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Exploring the Olympic Peninsula with Janis

Sequim Bay State Park, Hurricane ridge, Fairholme campground at Lake Crescent, Sol Duc Hot Springs, Hoh rain forest, Forks

sunny 24 °C
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The next morning, we headed north from Mt. Rainier towards the Olympic Peninsula to meet Janis. Around noon we finally managed to get a signal on the mobile phone again and got Janis’ update that she had landed well and was already on the ferry looking forward to meet us at the reserved campground in Sequim Bay State Park. Just a bit later we pulled into the state park ourselves and there she was.
Wow – we’ve seen a lot in the almost four months since leaving her place in Chicago and had many stories to tell. And Janis had lots of things to tell us as well, such that we’d have enough to talk about in the coming week.
The state park was really nice with a view towards the blue waters of Sequim Bay. As we realized down at the small beach, we’d even be able to legally catch crabs there. Well, except on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. And in addition as it’s only allowed to take male crabs, we would have needed to know how to distinguish male from female crabs… So we just admired the view and had a nice barbecue for dinner. To do so we had to borrow the neighbors’ barbecue grill, as unfortunately due to the drought the county had declared a fire ban.
The next day we started to explore Hurricane Ridge - our first venture into Olympic National Park. The ridge offered not only sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and the ocean, but also the view to one of the wildfires raging in the park. We were amazed about the sheer amounts of ash creating enormous clouds.

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As usual we popped up the roof of our camper when preparing lunch, which attracted the attention of people walking and driving by. And once again this resulted in a quick tour of the van and its multiple features. Once that mission was accomplished and we had created enough envy, it was time to explore some of the trails up on the ridge before enjoying afternoon tea (and cake) at one of Port Angeles’ skate parks.

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After one more night in Sequim Bay, we moved on to Lake Crescent. It was August 25th, the 100th birthday of the National Park Service and consequently there were several special activities taking place at the Storm King Ranger Station. Even though it was tempting to stay longer, we had a mission to accomplish: we continued to the western shore of the lake in order to set up camp at Fairholme campground. And we were lucky to still get a nice spot in what seemed to be an ancient forest adorned by giant Douglas fir, hemlock spruce, ferns and mosses.

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We immediately fell in love with the beautiful campground and it did not take long to decide that we’d extend our stay to two nights. And as it was just nice sitting at the lake shore and enjoying the view, we just moved our plan to go to Sol Duc Hot Springs to the next day.

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This allowed us to leave for Sol Duc still in the morning and before too long we found ourselves soaking in one of the hot pools. In an attempt of bravery, we went to the cool fresh water pool first, but it did not take long to realize that 72 °F is just a bit too cold for being comfortable. To warm up for a start we chose the coolest one of the hot pools at 97 °F, but before too long we also tried the 104 °F one. And yes, it was very pleasant soaking there in the sunshine in a wide forested valley.
And we even managed to take a hike along the Sol Duc River after our baths – even though we had already predicted that we might be too lazy and tired afterwards. While the hike we nice, it was not nearly as fascinating as the Grove of the Ancients Trail we on the way out of the valley. We were really impressed by the huge ancient trees – about 700-year-old sentinels mixed in with younger trees and young growth starting on the decaying trunks of fallen trees.

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After another night at Fairholme and discovering also the nice campground trail there, it was time to leave. Our next destination was Forks, the location of the ‘Twilight’ novel and movies. Presumably Forks is one of the wettest places in the continental United States. Not surprisingly, it was drizzling by the time we arrived and it was significantly colder than it had been further east.
We were not surprised – after all our day trip was to Hoh rain forest and quite obviously there needs to be a lot of rain to support a rain forest. Even though we had seen already quite a lot of ancient forests in the last days, the rain forest was really amazing: long mosses hanging down from the trees and lot of fern all over the place. Still it was most impressing to see how young trees start growing on the fallen 200+ ft. logs. What looks cute initially eventually ends with gigantic trees all standing side by side. Most of them feature big cave like openings underneath – proof for a long decayed host tree they started growing on hundreds of years ago.

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It was only after we had done our (quite expensive) shopping at the local Thriftway grocery store, that we found out two pieces of trivia about it: they claim to be located in the western most shopping center of the continental US and this is the place where Twilight character Bella works and shops.
Our next venture took us to the airport to check out the ‘Hot Thunder Night’ and were disappointed that there was absolutely nothing going on. As the BBQ place we wanted to go to did not admit anyone below 21, we had to go back towards the town center. And lucky us: otherwise we might not have realized that this was where the Hot Thunder Night took place. The main street running through town – the US 101 – was blocked off and as we approached the start of the detour, we already saw a car doing a burn out and producing big clouds of burnt rubber in the process.
We parked and had a look at this spectacle which seems to be taken straight out of an old movie scene.

