A Travellerspoint blog

Scams

13 °C

Delhi - Scott's Entry

One of the great things about being an independent traveller as opposed to group tours is that you get to experience the very best and the very worst of what a country has to offer. There is no sanitized tour schedule for you to follow. Delhi truly tested our resolved in this respect as we worked through one sham and scam after another.

It all started with our delayed flight landing us at the Delhi airport at 3am leaving us feeling tired and a bit disorientated. We breezed through customs and were looking forward to getting to our hotel. We had emailed our hotel and asked for an airport pickup as we wanted to avoid the airport touts. Issue one, there was no one there to pick us up so we then had to book a prepaid taxi and were directed outside with limited instructions of where our taxi would be. Straight away an English speaking gentlemen came up to us and said to follow him to our prepaid taxi, we followed a little reluctantly with Deb becoming more and more concerned about whether we were being scammed. We got in to our seedy looking taxi with two Indians in the front and took off in to the dark and very foggy Delhi night. Alarm bells were starting to clang loudly. Thirty minutes later we were getting very concerned and then we saw the Metro station that we knew was close to our Hotel and relaxed thinking things were ok. Lesson one, never relax in Delhi!

The next minute the driver was showing us all these streets that were blocked off that lead to our hotel and explained that the police had closed the streets at night for security and that we needed to go to the local Govt Tourist office that was near by to phone the hotel. Remember this is 3am, what tourist office would be open at 3am?

We pulled up outside a seedy looking building that had a Tourism sign on the outside and were invited to go inside to contact the hotel. I stayed in the taxi to watch the bags as there were several homeless people drifting in and out of the fog. Deb went inside with our hotel details arguing fiercely with the man that this was a scam and she didn’t believe their story. The man inside took the phone number and dialed 4 digits on his phone (it was an 11 digit number), spoke to someone and then said to Deb that our Hotel was closed due to the blocked streets and he would book us another hotel. Not taken in for one moment Deb reached for her mobile phone which luckily at that very moment linked to the local telecom provider and dialed the hotel herself who told her that they were open. Clearly the game was up and the scammers reluctantly agreed to take us to our original hotel, which was another story in itself as we drove through streets that resembled a scene from the apocalypse or the book “The Road”. Finally at 4am we got to our hotel feeling very, very relieved.

Other scams that we ran in to in Dehli were:
- Govt Tourist office scam (cost us $500)
- Cover the taxi meter scam
- Metro ticket man charging us double
- Numerous and continuous tout approaches

So our ten recommendations for Delhi are:
1. Don’t go there
2. If you do go, 2 days will cover it, we had 5 days there
3. Go through an organized tour
4. Don’t arrive in the night
5. Have a mobile phone preferably with data for gps
6. Ensure you get a hotel pick up confirmed and reconfirm before you arrive
7. Don’t talk to or trust anyone on the streets especially in the main tourist areas
8. Use the metro, it is cheap and crowded but easy to use and you avoid the taxi and tuk tuk touts who will charge you a lot, lot more
9. Don’t be out after 8pm
10. Trust your instincts not what you are being told.

Delhi Sights

Putting our scam issues aside we were looking forward to seeing some of the historical sights of Delhi and hired a driver for the day and visited Humayan’s Tome and the Sufi Temple. Both sites were ok but very dirty especially when you have to take your shoes off to enter. The next day we visited the highly anticipated Red Fort which was very disappointing with most interior parts being closed. The walls and gates were worth seeing but we felt that it did not live up to the glowing review in the Lonely Planet. We were amazed that despite January being a peak tourist month we were almost the only foreign tourists wandering around. Feeling the need for a pick me up we headed to the Imperial Hotel for a high tea in the afternoon, which was lovely, a yummy food moment.

All in all we were both relived to exit Delhi after five days and agreed that if the rest of the Indian leg of our trip proved as frustrating that we would be leaving India early. Fingers crossed that Delhi’s as bad as it gets.

