Southern Thailand adventure.

So I decided at short notice that I needed to experience something a little different.  Somewhere I haven’t been before and, that would open my eyes to a culture unlike any I’ve seen before.  After considering, and weighing up my options, I decided Thailand would be the place.

The following week I was touching down in Bangkok.  Little did I know that as soon as I said my thank you’s to the Airline staff and stepped out the door that i would be greeted by a sweet, hot and slightly overwhelming smell of humidity (with a little air pollution mixed in for extra goodness).  As I made my way through the terminal, the corridors seemed to stretch on forever.  I found it easier to quicken the pace and walk along the level travelators conveniently placed through the terminal wings.

Within 20 minutes of leaving the plane, the fact I was in another world dawned on me.  I didn’t know the language, nor could I read the signs hanging from the roof and walls.  Following everyone else, I passed through customs and found my luggage ( a “great Outdoors” 70l pack I borrowed from my brother).

Seeing as I was joining a group tour, organised through G Adventures and having prearranged hotel transfers, I walked aimlessly through the terminal looking for my name or a sign that indicated something.  Eventually I found it.  I was told that we were waiting on one more person, and to come sit behind the barrier.  By now the temperature was getting to me seeing as I was dressed for a Melbourne winter and hadn’t had opportunity to change into something a lot cooler.  After 45 minutes, the driver advised me the other passenger wasn’t coming.  I followed the driver (who couldn’t understand English at all) to the underground carpark, packed my bag into he rear and climbed into the welcomed air conditioned Toyota Aurion.

The trip to the hotel lasted a staggering hour, and I was suffering a little from a combination of exhaustion and hunger.  The heat didn’t help either (Melbourne was un the lower single figures when I left).

Arriving at the hotel, I checked into my room at the Bangkok Central Hotel (see my other blog regarding this hotel), and was shown to my room.  I polished off the two bottles of complimentary water and decided going to be on an empty stomach was the plan.  I had after all two nights before leaving on tour with the group, so I’d relax into a nice complimentary breakfast in the morning.  I set my alarm and hit the hay.

Day 1.  Bangkok

I woke to the air conditioner belting out a nice 22 degrees, dressed in shorts and a t’shirt and headed down to breakfast.   Handing over the voucher to the always smiling waitress, I found a table, immediately navigated to the coffee machine where I punched in the option for Latte.  The continental breakfast I was looking forward to indulging in, and what I had pictured in my mind, couldn’t have been more different to what i was looking at.  The baked beans looked like lentils in a watery tomato paste, the eggs were a very pale yellow and the sausages were all cut to look like some sort of flower.  I tried  a little bacon, which fell apart as I picked it up fell into a dry crumbling mess – “I think I’ll pass on the bacon”.  I did try (or at least put on my plate) most things except the bacon, but in the end had two pieces of toast.  I knew this was going to be an eye opener of a trip.

After returning to my room to get my camera (GoPro) I attempted to go out for an exploratory walk.  I returned just an hour later.  Hot, bothered and realising I would need a little local help.  I asked the reception for assistance and was shown to a taxi driver.  The driver ion fact was contracted to the hotel and had been driving from this hotel for the past 30 years.  I climbed into a volvo, which happened to be the only car the driver had ever driven, and was his first car bought brand new 30 years ago.  The air conditioning worked well, as did the additional house fan modified to run on 12v that was literally bolted to the dashboard.  All good though.

The driver was friendly and after battling traffic that seemed to have to direction or rules, we arrived at Wat Pho (a Buddhist temple complex in the Phra Nakhon District).  Wat Pho is home to the famous “reclining Buddha” built in 1832 by King Rama III.things.slide.44.jpg

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Wat Pho is the oldest and largest Buddhist temple in Thailand is an incredible sight that you just cannot miss if you ever go to Bangkok.  The entrance cost to the temple is just 100 Baht ($3.80 Australia).

