Australia, Walks

Yackandandah Gorge Walk

With the recent restrictions on travel it has forced us to discover our ‘own backyard’ and boy are we lucky to live in the north east of Victoria. As a family there’s nothing we love better than being at one with our natural surroundings and walking through stunning scenery, so it is surprising that there are so many walks within our locality that we haven’t experienced. That is up until now.

Having dropped our son at a friends house for the day and not being able to convince our fifteen year old daughter to accompany us we were child free!

A Place Steeped in History

Yackandandah is a historic town located 308km from Melbourne and is situated close to the New South Wales border. At the time of writing this article we are unable to go across the state border without a permit! Yackandandah is Jiatmathang country and the Aboriginal word for the town is Dhudhuroa meaning one boulder on top of another at the junction of two creeks. European settlement began in 1824 and the with the discovery of gold in late 1852 there came a surge of alluvial miners settling in the region. From then on Yackandandah became a thriving town and many of the original buildings and disused mines from that era are still in existence today.

The Gorge Walk

This is a gentle, easy track that meanders alongside the Yackandandah Creek. The walk took us around 90 minutes to complete (with frequent stops) starting and finishing at Yackandandah High Street. For more details on the walk visit Explore Yackandandah’s website.

Map of Walk
Map of the Gorge Walk

To start the walk turn left on Wellsford Street at the top of the High Street, cross the bridge over Yackandandah Creek and immediately turn right onto the path. You will see a sign and information board explaining the historic significance of the walk.

Gorge Walk Sign

At the beginning of the walk you will pass tennis courts and the sports ground on your lefthand side. This part of the trail is suitable for prams and bikes. I have read that there is a resident Platypus in the creek here, sadly we didn’t see it.

Start of Walk

There are times when the path forks and you’re not certain which route to take. We found that both ways would take you to the same place but one path just took you closer alongside the creek. There are plenty of opportunities to stop and watch the water racing down the creek and I can only imagine how beautiful and refreshing it would be to take a dip in the hotter months of the year.

Yackandandah Creek

There are several information boards along the route that are worth taking the time to stop and read.

To save you the effort of climbing a hill unnecessarily, as we did, make sure you take the pathway on the right shortly after the bird information board. You will see another information board further along the path so you know you’re on the right path.

Take this path
This is the correct path

A short time later the bushland opens up and you will reach the miners gorge. Before you cross the bridge over the creek take sometime to sit on the rocks and listen to the sound of the energetic water rushing along.

Walk onto the bridge to observe the incredible gorge and you will realise why this place is so special. The 100 metre gorge was created by miners in 1858 so they could sluice gravel and sand in the hope of finding gold. They cut through the granite using only picks, shovels and blasting powder, it’s an impressive achievement.

Gorge bridge
Gorge Bridge
Gorge
The Narrow Gorge

After crossing the bridge the path gets fairly steep and slippery and extra care needs to be taken when it is wet.

Steeper part of the walk

Continue along the path for a few hundred metres and you will arrive at the dam wall. The dam wall was built to divert the creek and is believed to have powered a water driven timber mill. At a later date in 1859 a tail race was constructed when the miners deepened the gorge with the use of dynamite.

Shortly after the dam wall you will come across a wooden stye that doesn’t look like it goes anywhere. Being the curious people we are we decided to scramble over the stye and check out the other side. There were lots of blackberry bushes on the side of the path so care needed to be taken not to cut ourselves on the thorns. We discovered the path ended abruptly just around the corner so you won’t miss anything if you don’t go over the stye.

Stye

To return to the High Street you can either walk along Bells Flat Road (about 2kms) or return back the same way as you came.

Yackandandah Township

Yackandandah is an attractive, quaint town with many historic buildings from the gold mining days. A considerable number of these buildings have become boutique shops or eateries. The town became better known when the film ‘ Strange Bed Fellows’ starring Michael Caton and Paul Hogan was filmed on location in the High Street.

The town also has a very strong community and it shows in many of the initiatives undertaken. One such example is Totally Renewable Yackandandah, a 100% volunteer run group with a goal of powering the town with 100% renewable energy and achieving energy sovereignty by 2022.

You are spoiled for choice when it comes to dining in Yackandandah with two pubs, numerous cafes, an asian restaurant, a bakery and our favourite Gum Tree Pies. We couldn’t visit Yackandandah without enjoying one of their delicious pies, go and google them and you will see the positive reviews from all around Australia.

Gum Tree Pies Photo

To finish off the perfect day we soaked up the beautiful winter sun with a hot drink at Sir Isaac Isaacs Park. The park is named after Sir Isaac Isaacs who was born in Yackandandah in 1855 and was the first Australian born governor-general. The park has an excellent playground, public toilets, electric barbecues and plenty of picnic tables.

cuppa in the park

Next time you are able to visit North East Victoria be sure to spend a day in the beautiful town of Yackandandah. You won’t be disappointed.

Let me know about your experiences in Yackandandah.

 

 

Hotel Reviews, Thailand, Travel

Sam Roi Yot National Park

No matter how prepared you are, travel doesn’t always go to plan, sometimes you end up travelling in the wrong direction! Well that’s exactly what happened to us and it just happened to be on the shortest leg of our trip, how embarrassing.

