A Travellerspoint blog

Still in Sydney

In which we go to an amazing free concert, see some shocking modern art and trek along the north Sydney coastline (and have a few too many schooners too)

sunny 24 °C

Since my last post, we've continued in much the same vein... a bit of walking, a little too much drinking with some live music thrown in too. On Friday night we met up with my Aussie friend Andrew for more than a couple of beers. Andrew did a great job of being a tour guide too, taking us to a few tourist sites along the way (only the ones on the way to the next pub of course) including Cadman's Cottage, the oldest residential building in Sydney.



The next day, feeling a bit worse for wear, we spent the morning in Coogee before moving to another hostel, the Y Hotel, in Sydney central. The hostel is actually a cross between a hotel and a hostel with quite decent private rooms and shared bathrooms. The nice thing is that its next to the YWCA and the profits from the hotel go to the YWCA... so a decent place to stay.

Its Sydney festival at the moment (remember the giant rubber duck?) and on Saturday night we went to a free concert by Angélique Kidjo, Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright called Sing the Truth. It was a tribute to other female singers they admire, including Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone and Tracey Chapman. Totally inspirational. We took along a picnic and had a brilliant night.




On Sunday we spent the morning at the Museum of Contemporary Art in the Rocks. We saw an incredible exhibition called Taboo, although it was quite confrontational at times. We also saw one of Anish Kapoor's Sky Mirrors outside the MCA.


We spent the afternoon hanging out in Surrey Hills which is a quieter, more residential area of Sydney. Actually reminded us of Brighton with lots of cafes, vintage clothes shops and boutiques.

Yesterday, we got the ferry to Manly which is Sydney's north shore. Manly is beautiful but the ferry ride is worth a trip anyway, with great views of the harbour.



From Manly wharf we did the 12km Manly Scenic Walk which is true to its name, a stunning trail that follows the coast, taking in beaches, hidden coves, lush greenery and dry bushland with some great views over the coastline from the cliff tops. Of course, this was nothing to Marcus compared with the excitement of seeing hundreds of lizards along the way! The area has been at risk from the bush fires in NSW at the moment and the trail had been closed, but luckily they were open for us.






We also saw some Aboriginal rock carvings that pre-date European settlement and even a marriage proposal written in the clouds!



Today was our last day in Sydney so we went back to Bondi for another day on the beach. Marcus did a bit of surfing, I did a bit of sunbathing and we both enjoyed a few drinks with dinner overlooking the beach. The perfect end to what has been a brilliant ten days here. We're feeling a little bit in limbo tonight, disappointed to be leaving Sydney but also really excited to be starting our New Zealand adventure too.

Tomorrow we've got a 5am start for the airport for our flight to Christchurch, where we're picking up the campervan we'll be calling home for the next three weeks. Watch out on the roads!

Posted by teamgb 02:05 Archived in Australia Comments (0)


In which we meet Darling Harbour's giant rubber duck, I sing on stage at the Hard Rock Cafe and we chill out on Bondi beach

sunny 43 °C

G'day from down under! Arrived in Sydney on Sunday morning and having, as they say here, 'heaps' of fun. Although we were undoubtedly sad to be leaving Asia, as soon as we got on the bus to Bangkok airport (complete with clearly stoned bus driver... but that's another story) I was sooo excited about coming back to Sydney I almost didn't sleep on the plane! Marcus was also excited... at the prospect of decent Australian wine on the flight. He was sadly disappointed, but I can guarantee we've made up for it since!

For the first few days we stayed in Darling Harbour, which is pretty touristy but a good base for a few days. You can see how excited I was on our first day from the photo!


We've managed to coincide our trip with Sydney Festival, which this year includes a giant rubber duck which has taken up residence in Darling Harbour and is causing much amusement to tourists and locals alike.


On our first full day we headed straight for Circular Quay to see the big stuff - the harbour bridge and Sydney Opera House. Even though I spent a few months living in Sydney a few years ago, it's still a weird experience seeing such a famous view. We ran around like a couple of proper tourists taking millions of photos of course.


We then went for a walk in Sydney's absolutely stunning botanical gardens (note - it's expensive here, we're making the most of the free stuff!) First we walked around the edge to a spot called Macquaries Point, which has one of the best views in Sydney.


We then spent a lovely couple of hours wandering through the botanical gardens and spotting the local wildlife, including wild cockatoos and parrots. Having seen thousands of birds in cages in Vietnam, where everyone seems to keep about ten birds each, it was lovely to see these beautiful birds out in the wild. We actually spotted one tree that must have had about 50 wild parrots in it, making a right racket.


