Category Archives: Thailand

More Wats & Motorbikes….Sukhothai & Chiang Mai, Thailand

No sleep on our overnight flight from Kathmandu to Bangkok (through Kuala Lumpur again). We just can’t do it. Luckily, there are lots of movies and we were entertained on both flights. So when we got to Bangkok we checked into our usual place (weird that we have stayed here at least three different occasions already) and slept for the rest of the afternoon. Our two favorite street food places on Rambuttri were closed because it was Monday so we opted for one of the touristy places nearby. Which was a great find, not for the prices, but because I discovered baked bananas in coconut milk. Delicious, like dessert soup. Must find a recipe. The next day we sent out all of our laundry (except socks, which are never leaving our sight again) and tried to get the Nepal pictures saved and then blogged. We have spent a lot of time in Bangkok by now and are less impressed each time we come back. It has so much to offer, but it is SO big and can be quite frustrating and/or expensive getting from one place to another. We were glad to hop on a bus on Wednesday for a 7 hour trip to Sukhothai, another ancient capital.


We arrived after dark, took a tuk tuk to our hostel in New Sukhothai and then explored the night market area. While there were lots of street food vendors, there wasn’t much else to do. The tuk tuks here are different. Instead of a bike pulling some sort of cart, the cart is in the front, completely blocking the view of the driver. And then the passengers get all the wind and dust in their faces and totally ruin their hair.

The next morning we got up incredibly early (Riki’s idea, I was not pleased) to rent bikes in Old Sukhothai and explore the ruins. We arrived by tuk tuk at the entrance, where we were given our 30 baht (about $1) bikes, pink and blue of course. I got pink, not by choice. Incredibly uncomfortable bikes, except for the extra seat in the back of mine, but they had brakes, which is more than we can say about some other bikes we’ve rented.

Old Sukhothai is very spread out and it was pretty hot. The first Wat we visited was the most central one and the largest. I pretty quickly discovered some wildlife and Riki wandered off take pictures. A lot of the wats are pretty similar, but there are a few different styles here, with Sri Lanka and Khmer influences. I will spare you the nitty gritty, but there are loads of pictures (shocking).


 

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Too early to be sightseeing
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She came up to me, I swear.

 

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BIG Buddha

 

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Proof Riki was here.
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Waiting patiently for Riki while he takes photos
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Buddha be gold-fingered
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Back seat was more comfy on my little pink bike

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The next day we went back to the bus station and caught a bus north to Chiang Mai. You don’t normally have to book the buses ahead of time, just show up at the station and they will put you on the next available bus. We have been pretty lucky and haven’t had to wait very long so far. Six hours later we arrived and took another tuk tuk to the Old City. We checked into a guesthouse named after me and meandered to the city walls to check out the food stalls. We have been able to eat very well and very cheaply in Thailand. The street food is really good and there are many options. I discovered a dessert stall and sampled a few bright colored squares. Still not sure what they were, but they were kind of a cross between hard jello and pudding. Unfortunately, not a good combo.

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Chiang Mai is a hub for trekking, outdoor adventure and cooking classes. Having no desire to go trekking Thai style as we feel a bit spoiled by Nepal’s real trekking, we spent two days wandering the city, checking out the various markets and wats. We also got our first massage, after being tempted by so many vendors in Bangkok, we gave in and got 30 minute foot massages for the equivalent of about $5 total.