We were travelling from Hua Hin to Sam Roi Yot, a journey that should take around 45 minutes. It was convenient that there was a mini van station right next door to our guesthouse (Baan Talay 51) or so we thought.

Tickets purchased and a few moments later we were stuffed into a minivan like sardines, bags and all. No more than 10 minutes into the journey it hit me….we were going the wrong way. It transpired we had bought a ticket to Phetchaburi and we were meant to be going to Pranburi. Being at the back of the van involved every single person having to hop off to let us alight but to their credit nobody seemed to mind.

After a few minutes confusion we found someone who was willing to take us in his songtaew all the way to our guesthouse in Sam Roi Yot.

Songthaew

Beach Box @ Pran

We had originally booked three nights at the Oriental Pearl Resort as we wanted to splurge and pamper ourselves for the Christmas period. On the surface the resort appeared to offer a taste of luxury with spa baths, a large swimming pool and a poolside bar. Upon further investigation reviews on the internet expressed that the property was in need of maintenance, the private spa baths were dirty and many didn’t work at all and it was a fair distance from the beach. We are not fussy people when it comes to accommodation but we do like to get value for our money. I cannot comment personally on the state of the resort and it would be grossly unfair if I did as we didn’t experience the place for ourselves. We stumbled across exceptional reviews on accommodation called Beach Box Pran and our stay there backed them all up.

The hosts Mo and Maem made our stay exceptional and memorable, always going well beyond our expectations. Upon our arrival we were warmly greeted with a delicious refreshment. We had booked two rooms, a deluxe family suite and a superior twin room. Both rooms were impeccably clean and had all the amenities you could possibly need including robes and slippers. An unexpected surprise was the roof in the bathroom retracted so you could shower under the sky or stars at night.

Beach Box Bathroom
Spacious Bathroom
Beach Box Room
Modern Family Suite

It’s clear to see why Beach Box Pran gets such wonderful reviews. The grounds are beautiful and include a huge swimming pool with well maintained gardens. They also provide free use of bicycles and kayaks and if you are staying for a few days they will give you a free transfer to Phraya Nakhon Cave, a place not to be missed. Breakfast is included in the rate and they offer a wide selection as well as an egg station.

The location tops off this exceptional choice in accommodation being 100 metres from the beach and within a couple minutes walk of amazing restaurants. If you find yourself in Sam Roi Yot do yourself a tremendous favour and stay here.

Things to See and Do around Sam Roi Yot

It is clear to see why Sam Roi Yot means ‘three hundred mountain peaks’. The limestone cliffs surround you and create a stunning backdrop to this stunning coastline. Many people chose to visit Sam Roi Yot as a day trip from Hua Hin, however, if you have the time I believe it is worth spending a few days here to enjoy everything this place has to offer.

Phraya Nakhon Cave

Phraya Nakhon Cave is located within Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park and is without a doubt the biggest draw card for the area. It is possible to visit the cave as a day trip from Hua Hin, however, if you want to spend more time at this remarkable site then it is advisable to stay locally.

There are differing opinions on how the cave was discovered. Some believe a local ruler Nakhon Srithammaraja discovered it 200 years ago when he was forced to take refuge from a storm although many historians think a nobleman named Nakhon stumbled across it in the 17th century. Nevertheless, it is a truly majestic place to visit.

In 1890 a small pavilion was constructed in Bangkok and assembled inside the cave to commemorate the visit of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). Every morning at around 10am the morning sunlight floods the cave and radiates the pavilion. In later years it was visited by King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) and King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX).

What you need to know before you visit:

Now you are familiar with the history of the cave it is advisable to know what is involved when visiting Phraya Nakhon Cave.

You will read several accounts from people who have trekked to the cave and most will agree that it is not an easy walk. As a family we walk regularly and as a whole are reasonably fit, however, this was a tough trek. Having said that my 81 year Dad managed to get to the top, although he admitted that it was almost ‘broke’ him. Adding to the element of difficulty is the extreme humidity, expect to sweat bucket loads!

Sam Roi Yot Map
Map of Sam Roi Yot National Park

You will be dropped off at the village of Bang Pu where you need to pay the entrance fee of 200 Baht per person to enter the National Park. From here you have two options to access the beginning of the walk, on foot or by boat. The walk will take you around 45 minutes and it relatively easy but bear in mind that the next stage is incredibly challenging so it’s best to save your energy and take a boat. The boat costs 200 Baht per boat not per person as I believed, hence why we walked.

Walk to Temple Gramps
The walk before the hard part!
View - walk to Temple
Rewarded with beautiful views

Signage leads you a few hundred meters from the beach to the start of the walk. Make sure you carry plenty of water and wear sunscreen. There is a rustic restaurant and toilets available before you start your ascent.

Sign walk to temple
Good to know!
Beach before temple walk
The beach area just before the uphill climb

Take your time, stop often to catch your breath and enjoy the remarkable reward once you reach the pavilion. It really is worth the effort and believe it or not the pavilion is more beautiful in real life than in the pictures on the internet.

