Tag Archives: City

Singapore – Impressions

Measuring 40km by 20km, Singapore is an island city-state off the southern coast of Malaysia. While people have lived on these islands for 1800 years, Singapore was only established 200 years ago as a trading port for the English. Occupied by the Japanese in World War 2, it joined with other English Territories to form Malaysia in 1963, only to be expelled two years later. It has since grown to become one of the Four Asian Tigers, free economic states, along with South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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After nearly 2 months in Indonesia, Singapore seems like the cleanest and most organised city in the world. The downside is that everything is more expensive.

The Central City
Singapore has spread to fill its island quickly and has begun to grow upwards. While the central city boasts many skyscrapers, large portions of the island are covered with high-rises. Singapore is a city of architecture, from the old english style of many central museums…

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…to the more modern and unusual, such as The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay buildings.

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Marina Bay Sands
Completed in 2010 and standing out on the skyline is the most expensive building in the world. At US$4.7 billion The Marina Bay Sands has three main towers, a major mall, casino and a Skypark across its top.

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Most of the Skypark, which is longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall, is only available to hotel patrons and includes a 150 metre vanishing pool.

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The rounded tip of the Skypark is a viewing platform available to the general public providing 360º views of the city and marina. Even in the rainy season the views were magnificent.

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Little India
Singapore has a large Indian contingent with their own region of the city. Little India has plentiful Indian restaurants and several temples.

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Unfortunately, we visited on a Sunday evening when half the population of continental India had popped over to visit. Sunday evening is a common time among the Indian community to go shopping. This was to such a degree that we found it difficult to move through the streets.

Tiger Breweries
Singapore has its only international recognised beer, Tiger. As it happens it was my birthday during our visit, so we headed out to the brewery for a tour.

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Unfortunately, it took us longer to get there on public transport than we’d expected and we missed half of the tour. All was not lost as we did manage to catch the end of the tour, the 45 minutes of free beverages. When my birthday was mentioned, somehow the time stretched to 90 minutes before we decided it best to head off. A good evening!

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Night Safari
Singapore has a world-class zoo with many species of animals. However, a zoo is a zoo and once you’ve seen a few they all start to look the same. Night Safari is still a zoo, but for nocturnal creatures with a tram tour through a portion of the park.

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After the main tram ride, there are several other walks available along dimly lit paths. These lead to various other enclosures, including many great cat enclosures, including two separate lion zones, and a bat enclosure. Other animals include elephants, monkeys, opossums and many other lesser known nocturnal species. With no flash photography permitted, getting good photos was near impossible but we still enjoyed the experience.

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Sentosa Island
Off the southern coast of Singapore is the resort island of Sentosa.

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This entire island is an entertainment zone with a myriad of different activities, such as a large Universal Studios theme park, 2.2 kilometres of sheltered beaches…

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… 2 golf courses, a Megazip adventure park, a Underwater World, a cable car, and many others, including the Luge, which began its life in New Zealand.

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Since I’d never actually been on the Luge in New Zealand(!), I had to do it. What crazy fun!

A lot of time and money can be spent on Sentosa island, but we had only a single afternoon among showers. Thankfully entry to the island is only S$1.

Orchard Road
With a couple of things on my shopping list, we decided to head to the main shopping area in Singapore, Orchard Road. Renown for having 30 malls along its 2.2km length, the street is Mecca for tourist shoppers.

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The start of Orchard road is the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, which exits beneath a 7-level mall. I managed to find the items I was looking for on the first two levels of the mall, so avoided having to spend too much time on the street.

Gardens by the Sea
Behind the Marina Park Sands is a large park area called the Gardens by the Sea. Most of the gardens are free to walk around, with several lakes, bridges and many separate garden areas, including the Supertree Grove…

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Gardens by the Bay also includes a pair of domes that contain specialty areas: the Cloud Forest and Flower Domes respectively. These are pay areas and can be quite expensive, so we decided against visiting them.

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City Lights shows
Most nights of the year Singapore hosts two separate free, light and sound shows. The first is in the Gardens by the Sea where lights dance around Supertree Grove in time to seasonal music. During our visit it was a Christmas theme.

