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Two Day Expedition to the Wahiba Sands

The Arabian Desert beckons

sunny 32 °C
View 2013 Round the World Trip on FrancisRTW's travel map.

A must do in Oman is to venture out and stay overnight in the desert and my chance to do it had arrived. I booked myself a personal driver/guide with a Toyota 4WD Landcruiser and booked a night at the 1000 Nights Camp about 20 odd miles into the desert (corny name but this is the land of Sinbad after all!).

A Map of the route to our overnight camp in the Arabian Desert

A Map of the route to our overnight camp in the Arabian Desert

First of all there was the little matter of getting there, Wahiba Sands is about 150 miles (240 kilometres) from Muscat. We drove for about 3 hours south through Ibra before turning east into the mountains to stop at the famous Wadi Bani Khalid Pools for a couple of hours to have lunch.

These pools are basically a beautiful oasis in a very arid area and I went for a refreshing swim in a rock pool up near the waterfall. We then returned to the lowlands and headed towards the Desert.

Wadi Bani Khalid

Wadi Bani Khalid


The natural pool below the waterfall above Wadi Bani Khalid where I went for a swim

The natural pool below the waterfall above Wadi Bani Khalid where I went for a swim


A quiet spot to phone home from and make the family jealous :-)

A quiet spot to phone home from and make the family jealous :-)

I could tell this was going to be in a different league to anything I had experienced before as I became aware of the enormous sand dunes in the distance and we stopped at a garage to have our tyres deflated to 18 psi.

Garage specialising in deflating/inflating tyres coming on and off the soft sands of the desert

Garage specialising in deflating/inflating tyres coming on and off the soft sands of the desert

As we started off my driver said we needed to change the mood of the music and as we turned onto the soft sand and headed at speed for our first large dune we had techno on full blast! Then ensued some serious dune bashing as we roared up higher and higher sand dunes; it was a serious adrenalin rush with our landcruiser floating like a boat on a river with a mind of its own as we tore up the soft sand; it often felt like we were going to turn over as we climbed higher and higher dunes the deeper we got into the desert.

My first view of the soft sands of the Arabian Desert

My first view of the soft sands of the Arabian Desert


We encountered some fellow travellers as we made our way across the desert

We encountered some fellow travellers as we made our way across the desert

This was a particularly large sand dune that eventually beat us and we had to give up trying to climb it in case we got stuck

This was a particularly large sand dune that eventually beat us and we had to give up trying to climb it in case we got stuck


My driver - Jekyll and Hyde character, steady on/off road but an evil maniac once let loose on soft sand!

My driver - Jekyll and Hyde character, steady on/off road but an evil maniac once let loose on soft sand!

After a while we reached a Bedouin House and stopped for coffee, obviously a tourist stop with the bedouin women selling a few small handmade trinkets but not over done. I have had it a few times now and have developed a taste for the local Kawah, a small coffee flavoured with cardamom and normally served with dates.

Arriving at the Bedouin House on the way to our overnight camp

Arriving at the Bedouin House on the way to our overnight camp


Kawah (Coffee with cardamom) and Dates with the locals

Kawah (Coffee with cardamom) and Dates with the locals


There was another small group visiting the Bedouins with us

There was another small group visiting the Bedouins with us

We then carried on and after a while reached our overnight camp. After unwinding for a bit I was determined to see a desert sunset and we drove up a large sand dune to see it. A few others joined us and the orange hues as we watched the sun set on the desert horizon were every bit as amazing as we had been told to watch out for.

My driver then decided I needed another adrenalin rush and instead of going back the way we came went straight over the top of the dune which felt like a near vertical drop! Initially we got grounded but with a bit of help we were soon floating down the front of the dune in the landcruiser. You would never dare drive down a slope that steep normally but soft sand is very forgiving.

Pesky Camel, get out of my way! We need to get to the top of the sand dune before sunset

Pesky Camel, get out of my way! We need to get to the top of the sand dune before sunset


Me on top of a sand dune waiting for the desert sunset

Me on top of a sand dune waiting for the desert sunset


It got quite busy on our sand dune

It got quite busy on our sand dune


Sunset in the Desert - it was worth the wait

Sunset in the Desert - it was worth the wait

My tent was right at the edge of camp which I thought was great as it meant I would have a more authentic feel of sleeping in the desert. My tent was pretty much just a woollen bedouin tent, a couple of beds and a open to the sky toilet/shower but anything more would have spoilt the experience.