We also popped into the Art Gallery of NSW and checked out their brilliant modern Australian exhibition (also free - hurrah!).

That night we met up with my lovely cousin Nat and her boyfriend Vince for dinner and drinks in Darling Harbour. So many drinks in fact that I ended up singing on stage at the Hard Rock Cafe open mic night. Those of you who know me will be able to picture quite how drunk I would have had to be for that to happen! We had a really fun night though, and definitely made up for our lack of wine for the last couple of months!


The next day we found ourselves in an Australian heatwave when the weather hit 43 degrees in Sydney. On the news they were telling people not to exercise outside and to keep cool - so we took advantage of the Darling Harbour Imax for 3D Hobbit and air conditioning. Not exactly cultural (unless you count the New Zealand countryside...?) but definitely cooler than outside.

On Wednesday we headed to Coogee beach, which is just down the coast from Bondi. We're staying in a really sweet, quiet hostel called Coogee Beach House which is 30 seconds from the beach. Accommodation here is so expensive, just staying in a hostel for the night is costing us more than sixty pounds a night - those eight dollar nights in Asia are seeming a long way off! Coogee is a really pretty spot though, smaller than Bondi but with a bit more of a local feel.



On our first afternoon here we did the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk (well - we actually did it backwards first, then walked back) which was about 7.5 miles round trip. It's a stunning coastal walk, taking you through smaller beaches and coves like Bronte, Tamarama and Waverley, along with some beautiful clifftop views of the sea and rocks.


Following that we got very excited about... cooking. Not something I normally get too excited about, but having eaten out for basically every meal since we left home, finally having a hostel kitchen to cook in we whipped up a storm (well... we whipped up some tuna, pasta, pesto but still) happily. Definitely a money saver too of course.

Yesterday we (and our leftovers - because we're thrifty) headed to Bondi for the day. It was so brilliant to be back in Bondi and introduce Marcus to all the places I used to go to when I was living here. We had tea and cake at an amazing bookshop cafe (Gertude and Alice on Hall Street in case you ever need to know - it's our new favourite place) then spent the day soaking up the sun on the beach, before a few glasses of wine and dinner as the sun went down. A really great, chilled out day.


Tonight we're off to meet my friend Andrew for drinks at the harbour, and tomorrow we're moving to a new hostel back in the city for a bit more sightseeing. Will have a schooner for everyone tonight...

Posted by teamgb 20:26 Archived in Australia Comments (0)


In which we get a glimpse of rural Thailand, swim in beautiful waterfalls and get a good nights sleep on a raft on the River Kwai

sunny 35 °C

We flew back from Hanoi to Bangkok originally planning to spend the rest of our time in Bangkok itself. However, fun as Bangkok is, its also pretty hectic so we decided to head out to Kanchanaburi which is a quieter, more rural town about 2 hours north of Bangkok. This turned out to be a brilliant decision, Kanchanaburi is small, relaxed and really friendly. Just what we were looking for. Its most famous for being the location of the bridge over the River Kwai, and there are lots of pretty raft houses right on the river. We got a room on a raft for a couple of nights which was really fun - every time a boat went past the raft would start rocking!



Our room even had a little balcony overlooking the river, the perfect place to have a beer and watch the sun go down.


On our first full day we went to Erawan National Park to see the amazing waterfalls. There are seven tiers of beautiful blue water cascading through lush green jungle, spread over about 2km. You can hike to the top, stopping off and swimming in the pools along the way. Our photos don't really do it justice, it really was stunning.






There were loads of fish in the pools that were bigger versions of the ones you get in a fish spa, so along with the stunning scenery we got a free fish pedicure too!


After lunch we went back to the river to do bamboo rafting and ride an elephant. Have to say we were really excited about this, and we used a reputable company to try and ensure it was a decent place, but we felt a bit uncomfortable about the whole thing when it came to it. I guess its weird just seeing a big wild animal like that working, although of course elephants have been working animals in Asia for a long time. So, not something I think we'd do again, but the elephants were incredible and it was a privilege to get so close.


To get back towards Kanchanaburi town we got a train on the Thai-Burma railway, the infamous 'death railway', built by Japanese POWs during WWII. There are lots of cemeteries in the area for the 60,000 allied POWs who died building it. The cemeteries are managed by the Commonwealth War Graves commission so they are immaculate, which is a little incongruous with the surroundings. One of the saddest things we learnt is that over 100,000 Asian labourers died too, but because they weren't POWs few records were kept so no one knows who died or where they were buried. Not much of the line remains in Thailand but we saw an original wooden bridge and the steel bridge over the River Kwai.