Beaches and the Local Scenery

To be honest the beaches at Sam Roi Yot do not even compare to the paradise of the beaches located on the Southern Islands of Thailand. Having said that they are still beautiful in their own way and offer a much less crowded experience. The long stretch of sandy beach at Ban Phu Noi (Dolphin Bay) offers a safe swimming environment for children and is a great place take out a kayak in the calm waters.

Kayaking

The roads are very quiet and the area is relatively flat making for an easy exploration by bike and within a few minutes you are cycling in remote countryside.

Bike Ride beach
You get the beach all to yourself

Bike ride

Restaurants

Surprisingly for a such a small resort there are a variety of excellent restaurants, the majority of which are situated along the beach front. One great place was Phen Thai, a family run restaurant situated right next door to our resort and we had been given discount vouchers to top it off. They offer a traditional Thai menu and an extensive drinks list, you can chose to sit in the restaurant area or across the road on the beach. The food was delicious and very fresh, just don’t expect the food to come out all at the same time (this is typical of most Thai restaurants!).

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Phen Thai Restaurant

We then discovered Blue Beach Restaurant, tucked away in a tropical surrounding just a couple of minutes walk from our resort. The atmosphere was fantastic and both nights we visited we saw the same people as the previous night! Once you discover this gem of a place it’s hard to go anywhere else. The food was amazing, we tried a variety of dishes and they were all exceptional and the drinks were very good value.

Did Sam Roi Yot Meet our Expectations?

Sam Roi Yot not only met our expectations but the place went above and beyond and exceeded them. If you are looking for a quiet resort, away from tourist crowds and loud music then this is the place to visit. We could easily have stayed longer and explored the area further if we’d had more time. A stay in Sam Roi Yot will definitely be on our list again so we can discover the many walks and places of interest we didn’t have time to visit on this trip.

Where to next….

A four hour minivan trip and we were ready to explore the delights of Bangkok.

Hotel Reviews, Thailand, Travel

Hua Hin

Hua Hin was the second place on our itinerary around Thailand. We travelled from Kanchanaburi by train with a connection at Nakhon Pathom, where we saw Phra Pathom Chedi, the tallest chedi in the world at 120 metres.

Getting to Hua Hin
Phra Pathom Chedi

We pulled into Hua Hin’s historic train station at around 2pm. The station is one of the oldest in Thailand and it features a royal waiting room that used to welcome the King for visits to his summer Palace. The main station building is in Victorian style and dates back to the 1920’s when the resort became fashionable.

Train Station
Hua Hin Railway Station

We had intended to use a public songtaew (a converted pick-up truck) to get to our guesthouse but we couldn’t find any information about where they departed. Fortunately there were plenty of tuk-tuk drivers vying for custom so it wasn’t hard to negotiate a good price.

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Travelling by Tuk-Tuk

Baan Talay 51 Guesthouse

We had booked two family double rooms at Baan Talay 51 guesthouse for a very reasonable price. The room had one single bed and one double with a private bathroom. Towels, toiletries and a hairdryer were included in the room rate. There was also a kettle, tea and coffee, a tv and air conditioning. My only criticism about the room would be that the beds were very firm even for Thailand standards.

It was the swimming pool and quaint garden area that made this place truly great. The swimming pool is not very deep but this can be an advantage if you have young children.

Pool
Pool and Garden Area

Wat Khao Takiap (Monkey Mountain)

We arranged for a tuk tuk to take us up to the temple on Khao Takiap Mountain as it was too hot and humid to walk all the way. At the base of the temple there are a few shops selling drinks, snacks and souvenirs.

It’s entertaining to sit here for a while and watch the monkeys clambering over the roof tops avoiding being sling shot by the vendors. We were also joined by dogs, cats and a cockerel!

Monkey
No Monkey Business Here

It only took us around 10 minutes to walk up the steps to the top. Along the way there were lots of monkeys but they didn’t bother us at all. It’s best not to have any food that is visible to the monkeys as they are prone to stealing it from you. Arriving at the top awarded us with beautiful panoramic views of the area.

Hua Hin Night Market

We decided to walk to the night market in the centre of Hua Hin, although crossing the busy roads to get there was challenging. The night market had a huge range of stalls selling homewares, clothing, souvenirs, food and beverages. It was quite lively and a very popular place for tourists.

Market 1
Hua Hin Night Market

Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT)

One of the big draw cards for visiting Thailand is the unique opportunity to get up close and personal to their national animal, the elephant. Everywhere you go there are elephant images, they appear on posters, postcards and even on the Chang beer bottles. Chang is actually the Thai word for elephant so even their beer is named after this majesty creature.

Sadly though tourism has led to the destruction of their habitat and even worse the mistreatment of these iconic animals for financial gain.

I wanted my family to have the experience of seeing elephants but strictly at a genuine, humane sanctuary where elephants are not mistreated. After a substantial amount of research on the internet I found Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand. WFFT is located around 40 minutes from Hua Hin and this was a major reason for our decision to stay in the city. Click here to read my full article about Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand.