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Anything from vintage car, hot rod, old pimped car, motorbike and modern pickup truck took the challenge to spin the wheels along main street under the cheer of the crowd. The excitement was big – especially for the kids who were racing towards the hot asphalt after each round.

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After we had seen enough and gaped at the donut one of the cars made instead of just going straight like everyone else, it was time to warm up and have food. We were lucky to get one of the window seats at the adjacent Chinese restaurant, such that we could continue watching the spectacle. It was a fun evening and accompanied by the sound of Queen’s ‘We will rock you’ we eventually headed home.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 07:41 Archived in USA Tagged rainforest springs park lake tree national fire hot out twilight ridge fern olympic janis Comments (2)

Empty beaches – access with 4WD only

D’Entrecasteaux NP - Black Point, Beedelup NP, Warren NP, Northcliffe, Moore’s Hut, Valley of the Giants Ecopark

rain 23 °C
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After our relaxing Christmas Holidays in Margaret River, we headed off on Boxing Day. Our first stop was Surfers Point, one of the most famous breaks along the Margaret River coast. The waves coming in were really big and there were lots of surfers tackling them. At first we were surprised how many senior surfers were in the water (or rather going in and out), but we soon realized that such kind of waves are not suitable for beginners.

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As we were sitting in the sunshine next to our Swiss friends, we did not realize that this would be the last sunshine for a while. And considering that we had sunshine almost all along, checking the weather forecast for the coming days has never become a habit.
We took the nice drive through the old jarrah forest along Boranup Drive. At the lookout, we had a nice view towards Cape Leeuwin the South-Western most point of Australia. And we realized that it did not make a lot of sense to go all the way down to the cape, as rain clouds were looming in that direction. In a sense, the bad weather was at least very helpful in our decision making, as we had not been able to make up our mind so far in regards to going to the cape or not.

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So we filled our tank and headed off to D’Entrecasteaux National Park. After all, Sam had been wanting to do some more offroad driving anyhow and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take the 4WD tracks to the campground at Black Point.
After a bit of rather normal graving road, we were in for a surprise: the road was blocked by a car that was just being loaded onto a trailer after having managed to lose a wheel in the deep sand ahead of us. We used the waiting time to let our tire pressure down and then headed on along a very beautiful, narrow one way path that eventually led us to the campground close to the beach.

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Once arrived, we were happy to get everything set up in time before the rain set in. It was really unpleasant cold rain, enhanced by mighty gusts of wind. As we were mentally prepared to just head up into the roof top tent for the remainder of the day, the rain stopped and we had a hike to the beautiful beach.

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We soon realized why it’s called ‘stepping stones’: similar to the basalt columns we had seen at Devil’s Postpile in California, also here the cooling of a lava flow had created that phenomenon. But not only the columns were nice. We also enjoyed the scenery, the lonely beach and the nice sunset over Australia’s southern coast.

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In the night, a loud thunderstorm raged around us and it was raining heavily. While Max was sound asleep, Sam and I lay awake in the tent and where wondering if we’d be able to leave the national park again after so much rain. Eventually, Sam set the alarm clock for 6am to have a chat with the neighbors at camp to get their opinion on the conditions for driving out and which of the three tracks to choose. After consulting with them, we decided to take another track out vs. the one we had come in on the day before. And in fact, Black Point Road was only deep sand in a few bits, but was less of an issue in wet conditions than yesterday’s track would have been. Still, we were relieved that we had made it out onto the gravel road without any bigger troubles. Under the watchful eyes of a monitor lizard, it was a matter of minutes to activate the compressor and adjust the tire pressure back up.

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After our early start into the day, we explored Beedelup NP with the Beedelup Falls and a nice suspension bridge.

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Later we headed on to Warren NP to climb up the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree with its fire watch lookout at 65m height. Admittedly, both of us turned around halfway when realizing how high already those 30m felt on a tree that is moving with the wind.

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In Pemberton, we stopped at the local information center to inquire about the road conditions to reach Moore’s Hut, another 4WD track in D’Entrecasteaux NP that we wanted to attempt tomorrow.
As it was already rather late in the day and I was keen on having a phone connection to upload a new blog entry, we opted not to head into the National Park right away, but to spend the night in Northcliffe which featured a nice skatepark for Max.

