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Romantic Journeys

Itís that time again!

Phi Ta Khon

Devilís Work: The Pancake Rocks of New Zealand

The Pancake Rocks on the west coast of New Zealand have a mundane enough name, now taken over by science as a generic term for this kind of formation. It is referred to as Ďpancake karstí and here is washed by the sea, eroded by the incoming rollers of surf.

Pancake rock and blowhole

What a treat for geologists and for everyone else who stayed away at school when the information of the Earthís formation was being taught. Such places as these were subjected to unusual conditions and forces, so that unique structures were created. Wind and water did the rest.

Devilís Marbles on east coast South Island

Scattered along the beach on the eastern side of New Zealand, South Island, huge round boulders are to be found - the Moeraki Boulders, or devilís marbles. With whom did the devil play? And who won? Places like this are the source of sagas and myths, in which the devil generally plays a part; sometimes having forgotten something, or having left an imprint of a cloven hoof while being taken by surprise by a passing angel. Supernatural explanations are often sought, as the natural ones are often inadequate. The Maoris, New Zealandís indigenous people, believe that the boulders were petrified baskets of groceries from canoes which sank in the waves, taking their owners down with them. The largest boulders weight several tons and have a circumference of 15 feet. These shoppers must have been powerful giants.

Horseback riding in surf along pancake rocks

Of course scientists explain the boulders as speterian concretions formed some 65 million years ago. A viewing platform, just a few minutesí walk through native shrub land, offers a grand view of the boulders. And if you are lucky, you may see New Zealand dolphins playing in the waves. There is a hiking trail which provides easy access to the beach. Follow it. One of natureís great mysteries lies along this deserted stretch of sand. It will haunt you. I much prefer the explanation given by the Maoris.

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Itís that time again!

by Lesley Warner

A friend of mine asked me to accompany her on a visa run the other day to Cambodia, and I thought, why not? Itís a trip that I havenít done for while. As a lone farang woman itís sometimes nice to go with a friend, as we seem to be outnumbered by our male friends.

The new entrance to Cambodia

When your visa expires you must renew by leaving the country; if you have a multiple entry ĎBí visa you can renew for 3 months, if not you can renew for 1 month. (You can get an extension of your visa at immigration in Soi 8 but this is only for 2 weeks. If you are unsure of the regulations ask at Immigration - they are very helpful).

The border

We chose A1 Visaís (01 344 4721) as they came highly recommended, I had used them before and knew them to be efficient, friendly and inexpensive. Another benefit with A1 is that they collect you from your accommodation and at the unearthly hour of 4.30-5.00 a.m. you donít feel much like driving.

5 a.m. and our friendly driver arrives

We settled into the comfortable air-conditioned mini-bus and went to sleep until our first stop at about 8.30 a.m. when we stopped at a roadside restaurant that served traditional Thai dishes and more importantly for me, coffee.

Coffee please!

Then it was back into the bus and on to the border town of Aranyaprathet. We arrived at 10 a.m. I was amazed at the change in the place (itís been some time since I was last there); it was hardly recognizable. A proper car park had been constructed with allocated parking spaces and everything was being cleaned up and organized. The new entrance into Cambodia is indeed very impressive. Unfortunately the children are still there which I find difficult to cope with. I feel that these are kids that could really do with some help but a word of warning, donít give in until you get back into the bus to go home, or you will be surrounded!

Broken leg? No problem...

We made our way to the bridge, there are 4 check points: one before you cross over, two over in Cambodia and one on the way back. A1 make it very easy and there is someone to accompany you at all times to assist with the paper work, and in about 30 minutes we were back and ready to board our bus.

Another word of warning: you can buy cigarettes in Cambodia at very cheap prices but DO NOT buy more than 200, as the penalty is very expensive and they do check!

Then it was back home, with a short stop at the same roadside restaurant and we were back in Pattaya by 3.30 p.m. in the afternoon.

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Phi Ta Khon

by Suchard Krephitmai

We all love a good ghost story. The spiritual and the supernatural, even the gruesome arouse an instinctive curiosity in all of us. In the west, we have Halloween on October 31. In Thailand, the spirit world comes closest to us in June 23-24, 2001 with the Phi Ta Khon Festival; an event filled with fun, mischief and of course, a touch of the unknown.

This festival, unique to Thailand, is held in the Dan Sai District of Loei Province, about 450 km north of Bangkok. Phi Ta Khon is part of a Buddhist merit-making holiday known locally as ĎBun Pha Ves.í The precise origin of Phi Ta Khon is not clear. But itís believed that the roots of the festival revolve around an important tale of the Buddhaís last life, before he reached nirvana.

According to Buddhist folklore, the Buddha-to-be was born as Prince Vessandorn, a generous man who gave freely to the people. Then one day he gave away a white elephant, a royal creature, worshipped as a symbol of the rain. This made the people in the town very angry, as they feared reprisal of drought and famine, so they banished the prince into exile.

The prince left the village for a long time and went on a very long journey. Finally, the king and the people relented and recalled him to the city. When he eventually returned, his people were overjoyed. They welcomed him back with a celebration so loud that even the dead were awakened from their slumbers to join in the festivities.

Phi Ta Khon is held with the arrival of the sixth or seventh lunar month, when the young male villagers prepare their ghostly attire and masks, while children roam around town playing tricks. Sheets or blankets are sewn together to look like shrouds while traditional wooden bamboo containers used to store sticky rice (huad), are creatively fashioned into bizarre hats. The huge masks are carved from the bases of coconut trees. The spirit masks are the integral part of the celebrations, which lasts for three consecutive days.

On the first day there is a masked procession with music and dancing. On the second day, the villagers dance their way to the temple and let off bamboo rockets to signal the end of the procession. As the parade travels through the street they tease and play with the on looking crowd as they accompany a sacred image of the Buddha. Monks recite the story of the Buddhaís last incarnation before attaining enlightenment.

The festival organizers also hold contests for the best masks, costumes and dancers, and plaques are awarded to the winners in each age group. The most popular event is the dancing contest among those dressed up as ghosts. On the last day of the event, the villagers gather at the local temple, Wat Ponchai, to listen to the message of the thirteen sermons of the Lord Buddha, recited by the local monks. Everyone is welcome to join in.

The ghost dancers then put away their ghostly masks and costumes for another year and itís back to the rice field to continue to earn their living with the onset of the new crop season.

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