My Sheik Tent in the Desert

My Sheik Tent in the Desert


Inside my tent

Inside my tent


The view from my tent in the morning - that isn't a member of the vulture family is it?

The view from my tent in the morning - that isn't a member of the vulture family is it?

For dinner the camp arranged a Bedouin special of lamb with spices cooked for 24 hours in a charcoal pit covered over with sand. While a big deal was made of digging it up, when I tried it I didn't think it was anything special and wish I had stuck with the chicken biryani and fresh hummus that appears to be the national dish. While we ate we were entertained by a small troupe of musicians playing Bedouin music.

After cooking for 24 hours in a hole in the ground, time to dig up dinner!

After cooking for 24 hours in a hole in the ground, time to dig up dinner!


Dinner is ready and is taken in to be served

Dinner is ready and is taken in to be served


We had Bedouin music to accompany our meal

We had Bedouin music to accompany our meal

The generators at the camp were turned off at 10 o'clock and there was a lovely light pollution clear sky, one of the many attractions of the desert. A bit later after the moon had set I saw the stars more vividly than I have ever seen them before in my life; all the constellations were clear as if on a page of an astrology book - the Great Bear, the Lion, the Virgin, Orion - I have never before seen them as clearly as that.

In the morning we decided to have breakfast early and start back; I was tempted to try a ride on a camel first until I saw another tourist have a go and saw how uncomfortable they evidently were and decided for the time being to give camel riding a miss!

A couple of camels waiting for the tourists

A couple of camels waiting for the tourists


A fellow tourist having a ride on a camel - it looked like torture!

A fellow tourist having a ride on a camel - it looked like torture!

As we made our way back across the desert I had a chance to take in the scale of the landscape around us, it was awesome with very large sand dunes as far as the eye can see.

The endless desert

The endless desert


The Sun beating down on the desert, lest we forgot how dangerous a place the desert can be

The Sun beating down on the desert, lest we forgot how dangerous a place the desert can be

We also chanced upon a group of locals trying to race their Wrangler Jeeps up a particularly steep sand dune and stopped for a while to watch.

Wrangler Jeeps doing a spot of sand dune climbing

Wrangler Jeeps doing a spot of sand dune climbing


This Jeep looks like he is going to make it!

This Jeep looks like he is going to make it!

After a final swipe of a few sands dunes with the landcruiser before re-inflating the tyres for tarmac we headed to the coast for 1.5 hours to Sur, a major trading port before the Suez Canal and famous for the building of Arab Dhows. Unfortunately the tide was out when we got there so we didn't see Sur at its best but we passed the famous Al Ghanja Arab Dhow outside the Sur Maritime Museum and visited the famous Sur Boatyard where there were several Dhows under construction.

A view of Sur Harbour including the Al Ghanja Arab Dhow outside the Maritime Museum

A view of Sur Harbour including the Al Ghanja Arab Dhow outside the Maritime Museum


An Arab Dhow under construction at the Sur Boatyard

An Arab Dhow under construction at the Sur Boatyard

We then headed north-west along the coast towards Muscat 93 miles (150 kilometres) with a few stops and lunch along the way. The first stop was Wadi Tiwi, a beautiful spot but with very narrow winding roads especially through the village. We then had lunch and stopped for a rest on White Beach (a popular beach in Oman but only accessible by 4x4) before moving on to Wadi Shab, a larger but equally beautiful wadi a bit further along the coast. Unfortunately my photos don't seem to do justice to what idyllic settings these Wadi were.

The road upto Wadi Tiwi

The road upto Wadi Tiwi


Wadi Tiwi

Wadi Tiwi


The White Beach between Quriyat and Tiwi

The White Beach between Quriyat and Tiwi


Wadi Shab

Wadi Shab


A Pickup Truck making its way across a ford in Wadi Shab

A Pickup Truck making its way across a ford in Wadi Shab

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in Oman Tagged beaches animals food oasis desert harbours sunsets tour videos 4wd solo bedouin outdoor_pursuits boatyards Comments (0)

Ayutthaya

Day trip to the Ancient Capital of Thailand

sunny 37 °C
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Ayutthaya lies 52 miles (85 kilometres) north of Bangkok and was one of the ancient capitals of Thailand until it was destroyed by the invading Burmese Army in 1767. For over 400 years it prospered and was covered in temples and after its destruction was replaced by Bangkok built on newly exposed land in the Gulf of Siam.