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There is a canopy walk through the Supertree Grove which gives great views of both the Gardens and the Marina Bay Sands.

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The second light show is on Marina Bay in front of the Marina Bay Sands, where plentiful seating is provided. While waiting for the show to begin, there are great views of the central city buildings.

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The main show is about 20 minutes long and is laser light displayed on three fans of water projected up from the bay. The show depicts the life-cycle of humanity. It’s an interesting and most enjoyable show.

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Four days was simply not enough, so we extended to a week and still didn’t get to see everything. But alas, it was time get back on the road. Next stop, Malaysia.

The Trail Wanderers

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Bandung, West Java, Indonesia – Impressions

Our trip to Java’s third largest city by train provided us amazing views over vast valleys of volcanoes and rice patties. The beauty of inland Java is unbelievable and the locals on the train seemed to agree.

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Bandung, however, didn’t live up to this beauty. Like the other cities of Java, we knew little of the area before we arrived and were determined to see what it had to offer.

A City of Two Halves.
Bandung is loosely split in half by the railway lines.

The area south of the train lines is a mass of street vendors and crowded dirty streets. We were warned about pickpockets and narrowly avoided a group of smug youths and their attempt on the busy street. There was a sense of being crowded with a little bit of danger. There are large areas of construction and so many cars and motorbikes it was difficult to simply cross the road.

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But crossing to the north side it’s like you’ve just stepped out of the 3rd world into the West. On the north side there are malls, higher class shops and restaurants, prominent architecture and more importantly, a relative sense of safety. This is where the few tourist spots are and many of the city’s prominent buildings.

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Finding an Information Centre in the city is next to impossible. With the vague tourist map we had and absolutely no help from online maps, we walked around dirty, hot streets trying to find a hidden shop that turned out to be inside a mosque. When we found it, we were given little information beyond another copy of the map. We headed off determined to find something about the city that we liked.

Jalan Braga
Near the Information Centre we went to check out the south side’s only tourist spot, Braga Street. Called the Paris of Java, the street was made famous in the 1920s as a promenade street, lined with cafes, restaurants and boutique shops. Now, apparently, it’s the top place locals come to party. When we arrived on Jalan Braga we discovered that it had largely been dug up with dirt and the stink of sewage in many places. And adding to it was the stream of vehicles along what was left of the road.

Frustrated at our day’s efforts, we spied a bar and settled in for a beer before heading back to the hostel.

The next day, determined to find something to like about the Bandung, we set out across the north side with more of a plan.

Angkots
As you travel further west across Indonesia, the Bemos we’d first encountered in Surabaya are called Angkutan Kota meaning ‘city transport’ or Angkot for short. Similar to those in Surabaya the Angkots travel predetermined routes across the city for between Rp2,000 to Rp5,000 depending on how far you’re going. The problems are still the same… if you don’t know the routes, you could end up anywhere. Best to ask the driver just to be sure.

Jalan Cihampelas
Cihampelas Street is a famous shopping area in Bandung which also called ‘Jeans Street’ because of the number of denim clothing stores that opened in the 1990s. The street has many malls and shops for bargain hunters. The area is very popular with Singaporean and Malaysian tourists, who flock here for the good prices. While in the street we stopped by Cihampelas Walk for lunch, a Western mall containing many Western-style stores and every American fast food chain possible.

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Museum Geologi
While generally not a great fan of museums, we stopped off at the Geology Museum for an hour as it began to rain. The first signs of the approaching rainy season. While most of the displays were in Indonesian, some were in English discussing the volcanos of Indonesia and the different time periods of the early earth.

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The museum is popular with local school trips and during our visit the museum was under sustained attack by three separate hordes of school children. Even so, it was still an informative stop off during a brief rain storm.

Saung Angklung Udjo
30 minutes by Angkot from the Museum Geologi is a school dedicated to the Angklung. The Angklung is an instrument made from bamboo tubes strung together that makes a dull chiming noise when rattled. On most days the school hosts tourists for an ‘Afternoon Show’. Listed as the most popular attraction in Bandung, we attended the show, which was made up of small acts and tunes played on the Angklung.