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This is where the parents should probably skip ahead, or at least be thankful that we sometimes do things without telling you first for a reason. Having exhausted the sights of the Old City in Chiang Mai, we had the grand idea to rent a motorbike and go on an adventure around a commonly travelled loop just outside the city. This 100+ km loop goes by some incredible waterfalls, various flora and fauna sites, including an elephant camp, and through some incredible scenery. Having rented scooters in New Orleans one time, we were pros, and showed up at the bike shop ready for anything. Except semi-automatic motorbikes and hills. And Thai police officers (more later). But for the equivalent of $10 we were given helmets, a bike and a map and sent off on our way. Having only ever ridden a scooter, an automatic one, this was, well, a bit of a learning process. Oh and the traffic (not to mention they drive on the left). The beginning of the loop goes for about 30 minutes through the city and its suburbs. In one word, nerve-racking. Riki thought it best that I start out driving. You know, because I know gears better (?). So by the time we see the police check point, I’m pretty mentally drained from dodging buses and cars and other crazy motorbike drivers. When the cop motions us to stop, I’m thinking, “Well, this has been fun, all 30 minutes of it.” He asks for my international driver’s license and I hand over my Louisiana license. Of course, getting our driver’s license translated had been on our list of things to do before we left Louisiana, but it didn’t happen. At this point, Riki and I are both thinking that we are going to have to park the bike and get a taxi back to town because they won’t let us drive. Well, not the case. The cop writes me up a ticket, and motions me to cross the highway to the guy sitting under a tree with a wad of cash. 200 baht (about $6.50) later and we are off, with me free to drive for the rest of the day. I’d like to point out here that getting an international driver’s license in the U.S. costs at least $25. So I’m still ahead.

Onward we went. Eventually, we turned onto a smaller road and the traffic subsided. We stopped at Mae Sa Waterfalls and hiked up the 10 falls. This place has been neglected some, especially the higher you go, but the scenery is lush and the falls were decent.

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These big guys have an affinity for me. Note my awesome pink helmet.

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Riki decided to risk another $6.50 fine and took over the driving. We continued on the Samoeng Valley loop to the Queen Sirikrit Botanical Gardens. It is set up on a very steep hill and there were times when I didn’t think our little 125cc bike would make it. But we made it to the top, ate lunch and explored the greenhouses. They have a great display of cacti and water plants, as well as a very large rainforest house.

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We continued on through windy roads which at times were very steep (uphill and down) and saw some beautiful views along the way. When Riki got tired of driving, I took over and continued producing terrible noises from the motorbike as I chugged up and down hills. Towards the end, it was so steep that the fuel gauge hit empty and I was pretty sure we were going to be stranded. It wasn’t empty just yet, but by the time we neared the end of the loop we were running on fumes with no gas station in sight. I started coasting whenever possible and we passed plenty of LPG (liquid petro) stations, but not a single regular station. Finally, at a stop light, I pulled up to a lady on a similar bike and pointed down at my bright red fuel gauge. She chuckled a little and motioned just up the street. Sure enough, there it was, but on the wrong side of the road. I can’t exactly explain why that u-turn was so stressful, but I think the combo of already being low on gas, having to drive 5 minutes down the road to the next intersection to turn around and then trying to figure out which side of the intersection to go on when everyone is going every which way, all combined to make an eventful end of our trip. We returned the bike and headed straight for John’s Bar, where we got two draft beers and tried to unwind.

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The next morning, we got a tuk tuk back to the bus station and caught the bus to Chiang Rai.

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Ancient Bricks & Elephants….Ayutthaya, Thailand

Ayutthaya is an ancient capital, just a quick train ride north of Bangkok.  Quick trip that is if your train doesn’t catch on fire.  We smelled the smoke, but didn’t think anything of it because people burn random things all the time here.  That is, until we stopped and all the people from the car in front of ours came steaming into our car and the stench of smoke became too bad that they opened the doors and people started getting off.

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But it must not have been that bad, because after about 10 minutes we started going again, albeit slowly.

We arrived about an hour late to Ayutthaya and took the 5 baht (31 baht= $1) ferry across to the island.  The buildings along the water were raised, some very high.  A couple years ago this area had a terrible flood.  The worst flooding in 100 years.

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We walked to a hostel, a Thai style place with no a/c or working internet, but loads of character in a quiet area.  From there we rented bikes for just over a buck and headed for the ruins.  And ruins there were plenty.  Mostly piles of bricks with questionable structural integrity.  The first wat we visited however had a cool interior with an old Buddha mural inside.  The Burmese destroyed this area, so what is left is only the basics.

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A lot of the wats have been renovated over the years or are currently being renovated.

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It was incredibly hot and we opted to take a tuk-tuk the second half of the day to some of the further out sites.  I don’t have a picture of this, but our tuk-tuk was pimped out with led lights and very loud speakers in the back.  Another undocumented event happens more often than we’d like, but since we each only have a few shirts and shorts in similar colors, Riki and I often match.  This day, if it weren’t for my new hat, we would have been identical.