On the way we visited the Royal Palace at Bang Pa-in most of which was built between 1872-1889 and is still used occasionally by the King and Queen of Thailand for hosting state receptions and banquets. The grounds are very ornate and are built in a european style. in the centre of the gardens is the Aisawan-dhipaya-asana Pavilion surrounded by a pond in which we could feed bread to some very energetic turtles and fish! The Royal Palace itself is a two storey manaion built in the Chinese style containing an impressive throne room on the ground floor.

The view up the lake as you enter the grounds of the Bang Pa-in Palace

The view up the lake as you enter the grounds of the Bang Pa-in Palace


Turtles swiming in the pond surrounding the Aisawan-dhipaya-asana Pavilion

Turtles swiming in the pond surrounding the Aisawan-dhipaya-asana Pavilion


Ho withun Thasuna

Ho withun Thasuna


The Phra Thinang (Royal Residence) Wehart Chamrun from the Ho withun Thasuna

The Phra Thinang (Royal Residence) Wehart Chamrun from the Ho withun Thasuna


Me in front of the throne room at the Royal Residence

Me in front of the throne room at the Royal Residence

About an hour's drive later we reached Ayutthaya which is a UNESECO World Heritage Site. In 1700 Ayutthaya ideally situated for trade between India, China and Malaya was the largest city in the world with a population of about 1 million people. The Wat Maha That Temple seemed the most impressive part of the site with its pagoda towering above the ruins and the evocative sandstone buddha mostly buried and overgrown by a tree.

The ruins of Wat Maha That

The ruins of Wat Maha That


The pagoda at Wat Maha That

The pagoda at Wat Maha That


The head of the Sandstone Buddha

The head of the Sandstone Buddha


Buddha amongst the ruins at Wat Maha That

Buddha amongst the ruins at Wat Maha That

We then moved on to Wat Na Phra Mane, the only part of Ayutthaya not destroyed by the invading Burmese Army in 1767 as it was used as their headquarters. The Buddha is unusual in that it is dressed in Royal Attire, as with all Buddhist Temples we hasd to remove our shoes before entering.

The monastery at Wat Na Phra Mane

The monastery at Wat Na Phra Mane


Me by the Buddha in the Temple at Wat Na Phra Mane

Me by the Buddha in the Temple at Wat Na Phra Mane

Our final stop at Ayutthaya before a boat trip back to Bangkok was to the temple at Wat Lokayasutharam which holds one of the largest Reclining Buddha Images (although not as large as the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho that I saw the previous day).

The Reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam

The Reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam


Me by the Reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam

Me by the Reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam


Wat Wora Chet the Ram near Wat Lokayasutharam

Wat Wora Chet the Ram near Wat Lokayasutharam

Passing rice paddy fields on the way, we then met up with a cruise boat and had a very tasty Thai Buffet Lunch as we floated down the river back to Bangkok. Amongst the temples and houses on stilts the peppered along the shore we also passed landing craft given to the Thai military by the USA following the Vietnam War and the shed containing the Royal Barges now used only for ceremonial occasions.

Paddy Fields on the way to meet up with the cruise boat back to Bangkok

Paddy Fields on the way to meet up with the cruise boat back to Bangkok


Surplus Landing Craft given to the Thai Military after the Vietnam War

Surplus Landing Craft given to the Thai Military after the Vietnam War


The Royal Barge Sheds by the Phraya River

The Royal Barge Sheds by the Phraya River


A large portrait of the King of Thailand beside th River Phraya

A large portrait of the King of Thailand beside th River Phraya


The Grand Palace Complex from the Phraya River

The Grand Palace Complex from the Phraya River

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in Thailand Tagged temples boat ruins palaces buddha tour solo Comments (0)

Khao Yai National Park

Elephants and other animals

sunny 35 °C
View 2013 Round the World Trip on FrancisRTW's travel map.

I had 2 things on my must do list for the few days I had in Bangkok; see the iconic buddhist temples and to go for a ride on an elephant. I had done the temples, now it was time to travel 3 hours north of Bangkok out into the countryside to see the elephants at the Khao Yai National Park.