I spent approx an hour walking around the temple of Wat Pho, lost in awe and amazement at the detail that has gone into something on a scale this big.  I had to see more.  So I left and jumped into a Tuk Tuk where for just 80 Baht the driver was happy to show me around a few more temples in Bangkok.  Deal I thought, so away we went.  Being my first ride in a Tuk Tuk I felt excitement and fear.  I hoped this man in front of me, who had my life in his hands, knew what he was doing.  The traffic after all was complete madness.  I reserved myself to thinking that if this were to be it, I’d have to control over the fact, and I might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

I was taken to the Golden Buddha and followed by the Standing Buddha.  Both very impressive also.

Then out of nowhere we arrived at “Bangkok Fashion”.  This stop was the reason the trip was so cheap.  Tuk Tuk drivers in Bangkok are usually on someones payroll.  Somewhere they take an unsuspecting tourist (such as myself) to buy goods.  In this case it was a suit/shirt and Tie shop.  I walked into the shop, and made the mistake of touching a shirt.  Out of nowhere came three salesmen impeccably dressed, force selling me into buying a suit, shirt, belt or pair of shoes.  Politely saying no doesn’t help,  and I found myself forcing my way out of the door to the complete disgust of the salesmen.  Back into the Tuk Tuk and straight to Kao San Road, where I was informed this is where all the action happens, and they were right.  Thousands upon thousands of obvious tourists wandering around aimlessly between street traders, tiny hidden laneways filled with everything you could expect, massage parlours, bars and restaurants.  Wow. !!!

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After walking up and down, window shopping like a king, and being offered tailor made suits by everyone, fried scorpions and wooden musical frogs, I decided my feet were tired and a tank filled with flesh eating fish caught my eye.  I had to give it a go.

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after a quick was, my feet were plunged into the pool where hundreds of tiny fish start nibbling at my toes.  It doesn’t hurt at all, more of a ticklish sort of aggravation that after a minute becomes quite relaxing.  No, none of the fish died as a result of eating my feet, and after 15 minutes I was ready for a massage.  I had opted for a fish & massage package costing just 250 Baht.  The Thai Massage I received was great.  The masseuse was skilled and the deep tissue massage was exactly what I needed after lugging my bags around.  Yes, it was just a standard Thai Massage, nothing more nothing less, but there wouldn’t  be any issues for someone looking for extras, especially not in Bangkok.  I wasn’t there for that type of holiday.

Later that afternoon I met the tour group I was to spend the next 9 days with.  I was happy to see a diverse group of travellers from countries such as Germany, USA, Italy, Poland, Switzerland, England to name a few.  That night I was sharing my room with Martin, a single traveller from Germany.  Nice bloke.  As the group had already spent a week or two together, and I was joining in half way through their full tour, Anne-Sophie ( a French lady who lives in England), Stefan (an Italian man who lives in Sydney) and myself along with “Set” our guide, headed out to dinner.  Let me tell you, Thai Red Curry, in Thailand, when ordered medium hot, is not medium at all.  My eyes were sweating, my hands were shaking, and the bolt remained untouched for the rest of our dining experience.  Luckily I also ordered Massaman Curry, which was amazing.  Stefan, with a thick Italian accent and a beard most lumber jacks would be jealous of, sat there with his Green Thai Curry, unsure if to even smell it after seeing my reaction to my Thai Red Curry.  Twisting the ends of his equally impressive moustache, he dived in and made it half way through his meal before calling it.  Anne-Sophie did great.  Back to the hotel for a well deserved sleep.

Day 2.  Bangkok

Meeting a few of my fellow tour participants in the hotel restaurant for breakfast, I decided against going and seeing the same temples I’d seen yesterday and opted for a walk to the Bangkok Asian Markets with Stefan (The Italian).   About 45 minutes after leaving the foyer we arrived at the markets.  Had it not have been for the literally thousand of people on the sidewalks, the walk would have taken just 15 minutes, but this is Bangkok.  The markets were amazing.  You could by just about anything from latest technology to fresh lentils, meat, flax hats….everything.  I struggled with the crowds though, and locals had no problems riding their scooters through the people trying to walk and avoid delivery carts etc.  An experience is what I wanted and its exactly what I got.

bangkok-market

Tonight was a night of getting to know the group, and there’s no better way than to have a night out.  Where else could we go other than Koh San Road !   We got a great deal on 3 Tuk Tuks which raced each other to the infamous street for a night of drinking and partying.