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 Look for the scale figures standing by the center hand. Huge, indoor Buddha.

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 Reclining Buddha

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Check out my Instagram too for more Buddha pics.

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Our final stop with the tuk-tuk was to see where they used to train elephants for work and war.  It was a bit depressing to see all the elephants chained up, but this little guy was free to roam, though rarely left his mom’s side.

The next day we rented bikes (@ a different place because the first ones we had were pretty awful) and rode to see some of the closer sites.  I broke my sunglasses and until I find a good pair, I’m using this nifty reversible hat for shade.

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Posing like the other Asian tourists.

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The hat photo bombs a lot of Riki’s pictures.
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Banksy?

We returned to Bangkok without any smoky trains and checked into a new place just north of the backpacking area.  I picked this place because it sounded like it had character.  It has loads, a great view, and not much else.  The place is sitting so close to the river that it is actually built over water.  Which means mosquitos.  The bathroom was quite dim, which was probably better, but the toilet gurgled all night and the bed was like a rock.  So this morning we moved back to the place we stayed earlier this week, which has no window, but is clean and has a/c.

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See the fish? (Center right)

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We are spending the next couple days reading up on Nepal and planning for that segment, which begins on Wednesday.

Wrapping up N. Vietnam….Back to BKK, Thailand

We spent a couple of days back in Hanoi.  The first day back happened to be the 60th anniversary of kicking the French out of the city.  We had seen the preparations for this for over a week.  There were lanterns all along the streets and lights up everywhere.  And there were flags.  Lots of flags.  And you know how much Riki likes flags?  I’m guessing there are 100 pictures of flags.  I will spare you most of them.  That evening, we wandered down to Hoan Kiem lake just in time for a parade (of course we found a parade).  There were dancing dragons, colorful ladies and lots of music.  We hung around the lake for a few hours and were joined by perhaps the entire population of Hanoi.  The fireworks, which Riki had read were going to be modest because they were being paid for by the city, were the best ones I’ve ever seen.  Lots of huge, loud ones and incredible shapes.

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The next day we checked out the National History Museum and Revolution Museum.  The Revolution Museum was a lot like Cuba’s in that there was not much explanation, but lots of artifacts.  For instance, the cup so and so drank from that time he ate at this place.  And the jacket he wore that other time he went to this other place.  See how much I learned?  We did some research after we went to fill in the blanks.  The History Museum had a lot of really cool old artifacts, metal pieces, old tools, etc.

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The following day we headed for Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house.  He refused to live in the palace and had a traditional house built out back for himself.  The people really like that.  On our way we got a bit lost, but found a lake and this guy giving haircuts along a main road.IMG_0522.JPG

We found a few places with balconies overlooking the hectic streets.  I think these were Riki’s favorites.IMG_0521.JPG

 Our last day in Hanoi we did some shopping (or just browsing really) and went to our new favorite restaurant to eat our new favorite dish, Highway 4 with carmelized coconut and pork.  Pricey for Hanoi, but our meal was still under $15.

We had a quick flight back to Bangkok on Air Asia.  Our flights were only $60 each way.  Definitely worth the trip to Northern Vietnam to catch the good weather.

Back in BKK, we strolled down this canal to the Golden Mount, a free view of the city, with lots of bells.

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I may look awkward, but these monks on mobile devices were too funny.

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Sometimes I get ahold of the camera and bad things happen.

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Flower pictures, as requested.

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We really like taking the ferries down the river.  They are fast, cheap and cleaner than the buses.

Next stop, Ayutthaya, the ancient capital.

 

Rain & Iguanadons….Bangkok

Day 4

Began with an early morning rainstorm, as previously mentioned.  We then ventured to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (wat=temple).
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We took the free English tour and learned just as much about our tour guide as about the palace and temple (38, learned English from Harry Potter, loves to touch ladies, & single – shocking).imageimageimage

We finished our tour, complete with our first Wat & shoe-removing experience just in time for the afternoon rainstorm.  Our umbrella has started struggling at this point, but we make it without getting too wet.  Our parents, mine in particular should note that we spent almost 4 hours at a religious facility.  This may be a record, but it does include the visit to the textile museum, which was really cool.  The Queen started an organization to bring Thai silk back into practice to provide jobs and money for struggling rural economies.  It was pretty successful and there are beautiful silk garments and tapestries now from an industry that was dying out.