The next day we decided to walk to a cave temple, Wat Tham Khao Pun, across the river, via one of the war cemeteries. We slightly underestimated the walk... six miles in 35 degree heat wasn't as much fun as we hoped! But it was a good walk, and the cave temple at the end was really interesting, a whole complex of caves linked by smaller (sometimes very tight!) caves full of Buddhist and Hindu carvings and statues, including a couple of big gold Buddhas. There were also plenty of bats flying around pretty close to our heads!





That night we got the bus back to Bangkok for one last Bangkok night full of Chang and yummy street food. Marcus also treated himself to a scorpion on a stick... only in Bangkok!


Tonight we leave Asia behind and fly to Sydney. Feeling sad to be at the end of our Asian adventure, it really has been more amazing than we could have hoped. But also really excited to be returning to Sydney (for me) and going for the first time (for Marcus). Just time for one last pad Thai and a cold bottle of Chang to wash it down before we go...

Posted by teamgb 22:20 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

A Hanoi new year

In which we explore Hanoi's old town, spend the night on a junk ship in Ha Long Bay and usher in the new year by visiting a dead leader

overcast 20 °C

Happy new year from Hanoi! We arrived here in our most northern stop in Vietnam after a 15 hour night bus from Hue. Celebratory drinks were had to celebrate the fact we never have to get on a Vietnamese night bus again! Having said that, we think we got off lightly after some of the stories we've heard from other travellers (we're talking drunk bus drivers, people having to stand for 20 hours, no toilet breaks for 6 hours, bus crashes and... my personal favourite... the driver stopping to, erm, enjoy the company of a lady of the night under the bus). So just having to put up with a long journey should be the least of our worries!

After a bit of faffing around when our hotel ended up being fully booked and we were moved to a new hotel (by way of both of us, our daypacks and a Vietnamese driver on a single moped taking on Hanoi traffic) we checked in to our sweet little hotel, the Little Hanoi Diamond, in Hanoi's old town. The old town is a complex of tiny streets and is apparently the only old town remaining in a Vietnamese town. It is full of tiny shops, street stalls, the inevitable mopeds, and now of course backpacker hotels. Traditionally, each street was dedicated to a single craft or trade, and they still have whole streets for one thing - we have so far named them 'toy street', 'flower street', 'shoe street' and 'kitchenware street'. Catchy.


So on our first day we headed out in Hanoi for a walk around the Hoan Kiem lake, which is the central point of Hanoi, although it's actually really small. We visited a pagoda on the lake which seemed to be dedicated to the legend of a giant turtle (there is even a stuffed giant turtle on display) who ate a magic sword. Its so important that the lake is named after the legend.



We also explored the French Quarter, which is full of collonial style buildings, funnily enough, built by the French.


It is also clearly where the money is - we spotted loads of designer shops and high-end art galleries. Even had a slightly odd experience in a gallery where, having expressed interest in a particular painting, the staff got suddenly very attentive. It seems they may have mistaken us for people rich enough to buy art. Oops.

The next day, we headed out to Ha Long Bay (which means descending dragon bay), which is a beautiful bay filled with 1969 rocky islands that rise up out of the still bay waters. The number of islands is considered auspicious by the Vietnamese because Ho Chi Minh died in 1969. It is an absolutely incredible place to visit, and again, we wished we had more than our two days to see it properly.




On the first day we visited Dau Go cave, which is a huge cave filled with stalactites and stalagmites... lit up like a Disney attraction.





Later, we did some kayaking at a floating village - apparently there are people who live in the floating villages of Ha Long Bay who never set foot on dry land. Amazing.



We spent the night on our boat - the brilliantly named 'Fantasea' - with good food and good company.


Unfortunately we also had some bad company - as if sleeping next to the generator wasn't enough (Marcus described it as like sleeping with a pneumatic drill to give you an idea) we could hear rats scratching behind the headboard all night. Luckily they didn't put in a proper appearance!

The next day we sailed around the bay a bit more before heading back to Hanoi. Definitely somewhere to spend more time if you have it.



New years eve was our last full day in Vietnam because our visas expire on the first, so we spent our last day doing a bit more sightseeing, including visits to the cathedral which has a huge nativity scene outside, and Hoa Lo prison which was built by French colonists and has been used in numerous ways, including to hold captured US pilots during the American war. We also discovered a new favourite Vietnamese dish which is a bit of a Hanoian specialty... the brilliantly named bun bo nam bo. Beef, rice noodles, peanuts, bean sprouts, papaya and mint in a bit of broth. Amazingly tasty and fun to say!