Posted by Deb_Scott 02:48 Archived in India Comments (0)

Amritsar's Golden Temple

semi-overcast 14 °C

It took a bit of effort to reach Amritsar but it has been well worth it. We navigated our way through the frenetic streets for thirty minutes before we walked up to the shoe depository then we went over to the head covering stall and purchased two bandanas. Walking over the cold marble was no hardship because it was so clean and then just to make sure everyone's feet were clean, you had to walk through holy water before entering the temple precinct.

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Known to Sikhs as Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple is actually just a small part of this huge complex. We spent a good couple of hours walking around the Golden Temple and even walking up to the inner sanctum. Spiritually, the attention is focused on the pool that surrounds the central shrine covered in 760kg in gold. Ringed by a marble walkway, the tank is said to have healing powers which explains the large number of pilgrims who bathe in the sacred waters.

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Mesmerising is the word to describe this amazing holy place. Priests and musicians keep up a continuous chant from the Sikh holy book which makes the temple surrounds incredibly atmospheric.

Of real interest to me though, was the workings of the temple kitchens. Thousands of pilgrims come here everyday, apparently 60 000 according to Lonely Planet to pay their respects at the shrine and then to have a meal. Although we were offered a place amongst the pilgrims, we declined and retreated to the kitchen area to observe how they do it. All the kitchen staff are manned by volunteers and there were: garlic peelers, garlic slicers, onion choppers, pea shellers, bean washers, poppadom makers, men stirring giant vats of who knows what and row upon row of dish washers.

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The Sikhs have a stunning temple but we decided to go to a more sombre place directly afterwards. In 1919 a British General opened fire on hundreds of Sikhs who were protesting peacefully against British rule. The park has been turned into a Martyrs park for contemplation and to learn about the Sikh struggle for independence. One of the caretakers of the park was determined to ensure we visited the museum that outlined the major figures in the massacre and the Sikh martyrs that lost their lives fighting for Sikh independence. He was also very keen to have his picture taken with us as you can see below:

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Scott looked at our pedometer and noticed that we'd only walked around 15 000 steps so we decided to meander through the bazaars towards our hotel a couple of kilometres away. It was fascinating to observe all the street sellers from the lanes selling shawls to the lanes selling tin pots and faucets. Stumbling down the street, a cow moved past us. We had no idea how it came to be in the middle of the city but it certainly looked lame from its uneven gait.

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All the walking gave us an appetite so we sat down to a delicious South Indian Thali and a fresh lime soda. Yum! Tomorrow we have an eight hour journey to Bikaner and hopefully warmer weather.

Posted by Deb_Scott 05:24 Archived in India Comments (0)

Myanmar

sunny 30 °C

Mandalay

On arrival at Mandalay airport, we were pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of the immigration queues as well as the speed in which our bag turned up on the conveyor belt. Getting a taxi to Mandalay, nearly 45 minutes away, was also relatively easy. I went to a taxi stand and asked, ‘How much to Mandalay?’ and the woman replied, ’15 000 Kyats’ so I moved over one metre to the next taxi stand and repeated the question. This time, the answer was, ’10 000 Kyats’. Naturally we took the cheaper option. Once our man took us out to the taxi rank a taxi stand war broke out. There was a lot of car boot slapping, Italian gesturing, raised voices and pacing around. We stood on wondering what the fuss was about. I expect it was because we paid $5 less than the going rate and the others didn’t like it one bit. Even once we got on our way it continued. Our taxi driver was repeatedly beeped at and gestured at for most of the trip by one particular taxi all the way to Mandalay.

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The following day we jumped on bicycles yet again and sped towards the palace which is surrounded by immense fortress walls containing not only the palace but also a military base. Even though the palace is a reconstruction from the 1990s, it is still impressive to visit. The architecture of the buildings is interesting as well as the throne room of King Mindon.