Restaurants

We were only in Hua Hin for two full days so it wasn’t much time to discover the culinary delights of this region. We found a few local restaurants within walking distance of our guesthouse that offered tasty affordable meals.

Drink
Thailand’s Known for Exotic Drinks

Hua Hin is a popular resort and many of the restaurants along the sea front are upper market and expensive. The area prominently focuses on seafood from its heritage of being an ‘old fishing village’.

Did Hua Hin Meet Our Expectations?

Originally we had planned to stay in Hua Hin for five full days as it appeared there were plenty of things to do. Upon further reading we decided to break the stay into two sections and book seperate accommodation in Sam Roi Yot instead of visiting the National Park in a day trip.

I am very pleased that we didn’t stay longer than two full days in Hua Hin. Maybe my expectations were a little unrealistic as I knew that it was not renown for having tranquil beaches. What I didn’t expect was an urban jungle of high rise buildings and polluted congestion in the centre. Luckily our guesthouse was a peaceful oasis to return to at the end of each day.

The highlight of staying in Hua Hin was the full day excursion to Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand but in hindsight they offer transfers from other less developed places.

Where to next……

A short hop found us in Sam Roi Yot National Park.

Hotel Reviews, Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized

Kanchanaburi

Way back in 1998 Thailand was my introduction to South East Asia and it was love at first sight. I was travelling with three friends and we planned to visit Kanchanaburi, however for one reason and another it didn’t happen. Subsequently in 2001 when I solo backpacked around South East Asia intending to make Kanchanaburi a priority it still didn’t eventuate. Fast forward to December 2019 and a holiday with my husband, two children, my 81 year old Dad and Kanchanaburi was the first destination on our six week itinerary,

It felt like the universe was telling me it was not meant to be with our airline deciding to strike on the very day we were flying to Thailand. This meant a possible delay in our arrival, hence pushing our itinerary days forward. I couldn’t bear the thought of missing out on Kanchanaburi again. So quick action was taken and we arranged to fly a few days early, hallelujah, my dream was back on track.

Getting to Kanchanaburi

Having the time we opted to take the 3rd class train from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi and experience the historic ride along what has become known as the Death Railway. There are two trains a day from Thornburi Station, one at 7.50am (a good option if you are visiting on a day trip) and the later one at 1.55pm.

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The best way to get to the station is to take a river boat to Thornburi Station Pier no.11. From here it is about a twelve minute walk past the Siriraj Hospital. My Dad had travelled from Thornburi station in 2002 and we expecting a large station building so it took us some time to find the current station. The original train station building was sold to Siriraj Hospital in 2003 and a new train terminus was built around 900 metres down the line.

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Alternately a taxi ride from Khao San Road should take around 20 minutes and 40 minutes from the City Centre. It is important to negotiate a price if the driver refuses to use the meter.

The station is very small with only one platform, public toilets and a ticket office. All tickets are 3rd class and cost 100 Baht per person for both Kanchanaburi and Nam Tok. Despite being 3rd class the train was surprising comfortable with padded seats, although we realised some carriages do have wooden seats. The journey took us around two and a half hours and when we arrived I was beyond excited to explore this beautiful town.

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My children enjoying Thai train travel

Siam Guesthouse – A little Oasis

Our accommodation at Siam Guesthouse was an easy 10 minute walk from the station situated at the end of a very quiet street but merely a few minutes walk from numerous bars and restaurants. Our booking included a family room (consisting of two interconnecting rooms and two bathrooms) and a twin room for my Dad. All rooms were spotlessly clean and provided a large fridge, air conditioning, towels, toiletries and other amenities such as toothbrushes and combs. The only amenity not provided was a kettle, although there is free tea, coffee and hot chocolate available all day in the communal kitchen area.

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Communal Kitchen Area
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Bedroom

The owners, Nueng and his family continually went above and beyond to make our stay memorable and their generosity was genuinely heartfelt. The real gem at Siam Guesthouse is their beautiful lush garden and courtyard. After a tiring day sightseeing in the heat we loved sitting in the shady garden enjoying a few cold refreshments.

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Things to See in and Around Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi is well-known for its dark cruel history where thousands of prisoner of wars lost their lives during World War II building a railway from Thailand to Burma under Japanese brutality. It is also a place of exquisite natural beauty, rural and located on the confluence of Rivers Kwai Noi and Kwai Yai. It is worth taking your time to appreciate Kanchanaburi’s history and beauty.

The Bridge over River Kwai

A quick internet search ‘Bridge Over the River Kwai’ will soon render results of the 1957 movie with the same title directed by David Lean. Whilst being hailed an epic war movie at the time of its release the sad reality is that the six academy award winner doesn’t even come close to the truth. I guess the gruesome reality of events that occurred in Kanchanaburi would not fit your traditional Hollywood blockbuster. You can read further details on the history of the bridge in this great article written by Barry Fox for the New Scientist.

The Bridge really is the iconic image of Kanchanaburi and it is definitely worth spending the time to walk across the structure. We visited in the morning and it was very quiet and at times we had the bridge all to ourselves.