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The show had some dancing and towards the end the children handed out Angklungs to everyone in the audience and we were taught to play as an orchestra through many songs. The show lasted two hours and was perhaps the best part of our visit to Bandung.

Tangkuban Prahu Crater and Kiawah Putih Lake
Bandung is in a valley between volcanoes and as in many volcano towns, tours up the slopes are common. But after climbing Mount Merapi in Yogyakarta only days before, we felt that paying twice as much to be driven up a volcano wasn’t worth it this time.

Next we continue our travels to the west to the nation’s capital, Jakarta.

The Trail Wanderers

Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia – Impressions

Surabaya is known as the City of Heroes for the part it played in the war of independence against the Dutch Empire. It’s also the country’s second largest city.

Surabaya isn’t a city that has embraced tourism to any great extent and because of this it doesn’t attract many travellers. This didn’t stop us from spending a couple of days checking out the attractions it does have.

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Surabaya is a major shopping destination for Indonesians with many Western style shopping malls in the central city. But just outside this area the city changes to more squalid conditions where the poor try to eke out a living.

Strangers in a Strange Land
As we walked around the city we garnered much interest from the locals, who would often stare at the two tall, bearded, foreign lads. Many times we’d hear, ‘Hello Mister’, followed by giggles, as if this was somehow funny because it was the only words in English they knew. Then unexpectedly, at another time, a local would strike up a random conversation in fairly fluent english.

For two days we felt like the only Westerners in the city until returning to the hostel we discovered a young Italian guy had moved into our room. He joined our troupe and began travelling with us.

The Bemo
While there are plentiful taxis in the city, we discovered a very cheap form of transportation known as the Bemo. A Bemo is simply of minivan converted into a taxi-bus that travels along a predetermined route through the city. Simply wave at it to stop, tell the driver where you want to go and get in the back. When you’re at your destination the driver will let you know or press the button to get him to stop.

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The cost of the trip is 4,000 Rupiah (40 cents) no matter how far you go. There are more than 40 routes, each defined by a large letter emblazoned on the front, and sometimes the back, of the vehicle. There are many Bemos on each route, so if the first one is full another will come along soon after. The entire Bemo system is reminiscent of the taxi system I discovered in southern Chile, the difference being that in Chile they use cars instead of vans.

There’s one large downfall of the Bemo system, knowing where a certain lettered Bemo goes. While there’s a list of routes online at: www.angelfire.com/on/Genhome/rutebemo.htm, there’s no map. So, unless you know the areas getting lost is easy. Having a maps app on your phone helps a lot.

Monkasel – Submarine Monument
Probably the least likely tourist attraction in the city is the Submarine Monument, dedicated to a SS-type Whisky class submarine built in Russia in 1952.

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The Monument is the full-sized submarine and is open for viewing most days of the year for the hefty price of Rp8,000 (80 cents). The submarine has seven rooms, although entry to some are through very low bulkhead doors. This height issue isn’t a problem for the locals, but at 189cm I had to crawl through them.

Tugu Pahlawan – Heroic Monument
Standing at 41 metres tall, the Tugu Pahlawan is a large monument commemorating the heroes of the war of independence. It is also the main symbol of Surabaya appearing on the city’s Seal, which also contains a shark ‘Sura’ and a crocodile ‘Baya’.

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House of Sampoerna – Clove Cigarette Museum
While I’m morally against cigarette smoking, Surabaya contains an award-winning tourist museum devoted to the history of clove cigarette manufacturing in Indonesia. While surrounded by poor areas, the grounds of the museum could be mistaken for being in central Amsterdam.

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Other Places
While there are several other places in Surabaya of interest to travellers: The Four Face Buddha; Joko Dolog, the 700 year-old statue of Buddha; or several mosques and temples, it’s not always easy to find them. Whether they are down hidden alleyways, the Bemos don’t go near them, of they just don’t stand out. Several times ended up walking at length through slums trying to find a site. Unable to ask due to the language barrier and floundering in the sticky heat, we’d eventually give up and head somewhere else. We did get lucky a couple of times and found the occasional Hindu temple.

