I heart Sydney...it reminds me of San Francisco

Sydney from the sky.
The harbor and the Sydney opera house from the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
Ferry ride out to Manly.

Outdoor pool - I nearly melted when I saw this...I can't imagine anything much more luxurious than this water-side lap pool, restaurant and yoga center.
I did handstands all over the Botanical and Royal gardens...it harder than I anticipated to take a good picture of yourself doing a handstand. Several people got a good show or failed attempts.
I must say - I am pleased with this one. At the time, I thought I would go around for the rest of the day taking pictures of myself imitating shapes, but that idea pooped out.
I took a tour of the iconic Sydney Opera House.
Here is the symphony hall. I couldn't take a picture of the opera hall because the stage set was copyrighted.
It was a dreamy evening since the tour magically reduced the opera tickets by $100 so I got a ticket to Tosca for $50!...I think I was the only one at the opera in shorts and a dirty under armour shirt - but I was thrilled to be there. Above is the view of the Harbor Bridge at night from the balcony outside the opera house at intermission.

Surfing in Byron Bay

During my brief stay in Australia, I decided not to rush around and try to see everything (I will have to come back for another trip) and decided to stay in Byron Bay for 5 days. Byron Bay is in Queensland and reminded me of a small Santa Barbara with cute boutique shops, trendy restaurants but with a down-to-earth surfer mentality where many people walk around with nothing but swim shorts and a surf board.

During my stay I did lots of yoga (some in classes and some by myself by the beach), took surfing lessons, cooked in the hostel, and watched films from the Byron Bay International Film Festival that happily coincided with my visit.
There was often a good breeze at the beach. I had been stretching in the grass and started taking pictures of seagulls.
Here is a picture of me with bloodshot / tired eyes after three days of surfing and getting sunburnt in places on my face that teh sun doesn't usually hit: lips, upper and lower eyelids. During my 3 4-hour surfing lessons I started to see the potential for the incredible highs possible from surfing but left with a healthy respect for how tiring it can be. I was able to stand up on the board my first attempt and by the end of the second day could catch and ride in most "white-waves" (broken waves). On the third day I paddled out behind where the waves were breaking to start choosing some larger green waves to get on. I found I was pretty pooped just getting out to where I could sit on the board at wait for waves...with the feeling of being tumbled by a few waves still fresh in my memory...
There were a few films that I saw that energized me. There was a short film, in particular, that was so stunning I can't get the images out of my mind. It is called SALT and is made up of footage taken in the salt flats in the middle of Australia....so beautiful.
You can watch the trailer here: http://www.saltdoco.com/movie-info/synopsis.htm
Another highlight of the film festival for me was a session on creativity: there was a short documentary on "Unleashing creativity" and another called "Automorphosis" - which is all about the people who turn their cars into works of art - incredible people...I loved "The Spoon Man"
There were so so many young kids hitting the waves with boogie boards - it was great to see a whole culture dedicated to enjoying the ocean in a respectful way.
One day there was a competition for the Ocean Surf Rescue Club. This little girl wrapped in the orange towel already competed.


Cool Brisbane and Modern Art

I arrived in Brisbane, Australia 2 days about and it was so quiet compared to Bangkok that it seemed like the city had been abandoned leaving me and the cool pattering of the rain that continued for the next 24 hours. I was happy for the cooler weather and spent the entire next day walking around seeing the city in the rain.
Not to mention that I am very excited to be using the extra gear that I had my mother bring from the US for my time in Australia and New Zealand (rain coat, long underwear, hat, dental floss..).

Brisbane is set around a winding river and yesterday I walked through the downtown area, the botanical gardens, went to the bathroom in a university student center and walked along the river front.

I found some lovely mushrooms that were enjoying the rainy weather as well
....as well as a Monet-esque Lilly-pad pond complete with flowers and rain drops

I was delighted to find that that modern art museum focused on large art installations (my fav!), many of which were commissioned for the large and architecturally interesting spaces
Who could not love this abstract piece made entirely of stainless steel tongs? Let me know if anyone sees a great sale of those on-line - I may be in the market.
This colorful, nearly-kitchy room was created by a pair of Indian artists. There was a lot going on but themes included the idolization of famous or successful indians and the hope that is placed in the children that are sent off to do great things, combined with their commentary on the Indian middle-class utopia (painting on the wall)
The detail on this painting was lovely...I miss India

Then there were the Japanese...man they are good. This large piece is a taxidermied elk covered entirely in crystal and glass balls.

This piece is all about surfaces and perception

On the second floor was a room filled with 100,000 white strings of different lengths that you could wander through if you took your shoes off and promised to move slowly and not hurt other walkers

Here is a picture from when I was walking through...very cool

Anybody want to do this with me next year?

Mom*Cat in Bangkok

Look at that sweet mommy with cool glasses and her loving daughter in a FILTHY shirt standing together just before sunset on one of Bangkok's ferry piers.
I put my mother up in a charming youth hostel and in the mornings we had yogurt, mango, muesli and honey with a side of tea and toast...delightful! with the breeze blowing in from the concrete alley and the wooden sheep/magazine holder keeping us company.

We visited a 46 meter long reclining Buddha. Unbelievable! I have some pictures of the giant soles of his feet inlaid with mother of pearl.

We also went to the Grand Palace, which was the former residence of the royal family (although still used occasionally for major ceremonies). It was hilarious that the guide book said to look out for people saying that teh grand palace was closed and trying to detour you somewhere else to help you spend your money - and indeed - they were there!

As you can see - lots of gold and colored mirrors cover the outsides of all the buildings in this complex. Small detailed work gleamed down on us in the 95 degree mid-day heat. My mother and I made like the asian tourist and carried a sun parasol. It was fun having my mother on my arm while we were safely in the shade of the umbrella.