Starting off with dinner and cocktails at Super Flow a restaurant bar that comes complete with a sand beach area, open air dance floor, live music/DJ and enough room to comfortably house many hundred revellers.  There was also free wifi (like most places in Bangkok), so while several photos were uploaded clear up some space on the trusty mobile, the group chatted and got to know each other.

After Super Flow we found ourselves at one of many roof top bars.  The rooftop bar had a band playing covers that were just brilliant.  With a Thai influence to the music, a makeshift drum kit made out of boxes, tins and pots, the lead singer belted out songs straight out of the “Greatest Rock n Roll Album of all times” play list.  The bourbons I was drinking were luke warm as the bar didn’t have any fridges or coolers, and I refused to have ice in my drinks as it was just sitting in buckets behind the bar and I couldn’t tell if it were from treated water or not.  A lot of tourists fall sick after a night out, not realising the untreated water using in the ice, gives them a case of the runs. The group ended the night at one of the many nightclubs, where we were enticed through the door by the promise of a free cocktail (almost straight alcohol).  Lots of clubs offer a free beer bucket or cocktail bucket upon entering, but without seeing them made, and hearing nightmare stories about people being poisoned by backyard alcohol, we decided against the buckets.

Day 4 – Bangkok to Surat Thani (over night train)

Meeting earlier than we should have, seeing how most or the group were feeling after a night out, we checked out of the Hotel and found a seat at a backpackers hostel a couple of doors down for an Eastern styled breakfast (Hamburger and coffee), relaxing was what was on the agenda until we checked into the Bangkok Train Station ready for our 12 hour, overnight train ride ending at Surat Thani.

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Stocking up on Mosquito spray, sunscreen and snacks for the trip down the peninsula, we were all passed a ticket for the train, and entered the concourse.

Climbing on the Orient Express, I couldn’t help but think about what a sleeper might be like.  I pictured a cabin for two, closed off with a door and a corridor down one side of the train.  I thought it would have two big glass windows (openable) and a table between two bunk styled beds.  Seconds after I climbed aboard, turned left, I saw something different.

This isn’t to bad, I caught myself saying outloud.  We were told to keep out day packs handy i.e. always with you as there may be thieves (opportunists that live a whole year on what we spent last night on drinks alone) that might take advantage of loose items.  I tied my pack into the rails of the ladder next to me and positioned the zipper on the bed side, and relaxed.  A trip to the trains toilet, of which we had to purchase our own toilet paper as the train didn’t cater for this, gave me a little laugh.

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There was no flush and the waste fell straight down onto the tracks below, had me realising that all those that those who used to toilet prior to leaving the station, left their wast sitting on the tracks at the platform in the station.  Yuck. !!!

Looking out the window as we departed through the suburbs of Bangkok, you get a true understanding of life in Bangkok is really like for its citizens.  The impossible amount of traffic, the lack of space and growing up in the way the children do, you understand why the countries religion plays such a huge part, and is the nominal reason people are happy just to be alive.

Sleeping on the train wan’t that bad actually.  The noise the carriage made meant you didn’t hear anyone snoring, the bed was only just long enough to allow a full stretch, and the ability to look out the window (if you had a bottom bed position) meant I was able to rise early and see the sun come up through the tropical forest that at times looked as it were about to swallow the tracks.  Small farming shacks and plantations gave way to small villages and eventually roads and the train station at Surat Thani.

Day 5 – Surat Thani, Khao Sok & Khao Sok National Park

Leaving the train, we all piled into a cafe across the road from the train station for breakfast and a briefing.  Breakfast for me consisted of scrambled eggs on toast and a Flat White coffee.  As they didn’t know how to make an Flat White, I got a cup of warm milk and a double expresso, which I mixed into the milk and grimaced as I drank, but what the hell, it was coffee, and I needed caffeine.

