Last Stop: Sydney

We spent the final 6 days of our trip in one of my favorite cities in the world, Sydney, Australia. Great bars, an efficient and fun public transportation system, beautiful beaches, and wombats. What more could we ask for? 

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Sydney opera house at night

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Harbour Bridge

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Luna Park at night

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Giant clouds over Bondi Beach

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An ocean pool = no sharks.

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Modern art museum

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Relaxin’ at the beach

We spent the last day of our trip at the Sydney Zoo. We loved all the Aussie critters.

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Hungry wombat

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Contemplative koala 

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Lounging Kangaroo

So long, Australia! So long, world! 

New Zealand Road Trip - Part 2

We have been home for a little over a month now, and I am slowly getting around to organizing all my pics and finishing up this blog! 

So without further ado…the second half of our New Zealand Road Trip.

After leaving the beautiful coastal rainforest area of the Catlins, we headed towards the wild west coast of New Zealand. 

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The open road

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My pet rock in tow

West Coast, South Island

Our first stop on the west coast was Te Anau to hike the Kepler Track. The Kepler Track is a 60km, 3 day long hike. Since we were short on time and did not have proper trekking gear, we decided to do as much of it as we could in 1 day. We made it all the way to the summit of Mt. Luxmore, at 4,829 feet. This 11 hour, 36 km round trip hike is the hardest hike I’ve ever done. If you ever find yourself at Kepler, do yourself a favor and do not attempt in one day!

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The easy part of the trail, the soft and gentle Kepler forest

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Skipping rocks at Lake Manapouri

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Climbing up to Mt. Luxmore

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Summit of Mt. Luxmore, fjords abound! 

After Te Anau, we were happy to relax and give our muscles a rest with a leisurely drive and cruise around Milford Sound. 

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Cruisin’ milford sound

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Seals basking in the sun at Milford Sound

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Getting up close and personal with the falls 

After Milford Sound, we did a short section of the famous Routeburn Track. Like Kepler, Routeburn is a 3-4 day trek. We learned our lesson this time, and were in and out in a few hours.

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Routeburn Track

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Routeburn butterfly

By the time we reached Queenstown, autumn had officially hit NZ.

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Giant fall trees in Queenstown 

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Jimmy, our hostel kitty

In Queenstown, we hiked around the aptly named “Remarkables” mountain range. A few scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed here!

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The Remarkables

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We found Lake Alta!

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Emerald green Lake Alta

From Queenstown, we drove up to Glacier Land to see the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. Unfortunately, as soon as arrived in town, Cyclone Ita hit and we were without power for three days. We managed to squeeze in couple of visits to the glaciers anyway.       

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Fox Glacier with stormy skies overhead

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The sad and shrinking Franz Josef glacier

After 3 days of gale force winds and rain in Glacier Land, we made our way to Golden Bay, my favorite place in New Zealand. 

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Finally some sun peaks through the rain clouds!

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Blue skies in Golden Bay

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A cuddly sheep

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Wild and windy Warariki Beach, the coolest beach in NZ

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We found this sweet pengunio at Warariki Beach

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Beach at Golden Bay

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Golden Bay sunset

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The Master 

North Island

After Golden Bay, we said goodbye to the South Island and hopped on the ferry towards Wellington. 

The lively city of Wellington was a breath of fresh air after the relative isolation of the South Island. We visited the Weta Cave, met up with friends we made in India 5 months earlier, and enjoyed the Welly nightlife. 

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In the park overlooking Wellington

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Trolls! At the Weta Cave

After Wellington, we went back into the wilderness to see the impressive Tongariro National Park. It was starting to get pretty cold in NZ by this point!

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Hiking through the marshland outside Tongariro

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Winter is coming…!

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Mt Doom 

We then drove up to the volcanic wonderland of Rotorua. Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activity - hot thermal baths, bubbling mud pits, and steamy geysers. The entire area has a sulphuric rotten egg smell, try to imagine as you look at the pics!  

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Basking in the sulphuric steam vents of Rotorua!

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An unholy steaming lake

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Leaning trees of Rotorua

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Caliente! 

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Testing the waters despite the warnings

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Mystical lake

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Perfect place for a swim

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Mud bath

Our last stop in New Zealand was the invigorating Coromandel Peninsula. We saw gentle coastlines and giant kauri and redwood trees. It was wonderful to breathe in the fresh air — no rotten egg smells here!

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Coromandel redwoods

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Giant Kauri

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Coromandel Coast

New Zealand is certainly one of the most beautiful places on earth. We hope to return to this paradise some day! 

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Sweet as!

