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100029_coates birding with tour leader kinga

Dear Kinga, You have beaten me to the email. We returned from Cambodia 6 days ago and I was planning to write today and tell you that I posted a CD to you 2 days ago with just over a hundred pictures. I have included some portrait shots of you and of Tashi as well as some of LB and the camping crew. I would be grateful if you could show them the photos and arrange for them to have copies if they so wish.

The rest of the photos are mostly scenery as you requested with a few of the people we met along the way which give an idea of the country as well. You are welcome to use any of my photos on your website or in your advertising material if you wish. I have sent 2 versions of the pictures, one as a slide show using Google’s Picasa and one as individual pictures which I think will be technically easier to copy without getting tangled up in Picasa. I expect that the parcel will take 3-4 weeks to get to you as my postcards appear to have taken almost 3 weeks to get to Australia. If you do not receive the CDs please let me know and I can either resend them or send you some pictures via email. I have included a couple of you with this email and a photo of a head that I saw at the National Museum in Bangkok. I had a feeling that I had seen your face before and half way through Bhutan I remembered where!Thank you, I thoroughly enjoyed trip to Bhutan, as did Mark. I found your country fascinating from many angles: the natural beauty, the people, the religion and history and not least your kings and your government’s attempts to rule benevolently and wisely in a rapidly changing and dangerous world. I know that no society is perfect and that yours has challenges and problems but I am vastly impressed by your leaders’ attempts to set a good and even handed example for your people. I was also impressed by your own palpable pride in your country and this reminded me of a trip we did in Botswana last year where our African guide was also hugely proud of his government which sets an almost lone example of good governance in the region. Botswana of course has also adopted the same successful policy that Bhutan has of low volume, high end, (attempted) low impact tourism to a very rural country. This sense of pride in the country could not have been more different to the next phase of our holiday after Bhutan, 8 fascinating days in Cambodia at Siam Reap. Here we saw many beautiful temples and fabulous stone artwork but our guides told us many stories of the corruption of the country’s “elite”. This of course permeates every level of the poorly paid bureaucracy and Mark and I had to pay a small “fine” or “tax” to get into the country because we had left our photos for our visas in the backpack. We weren’t photographed, the tax went into an open briefcase on the counter in front of a bank of customs officials, the proper money into a drawer and the visas were eventually produced.Siem Reap has had an apparently uncontrolled increase of 35% per annum in visitors over the last few years and everywhere one looks new western style developments are going up, some 5 star hotels with price tags of $1200 per night while Mark and I had a $30 air-conditioned room in a clean well run guest house. A traumatised poor country with very few old people to be seen, chaotic roads, children drinking filthy river water, ox carts next to Hummers and someone (always with government or army connections) making a lot of money. Our tour guides or tuk-tuk drivers would explain that this or that new development used to be a government site until sold to developers and that the government services had been moved out of town. Interesting.

Kinga thank you for your wonderful tour of your country. I thought that the tour was very well thought out and arranged and included a wide range of interesting things to see and do. I enjoyed the opportunities to walk. There was so much competing for my attention that I barely had time to look at the birds and I am pleased that I did not go on an exclusively bird watching tour as I would have been very frustrated wanting to see everything else. I thoroughly enjoyed your calm company and your teaching which I found fascinating. We were all very sorry to see you go and I had tears in my eyes. I hope that your explorations in the east were successful and I am pleased that I could be of some assistance to you in matters of your health.

Tashi did a good job. He does not yet have the breadth of knowledge that you have but he is a kind hearted young man and I had some very interesting conversations with him about his childhood in the monastery. LB is a masterly driver and your camping crew were good. Under Tashi’s leadership they danced and sang for us the last night in the HAA valley which we all enjoyed. I thought your cook managed to produce very good food under difficult circumstances. So all in all it was definitely worth travelling to Bhutan and we are finding widespread interest in your country amongst our friends and acquaintances. We have told friends about it at a meal last night and will be telling other friends about our trip and your country at meals tonight and tomorrow night. My parents have already booked me to give a 2 hour talk to over a hundred people at their “School for Seniors” next year. I don’t think that there are any as fit as Nixie and Gwen so I don’t think you’ll get any customers from this group but I’ll have fun talking to them and telling them about the integration of elderly people into Bhutanese society.

My best wishes to you, your wife and family and every success to you and your partners.

Vivien (and best wishes from Mark too who is gardening and who I am about to join)

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