Flying to Australia 5Tuesday, 2 November 2010
The last leg of our multi-stop London to Australia flight didn’t start or end the way it was planned. In F-to-A 1 I wrote about the history of flying to Australia. F-to-A 2 went from London via Jersey, the south of France and Malta to the Greek island of Crete. F-to-A 3 continued through Egypt, and via a refuelling stop in Saudi Arabia on to Muscat in Oman. In F-to-A 4 we made five stops across India – Ahmedabad, Agra, Khajuraho, Varanasi and Kolkata.
The start of the South-East Asian leg should have been from Kolkata to Mandalay in Burma/Myanmar. We couldn’t get in! Because of the run up to the ‘election’ due on 7 November the government decided to ban non-commercial flights. So we overflew Burma to Chiang Mai in Thailand. I hoped to at least get an aerial glimpse of Nay Pyi Daw, the crazy government’s crazy new capital, but even that didn’t work, Burma was clouded over.
▲ Wat Chedi Luang
I haven’t been to Chiang Mai for years so it was nice to make a return trip although we didn’t get much opportunity to look around. We stayed in a very expensive hotel which felt like the biggest opportunity to lose money I’ve been to this year! How does the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi ever make a profit? We did some sightseeing in Chiang Mai, including a visit to the battered old Wat Chedi Luang.
◄ Crossing the Mekong River
Next stop Luang Prabang and unlike the previous leg there were great views on the short flight including fine views of the Mekong River. We flew alongside the Mekong for the last 15 minutes of the flight.
I was back in Luang Prabang last year, but for Maureen it was her first visit to this beautiful and delightfully laid back city since we were there in 1974. Back then the Pathet Lao-Royalist stand off was about to collapse and the country would be closed off for the next couple of decades. We rented bicycles and rode around the town visiting some of the fine temples and wats like Wat Xieng Thong …
▲ Wat Xieng Thong
… and my favourite, Wat Wisunart with its huge seated Buddha figure and parade of atmospheric dusty old standing figures.
▲ Wat Wisunart
◄ On the Chao Phrya River
Next stop was Bangkok where we flew in to the old (and near abandoned) Don Muang Airport. We only travelled part way into town by bus before boarding a boat which transported us to the Oriental Hotel’s Chao Phrya River landing. I did say we stayed at fancy hotels!
The Singapore Flyer ►
Singapore was the next stop on this multi-stop itinerary and Maureen and I headed out (from the Raffles Hotel!) to ride the Singapore Flyer. It’s Singapore entrant in the ‘world’s big Ferris Wheel’ listing and a 30 minute circuit does indeed give you some very fine views, but I’d still give first prize to the London Eye.
▲ Marina Sands from the outside
That evening we wandered over to the Marina Sands ‘integrated resort’ for a look around. ‘Integrated’ means it’s a casino with a bunch of other things tagging along. Including the triple tower hotel with a boat floating across the top. It looks like a cricket wicket the cricketing enthusiasts insist. Unfortunately we arrived too late at night to make the trip up to the lookout on the top. Next visit.
Marina Sands from the inside ►
It looks pretty amazing inside as well and although I keep thinking that the next city to jump on the casino bandwagon is going to be the city too far it’s probably going to take a long time to satisfy mankind’s enthusiasm for gambling. Particularly the Chinese slice of humanity’s enthusiasm.
Burmese Buddhist monks at Borobudur ▼
On to Yogyakarta where we made a trip to Hindu Prambanan and Buddhist Borobudur. It was my third trip to the great Buddhist monument (1974, 1988 and 2010) and it was as magic as ever. We may have missed out on Burma/Myanmar on this trip, but we bumped into this friendly group of Buddhist monks from Burma.
▲ Borobudur bas reliefs
Dusk was falling and rain threatening as we admired the bas reliefs which encircle the structure, and then it seemed like drizzle was going to turn to thunderstorm with a huge boom of thunder. The next morning we discovered that single mighty boom was not thunder at all, it was the volcano Mt Merapi erupting 20km to the north.
◄ Lombok’s Gili Islands
The last leg of our London to Australia trip went off the itinerary at the start (we didn’t fly via Burma) and at the end (we didn’t fly to Australia either). Some problem with the aircraft charter meant we had to conclude not at Darwin, but at Mataram on the Indonesian island of Lombok. At least there was a view of the three Gili Islands as we made our final approach into the airport. The next day Maureen and I flew back to Australia via Bali. I’ve been to Bali many times over the years, but this was my shortest visit – four hours from arrival to departure. Just long enough to have the most expensive meal I’ve ever had in Bali, dinner that night at KuDeTa.