吉台) also created a huge limestone cave known as Akiyoshido Cavern (秋芳洞).  It is the largest limestone cave in Asia & it is an amazing experience as we enter here, the cave entrance Akiyoshido Iriguchi (秋芳洞入口).

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This section is known as  “One Hundred Saucers” Hyakumaizara (百枚皿) & it does resemble a whole lot of plates stacked up.

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This underground network stretches over 10km & branches out shaped like a Y,  but the route that we took was about a km long.  “The Big Mushroom” Omatsutake (大松茸).

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“Subogaki”  Straw wrapped Persimmon (苞柿) – the flowstone form what looks like strips of ‘khaki ribbons’ hence the descriptive name.

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“Thousand Rice Fields” Chimachida (千町田) where the cave takes a gradual bend bearing right & going up slope. LED lightings line the paved walk & there are sections where you have to negotiate stairways.

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The cave widens & opens up to a larger cavern which is about 100m in width & 80m in height at its highest ceiling point. The hanging stalactites in this section is known as “Hanging Umbrellas” Kasazukushi (傘尽くし) & they supposedly look like closed-up parasols hanging overhead.

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“Dry Falls” Karataki (空滝) – the semblance to a real cascading waterfall is uncanny here!

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“The Golden Pillar” Koganebashira (黄金柱) is really a sight to behold as it glows in the dark, perhaps with a little help from the lights. There is a myriad of colours at different angles of the column & it is evidently  minerals deposited over a long  time.

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A subterranean river runs through the cave & the sound of gushing waters can sometimes be heard & not seen & at this juncture a mini waterfall can be seen clearly  cascading downwards.

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We had a pleasant surprise as the Night Illumination of the Cave began just as we were about to leave when evening approached.

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“Mt Fuji of the Cave” Dounai Fuji (洞内富士). Water dripping from the ceiling formed this mount like stalagmite that resembles Mt Fuji. The vista is both beautiful & bizarre & it emanates an other-worldly vibe.

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“One Hundred Saucers” Hyakumaizara (百枚皿) awashed in rainbow hues which I like but some may find outright garish & prefer it “au naturel”. What is your take?

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Pretty reflections on the still water surface at the “Long Abyss” Nagafuchi (長淵).

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I was mesmerised by the changing hues & drawn by the peaceful atmosphere that made me  linger just a little longer – “Long Abyss” Nagafuchi (長淵)

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Exiting after spending about 90mins inside the cool cave which maintains an average temperature of 17°C throughout the year.

I thoroughly enjoyed this visit to Akiyoshido Cave to have a closer look at the speleothems which sometimes is strangely beautiful & at other times grotesque but they never fail to evoke some kind of reaction & a sense of wonderment at the beauty of nature.