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The rain forced us to spend most of our time in the camp kitchen in the company of a large huntsman spider and of a nice young couple from the UK. They are doing a year of work and travel in Australia, but interestingly they did come via China where they got with the Trans-Siberian Railway. It was great having a chat with them on their experiences on the train and in Mongolia and as usual, we were inspired ourselves after hearing first-hand what they had seen and done.

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The other attraction of the evening was a nice campfire. Surprisingly, all Aussies were really excited about the fire. We had not realized to which extent there are complete fire bans over months for whole regions. For Northcliffe, the absolute fire ban will only be starting a couple of days later. Thanks to the heavy rains of the last two days, a fire permit had been granted to the campground under the condition that the owner (a fire fighter) has a cubic meter of water with a pump located directly next to the fire.
The next morning, Sam got to do some more offroad driving. After a long stretch of gravel road, we eventually got to the deep sand bits to Moore’s Hut. And we were happy that we did not camp there ourselves, as the place was quite crowded. We continued the last two kilometers to the beach which we had for ourselves. The beach was beautiful and pretty wild. Due to the heavy winds, the looming rain clouds and the cold, it had a very special atmosphere. Who knows if we would have liked it as much on calm sunny day.

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The drive out of the national park was even nicer than the drive in. But still, it had been a lot of driving by the time we reached our place for the night in the ‘Valley of the Giants’.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 17:12 Archived in Australia Tagged beach tree sand camp fire offroad climb granite 4wd Comments (1)

Saying good bye to Middle Earth

Paihia, Waipoua Kauri Forest, Orewa, Auckland

semi-overcast 24 °C
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We arrived just in time at the Bay of Islands to get a glimpse of its beauty at sunset. We were so keen to finally arrive at our campground that we did not even stop to take a picture. It had been a long day after all.
The campground was really nice, probably one of the best we had been to in New Zealand. Max was happy about the playground, we liked the setting just next to the bay and also appreciated having a reliable wifi connection for a change.
We quickly agreed to stay not just one, but two nights in that nice spot. The next morning, we headed out into the bay in a kayak. Our first destination was just the other side of the bay, where we discovered a small cave and even paddled under a small natural bridge. After that, we headed towards one of the many small islands dotting the bay. That was a perfect place for a break and we enjoyed the quiet place and marveled at the many holiday homes along the hills opposite of our small islands.

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The paddling back towards the campground was fun and hot. Even though the waters of the bay looked much more inviting in their turquoise colors, we were glad that the burning sun only came out then and not earlier.
The rest of the day passed very quickly between playing, exploring the bay at low tide, editing and uploading pictures and the blog. And we felt the ‘usual’ effect coming into play: already the last couple of times our activity level decreased significantly in the last couple of days before leaving a country / continent.
There was one more thing we definitively wanted to see before leaving Northland: the big kauri forests. Therefore, we did not take the direct route back south, but headed towards the west coast.
On our way, we stopped at a viewpoint. Not expecting too much, we were very pleasantly surprised about the stunning views of the Tasman Sea, the Hokianga Harbor and the massive sand dunes on the opposite side.

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From there it was just a very short (but windy) drive to Waipoua Forest, the home of Tane Mahuta, the largest living kauri tree in the world. It is estimated to be somewhere between 1250 and 2000 years old. Even though kauris don’t get very tall compared to other species of trees (Tane Mahuta is ‘only 51m high’), they grow very big in diameter.

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A bit further, we saw some more examples of big kauris, the ‘Four Sisters’ and the ‘Te Matua Ngahere’ which is not as high as Tane Mahuta, but with more than 5 meters diameter even thicker. We love big trees, so the detour to see these massive examples was definitively worth the effort.

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We had toyed with the thought to spend our last two nights at a beach on the west coast. In light of the bleak weather forecast which projected two very rainy days, we rather went for a place along the road into Auckland. Even though it was located along our way, that left quite a long drive to get to the northern outskirts of Auckland.
By the time we arrived, it was fairly late and consequently we slept until late the next morning. Luckily, the rain only started in the afternoon, such that Max and Sam were able to enjoy a nice morning at the beach. They were even able to find a buyer for Max’ bike. It’s always great to know there will be a happy next user.
I used the quiet time while they were gone to pack all of our stuff. Considering that we’d now be changing our style of traveling from road tripping in a van to backpacking Asia, there’s a lot of stuff we were able to discard. Given the closeness to Auckland, the campground featured a big ‘for free’ box for people to leave things they don’t need any more and for newcomers to take. And in fact, already by the time we left the next morning, some things like our picnic blanket seemingly had found new owners.
With everything packed up, we were ready to hit the road again. As our plane would be leaving only very late, we had a full day to spend. After running some errands (such as donating some of our not needed stuff at a local hospice shop), we spent some time in downtown Auckland. Given the wet weather, we did not explore too much, but rather spent our time in a nice an cosy café.