Located on the south side of the bridge is the Chinese Temple ‘Wihan Phra Phothisat Kuan In’, a great place to sit and admire unobstructed views of the bridge. The temple itself is also worth strolling around to enjoy the beautiful architecture and colourful ornate shrines.

Thai – Burma Railway Museum and War Cemetery

The Thai-Burma Railway Museum was the first place we visited in Kanchanaburi and for good reason. The museum is very well laid out and provides a wealth of information about the prisoner of war’s and the conditions they were exposed to whilst building the railway. In the gallery upstairs there is a 3 metre deep diorama of Hellfire Pass demonstrating how the cutting got its name. The museum charges 150B for adults and 70B for children.

Across the road from the museum is the Don Rak War Cemetery where 6982 prisoner of war graves are laid out amongst neatly manicured lawns.

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JEATH Museum

We hadn’t planned to visit this museum as I had read that the Thai-Burma Railway Museum is more informative and better organised. However, we had a few hours to fill in so we decided to take a look and I am glad we did. Ok so I will admit that the reviews are spot on, this museum is a little run down and there was no real logic to the positioning and relevance of some of the exhibits. Having said that when you’ve only paid 40B per person it is not really a major issue.

JEATH is an acronym for the nations that were primarily involved in the war; Japan, England, Australia, America, Thailand and Holland.

Not many people realise that there were in actual fact two bridges built in Kanchanaburi by the POWs, the famous steel and concrete one and the less well-known wooden one. The wooden bridge was built several times (due to bombing) 100 metres downstream from the steel bridge. We discovered that within this museum there are remnants of the original wooden bridge despite lonely planet saying nothing remains. Another highlight upon entering this obscure museum was feeding the large fish of which looked like they’d eat your hand given half a chance!

Hellfire Pass (Konyu Cutting)

Konyu Cutting infamously known as Hellfire Pass aptly named because of the glow at night from burning torches were said to resemble scenes from hell. The 600m stretch is a place of great historic significance and has become a memorial to those who worked on the railway. It is one thing to visit the museums in Kanchanaburi and learn about the sickening brutality and cruelty inflicted on innocent POWs but a visit to Konyu Cutting brings it to life in an unfathomable way.

The Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre and Memorial Walking Trail built and maintained by the Australian Government is a located 1½ hours by bus from Kanchanaburi. We caught a local bus (8203) from Kanchanaburi bus station at 8am at a cost of 80Baht each. In hindsight it would have worked out cost effective for us to hire a tuk tuk for the day. It would also have saved us some extra walking as the bus drops you off on the highway and it is around 500 metres to the entrance of the centre.

The Interpretive Centre is an introduction to the atrocities that occurred at Hellfire Pass with narratives of the men involved at Konyu Cutting. The information and digital media is displayed respectfully and with great sensitivity. It is truly heart breaking to discover the extreme mistreatment of fellow human beings. It is difficult to even begin to imagine the suffering these men endured and it is unthinkable how some of them survived the torturous conditions.

The Memorial Walking Trail is linked to the Interpretive Centre by a boardwalk and stairway. The centre provides free audio guides that explain each section of the walk. There are two parts to the walk, the memorial walk and a section that takes you further along the railway line to Hintok Cutting. The memorial walk takes around 30 – 40 minutes including stopping to listen to the audio guide. If you chose to walk further along the trail to Hintok Cutting (around 5km) the centre will equip you with a two way radio for your safety as certain parts are steep, uneven and rocks are prone to falling.

Upon touching the rock along the cutting my heart sank, with every step along the track another tear rolled down my face. I can say with my hand on my heart that I can’t remember any other time where I’d felt so emotionally moved.

Wampho Viaduct

Sadly this trestle bridge is the only one to survive along the Thai – Burma Railway, although originally the bridge was built with bamboo and has now been replaced with wood. The bridge consists of 164 trestles up above the Kwai Noi River and appears to cling to the side of the mountain. Incredible to believe, this section of the railway was considered to be ‘lucky’ as only 4000 men died.

You can get to Wampho Viaduct by taking the train to Tham Kra Sae station and just a few hundred meters down the line brings you to the trestle bridge.

Wamphu 1
Strolling along the line to Wampho Viaduct

Walking over the bridge is not for the faint hearted with a fear of heights and you will also need to consider the time of the trains crossing the bridge. The walk beneath the bridge is equally as rewarding as you get to marvel at the engineering prowess of this structure.

Wamphu 3
Wampho Viaduct

On the far side of Wampho Viaduct is the Suansaiyot Resort and the Bridge Bistro Cafe, a great place to stop for a refreshment and admire the bridge against the beautiful back drop.

There are two train stations at each end of Wampho Viaduct.

Wamphu Map

We chose to walk back over the bridge so we could ride the train over the viaduct and it was an incredible experience. The train rides so close to the mountain but the best views are on the other side of the carriage. It’s fascinating that such a heavy train can still meander its way over this ‘pack of cards’ bridge. The journey back to Kanchanaburi took around one and a half hours.