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While walking through the myriad of slums, at no time did we feel unsafe.

Next, we head by train to the student capital of Indonesia, Yogyakarta.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Manchester, England – Impressions

Manchester is an industrial city in northern England. The Greater Manchester region boasts the second largest population for an urban area in the United Kingdom.

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With the city’s recorded history beginning in 79AD by the Roman Empire, the city is famous for being the first industrialised city in the world. The term Manchester is used by many countries in the southern hemisphere to refer to the textiles manufactures in the city during the industrial revolution. Manchester is also famous for having the world’s first railway station and the oldest public library. It is also the location where the atom was first split and where the concepts of both communism and capitalism were created.

During the two months I spent in Manchester waiting for a work permit, I made the most of my time getting to know the city without spending too much money. Over the course of several days, I explored the central city and enjoyed some of the architecture I found there.

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During my wanderings I located one of the city’s original roman sites, a the roman granary near the site of the roman fort Castlefield, which is now little more than a plot of land.

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Like London, Manchester has embraced a more modern style of building, including the One Angel Square building completed this year.

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Culturally, Manchester has plenty to offer such as the National Football Museum…

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…or Manchester United Stadium, if soccer is your thing…

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There this is the Museum of Science and Industry, which is spread over several huge warehouses.

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Then there is the neo-Gothic Central Library.

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One cannot come to Manchester without at least acknowledging it as the home of Coronation Street. The street itself is fictitious and is housed inside ITV studios.

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Going a little further afield I found a local collector showing off his cars. With vehicles from the past fifty years on show…

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Air shows are plentiful around the United Kingdom and I had the pleasure to see one of them at a local air field, featuring displays from many different aircraft including many ageing airplanes and helicopters.

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Lastly, I took in a canal cruise for a day, travelling along the extensive canals of northwest England out to the sea.

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The canal system was very important to the shipping of goods in the industrial era and is still put to good use. There are many bridges over the river canal, most swinging to the side to let the ship through, while others lift high into the air. The cruise finished in Liverpool, 53 kilometres away.

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Overall, Manchester was a relaxed place to spend time a couple of months and far cheaper than the more multi-cultural London. Although with the vast numbers of pregnant women and newborn children, I began to wonder if there was something in the water. Because of that I’ve labeled Manchester the breeding capital of England.

The World Wanderer

Mapping My Journey So Far

Sixteen months on the road is a long time. During that time I covered quite a distance and did many things. While I’ve been ‘resting’ in the United Kingdom, I’ve put together a step by step rundown of my trip including maps.

South East Australia

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In a van called the Pointy Brick I…

Antarctica, Chile and Argentina

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From Brisbane, I flew to Auckland and spent 3 weeks with family before flying to South America where I…

Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador

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From Buenos Aires I…

Colombia, Central America and Mexico

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From Ecuador I…

The Full Map. May take some time to load.

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The World Wanderer

London, England – Impressions

It’s no secret that London is the capital of England, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Empire. It’s less known that London is a leading global metropolis, is one of the world’s leading financial centres and is one of the most expensive cities in the world.

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After sixteen months of travelling, I’ve stopped off in the United Kingdom to rest and work for six months before I embark on a trip through Asia. But one cannot come to London without taking in some of the city’s sights. And with the most efficient public transport system I’ve come across, including The Tubes – the oldest and second longest underground rail system in the world – it’s easy to get around.

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During my time here I’ve explored many places and have come to enjoy London’s quaint and stunning architecture. Even the basic streets with their signature english brickwork are something to behold.

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Then there are the many prominent buildings such as Saint Paul’s Cathedral, which has been rebuilt four times since it’s original construction in 604 A.D.