The highlight of Mandalay itself though was definitely Shwenandaw Kyaung. Beautifully carved, the teak monastery contains gilded scenes of the past life stories of the Buddha. It had a lovely atmosphere which contrasted greatly to the other places of worship we encountered in Mandalay. Many of the Payas contain stunning Buddhas but we’ve struggled to appreciate the enclosures due to a state of immense uncleanliness and a preoccupation with Buddha’s halo being made from disco lights. It is in no way a spiritual experience compared to the quieter, smaller, less technologically advanced Payas.

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Eventually, we made our way down to the Ayeyarwady River. Although we were hot and tired, it was very appealing biking along under the huge trees with the river to our right. It is certainly a highway and there is much to observe on the river. We decided to reward ourselves with a plate of spring rolls and lime sodas from a posh place in order to give ourselves more energy and to soak up the atmosphere. It was well worth it.

There is not a lot to see in Mandalay itself; most people use it as a springboard to other places so we decided to hire a car and driver to take us out to Inwa, U-Bein bridge, Mingun and Sagaing. Fortunately, our driver was not a crazed psychopath as so many of them are here so our ride along the river was splendid. The scenery is gorgeous as there are so many trees and little water ways criss-crossing the back roads.

We asked Win San to take us to a school if that was possible or a monastery for nuns. Somewhere near the base of Sagaing Hill, he pulled into an orphanage organized by a monastery. On reflection, it really was one of the highlights of our trip to Myanmar but it was also a real tearjerker. The orphans here are crammed into tiny classrooms and like many classes across Myanmar, they learn by chanting and rote learning. In saying that, most of the students looked like they thought they were very lucky to be there and indeed they are. Education is expensive in Myanmar. Our driver believes that probably less than half the population actually ever go to school.

We stayed there for a while, observing classes, chatting to the teachers and asking lots of questions. I was clung to, jumped on and at one point had about three young children hanging off me from the Kindy class. The lovely young teacher explained that they are all orphans and long to be picked up and cuddled – they don’t get a great deal of that, I suppose. So, there I was letting all these little people paw at me and I had to keep lifting them up and cuddling them and letting them grab hold of my legs. The poor wee mites just wanted one person to love them and take care of them instead of one very lovely by time starved teacher giving them the only affection they receive.

It had a real effect on us, that orphanage. I’d say a day hasn’t passed since that we haven’t spoken of or thought about those children. We are not sure what we can do yet but we will do something.

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The rest of the day was filled with touristy activities. All were interesting but nothing spectacular. We enjoyed the rough bumpy ride on a horse and cart around Inwa and the world’s longest bridge made out of teak was fascinating despite the wobbles. I wouldn’t want to be on it during rush hour for fear of an imminent collapse, though.

Dread is the word I would use to describe how we felt about the bus trip to Bagan. Supposedly, it should take about six hours although the Lithuanian guys on our journey were told it would take four. Ha! Let’s just say that travelling on a budget is not recommended for most people. If we could say that we were just going to do the odd bus journey in developing or severely undeveloped countries on our year off then we could easily just suck it up. But after that, the thought of being on a bus for longer than about four hours is enough to make our stomachs curdle. The woman over the aisle from me threw up into her plastic bag for most of the journey, one of the Lithuanians couldn’t take it anymore and actually lay down on the floor despite the bumps and potholes, the monks at the front kept playing musical chairs and poor Scott kept looking at me with those when will it be over? eyes. I’m not even going to describe the toilet facilities at one of our frequent stops – imagine the worst toilet in the world then triple it. After seven hours, we pulled up not in Bagan but on the outskirts where we were told another bus would take us to Bagan. Well, that was it. I’d had enough. I found a taxi driver and managed to get him to take us the rest of the way for 8 000 Kyats. I should point out that the entire bus fare for the two of us was just 20 000 Kyats.

