A Travellerspoint blog

Sydney, Australia (pt 2)

days 143-145

sunny 11 °C

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Having thus far managed to stay in private rooms for the whole of our trip (minus a couple of hours with our Chinese guests in Saigon), unless we wanted to pay upwards of 80 dollars it just wasn't going to be possible in Sydney.

We read a few reviews and decided on the 'World Square' hostel on George Street. The location was excellent and it was one of the cheapest at 30 dollars a night. From my previous hosteling experience I was fully aware that you can be lucky with who you share a room with, i.e the snoring isn't too loud and your room-mates are considerate (if they don't smell too badly that's a bonus), or you can be unlucky and find the opposite of the above.

As soon as we checked into our room we became aware of the presence of 'Rich' from Southern England. Before I carry on I have nothing against people from Southern England, I mention it only to help you build a picture of our 48 hour nemesis. So anyway, Rich introduced himself and did quite well to make it apparent in less than 10 seconds that he was not my cup of tea. Rich was arrogant, cocky, obnoxious and far too self-assured for someone who had to phone home every week to get his mum to send him more money. But at least my bunk was on the opposite side of the room, Lou was not so lucky. Rich was living in the hostel whilst working on a building site, and treated the surrounding bunks as his personal washing line, including the one above his which is where Lou was to sleep. "If I'm taking the piss then just tell me" where his first words to Lou, but of course she was too nice to tell him and while attempting the equivilant of the crypton factor's assault course to get up to her bed, replied "no worries".

Although Rich lived in the hostel, he didn't own it, although he gave a very strong impression that he did. He cordened off his lower bunk by hanging sheets all around it, suspended by wedging them in the matress in the above bunk. When Lou had successfully navigated the assault course of builders boots at the foot of her ladder, various t-shirts and boxers on every rung of her ladder and more garments hanging all around the safety bars, she started making her bed. As she made her bed, Rich's honeymoon suite for 1 started to become dismantled on account of her lifting the matress up to tuck the sheets in, and this displeased Rich greatly. "Oi! What you doin up there? You're ruining my palace" he cried from below. So yeah, Rich was all you don't want in a dorm room-mate, and we'll get back to him later.

On the Saturday afternoon we went to the harbour to take some pictures of the harbour and check out the area where we would be going for drinks later on – 'the rocks'. As is the way when you are walking past pubs and looking in, you end up in one. The one we went into had a live band on, served real ale, and was pretty packed. You can see that if you take away our culture, history, heritage and manners, then Brits are just the same as Aussies really.

High up on my must-do list when I visit any city is to go and see the stadiums they have. It doesn't really matter to me whether they are open or not, but I like to go and see them, to put a live perspective on the stadiums that I've seen on the television. Writing that down it sounds like I'm a bit of a saddo, and perhaps I am, but anyway as we were in Sydney I had to go and see the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) which is one of the most famous cricket grounds in the world. On the walk from the centre to the SCG we happened upon a group of a few hundred people protesting about carbon taxes, which I have absolutely no opinion about, on account of not having a clue about the issue, but decided to walk with them for a while anyway.

After our brief protest we walked the hour or so to the SCG, took the obligatory photos and hopped on a bus to Coogee which is where Lou used to spend a lot of time when she lived in Sydney 6 years ago. Coogee is very cosmopolitan and it had the feel of Allerton Road or Notting Hill. We had a lovely lunch in a Thai restaurant and felt 0% backpacker and 100% suburbanites. After our lunch we headed down to the beach which to start the 5km or so walk from Coogee to Bondi. Even though it was winter and it was below 10 degrees, there were lots of people out walking, jogging, frolicking and generally enjoying themselves and the walk blew away the last few cobwebs from the night before. There were also surfers, loads and loads and loads of them.