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We were intrigued by the textile museum and continued our silk tour at the Jim Thompson house.  He was an American architect who promoted Thai silk around the world and revived trade outside of Thailand.   He disappeared mysteriously in Malaysia, but his house was turned into a museum.  He combined 7 Thai structures into one to make his house.

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There were lots of animals at his house.

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Living and nonliving.

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This kitten was passed out in various locations while we were there, including the lap of one of the guides, who gave him a Thai massage.

Across the canal are two of the original silk making facilities from Jim Thompson’s time.  They still produce the cloth on big wooden looms and will show you the whole process.  If we have any money left at the end of our trip, we intend to go back and buy something here.

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There are no pictures after this as we left the museum to go to the nearby Vietnamese Embassy to pick up our visas.  Along the way, it started to rain.  And then pour.  And not the usual 15 minute afternoon shower.  This was torrential.  Seeing that we had to be there between 4 and 4:30 to pick up the visas, we had no time to wait out the rain.  We trooped on with our fading umbrella and skimpy poncho.  Never occurred to us to get a taxi.  Nope, we haven’t yet, why start now?  I was very proud of my waterproof shoes, until I realized that they won’t stop the rain that runs down your ankles from getting into your socks and then into your shoes.  So my feet were a full 5 minutes drier than Riki’s. Success.  And then his dried out faster.  Fail.

We took the cheap bus home, which was full, and hot, and slow.  The traffic is really bad for about 3 hours every afternoon.  The umbrella has been retired. Fail.

Day 6: Today

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Still need to identify these canal creatures.  Iguanadons as Riki is calling them.

I forgot to mention that they LOVE their king and queen here.  There are pictures everywhere, along the street, in the buildings, in our hostel.

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Riki loves flags.

With our tickets from the Grand Palace (500 baht) from the other day, we also got tickets to a bunch of buildings in the Dusit area.  The first building was the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, which has a very impressive exhibit on artifacts made for the king.  The building was pretty amazing as well.   Riki tells me the king who built these buildings prevented colonizing by western countries because he was already so modern as he had gone to school in England.

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What is not so modern about this building is the dress code.  While I was completely covered, shoulders, ankles and all, I am now the new owner of a rather stiff and almost mauve colored sarong.  Riki was wearing the same clothes as me, but no sarong for him.

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Oh well, it was 50 baht (less than $3) and I can use it as a beach towel, maybe.

We couldn’t take pictures inside, but there is a crazy dragon chandelier covered in green shiny beetle shells.  Then we went to another textile museum, where we learned to differentiate between northern and southern Thai patterns.   Also with our Grand Palace ticket, we were granted entry to the Vimanmek Mansion Museum.  We had a free English guide for the large teak home of the former kings, but she really only wanted to talk about the gifts in the rooms that were given to the king from around the world, not the building or rooms.  It was incredible, but also, no pictures allowed.

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Fish in a canal.

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There are these little shrines all over the city and when people see Buddha they bow slightly and clasp their hands together in front of their chest.

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 We have started playing I-SPY an Asian animal.   Mostly cats, sometimes dogs, toads, iguanodons, fish, cockroaches, really strange sounding birds, etc.  You can play along too.

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Sights, sounds & smells….Bangkok

Its 5:30 am, Bangkok, Day 4. That’s early you say. Well yes, but its pouring and the clang of the rain on the metal roofs around us is deafening. At least to me. Riki is out cold. This is the first rain we’ve had, despite it being the rainy season. So that’s lucky. We were going to get up early anyway to go to the Grand Palace, just not this early.

We arrived in Bangkok Sunday morning at 5:30, like I said, that’s early. Having had the brilliant idea to sleep only a few hours Friday, so we could sleep on the plane Saturday, neither of us managed to doze off at all on the plane. Luckily, there were lots of movies and no screaming children. We flew Thai Air and were not impressed. Turkish Airlines had friendlier service and better food. It was still above average though, and if you fly first class (which we did not) they have a fully reclining seat. We did really enjoy the flight attendants’ uniforms, which were semi-formal Thai suits and all different.