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Ahhh. Our hotel was like an Oasis in the desert. It has just had a new development added so there is now a stunning pool, restaurant etc…but we were booked into the cheap rooms. Didn’t matter though because we were not on the bus. We felt excited at seeing some of the ruins on our taxi ride in but first we needed rest and relaxation.

At around 5am the rest and relaxation ended. Scott was first to let loose – sorry about the pun. No one needs a sensory, synesthesia description so I’m not going to describe the horror of the day that unfolded. Fortunately, we didn’t require the ‘facilities’ at the same time – we were in God’s favour.

We lost one whole day. We needed that day. Bagan is not a place you can do in just a couple of hours. I’m the sort of person where seven days at Angkor Wat is barely enough. I want to do things thoroughly. We now had just two days to see everything. We did the best we could even though it was such a struggle. Our bodies did not want to move and we had to keep stopping to sit and rest and then to sit some more and then rest. In fact, several days on and we are still in the throes of the virus.

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And more photos of Bagan...

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Bagan is spread out over a large area and the best way to cover the distance between sites is to either hire a bike, an E-bike or an electric scooter. We opted for the electric scooter and for $12.00 a day we doubled up on one scooter and sped between the ruins down the dusty and sandy roads. We had a few hairy moments on the scooter but generally navigated our way around incident free.

The variety of temples and stupas was incredible and as you often find, the best sites are the ones off the main tourist areas where we discovered some great architecture and Jataka frescos depicting Buddha’s life. One of the highlights is catching the sunset at 5.45pm from the top of a temple which we duly did.

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Despite the above, there really are not enough superlatives to describe Bagan. It is beautiful and definitely a see before you die experience. Hopefully, some of our photos can depict just how stunning the place is. Go there and go there soon before it turns into some kind of tourist Disneyland.

After three days in Bagan, we hopped on the night bus to Yangon. After seeing the bus we were booked on, we decided to upgrade to the super deluxe VIP bus. This bus has three plush seats in a row that recline back similar to a lazy boy chair. Once again, let it be said, we loathe buses. This bus could not have been more comfortable but our stomachs were still not right and we couldn’t sleep because the minute I shut my eyes, I felt incredibly nauseous. It took roughly nine hours to reach our destination and we arrived very, very tired. As soon as we got to the accommodation we showered and fell straight to sleep.

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Three days in Yangon is more than enough. Apart from the traffic, it is a pleasant enough place. The colonial walk gave us a small insight into the past and a visit to The Strand Hotel was a highlight. Shwedagon Paya was certainly impressive but all that gold makes it a little bit garish plus it was covered in scaffolding the day we visited. Our accommodation was lovely – a cute little guesthouse in the suburbs tucked in behind the five star Sedona Hotel and literally just down the road from Aung San Suu
Kyi’s house.

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All in all, we liked bits of Myanmar and we would return in the wet season to see Bagan again and Inle Lake. We felt that the lake would be best seen in the wet season, hence our decision not to include it in this trip. Certain aspects of this leg of our journey were really hard, especially the bus trips and for me the beetle nut spitting. It was always men and some of them even chewed and spat it out into plastic bags on the bus. A lovely sight when you are already feeling nauseous. Let’s see what India has in store for us ☺

Posted by Deb_Scott 05:06 Archived in Myanmar Comments (1)

A couple of weeks in Thailand

sunny 29 °C

Thailand

We didn’t really get off to a good start in Thailand. Don Mueng International Airport for the low cost airlines is so poorly organized from the immigration queue to the queues for the baggage and then the horrendous queues for a taxi. Our flight from Denpasar on AirAsia took just over four hours yet we were in Don Mueng for nearly two hours.

The very next day, we jumped on a local minivan and headed to Ayutthaya. It was so lovely to cycle around in pleasant temperatures of the high twenties without sweating like a pig. The ruins are quite compact and quite charming but a bit of a disappointment compared to other historical sites.