Pak Prak Heritage Street

Meaning ‘crossroads’ in Chinese Pak Prak Heritage Street takes you back in time and displays 20 heritage buildings of mixed architectural styles. Each of the significant buildings have signs explaining the construction and architectural details. It also details how the building were used during the Second World War, some of which were occupied by Japanese officers and others by wealthy families who profited from the war.

Pak Prak

Erawan Falls

Erawan Falls came as a welcome relief, not just from the emotions of the devastating historic events of Kanchanaburi, but also from the humidity and heat. We had planned to catch a local bus to the falls but as I mentioned previously it was cost effective for us to hire a tuk tuk for the day. For those that catch the bus; it departs from the bus station hourly from 8am to 5pm, costs 45 THB per person and takes around one hour.

The entrance fee does seem expensive especially as the locals pay so much less than tourists but I felt it was worth the money. Firstly, it is a full day out and secondly, it is apparent that the money is used for conservation and keeping the park clean.

The falls are made up of 7 tiers each with a refreshing pool. Food and drink cans are not permitted past tier two to stop the spread of litter and if you take a drink bottle past this point you will need to pay a 20 THB deposit.

Erawan Falls 1
Clear walking tracks to most of the tiers

Is it worth trekking to all seven tiers of the falls? Firstly it depends on your level of fitness. Sections of the path are very steep and the last section doesn’t really consist of a clear track, at times we were climbing over trees and rocks. Having said that my 81 year old Dad managed to get to the top, although he is much fitter than your average pensioner. It is also very slippery in places so it is sensible to wear good walking shoes or sandals. Secondly, consider how much time you have at the falls, it took us almost an hour to reach the top. I had read on several sites that the first two tiers are very busy and as you progress it gets quieter and quieter, so I was expecting to have the seventh tier to ourselves but it wasn’t the case. In hindsight I’d have probably spent more time at tier five where the swimming was equally as good.

Just one word…FISH!!! Not just any fish, fish that nibble on your dead skin. It doesn’t hurt at all, it just tickles. At tier 5 we noticed that there were really big fish in the pool and we were afraid that they’d nibble our skin but thankfully we discovered it’s only the smaller fish that have that fetish.

Overall we had a wonderful day out in what can be described as paradise on earth.

Restaurants

Kanchanaburi has a wide range of places to dine and has the added appeal of many riverside restaurants. The vast majority of restaurants are located along Th Mae Nam Khwae a kind of ‘backpackers’ street although the quality of food varies greatly.

Here’s where we ate:

Zeb Zeb

We ate at Zeb Zeb on our first night in Kanchanaburi due to its close proximity (a 2 minute walk) from our guesthouse. The restaurant has ample seating inside and a few tables outside. The vibe is quite lively although not too raucous that you can’t enjoy your meal. The food was delicious although like most restaurants in Thailand it doesn’t come out to the table all at once. It was so good we ordered extra dishes from the menu.

The Good Times Resort

The Good Times Resort is a great place to enjoy the peace and quiet with a beautiful river view. The dishes we ordered for lunch were large portion sizes but I found my curry wasn’t overly flavoursome. My husband and son however really enjoyed their dishes. Their prices were also higher than many other places in the area.

Keeree Tara

Keeree Tara restaurant is located a few minutes walk north west of the famous bridge. Many people go to the Floating Raft restaurant due to the close proximity to the bridge but we had read mixed reviews about the service, high prices and food. Keeree Tara has equally good views of the bridge and the ambience and garden-like environment are truly charming. The food was so delicious and excellent value for money that we ate here twice.

Blue Rice Restaurant by Apple & Noi

I have to say hands down Blue Rice was my absolute favourite place to eat in Kanchanaburi and we visited twice just to be sure! It is located on the opposite side of the river to the main strip but it is worth the effort to get there. We walked to the restaurant and travelled back in a tuk tuk, yes, 3 adults and 2 children in a single tuk tuk. This restaurant has everything going for it, a perfect view on the river, a lovely owner and friendly staff and last but not least some of the tastiest Thai food we’ve eaten.

On’s Thai Issan

Considering On’s Thai Issan only serves vegetarian food and being a meat eating family we were really pleasantly surprised. It is a very small place and the owner has a cooking station at the front of the restaurant. They don’t serve beer but they happily let you bring pre-purchased drinks from the store next door.

The Balcony

If you find yourself along Pak Prak Heritage Street then you must stop by at The Balcony. The interior is delectably modern with satisfying decor that you’d usually only expect in the western world. Wonder through to the back of the cafe and you find a hidden beer garden. Unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy a meal here but the snacks and drinks we ordered were amazing . To top it off the owners were super friendly and the prices are very reasonable.

Did it live up to my expectations?

Kanchanaburi offered my family so many beautiful memories with it’s history, culture and overwhelming natural beauty. I can truly say that it far exceeded my expectations and I couldn’t imagine anyone not finding pleasure in this fascinating town. I’d love to hear about your experiences with Kanchanaburi or maybe it is on your must see list.

Where to next….

After five fabulous days exploring Kanchanaburi it was time to move on to our next destination….Hua Hin.