Climbing Mount Doom & the Tongariro Crossing

We must have done over 50 hikes in New Zealand, but the Tongariro Crossing is by far our favorite. And it’s not only because Tongariro National Park is the setting for Mordor & Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies…I swear.

When we arrived at Tongariro National Park, we found out there had been a big snow storm a day earlier. Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom) was covered in snow. 

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Snowy Mt. Ngauruhoe 

It looks a little different with snow than it did in the LOTR movies.

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Mt. Doom from LOTR

The woman working at the i-site (NZ’s tourism outlets), told us that the snow was likely to stick around for the rest of the winter and that we’d need alpine gear, crampons and poles, to climb to the summit. We were disappointed as climbing Mt. Doom, Frodo style, was something we’d been looking forward to since we landed in NZ. 

The day we hiked Tongariro was perfect. The sky was crystal clear and the sun was shining. When we got to the junction of the Mt. Ngauruhoe summit option, Simon suggested we attempt the climb anyway.  ”We’ve come all this way, Mr. Frodo!”

I was reluctant, but when I saw others were making the journey without alpine gear, I agreed. We started our march up the mountain. 

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That’s me at the end!

Mt. Ngauruhoe is an active volcano. It is perfectly sloped at an even 30 degrees. There is not an actual trail to the top, you have to pick your way up along whatever route seems best. Simon and I took different paths.

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Simon headed up the mountain

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Above the clouds!

The hike up was challenging, but the view from the top is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. 

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View from the top

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Enjoying the view

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Summit selfie

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Walking around the rim of the crater

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Craggy crater 

We tossed our mental baggage into Mt. Doom and started our descent down the mountain. As we didn’t have Gandalf’s eagles to carry us home, there was only one other sensible option - sliding down! It took us nearly 2 hours to get up the mountain, only 15 minutes to slide down. 

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Sliding down the mountain

The rest of the hike was just as spectacular. The Tongariro crossing took us through a lively active volcanic area with steam vents, craters, and colorful volcanic lakes. 

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Hazard

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Emerald Lake

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Breathe in that sulphur dioxide!

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Takin’ a rest

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Looking back on Mt. Doom

We made friends with two guys on the hike, one from Germany and one from France. The German guy carried a small boom box attached to his pack. He played all the right songs at the right moments!

Tongariro Crossing from Kara Kono on Vimeo.

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The fellowship headed down the mountain

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Watching the sunset 

The hike ended up taking longer than expected, and we finished the trail in darkness, picking our way through the last forest-covered section.  Cold, wet, hungry…looking over our shoulders for Golem.  The stars spread themselves out vividly over the car park at the trail’s end.  As always, it was well worth the effort.  Time to head back to the shire for some ale!

New Zealand Road Trip - Part 1

Goodbye, heat! Goodbye, mosquitoes! Goodbye, Nescafe! 

We are in New Zealand.

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Fresh off the plane in Christchurch, our first day in New Zealand

We have nearly two months in New Zealand to camp, tramp and road trip our way through both islands. New Zealand is the dessert course of our year long trip. Everything is perfect in NZ and we are loving it! 

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Hiking near Godley Beach Park outside of Christchurch

We rented a car and purchased some camping gear for our journey. We have been camping out under the stars (as weather permits), drinking lots of red wine, and hiking everywhere we can. 

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Our campsite outside of Lake Clearwater

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Cooking up some breakfast on our portable stove

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Watching the sun go down

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Sleeping under the stars…Simon actually took this picture! 

The stars are different in NZ than they are in the US. There is no Big Dipper, no Little Dipper. Instead they have the Southern Cross and lots of cloudy nebula & visible galaxies. Orion still persists though…no escaping him! 

If you like hiking (or tramping, as it is called here), NZ is the place for you. We usually do at least one hike every day. It’s unbelievable how much variety and beauty is crammed into such a small island!

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At the Birdling Flats on the Banks peninsula 

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At the top of Mt. Sunday (or Mount Edoras if you’re a LOTR fan!)  

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Akaroa Harbor 

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Waterfall in the Catlins National Park

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Tasman Glacier

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Did we get transported back to Turkey? At the Clay Cliffs in Omarama 

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Greener pastures in Akaroa

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Wild rainforest in the Catlins

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At Tunnel Beach near Dunedin

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At Hooker Lake

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Touching broken off bits of the Hooker Glacier

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Moeraki Boulders

New Zealand is the last land mass on earth to be occupied by humans. Humans didn’t arrive here until 700 years ago. This makes NZ one of the most unique places on the planet in terms of plants & animals, as they evolved here in relative isolation. As there are no native mammals in NZ, the variety in wildlife is seen mostly in the birds, plants, trees, and marine life.