Sukhothai just five hours on anther bus trip is a lot better in terms of historical interest. We spent a good two full days biking around the ruins and took plenty of photos but the highlight was without doubt the food. We gorged on fantastic streetfood at every given opportunity. My favourite was a broth made of about five different types of mushrooms with lime juice, lemongrass, red onion and a dash of chilli. Soooo good. Scott just couldn’t get enough of the pork sticks and at around 50cents, they are definitely a bargain.

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Attack of the Undie Gnome – Scott’s wee blip

Pre trip one of the challenging processes that we worked through was what to pack with a view to minimize what we were taking. As one who tends to sweat in the heat I had worked out a precise calculation that I would need to take 6 undies with me on the basis that I may use two per day. That would leave me with two to be worn, two in the wash and two for the next day. Equipped with my 6 undies I was secure in the knowledge I would be keeping things dry and comfortable. Things panned out according to plan for the first 10 days until horror on horrors, I reached in to my pack during our second day in Sukothai and there was not a clean undie to be found. The 3 undies I did have were in the wash. The undie gnomes had struck somewhere between Ayutthaya and Sukothai. In fact I had visions of some old Thai man running around in my Jockey Performance Wick Away Black undies and was adamant that they had been stolen. After searching all our bags we were at a loss as to where the missing 3 undies were and we were faced with the prospect of replacing then in Bangkok, which we duly did. This blew our daily expense budget. Deb then remembered I had actually put them in a small draw in our hotel room in Ayutthaya. We duly contracted the hotel and they located them and are sending them to our Bangkok hotel. So I’m now the proud owner of 8 Jockey Performance Wick Away Black undies and we can continue our journey in the knowledge that I’ll continue to be dry and comfortable thanks to the undie gnomes.

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Back to Bangkok

ISanook Residences was a great pick for our first two nights in Bangkok. We decided to splurge a bit on this accommodation ($58.00) per night in order to be in the thick of it and to be relatively close to the Myanmar Embassy. The rooms were spacious, spotless and well-equipped. A fabulous hub-bub of activity ensured the place had a lively atmosphere, too.

Our first day in Bangkok was spent getting up relatively early and heading out to the Myanmar Embassy. After reading several blogs we understood the message to be very clear – get there early. So, we arrived a full hour and fifteen minutes before they opened the doors. Even so, the queue was down the street and I’d say we were placed at around 50th spot. After a lot of standing and waiting and waiting we were finally issued with our yellow receipt to pick up our visas the following day. It was really interesting observing all the people lined up to get their visas. There were of course a small bunch of mama-sans from China, several people from France, a few from the Netherlands standing just in front of us and two well-heeled British retirees behind us who we actually saw on New Year’s Eve boarding the British Club’s Dinner Cruise.

We were so elated and pleased with ourselves that we’d managed to negotiate the metro and the visa system that we literally walked straight into something out of the documentary Bangkok Hustle. We’ve all heard the stories of plenty of foreigners getting their bags snatched or dodgy tuk tuk drivers taking their passengers to seedy areas and we were aware of it but nonetheless, we were in such a la la land that we fell right into it ourselves.

Not far from a street corner, Scott and I were discussing whether to continue straight ahead or turn around and head back in the direction that we came from. A lovely gentleman asked us the usual questions such as, ‘Where are you from?’ etc… He gave us directions, called a tuk tuk driver over, who miraculously appeared within one second and before we knew it, we were off to Central World shopping district. Mr Tuk Tuk took us to a Gem retailer instead of Central World but we were still in la la land and thought to ourselves that it wouldn’t harm us to take a look. After all, I did want to buy a nice piece of jewelry for my 40th birthday. After plenty of umming and arrghing about buying something or not, we decided to buy a pair of earrings. Well, I did feel queasy about it and something just didn’t feel right but I shrugged off those feelings because I thought it might be too soon to buy something for a birthday that is eight months away.