A bus trip for an hour and we came across a huge man made lake – Cheow Lan Lake.   Cheow Lan Lake was made when a 165 sq Km basin was flooded back in 1982 to assist in the countries water supply and power generation.  The people of Ban Chiew Lan village were resettled and  the resettlement of animals took place by boat and helicopter to prevent them from drowning or starving on new created islands when the basin was flooded creating this amazing lake.  The lake is lined with towering limestone cliffs and evergreen rain forest jungle, the national park area has a large range of mammals such as tigers, elephants, tapirs and many monkey species. Birds such as hornbills, banded pittas and great argus are as well forest residents. If your lucky you might see reptiles like the king cobra, reticulated python, and flying lizards.

cheow lan lake.jpgThe group piled into a long boat, that had an engine on the back that looked like it was ripped straight from a car, and we powered towards the far side of the lake.   Talking turns standing at the bow of The boat for photographs, we moved between limestone pillars that must have easilY been 300 feet tall, making you realise how deep the water was beneath the boat.

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Arriving at our destination, luxury comes to mind.  The entire restaurant, including vast decking and attached individual accommodation shacks were floating and the backdrop of limestone cliffs and tropical virgin rainforest made the hard seats of the wooden boat worth the trip.

Taking kayaks out on the lake as we waited for lunch to be prepared, the group enjoyed the warm water temperatures, the fresh water and of course the views.  My GoPro paid for itself with some great photos and video.

After a lunch of fresh fish, caught from the late and a large selection of traditional Thai food, we all make the trip back across the lake to the bus (took forever, and my ass was so sore from the wooden seat), we drove for a further 2 hours where we arrived at The Khao Sok Rainforest Resort for the night.  Apart from a shower that ran as slow as a leaking tap, the resort was deep within the rainforest and the sounds of monkeys, gecko’s and a nearby river was all that could be heard.

See, our tour leader gathered the group after we’d settled into our rooms and took us for a walk into the Khao Sok National park.  Climbing a nearby tree to gather the hanging fruit, we tried the sweet produce as we walked through rubber plantations towards the park entrance.

Stepping into the park the daylight all but disappeared, covered by the super thick vegetation that has no doubt been growing well before dinosaurs walked the earth.  The mosquito’s were relentless, even piercing through our clothes, we saw wild frogs that were just as curious of us, and hanging vines which reminded me of the original “The Jungle Book”.  Luckily Sherkon the tiger, didn’t appear !!

At dinner that night, the small native bats circling our heads talk was little as exhaustion of a full on day hold of everyone.  That night approx 300mm of rain fell, and it was obvious in the level rise of the river which was now thundering. Yep, I’m in Thailand !!

Day 6 – Khao Sok to Ko Samui

Another 4 hours on the bus hurtling through the Southern Thai countryside, past construction sites which used bamboo as scaffolding, small towns and amazing rainforest with limestone cliffs protruding from the foliage,  we arrived at the Ko Samui ferry for our 2 hr ferry trip to the island paradise.

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The Ferry ride is something I prepared for hours prior.  2 years in the Navy taught me that I need motion sickness tablets to be able to survive even a 35 minute trip in a boat, so I happily popped my travel sickness tablets.

The ferry was a large aptly named “Speed Ferry” that blasted through the sea toward Ko Samui.  Everyone was in high spirits knowing that were finally heading for a tropical setting where beach parties, bars and nightlife were world recognised.  The open sea gave way to island coastline which were dotted by small beach huts and resorts that made me decide to one day return and stay in.

The Ferry gave way to a couple of vans that were employed to transport up across the island to our accomodation at The Avenue Samui Chaweng.  The van looked more like a nightclub than a van, with lasers and lightship to rival any Melbourne Taxi.

The Hotel was air conditioned (Yes!!!!), clean and modern.  Tonight I had a room to myself, and made full use of the large room.

Dinner was at the Ko Samui market place, a large open dining area with cuisine choices from all over the world, not to mention bars.  Its here you see that Ko Samui is a very affluent place, with people from every nook and granny of the globe.  Ko Samui does have a large Russian population which is evident by the flawless Russian ladies and hulking Russian minders close by.

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Ladyboys are everywhere, and at times everywhere you don’t see. Better to assume they’re a ladyboy than to be surprised later if your that way inclined and on that sort of holiday.