Montserrat, Spain, Travel

Monistrol de Montserrat

We were on our way from South West France to my Dad’s house in Moraira on the Costa Blanca and this was the ideal place to break up the journey. Monserrat meaning serrated mountain in Catalan is situated in Catalonia and it is ideally placed for a day trip from Barcelona. There are so many websites that offer great information, two particular useful websites:

The Whole World or Nothing

Monserrat Tourist Guide

My husband, two children and my Dad decided to spend four nights in Monistrol de Montserrat, the town at the base of the mountain. We stayed at Apartments MO booked through Wotif.com for a total cost of US$480. The apartment was spotlessly clean and very tastefully decorated. It suited our needs perfectly with a functional kitchen, two good sized bedrooms and a cozy living area.

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The apartment was conveniently located close to the town and within walking distance of the Cremellera mountain train that takes you up to Montserrat.

It was an enjoyable walk through the shady narrow streets to the train station each morning.

We were able to purchase (through our accommodation) a four day train ticket for the Cremellera Rack Railway for the same price as one return journey. This meant that we could explore the mountain everyday at no extra cost.

Transport on Montserrat

Cremallera Rack Railway

Once we had settled into our accommodation and refuelled on some lunch it was time to venture up the mountain. The Cremallera Railway station (Monistrol-Vila) was very easy to find with google maps and the staff at the ticket counter were very helpful. The trains are fairly frequent (about every 20 minutes) with illuminated boards advising when the next train will arrive. The journey to Montserrat Monastery takes 15 minutes and the views on the way up are incredible.

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Enjoying the ride
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View from the station

There is an information centre next to the station where you can obtain a map of the mountain with details of the walking trails. They also provide timetables for the rack railway. If you are visiting on a day trip from Barcelona it is important to note which train will take you all the way back to the station Monistrol de Montserrat. At the time we were visiting the last train of the day terminated at Monistrol-Vila. If you find yourself stranded at Monistrol-Vila at the end of the day then it is a 23 minute walk through the town to Monistrol de Monserrat station.

Cable Car (Aeri de Montserrat)

You can also access the mountain by cable car (Aeri de Montserrat) from Monserrat Aeri train station. If you are coming from Barcelona you will need to decide which method of transport you would like to use as the price of either the rack railway or the cable car is included in the price.

Sant Joan Furnicular

Upon arriving at the Monastery the Sant Joan Funicular takes you on a very steep journey up the mountain for excellent views or the start of several amazing walks. With a maximum gradient of 65% it is the steepest funicular in Spain. The Sant Joan Funicular station is just above the Cremallera station. The trains run every 20 minutes from 10am until 4.30pm in the low season or 6.24pm in the high season. The entire journey takes 7 minutes, enough time to admire the beautiful scenery through the glass roof. At the time of writing an adult journey cost €8.75 single, €13.50 return and a child’s fare €4.80 single, €7.40 return.

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Very steep furnicular
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On the way up
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View from the furnicular

Attractions on Montserrat

It is surprising that there are so many attractions other than the natural beauty to experience on Montserrat.

The Benedictine Monastery Santa Maria de Monserrat

Whilst the exterior of the Monastery is not inspiring don’t let it stop you from exploring the interior where there are many treasures to be found. Firstly a brief history: The Monastery had been of religious significance since pre Christian time, in 1025 Olivia, Abbot of Ripoll founded the new Monastery at Montserrat and it soon received many pilgrims and visitors. It did not take long for word to spread of the miracles performed by the Virgin. Later in 1409 the Monastery became an independent Abbey and during the 17th and 18th century it became a cultural centre of the first order. Sadly during the French War (1808-1811) the Monastery suffered abandonment and this occurred again during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Fortunately the Government of Catalonia managed to save the Monastery from being destroyed and it continues to welcome pilgrims 1000 years since it was founded.

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Montserrat Monastery
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Interior of the Monastery

The Black Madonna

Within the Monastery high above the altar in the basilica sits the statue of the Black Madonna. Also referred to as ‘The Virgin of Montserrat’ and ‘La Moreneta’ meaning little black lady. The Black Madonna at Montserrat is of huge religious significance, possibly one of the most famous in the world. The statue was carved from wood in the 12th century and there are many theories as to why this Black Madonna and several other statues of the Virgin are black. Whether or not you are religious it is worth waiting in line to see the statue up close. We stood in line for about 35 minutes slowly making our way past interesting religious items.

 

The Black Madonna is behind glass however her right hand holding the orb to symbolise the earth is through the glass allowing you to touch it. Tradition is to touch or kiss the hand whilst opening and holding your other hand out.

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The Black Madonna

After seeing the Black Madonna you can enter the Chapel of the Image of the Mother of God. The Chapel was completed in 1885 by Paula del Villar Lozano who was aided by Antoni Gaudí. You will then walk along the Ave Maria Path (Cami de l’Ave Maria) where people pay homage to the statue by lighting a candle and saying a prayer. It is a very moving experience as the entire wall along the pathway is covered by lit candles.