On Sunday night, a coupe of Scottish girls who had obviously stayed in the hostel sometime previously and knew the aforementioned Rich checked in. Rich then indluged them in 30 minutes of the kind of "banter" that only people called Rich from the South could possibly do. It turns out that Rich had smuggled one of his pals in the night before and so one of the Scottish girls had to sleep in his dirty sheets. Much "banter" followed for the next half an hour or so down that end of the room, while a few of us down the other end of the room were reading, or listening to music, or writing, or something. Rich's friend (who was also working in Sydney from what I could gather, and whose mother paid for him to have a spotify subscription) saw that there wasn't much going on down our end and muttered something along the lines of "boring f****ng backpackers". Insulting people in a hostel for being backpackers whilst your mother pays for your spotify subscription is something only a friend of Rich's could possibly do.

And that was our brief flirtation with Australia over and done with. If you could still get 3 dollars to the pound like you could some years ago, I would heartily recommend Australia for backpackers.But when you consider it costs 3-4 times more to travel here than it does Asia, for me it is pricing itself out of the backpacker market unless you're going there to work as part of your trip.

Posted by Kan_Kan_Can 14:31 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney square world hostel Comments (0)

Sydney to Melbourne and back in a camper van

days 137-143

sunny 9 °C

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The company we hired the camper van from had a winter sale on – instead of the usual 100 AUD per day for the van, it was only 35. We had arranged to pick our camper van up from near to the airport at 10am, and after going through how to pay toll fees, speed limits, where to park at night, and what to do if we hit a kangaroo we got on the road about mid-day.

Our rough plan was to head South towards Melbourne, primarily on the Princes Highway but taking in as much of the great ocean road as time would allow, and then after 3 days see how far we were and whether it would be worth going all the way to Melbourne or not.

On day 1 we made slow progress as we took the great ocean road for the majority of it and realised that no matter where you are in the world, Sunday drivers drive SLOWLY. We weren't in any great rush but there was a couple of times I thought the driver in front had turned his engine off and relying on a tailwind for acceleration.

As backdrops for driving go, surely not many can beat that stretch; windy roads, quaint towns, a vast ocean and perfect beaches. As dusk approached, the kangaroos came out in their numbers and hopped around the fields and it all felt very Australian.

As it got dark we found somewhere to park for the night near to Udlladulla, and as is the beauty with driving around with your kitchen, living room and supply of food and drinks a metre behind you, within minutes the gin and tonics were poured and the music was on. As its the Australian winter there were not many people around, in fact 2 camper vans containing 4 elderly folk were our own company, but we had spent time with other people almost constantly for the past few months so a bit of time to ourselves was more than welcome.

The next morning we woke to discover that the camp site we stumbled upon just happened to be right on the beach, which happened to have a nice breeze blowing across it to blow away a couple the cobwebs from the gin the night before. I imagine in the summer sites like this are chocker as the beach was picture perfect, but except for the elderly gentleman ambling off for a spot of fishing, we had kilometres of beach to ourselves.

Before setting off on the highway for a long day of driving, we went to the supermarket to get some supplies. I had heard that Australia was now ridiculously expensive, and I know you don't get as many dollars to the pound as you used to, but a quid for a simple onion is still a bit much. Thankfully the cheapest wine worked out at about 3 quid a bottle so even if we weren't going to be eating gourmet camper van fayre, we would at least be a bit tipsy and could pretend we were.

The next couple of days consisted of more of the same – driving, wildlife spotting, eating and drinking. We managed to find a camp-site with a hot-tub which was most welcome, but then when we woke up the next morning to find ice on the inside of the window, we realised that it was probably there for its practical use to defrost people rather than for leisure. We did have one rather amusing moment, however, when I managed to lock the keys in the camper van. As the narrower of the pair of us by quite some considerable distance, Lou was automatically volunteered to dive through the narrow window right at the top of the van that luckily we had left open for ventilation. I managed to bunk Lou up high enough for her to crawl through the small space and there wasn't really anything to hold onto on the other side so one loud thud later, Lou appeared upside down on the inside of the van and disaster was averted.