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After dinner, a walk to the Ko Samui beach to check out the action.  Its truely an 18+ playground, with beach bars surrounded by resorts cast lasers and lights out into the surf.  Music pumps loud enough that the fishermen on the boats over 1km out must be partying as they catch fish for the resorts dinners the following night.  We found a reasonably quiet bar, where we pulled up seats in front a guy getting a neck tattoo completed while his young Thai girlfriend watched on.

Another late night,  beer tower and a few cocktails later, the night closed in.

Day 7 – Ko Samui

A free day to explore Ko Samui saw me and several others relaxing and exploring the beach.  From the hotel, the beach was only a 10 minute walk during which your bombarded by vans driving past advertising Kick Boxing matches and taxi’s beeping their horns at you hoping for a fare.

It seems no matter what time it is, in Ko Samui, its always happy hour.  A mid morning cocktail on the beach was the perfect start of a relaxing day.   Stefan, Martin (a German) and I enjoyed a couple of cocktails before walking along the beach taking in the view.

Finding a shadowed spot under a tree (If you want a seat or sun umbrella, it costs you 200 Baht for the day – nothings for free in Thailand).  Soon after rolling the towel out beach sellers arrive trying to sell bracelets, sunglasses (150 baht for a “genuine” pair of RayBans) and tattoos.  Theres also the other side of beach life.  The guy with the tattoo book flicked to a page where a handwritten list showed what else he was selling – Esctacy, Cocaine, MDMA, LSD…. all of which I declined politely, another man selling sarongs and towels arrived, after he offered the towels the real reason he was there became apparent when he uncovered a bag of magic mushrooms in his had – “Magic Mushroom, whoop whoop” he announced.  “Sorry but no thanks mate” saw him on his way.  This happens constantly throughout the day.

samui8 This was on a wall near the  beach

We ran into some of the others, had a swim and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.

After dinner on the beach again, we all headed into town to check out the night markets.  There was all sorts of similar items for sale to what we’d seen throughout the beginning of our trip, but it was good to see regardless.  Dodging the ladyboys, GoGo bar door people offering incentives to come in ( a far cry from the power tripping bouncers of Melbourne (sorry, security personnel) that try to keep male patrons out of their bars), and my feet were caning.

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Day 8 – Koh Samui to Koh Tao Island

Back to the Ko Samui port and on another ferry to Koh Tao Island, and other several sea sickness pills for good measure.   2 hours later, we arrived at the even smaller port on Koh Tao Island.   Exiting the ferry we made our way to the even more appropriate hotel transfer service, an open sided safari type van.   But not all of us fitted so a ute was commissioned for the over flow.  A fun trip was had by all.

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Soo we were entering the most resort type accomodation we’d had so far on this holiday.  We stayed at Koh Tao Seashell Resort, a beach front resort consisting of 49+ rooms, swimming pools, spa, Dive school and tours. All 49+ rooms provide bar fridges and coffee/tea facilities. They have free WiFi, TVs with satellite channels and of curse, free bottled water.  There is a beach front Hotel restaurant (with free wifi also) and attached bar.

From the balcony of the restaurant, we were exposed to one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve seen.  I recommend anyone staying here to grab some dinner, one, two or several drinks and just sit and enjoy natures display.  A cloudy night wouldn’t matter but may enhance the experience.

After watching the sun disappear beneath the horizon, and one or two more drinks consumed we walked along the road ( less width than a conventional lane) while dodging motorcycles towards some of the other resorts and bars.  Coming across a few pool bars, filled with 20-40 yr olds (imagine the water quality) and a few souvenir shops, restaurants, cafes and bars, we made our way down to the beach.  Knowing that tomorrow we had a full day of snorkelling around the island, a massive night wasn’t on the agenda.  We did happen to walk past most of the beach bars and quietly each one of us were trying to map out a plan of attack for tomorrow night.