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Inside the Chapel of the Image of the Mother of God

L’Escolania Choir Boys

Another fantastic experience not to be missed in the Monastery is to listen to the choir boys sing. Around 50 boys from the boarding school of the Monastery perform for the congregation Monday to Friday and on Sunday evenings. The choir dates back to 1223 and they are renowned around the world for their beautiful voices and music. They have recorded over 100 albums and they continue to perform around the world. They currently perform at 1pm and 6.45pm but it is worth checking at the time of your visit as they are not present during July or on the Christmas holidays. Even my two children were spell bound by the sound of the choir, certainly an experience not to miss.

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Choir Boys

Museum of Montserrat

The museum of Montserrat is located under St Mary’s Square and the entrance can be found next to the steps that lead to the square. The museum houses a vast collection of over 1300 pieces consisting of artwork, archaeological and liturgical exhibits. At the time of our visit the entrance fee was €8.00 for an adult and €6.50 for a child. The museum is open Monday to Friday 10am-5.45pm and Saturday to Sunday 10am-6.45pm.

My family love to visit art galleries so we didn’t want to miss this museum. Amongst the artwork there are paintings by Salvador Dali, El Greco, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Giardino. My children’s favourite exhibit happened to be the earliest one, an Egyptian sarcophagus from 13th century BC. The museum was very well laid out and it was not crowded so we could take our time and really appreciate the exhibits.

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Salvador Dali
Painting 2
Pablo Picasso

Painting 1

Walks on Montserrat

During our time on Montserrat we managed to do several of the walks. The map that can be obtained at the information centre (behind the Cremellera Station) is helpful but we found it hard to follow some of the time. Apart from one walk where we got a little disorientated all the other walks were well signed along the tracks.

Strolling Along the Promenade

When you leave the Cremellera station you will notice a walkway along the main thoroughfare to your right. On the left hand side there were several markets stalls where we sampled several sweet treats. On the right hand side the views stretched as far as the eye could see towards the coast.

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Strolling along the main thoroughfare

Although it was only a short walk, it’s surprising what you stumble across. Unfortunately I don’t know what this statue is called or what it represents, however I thought it looked beautiful in the dappled sun.

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Santa Cova Walk

This is possibly one of the most popular walks to do whilst on Montserrat as it takes you to a pilgrimage site. This walk starts just below the Cremellera station next to the cable car and takes you on a fairly steep decent of 120 metres. The path is very wide and paved so anyone with a reasonable level of fitness will be able to achieve this walk. Along the walk are the ‘Path of Rosary’ monuments and sculptures, detailing the story of Christ’s crucifixion and his resurrection.

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It is 1.5km to reach The Santa Cova or ‘The Holy Grotto’ as it is often referred. It is believed that in 880 on a Saturday some shepherd children saw a ‘great light’ fall from the sky, an occurrence that continued for several weeks. The bishop of Manresa heard of the sitings and made the journey to Montserrat on a Saturday. During his visit he witnessed the image of the Virgin Mary in the cave and ever since the cave has become a revered site of worship.

The Chapel of the Holy Grotto was an addition built in 1696 – 1705. Within the Holy Grotto you will find a replica of the Holy Image. Whilst visiting the Chapel it is important to remain silent.

If you are stretched for time and can only fit in one walk then I would highly recommend the Santa Cova walk. It took us about two hours to complete with lots of stops to admire the monuments and sculptures along the way.

San Jeroni Summit

At 1236m San Jeroni is the highest summit in the Montserrat Park and can be reached by a relatively easy hike. To get to the start of the walk take the San Joan furnicular and follow the signs for San Jeroni. The walk to the summit should take around 2 hours return and is a fairly level path for most of the way. The final 10 minutes entails a combination of concrete steps and paths to reach the top.

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Stunning views on the San Jeroni walk

Unfortunately we started this walk late in the morning and we weren’t able to reach the summit due to hungry children! Looking at several articles on the internet it seems that we missed the best scenic views in Montserrat.

For a comprehensive explanation of this walk visit this website.

Restaurants and Bars

Within the vicinity of the Monastery there are a few restaurants, cafes and bars. The prices are somewhat inflated but I guess you are on top of a mountain!

Every morning we chose to have breakfast in our apartment to save money and we dined out at night in the town of Monistrol de Montserrat. During the day we ate at the following places on the mountain.

The Cafeteria

The Cafeteria is located on the main promenade opposite the train station. It is a great option for lunch as the service is quick and there is a varied selection of food and drinks. The opening hours are 9am to 6.45pm Monday to Friday and to 8pm on weekends.

Buffet de Montserrat

Located on the second floor of the Mirador de los Apóstoles building, the buffet offers great value for money at €15.50 per person. There was a large selection of hot and cold food with unlimited soft drink, beer and wine. It’s not exactly gourmet food although the quality was really good considering the variety.

Other options that we didn’t try include:

The Restaurant Montserrat

The Abat Cisneros Restaurant

Bar de la Plaça

For more information on these options visit this website.

Discover Montserrat for Yourself

Whether you visit Montserrat for one day or several days you won’t be disappointed. We had the luxury of spending three full days getting acquainted with the mountain and all it offered. The views have been forever captured in my thoughts and I will continue to affectionately reminisce about this magnificent place. It’s definitely a must see place so go and discover this gem for yourself.