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While Max got to work off some energy at a playground, we got the van in shape and eventually returned it at the rental agency. We were quite happy that the van had survived the over 6000 km we drove without any incidents, accidents or breakdowns. But still, we could not resist to give the company a full list of defects on the vehicle. Even though the 50 NZD discount we received, seems like a very small token, it shows at least that our complaints were heard.
Their shuttle bus took us swiftly to the airport and before too long we were standing in line at the AirAsia counter to get our boarding passes. With those in our hands, we had a couple of hours to kill before our plane left. As we know Auckland Airport quite well thanks to Jetstar messing up our flights from Rarotonga to Sydney exactly 4 months earlier, we knew our way round very well. We spent our time in the café with the nice view and contemplated on how quickly time is passing.

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And then it was time to say good bye to New Zealand and to brace ourselves for the fun awaiting us in South East Asia. As much as we liked our travels so far, we had done enough road tripping. We were very much looking forward to a more adventurous style of traveling and exciting cultures and foods awaiting us.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 17:33 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sea rain beach tree bay kayak kauri Comments (1)

Temples in the jungle

Siem Reap, Angkor Wat

sunny 34 °C
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Siem Reap greeted us with hot, humid weather. We had thought that we had acclimatized well in Phnom Penh, but soon realized that Siem Reap’s heat was much less bearable.
The solution was easy: once Mr. Tommy (our tuk tuk driver) had dropped us at our hotel, we quickly changed and headed down to the pool. Lucky us, that we had booked a place with a pool again!

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That evening, we took it easy and did not venture out for dinner – even though the hotel even offered a free shuttle service into the center of town. We tried the hotel’s restaurant and were soon after ready for bed.
The next morning, we were a bit disappointed about breakfast. Having been spoiled by a large buffet selection in Phnom Penh, both size and quality of our breakfast did not reach that standard by any means. So we headed off hoping that we’d be finding some better food during the day.
Mr. Tommy was waiting for us already. We were excited to have him as a companion for the next couple of days. Being used to the tuk tuk drivers we encountered in Phnom Penh, it was a pure delight to talk with someone in English, who knows his way around and who even offers suggestions of his own. All of that at a daily rate of 15 USD - just perfect!
Our first stop was at the ticket counter getting three day passes for the Angkor Wat Archeological Park. At 62 USD per adult, prices for US American or Canadian National Parks seemed very tame in comparison. But, we wanted to see the place without having to rush through in a single day.
Mr. Tommy suggested us to start our tour with a quick look around Srah Srang, a royal bathing pool dating back to the 10th century. Its gigantic size of 700m by 350m surrounded by stone steps gave us already a first impression of the incredible size of buildings that have been undertaken in the area.

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From there, Banteay Kdei was just across the road. We were amazed once more by the sheer size of this monastic complex, despite the fact that our guidebook described as much smaller than other temples surrounding them. It was fun exploring the temple and finding our way through the various enclosures. While partially restored, parts of the temple looked rather deteriorated – which added a certain charm to the building.

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Seemingly it had been built using poor sandstone and not the best construction methods. We did not mind. It was a perfect introduction to Angkor’s many temples. And it featured much shade which was important in the mid-day heat. After a feast of fresh coconut juice, mango and pineapple, we were ready for further explorations.

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Our goal was to see the Ta Phrom temple. This is one of the most photogenic temples as it has been only partially cleared of jungle overgrowth. While partially restored, it had been intentional to leave most of the massive trees that had grown in the temple, creating a jungle-like atmosphere. We were impressed and even though I had never seen the ’Lara Croft‘ movie with Angela Jolie, it seems that Ta Phrom served as backdrop for several scenes.

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We were fascinated by the place and impressed to see how the jungle is claiming back what man cleared centuries earlier. Unfortunately, we were not the only ones impressed by it. While we wandered around rather aimlessly, we ended up in the middle of large tour groups twice. In both cases, we found a quiet corner and waited. Once the chatting and constant selfie and picture taking of the Korean and Chinese groups had ended as quickly as it came, we headed off again – largely undisturbed and having the place for ourselves and a couple of other tourists again.