 

Day 9 – Koh Tao island – snorkelling

Early to rise meant a 7am alarm and meeting for everyone at reception (a wooden building that was obviously made by hand, and simply beautiful) after a quick breakfast.  Piling into a ute and a van, we arrived at the tour operators shop, were fitted up with a mask and snorkel and onto a small wooden boat that also looked like it were hand made.  I’m glad I popped more sea sickness pills with breakfast.

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The trip around the front of the island was calm and picturesque.  As soon as we rounded the point the waves picked up and the boat rocked like a theme park ride.  I kept my eyes on the horizon to ward off any inkling of a case of “green gills”.  25 minutes after setting off we arrived into a sheltered cove, and were directed to head towards the rocks.  It was time to get wet.

Several hours later and several more coves we had but all been snorkelled out.  We has a prefaced lunch provided by the tour operator, and headed to a small island described as a treat.  The treat was a small outer island called Nang Yuan Island.  In fact its actually three tiny islands joined buy a coral sand bar.  Usually entry fee is 100 Baht, but we were all comped entry as part of our tour.  All plastic bottles are prohibited on the island so if you get thirsty, a pretty sure bet, you’ll need to buy drinks at the island bar.  We did just that.  Especially after climbing the thousand odd steps to the island look out point.  Well worth the hike.

 

Returning back to Ko Tao port, the wind picked up and boy did the boat rock.  Feeling happy and confident that my sea pills were working, looking around my group, it was obvious not everyone were confident in their ability to keep their lunch down.  It wasn’t until we actually docked that the supposed most sea equipped person ( a proficient advanced SCUBA diver ) did the ‘Ol bend and check out the bottom’ off the side of the boat.

Refreshed from our snorkelling day, yeah right, and our last night on the island, a night out was in order.  And boy what a night.  We were all privileged to see a fire dancing show, and partied so hard that Martin lost his shoes, I did a poor attempt at pole dancing on one of the roof support poles, and we all laughed and had an amazing night.  Exactly what we needed after taming Ko Tao’s torturous seas aboard a leaky wooden boat.

Day 10 – Ko Tao Island – Bangkok

Checking out of there hotel on the final morning, after breakfast we had a couple of hours to fill.  After a little souvenir shopping, there was nothing left than to get a Thai Oil Massage (when in Thailand they say ) to finish things off.  And no, not that sort of ending either !!!

After a quick trip to the ferry, another 2 hr ferry trip, we found ourselves back on the overnight train back to Bangkok.  Funnily enough it was exactly the same as the first train trip, but in reverse.  This time however we stopped at a very interesting restaurant in Surat Thani.  This place really struck a chord with me as the layout, decor and staff, not to mention Thailands Greatest Rock n Roll Cover songs belting out game the place a relaxing and welcoming feel.  The back of the restaurant housed a Kickboxing ring, kick bags and speed balls.  The walls had ornaments that ranged between Native American headwear, Cowboy hats and of course drum kit and stage ready for an impromptu music night.  Oh and the meals were good too.

 

 

Day 11 – Bangkok farewells

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This was it.  We all departed from the Bangkok train station, wrestled our bags back to a cafe near the Bangkok Centre Hotel.  We all sat, reminiscing about the experiences we’ve all shared, new friendships we’ve made and of course had one last cocktail.  We had a delightful speech by Sea, our travel guide ( CEO – Chief Experience Officer) who along with G Adventures put on yet another ( This is my second tour with them) amazing travel experience.  Thanking Sek, saying goodbye to everyone always seems to take forever.  The last of the group staying an extra couple of nights like myself, made the last plans to catchup over drinks – at a true rooftop bar ( 30 something stories up ).  Jade, Anne-Sophie and I sat up in the clouds looking down on Bangkok skyline, and enjoyed the last several hours of what is another lifetime experience.

Sitting here writing this blog, to share a memorable experience with you all.  I am reminded of the happy people of Thailand, many of who have very little in life, but yet, are soo happy, and how life isn’t about everything, everything is about life.   Very little matters in the great scheme of things except just being happy and appreciative about being alive, and experiencing all that life has to offer.

 

Below is a video I made of the whole experience.  Enjoy  🙂

 

 

Thanks G Adventures for another great tour.    G Adventures

 

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