To cut a long story short, by the time we returned to the hotel, my gut instinct and uneasy feelings just wouldn’t go away. I marched down to reception and told the woman at the front desk what had happened and she said that it was without question that we’d been scammed. I felt so stupid and let it be a lesson to everyone to always trust your instincts. Fortunately, we were able to race back to the shop and get all our money back. The guy barely argued with us! He agreed to refund us the money immediately which just goes to show that he is well used to people returning at the end of the day to fix up their own stupidity. Unbelievable.

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The following day we dusted off the mess of the day before and carried on in a positive attitude willing to soak up all the great things Bangkok has to offer. There is plenty of shopping to be sure but a lot of it is pure evil cheap rubbish. Such a lot of crap. At one point, I felt nauseated by looking at it all especially in the MBK area. Loads of tourists purchasing copious amounts of junk: cheap shoes, fluro tops, tacky t shirts, rip off handbags and the list goes on and on.

My barometer of exchange rates always rests with Coach handbags. Unsurprisingly, the prices were a teeny tiny bit cheaper than in New Zealand but that’s all. Nothing special stood out except for a Zsiska store. I love their jewelry so I settled on a pair of green earrings. As mentioned earlier in the blog under Scott’s Undie Gnome heading, he found his expensive underwear and bought himself a long-sleeved shirt. He should have listened to me when I told him to bring two; it isn’t like he didn’t have stacks to choose from in his wardrobe back home.

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I know a lot of people rave about Bangkok but after spending six days here, we are not entirely sure why people go on about it. The people are really lovely and the food is great but really. The river is very nice and the general atmosphere of the city is good plus the accommodation is the best value for money anywhere in the world in my opinion but the cultural sites are nothing much to write home about. We did all the obligatory tourist sites along with the thronging masses but left each one feeling decidedly underwhelmed. The palace was a huge disappointment and we felt it was a massive rip off compared to the cost of other worthier historical sites both in and out of Asia. Oh well – sometimes you just have to experience things yourself to form an opinion.

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Tomorrow we head off to Myanmar so expect another blog post in about two weeks ☺

Posted by Deb_Scott 00:59 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Out and about in Ayutthaya and other musings

sunny 30 °C

First impressions are often everything even though we like to think that isn't the case. Arriving into the International Airport in Bangkok certainly gave us a very wrong impression. The queues were endless and I was already peeved at being squeezed in like a sardine onto an AirAsia seat for a four and a half hour flight. God how I miss Singapore Airlines but when you are on an extended trip, every penny saved is paramount. Anyway, back at the airport from hell, we had to queue for 45 minutes to get through immigration but there were only 20 odd people in front of us then the queue for a taxi was just over an hour. I have decided, to much fanfare, to rename Bangkok the durian of South East Asia taking away the esteemed title from Jakarta.

Once we were bound for Ayutthaya, everything dramatically improved. The temperature is so much more pleasant too at just around 30 degrees but with very little humidity. Biking between the sites has been lovely and we even jumped on an elephant.

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Our selfie shots have improved as you can see below:

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Aside from all of that, Ayutthaya is a great starting point if you are a cultural explorer. We have discovered all sorts of interesting information about the ancient city and although the ruins are a bit disappointing compared to Angkor Wat (naturally), they are in a lovely setting plus it is so easy to cruise around on a bike.

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Naturally, we have seen our fair share of Buddha statues today. Personally, we prefer the smaller statues rather than the giant gold statues; however, I'm sure that will all change once we get to Yangon in Myanmar.

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Much to our pleasure, we haven't had a tummy bug yet and we have been very adventurous with our food. But, this afternoon when we were at the outer most point of the historical park in relation to our accommodation, Scott announces that he is having really bad stomach cramps. The race was on. Cycling at high speeds on a one speed archaic model of a bike, we tore through the park past gorgeous monuments to humankind's cultural achievements in search of ..... a toilet. I won't go into all the grim details but we made it. Just. I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later. Bananas and crackers for dinner it is :)

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Posted by Deb_Scott 03:13 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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