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Westminster Abbey, site of many royal weddings…

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Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the Queen of England…

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The castle that is The Tower of London, built almost 950 years ago and used primary as a prison for much of that time…

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The Tower Bridge, often mistakenly called London Bridge, which is the name of the next bridge along the River Thames…

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Big Ben, the nickname of the Palace of Westminster’s clock tower, renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012…

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The other end of the Palace of Westminster, commonly known as the House of Parliament…

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and the Royal Albert Hall…

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Modern London is not just a city of venerable architecture but a fusion of old and new with structures such as The Shard…

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The Gherkin…

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O2, originally known as The Millennium Dome…

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And of course the London Eye…

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While the weather in London isn’t always the best, when the sun does come out the parks throughout the city are busy with people taking in every bit of sunlight on rentable deck chairs. This is seen in all three of the central city’s major parks: Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park and Regent’s Park.

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It’s easy to get sucked into life in London and it’s no wonder many who come here find it difficult to leave. The cultural scene is huge, with dozens of high-end stage productions showing at any given time, famous bands playing somewhere in the city every other night, and the many famous art galleries and museums scattered throughout the city. Including the National Art Gallery with its giant blue cock.

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With the world’s largest airport system, London is reportedly the world’s most visited city. And with the diverse societies of Europe and North-Africa on its doorstep, it’s not surprising that the city is a jumping off point, something I intend to explore in the future.

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There are many facets of life in London with so many nationalities represented here, although it’s difficult to find the actual british people among the crowds of foreigners. This makes the city a cultural melting pot and adding to its appeal.

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Finally, nothing reeks London more than a red double-decker bus with a Doctor Who advert on the side.

Next I head north to Manchester.

The World Wanderer

Hoover Dam and The Grand Canyon, Arizona – Impressions

Las Vegas, in the state of Nevada, is an intense place even if you’re only staying a couple of days. But if you’re planning to stay a week or more, getting out of the city should be a high priority. We did just that, hiring a car and driving to two features of the region:

Hoover Dam
Hoover Dan is situated on the U.S. state border of Nevada and Arizona, 50 kilometres from Las Vegas. The dam was built in Black Canyon on the Colorado River to prevent flooding, provide irrigation and generate power for the states of Nevada, Arizona and California. At the time of construction it was the largest concrete structure in the world.

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Completed in 1936, the dam was also used as a major highway, but due to increasing traffic concerns the Dam Bypass Bridge opened in 2010.

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The dam created Lake Mead, the largest reservoir of water in the United States by volume. The dam took only 5 years to build and during that time took the lives of 112 people. Sixteen people died in the first year of construction when temperatures in the area clocked in at close to 50ºC. Another forty-two died from pneumonia, although in later years this listing was seen as a cover-up of deaths caused by carbon-monoxide poisoning.

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The Grand Canyon
Nearly 200 kilometres from Las Vegas by car is the site of the Grand Canyon Skywalk. The Skywalk is near the western end of the canyon at a site ingeniously called Grand Canyon West. There are several sections tourists can visit at Grand Canyon West; one is  Eagle Point, named after the impression of an Eagle in the ridge opposite…

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Eagle Point is also the location of the Skybridge itself, a metal framed ‘bridge’ with a glass bottom. Unfortunately use of personal cameras on the bridge is not permitted, meaning the cost of entry onto the walk plus purchase the photographs is quite expensive. Taking the Skywalk is not required as fearless tourists can walk to the edge of the canyon beside the structure.

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Another point of interest is Guano Point, literally ‘Bat Shit Point’. Bat caves were discovered in the canyon, the guano being a good source of phosphates used in farming. The mining lift building still stands at the end of the point.

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Guano Point is at the end of a thin section of a ridge line stacked high with boulders, giving great views along three separate sections of the canyon.

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The Colorado River formed the Grand Canyon over the course of two billion years. It is 446 kilometres long, 29 kilometres at its widest and is 1,800 metres deep. It is in the top five largest canyons in the world, although the term ‘largest’ can have several meanings relating to depth, width and length.

While many simply bus to the sections of the canyon, boat, helicopter and small plane tours are available for those who wish an even closer look.

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Other Places
These are not the only getaways near Las Vegas, only the two we visited. Other sites of interest are:

  • Red Rock Canyon
  • Death Valley
  • Valley of Fire
  • Hidden Valley
  • El Dorado Canyon

The World Wanderer