Western new year isn't as important as the lunar/Chinese new year in Vietnam but its still an excuse for a celebration. We headed out to a few bars in the old town before going over to the French quarter where we'd been told there was a countdown. Our favourite drinking hole was a bar called the Half Man Half Noodle which claims to be a rock bar but was playing everything but. So of course in his sophisticated way, Marcus requested his new favourite song and rocked out Gangnam Style.



Suitably merry, we headed to the opera house for the countdown. Turns out this is where all the Vietnamese people were, it was packed with live music and a huge light show in front of the opera house. Really friendly crowd all wishing us happy new year in English, although the countdown was in Vietnamese so we had to just wait for everyone to start cheering to know it was officially new year!


Waking up on new years day we decided what better way to start the year than to go and visit a dead body, so as you do, we headed off to Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum. Throughout Vietnam references to 'Uncle Ho' are everywhere, he really is an idol here. So we queued up along with thousands of other people to file past his body. We also visited the stilt house he had built which really impressed us. He lived a very Spartan life, the house has two small rooms - one to sleep and one to work - and on the open air ground level is a meeting area. It seems he really practised what he preached. So, a suitable ending to our Vietnamese adventure. Tonight we fly back to Thailand for a few days before we leave Asia behind.

Posted by teamgb 01:04 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

A Hue for Christmas

In which we ride motorbikes in monsoon rain, visit the remains of an Imperial city and treat ourselves for christmas

rain 23 °C

Merry Christmas everyone! A little update on our, slightly untraditional Christmas period...

We'd heard from some other travellers that getting a motorbike from Hoi An to Hue was amazing, and its supposed to be the most beautiful journey in Vietnam, so we hired a couple of 'easy rider' bikes and riders for the trip on Sunday. Unfortunately we made this decision on Saturday, in the sunshine, but when Sunday came... so did the rain. Full on torrential monsoon rain. But we're made of stern stuff, so at 8am we put on head to foot waterproofs and set off.



Our first stop was Marble Mountain, about 30 minutes outside Hoi An and so-named because its where they mine marble. Its also a religious site, and is full of temples, pagodas and caves full of shrines. We had a lucky break in the weather and climbed to the top to explore. The caves were particularly impressive, complexes of small and large caves, each with carvings and shrines (and one with loads of bats flying around). We really liked this giant Buddha which was much bigger than the entrance to the cave so was presumably carved in situ.



The next part of our journey took us over the famous Hai Van pass, a mountain pass which was part of Vietnam's first highway. Apparently there are amazing views from the pass... and it was certainly a lot of fun winding up and down the mountain on the bikes... but as you can see from the photo we couldn't see a great deal!


Finally on our way to Hue we took in a huge torrent waterfall called Elephant Springs and a small traditional fishing village.




As our Christmas present, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice hotel for a few days. So later that day we pulled up, soaking wet, in flip flops, with backpacks wrapped in plastic, on motorbikes of course, at a very posh hotel in Hue. I don't think we looked like their typical clientele so no idea what they thought of the state we were in! The hotel is gorgeous though, and not only that but full of gaudy Christmas decorations... there is even a little Santa's grotto in reception.


They've also got Christmas music playing almost constantly. Unfortunately this doesn't seem to extend far beyond the greatest hits of Boney M which they're playing on repeat.

On Christmas Eve we headed into Hue to the ancient citadel and the Imperial Palace inside. Built in the 1800s by the last Nguyen Emperor the palace was probably incredible, but it was heavily bombed (as was the rest of Hue) by the Americans during the war so only a few of the buildings are still standing or have been restored. Still, what you can see is still beautiful, and there's an ongoing restoration project.






On an entirely different cultural note, Hue is full of Christmas decorations, which are brilliantly of the wintery, snow scene variety. I asked one of the women in our hotel who said they do celebrate Christmas but more by going out for a drink than exchanging presents or anything like that. But our favourite tradition has to be that lots of people dress their children up in Santa outfits. There are whole stalls dedicated just to Santa suits for kids. This is a tradition I'd like to bring back to the UK.


Our Christmas itself was pretty low key. A nice big breakfast, lovely Skype calls with our families, copious amounts of cocktails followed by a proper posh steak dinner. We really pushed the boat out and spent a fortune not only on imported Australian fillet steak but our first bottle of wine since we left the UK... to the wonderful strains of Boney M of course. It was fantastic (and reminded me what a white wine headache feels like!)



Marcus was also loving the fact our meal literally cost millions (in our defence, there are 30,000 Vietnamese dong to the pound).


With Christmas over, we are leaving Hue tomorrow for an epic 15 hour bus ride to Hanoi...

Posted by teamgb 06:20 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

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