Many of the walls inside the buildings and on the interior side of the walls were covered in detailed paintings relating stories from long distant legend and more recent history. Here is a blow-up of a giant monkey-god that laid down over a river so that aThai army could cross over his back.

My mother and I walked about miles in the midday sun through the side streets of Bangkok so I could get fitted for a suit that I ordered last time I was in Bangkok (nearly 2 months before!). For nearly 30minutes we passed nothing but stores selling goods for buddhist offerings and ceremonies. Giant, plastic golden buddhas shrink wrapped and ready for purchase!

Not to mention: take home a waxy, life-size imitation of your favorite enlightened monk.

As we passed out of the old city and into "new" Bangkok we passed the National Stadium and came to a giant complex of several interconnected shopping malls in the Siam district.
The Siam Paragon is clearly the jewel of the malls and its 4-story atrium is picture-worthy with plants, water-works and a lovely picture of the king. On the fifth floor Cinema I saw The Hurt Locker with my mommy - and was stunned with how good it was. (I came back the evening I was to fly out of Bangkok to watch Avatar in 3D IMAX ...It was amazing! The whole time I was thinking, these blue people have it exactly right - I want to be a blue girl - link me up to the big nature network, get me a flying Ichran and link me to some shimmering ancestral trees!

As you travel downward through the mall from the entertainment floor you pass though a home living floor and a fashion floor and eventually down in the basement you get to the largest aquarium in southeast asia. I happened to have 850 Bhat to blow before I left the country and was delighted with my walk-about.

Look! Nemos with their anemone home in captivity!

This picture turned out surprisingly well. I think the fish tank wall may have contributed a bit of curviness.

So..these are Moray eels. I saw several of these while I was scuba diving and thought I recognized them - they are Flotsam and Jetsam from the Little Mermaid!

I got some very close up pictures of this shark with all his teeth and staring eyeballs...there is something about standing so close to a giant shark that makes one a bit giddy.


Resting up in Ko Samui

Before heading back to Bangkok, mom and I made a 2 day pitstop on a quiet part of Ko Samui. We stayed at Oasis Health resort where most of the guests were there to lose weight and get tan. The pool was gorgeous and right by the ocean. The beach was nearly empty and mom and I went on several walks admiring all the plants and flowers.

These blossoms are everywhere and were often floating flower-side-up in the pool - which was almost unbearably picturesque and romantic.
Since I was there and am a girl of adventure I figured I would try a Colon Cleansing...good god!...It was one of the most mentally and physically challenging things I have done on my trip. You stick a sterile straw up your butt and then have to let 12 Liters of water alternately run into your colon (while you massage your stomach from left to right) and then out of your colon (while you massage your stomach from right to left). In this way you rinse your colon. It took about 45minutes and afterward I had a headache and my stomach felt a little funny. I am sure the miraculous benefits of this adventure are paying dividends as I type.

Cat in pool :)

...next to little concrete elephant

Ko Tao with Mommy

Mommy arrived the day after Valentine's Day and we stayed one night together at Chewang beach. The area is so popular that lounge chairs for sunbathing vistors are lined up nearly into the ocean.
Here is the bungalow we stayed in for 5 nights on Ko Tao. Most people reached it by water taxi ride - although mom and I took the narrow and steep trail to get to the closest villages.

The resort we were staying at was called Sai Thong. Every morning and every evening we ate at the little outdoor restaurant. Here is the view complete with ocean and granite boulders.

On the first full day in Ko Tao, mom and I took a snorkeling trip with 5 stops around the island. The picture above is a small island off the northwest corner of Ko Tao where I had some of the best snorkeling of my trip in the "japanese garden"

Mom and I hiked to the top of a nearby peak to get the picture I took from above. We split a mango without having a knife which was a delicious but messy operation.

Here is a ferry boat carrying passengers on a similar around-the-island snorkeling tour.

It turns out, that we didn't need to pay money to go see wildlife, since the wildlife would come directly into our bungalow and visit us. This orange and black from would crawl out of the drainage pipe in our outdoor sink every night and hang out, which made tooth-brushing a rather awkward affair.

Why are you such a puffy frog?
The next day I was speaking with my bungalow neighbor from my balcony to her balcony while we both sat in our respective hammocks. She told me how they were coming home after dark through the jungle with flashlights and saw a 2 meter python sitting in the trail and had to scare it off by rolling a coconut at it.
The next day, one of girls who works at the resort tripped over a 3 meter python and we could hear her screeming after the shock....the next day I went to the internet cafe and looked up poisenous wildlife in south east asia. I was calmed to see that there were no poison dart frogs in southeast asia but disturbed to realize that I had been within several feet of some of the most poisenous fish in the world while scuba diving.
Meet the Stonefish (I saw 3 of them in Ko Lanta and at the time didn't understand why other divers were so excited about these unattractive bottom-dwellers):

This is what the website said: Maybe Stonefish would never win a beauty contest, but it would definitely win the top prize for being “The World's Most Venomous Fish”. Its venom causes such a severe pain that the victims of its sting want the affected limb to be amputated. It is described as the worst pain known to man. It is accompanied with possible shock, paralysis, and tissue death. If not given medical attention within a couple of hours It can be fatal to humans.
Stonefish stores its toxins in gruesome-looking spines that are designed to hurt would-be predators.
Stonefish mostly live above the tropic of Capricorn, often found in the shallow tropical marine waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans, ranging from the Red Sea to the Queensland Great Barrier Reef.

But there are also lots of pretty things that won't kill me and those were lovely to see as well