First stop about an hour into our trip was the local market at Nakhorn Nayok. I had concerns that this was going to be a hard sell gem store and souvenir hard sell tourists are warned about but I needn't have worried. It wasn't that sort of market, instead it was filled with fresh local produce (much of which was still moving!) and they were buying our lunch.

Jack Fruit being prepared at Nakhorn Na Yok Market

Jack Fruit being prepared at Nakhorn Na Yok Market


Fresh Shellfish on sale at Nakhon Na Yok Market

Fresh Shellfish on sale at Nakhon Na Yok Market


As on other stalls the fish in these buckets moved and were very much still alive!

As on other stalls the fish in these buckets moved and were very much still alive!


Yes I think that is Frogs on sale at the front!

Yes I think that is Frogs on sale at the front!


Hot spices anyone?

Hot spices anyone?

After an educational and entertaining wander around the market we went to a local farm for a ride in an ox cart. It was a sedantry bone shaking ride and we had to wear thai farmer straw hats similar to those I had seen in the Siam Museum in Bangkok the previous day.

Me on the back of the Ox Cart - in my Thai Farmer's Straw Hat!

Me on the back of the Ox Cart - in my Thai Farmer's Straw Hat!


View riding an Ox Cart

View riding an Ox Cart

We than continued on our way towards Khao Yai National Park passing through small villages on the way. Going through one village we had to wait while a local farmer unloaded his Rice Harvester into an adjacent paddy field while in another we stopped and watched a couple of races at the sports day of the local school.

A local farmer unloading a rice harvester into his paddy fields

A local farmer unloading a rice harvester into his paddy fields

Water Buffalo grazing beside the road

Water Buffalo grazing beside the road


Sports Day at a local Thai Village School

Sports Day at a local Thai Village School


The race for the finishing line!

The race for the finishing line!

We then reached the entrance to the Khao Yai National Park and made our way to the famous waterfall at Haew Narok. It was not as spectacular as it can be when full of water but impressive and an idyllic spot none the less.

Fence to stop the Elephants getting through on the way to the Harew Narok Waterfall

Fence to stop the Elephants getting through on the way to the Harew Narok Waterfall


The steps down to the Waterfall

The steps down to the Waterfall


Haew Narok Waterfall

Haew Narok Waterfall


Me by the Haew Narok Waterfall

Me by the Haew Narok Waterfall


Chamelon on a tree on the way back from the Waterfall

Chamelon on a tree on the way back from the Waterfall

We then moved deeper into the National Park heading towards a viewpoint over the Forest and soon began to encounter gibbon monkeys along the road.

Our first sight of a Gibbon at the side of the road

Our first sight of a Gibbon at the side of the road


The Gibbon seemed unsure if he was happy to see us!

The Gibbon seemed unsure if he was happy to see us!


We then encountered a whole troop of Gibbons including some young

We then encountered a whole troop of Gibbons including some young


A view of the Forest at the Khao Yai National Park

A view of the Forest at the Khao Yai National Park


At the viewpoint a few Gibbons took a particular interest in a pair of mopeds

At the viewpoint a few Gibbons took a particular interest in a pair of mopeds

However the highlight and main purpose of the day was to ride an elephant and after a stop for lunch (much of which had been bought earlier in the day by our guide while we were at Nakhorn Nayok Market) we were introduced to a large elephant called Cherry. I was sharing her with a mother and daughter from upstate New York and I initially sat on Cherry's neck, it was a long way down! We then spent three quarters of an hour lumbering through some woods, ducking branches and walking down streams; great fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The mahout gets out of the way as we set off through the forest on Cherry the Elephant

The mahout gets out of the way as we set off through the forest on Cherry the Elephant


Yep, they initially put me in the driving seat on the back of the elephants head

Yep, they initially put me in the driving seat on the back of the elephants head


The elephant sprayed us with a bit of water as we walked through a small stream

The elephant sprayed us with a bit of water as we walked through a small stream


Me feeling cool on the back of Cherry the Elephant

Me feeling cool on the back of Cherry the Elephant


Our final view of our two elephants before we began our long drive back to Bangkok

Our final view of our two elephants before we began our long drive back to Bangkok

Posted by FrancisRTW 03:00 Archived in Thailand Tagged waterfalls trees animals food markets tour videos solo Comments (0)

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