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As much as we liked the place, the sun won today’s battle easily and we asked Mr. Tommy to take us back into town for lunch. We went to the Butterfly Garden, which is not only known for good food in a pleasant garden-like setting, but also for supporting local communities.

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After lunch, we headed back to the hotel and were thrilled to have a pool. Admittedly, I rather spend a bit of extra money to stay in a nice place offering a bit of comfort and luxury. The thought of returning from a hit day just to a tiny hotel room without any possibility to be outside is not really appealing to me. So we fully took advantage of the pool and stayed there for most of the afternoon and evening.
The next day, we took a break from visiting temples. While Max and I stayed at the hotel, Sam went motorbiking for half a day. He got to ride some single trails through remaining jungles. But between the stretches of jungle, most areas have been deforested. And the continued development with more and more roads being paved, caused tracks to be graded, which just a mere two weeks ago were still some nice offroad terrain.

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But Sam also enjoyed having the opportunity to watch some village life and a jungle temple that is not on the usual tourist route. Despite the fact that the half day ride was laid out for 4 hours, Sam and his guide La were back already after a bit more than three hours. And La could not resist commenting that he had not done that tour so fast for quite a while.

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In the afternoon, we headed out together again into town. After an excellent lunch at the very comfortable Blue Pumpkin, we checked out the old market. It was easy to get lost between the stalls, even though everything was organized in sections. The fruit and vegetable section was not very busy and we even detected a couple of sellers sleeping on the tables surrounded by their wares.

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Then there was the textile section which eventually turned into the souvenir section. In an attempt to keep our baggage light, we declined all offers to buy bronze buddha statues, wooden elephant carvings and even the pretty muesli bowls made from coconut shells featuring colorful insides.

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The meat and fish section tempted us even less to do some shopping. The dirty floor and the smells did not help to create an atmosphere where I’d trust the quality of the wares. That might be wrong – after all eating in restaurants probably implies that our food might originate from a market like that. Even though we did not buy anything, the market was a nice place to take pictures.

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There’s something that strikes me about today’s markets. No matter how small the stalls are, no matter how little basic hygiene there seems to be in many areas, no matter how slippery the floor might be. Nowadays at least one out of two salespersons seems to hold a smartphone in his / her hands, briefly distracted by customers and eager to return back to whatever they were checking out on social networks.

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To a certain degree that is disappointing, as it clearly signals that time has not stopped here and that things might not be stopped in time like we would sometimes like to imagine in our romanticized view of less developed countries. But practically speaking, this adds a freedom to look around the market stalls without the otherwise tiring firework of ‘Mister, mister, good price. How much you pay?’.
Filled with lots of impressions from the market, we headed across the road to a nice icecream shop. It’s interior design was well thought through and would have fitted as well in a downtown of any major European city. Well, except that in Germany we’d probably have paid three times as much than here for our icecream – even though the store was way above local standards in terms of pricing.

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But not only the market was a good source of photo opportunities: just driving along in traffic was providing so many fun sights that we were only able to capture a fraction of the inventive and packed vehicles we saw on the road. And we loved the small gas stations along the roads!

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By the time, we got back to the hotel, Aurel had arrived with his parents Thomas and Petra. They had stayed at the same hotel with us in Phnom Penh and as the boys got along so well, they booked the same hotel as us. Max and Aurel were delighted to meet again. And their parents were delighted to have such a good entertainment for their respective kid.
Even though Max would have been entertained as well in the hotel, we headed out for some entertainment of a different kind: We wanted to see Phare, the Cambodian Circus. Standing in line to get into the tent, we met Nadja, Remo, Ben and Lenny again – who had stayed with us in Phnom Penh a couple of days earlier. Similar to Western Australia, also in South East Asia many tourists seem to walk along the same trodden paths, so meetings like that did not really surprise us much. It was nice to see them.
But even better was the circus itself. It recruits its talents exclusively from a school for disadvantaged kids in a nearby town. And with the proceeds from the circus, the school is being supported such that 1200 kids are getting a free school education and another 500 are getting vocational training.
We did not really know what to expect of the circus, but were pleasantly surprised how the protagonists combined music, artistic performances and dance. All artists were fairly young and were teeming with energy. In a way, the closest I can compare them with is Cirque du Soleil – just on a bit smaller scale. And as we love the Cirque du Soleil, this was great.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:19 Archived in Cambodia Tagged temple market tree jungle circus pool motorbike tuk_tuk Comments (1)

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