We were able to watch some wild ‘little blue’ penguins come home after being at sea all day, eating fish and swimming around. They sleep in nests on shore. I don’t know why, but watching these little penguin nuggets find their way back to shore for the night is one of the highlights of our entire trip for me! 

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Little blue penguins coming to shore for the night! 

The sea lions are crazy here. They don’t mind people at all and you can find hours of entertainment watching them argue, loaf in the sand and growl at each other all day.

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Sea lion at the beach 

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A sea lion loaf

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They kind of look like dogs!

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Sleeping fur seal

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An extremely rare yellow eyed penguin!

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We even saw a wooly mammoth 

Lastly, after 12 months on the road, we finally bought ourselves a mini tripod. It’s really cool to have some pics of us that aren’t just awkward shots of our heads! 

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Tripod love at Mores Reserve!

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At Lake Heron

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At low tide near Dunedin

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At Mount Edoras, home of the Rohirrim, riders of Rohan!

We still have 4 weeks left….the journey continues!! 

Low Tide in Koh Lipe, Thailand

We ended our tour of Southeast Asia with 5 lazy days in Koh Lipe, one of the many perfect Thai islands in the Andaman sea. The best thing about Koh Lipe is the incredible snorkeling right off the beach. On many Thai islands, you need to pay for pricey tours if you want to see a great display of sea life. We stayed on Sunrise Beach, where the waters are crystal clear and fish and coral are abundant.

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Sunrise beach, right outside our bungalow

We rented some snorkel gear and swam out to the edge of the reef where we saw a cornucopia of fish. We saw a moray eel, scorpion fish, needle fish, technicolor parrot fish, insane coral, and many, many spiny sea urchins.

After our 3 hour long snorkel session, we swam back to the shallows to find that the sea had disappeared.

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Extreme low tide

The tide had gone out so far that boats were laying on sand, and coral that we had snorkeled over only hours earlier were now exposed to the air. It was surreal. Everyone was very curious to check out the underwater world from this new angle.

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Everyone loves low tide!

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We teamed up with this curious pup to check out the coral reefs on foot.

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Spiky urchins piercing the surface

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I have an irrational fear of these things…

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Our new doggy friend did not…

Being conscientious snorkelers, we had been very careful not to touch any of the coral while snorkeling as to not harm it. Our doggy friend had no such concerns.

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Tide is coming back in…time to call it a day!

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Koh Lipe was a great place to tie up our travels throughout Asia.  We loved our time in Thailand, and hope to return someday.  Goodbye for now, and thanks for all the pad thai!

New Zealand updates coming soon! 

Time for Lime (& Cats)

Time for Lime is a magical guest house in Koh Lanta, Thailand where you can hang out with cats, drink the world’s best mojitos, and spend lazy days relaxing at Klong Dao beach.

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A cat welcoming visitors to Time for Lime

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The porch of our cabin…occupied by our new cat friends

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Kitten on our door mat

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Delicious mojitos! 

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Deep thoughts at sunset

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I named this guy Barnacle 

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Yummy local BBQ chicken & Chang beer

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Hard to get anything done with all these cats around!

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zzz….

Exploring Angkor

There are over 1,000 temples in the Angkor region of Cambodia, covering over 400 square kilometers of ground. Visiting Angkor is a little overwhelming — it felt like we could spend a whole year there and still not see everything. The temples of Angkor were built by the mighty Khmer empire during their rule between the 9th and 15th century. We were able to visit 14 temples with our three day pass. It was hard to whittle down my 700+ photos into just 25, but here they are! 

We started our first day at 5:30 in the morning to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. 

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Angkor Wat sunrise

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Once the sun came out, it was over 90 degrees out!

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Phimeanakas Temple

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Sandstone carvings

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Baphoun Temple

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Bayon Temple

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Naga bridge

These photos are from Ta Prohm temple, where the Tomb Raider movie was filmed. 

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From the Pre Rup temple:

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Preah Khan was our favorite temple. It is a sprawling labyrinth of corridors, courtyards, and trees snaking through crumbled ruins. 

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Banteay Srei temple: 

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No visit to Angkor would be complete without some ruin kitties! 

Banteay Samre temple: 

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Thailand Lap Cats

It’s hard to eat dinner in Thailand without a cat crawling into your lap…

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While trying to eat pad thai…

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A cat in my lap over breakfast coffee…

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A bad kitty looking for some omelette leftovers…

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smart phone kitty

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A Christmas Day kitty in Simon’s lap while waiting for a breakfast table 

Demanding kitty at the dinner table from Kara Kono on Vimeo.

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