Needless to say, when we arrived at our hostel before 7 am, we were exhausted. The reception wasn’t open and the person on duty managed to communicate that we could leave our bags and come back to check in at 1 pm when our room would be ready. So that’s what we did.

View from our room
View from our room

We are staying just north of the large backpacking area centered around Khao Saan Rd and so we headed that way, like walking zombies. There are no pictures from this day, as I don’t think Riki had the energy to get out his camera. We wandered down toward the Grand Palace, where we discovered it was Car Free Day, where we encountered thousands (and I’m not exaggerating) of people riding bikes to a large park, Sanem Luang. This made it incredibly difficult to cross the road and we kind of shuffled/sprinted our way through the bright green-shirted swarm. It was still too early for anything to be open, so we meandered from park (I use this term loosely) to park looking for a comfy bench. These are hard to come by. We finally found a nice shaded (did I mention its hot?) spot of grass among some older ladies doing their morning stretching and managed to doze off for a minute, or less.

Later, we went to check in and took a quick 6 hour nap.

Day 2: Embassy & Hospital

We took the bus to the Vietnamese Embassy, which is a success in itself, as there are about 100 bus lines and no real map of where they go.  So we got one in the right direction and the ticket taker told us when to get off.  Oddly, the bus we took cost 6.5 baht (~32 baht = $1) but we have yet to see a .5 baht coin.  But since we are two, I guess we won’t.  We turned in our passports and application (2500 baht each) and headed out on to their embassy row in search of the Red Cross.  Having just decided to add Nepal to our itinerary, we were lacking in the Polio vaccine department and read that the Red Cross administers them for $20.  Well we found the anonymous Red Cross clinic, but that turned out to be mostly for AIDS testing.  A nice American guy working there who had lived in New Orleans for awhile pointed us in the direction of the Red Cross Travel Clinic, which is literally right next door to a snake farm – they share an entrance.  We did not partake in the snake farm and were turned away at the clinic because they only had a combo Tdap-polio, which we had both just received.  This is why we ended up at the hospital.  Sorry if you were expecting more drama.  We walked right in and were escorted to the appropriate clinic.  An hour later and $30 poorer ($2 for the polio drop, $3 for hospital fees,  and $10 for the doctor – each) out we went.  We were really impressed with the system and I will attribute the efficiency to the all-female staff (except for a pharmacist, who we didn’t need).  We wandered back up to the shopping district, where we ate dinner for $4 total and caught the same bus back to our hostel (this time it was free, apparently sometimes they are free).

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Day 3

First stop this day was to get Riki a hair cut. A $2.50 hair cut.  He looks a bit like the monks they have all around here, but no orange robe.

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Then we took a water taxi ($1 for two) for about half an hour to the south.  We meandered back up through Chinatown and were particularly fascinated by the car parts area.  So, if you want to buy any kind of metal for your tuk-tuk or motorcycle or car, there is a street, well more like a large alley where there are heaps and heaps of car parts.  I’m not sure how they find the right one, but maybe they just hammer one and melt it until it fits?  We passed through the flower market, which is an incredible economy in itself.  It is hard to imagine how 50+ vendors all selling the same thing in one place makes sense but that’s how it is with a lot of things here.

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We stopped at Amorosa bar for a drink and to watch the sunset.  Highly recommend, though the drinks are more expensive ($4).  We watched the sun set over Wat Arun and met a nice British couple.  When we were leaving the man tried to pay for our drinks because “it’s so nice to see Americans get out, because you don’t have to leave.” To which I replied, “you don’t have to leave either,” which may have been a bit harsh because I’m sure he meant well, but he was at least 6 Beefeaters and tonic in.  Anyway, we ended up walking home because the boat stops running at 6:30 and we couldn’t find out where the bus stopped (fail).

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Some more images below.  Sorry they are not in order, but our Ipad is not cooperating.  I could rant for an hour about the backwards way we have having to do everything because Apple products are stupid.

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We have yet to identify this 5′ river monster.image image