Early on the fourth day we arrived in Melbourne. As we were rather ambitiously driving over 2000km in 6 days we only had 1 full day and 1 night to try to see what the city was all about. After spending the day walking around the centre and almost going to see a Picasso exhibition (which we tried to get into for free, but were halted and a demand of 40 dollars was made), as dusk approached we decided to do what just about everybody else in Melbourne seemed to be doing at that time – headed to a bar. At 8 dollars a pint, we couldn't have many, but we found a cool little basement bar and whiled away a couple of hours at the rate of a pint an hour. The bar had a free magazine with local cultural listing and it struck me that although Sydney is probably a better tourist destination, Melbourne seemed to have more interesting stuff going on. Our budget wouldn't have stretched to any of it, but its worth noting for next time, should there be one.

For the drive back to Sydney we decided to use the Hume highway; its around 200km shorter than the ocean route, and after reading Bill Bryson's 'Down Under' several years ago, I just HAD to go to Canberra to see if it really is as shit as he makes it out to be. After a very short time indeed, I was happy to accept Bill's side of things. On the way into the city centre we took a wrong turn (I say we, as the majority of the blame lies with the navigator) and ended up crossing the outrageously gargantuan lake that splits the city and were on the other side. We then drove past an array of similar looking government buildings and a collection of roundabouts that would make Milton Keynes jealous, before finally managing to cross back over to the other side. After we managed to park up we set off to explore the miniature city centre. It really is small, and completely belies the cities status as capital of one of the most developed countries in the world. And the people – they completely lacked the confident, border-line chauvinistic attitude of Sydney and Melbourne locals. I asked the waitress that served us lunch whether she liked living there, and what there is to do. "Well there isn't much to do", she replied, "but its nice to live here because everybody knows everybody". In a capital city? It was time for us to leave.

The next afternoon we arrived back in Sydney having clocked 2100km in under 7 days. It was a great way to see the country, but if I did it again I would do it in summer and I would try to have a bit more than a week to get around.

Posted by Kan_Kan_Can 14:28 Archived in Australia Tagged victoria australia campervan nsw britz Comments (0)

Sydney, Australia (pt 1)

days 136-137

sunny 10 °C

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Our original plan whilst in Sydney was to stay with Lou's friend Bettina, however since we left England she decided to move back to her native Finland (via South East Asia, including 2 weeks with us in Vietnam). After some research we worked out that it would be cheaper for us to hire a camper van for 10 days than it would be to stay in dorm rooms, and so that's what we did. The initial plan was to set off on the evening of our first day in Australia, but after my cousin (who moved to Sydney from Liverpool 8 years ago) offered to put us up for the night, we decided to take her up on it and she emailed me her address the day before we left Bangkok, and I scribbled it in my notepad.

The flight from Bangkok had been overnight, and I had barely slept a wink. Lou asked me where my cousin lived and I told her it was the district of Manly, so we jumped in a shared minivan from the airport destined for the city centre. From the city centre the easiest way to get to Manly is on the ferry, so we walked down to the harbour and jumped on the ferry. As we sailed past the Sydney Opera house the hoards of tourists on the ferry were taking endless pictures and all I could think varied between "I can't wait to have a shower" and "it looks bigger on the tele". And then as we neared Manly I suddenly remembered writing the address down in my notepad, and couldn't remember writing Manly down. The ferry had free wifi so I got my laptop out and put the address into google maps – it was 30km from where I was, and counting... we had gone in completely the wrong direction from the airport. When we re-boarded the ferry I sent my cousin a message to explain that we would be late, and why, and got a reply with a lot of "wtf"s and "lol"s. 7 hours after landing in Sydney we finally got our bags off our backs and sat down. My cousin's husband came home and she asked what they were having for tea, "ah I'll do a barbie ey" was his reply and I thought... yep, we're definitely in Australia. Good barbie it was too, and we spent the next few hours catching up with my cousin and her husband, trying to keep up with her completely adorable but totally bonkers little girl and drinking cans of Jim Bean & Coke.

Posted by Kan_Kan_Can 14:25 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Bangkok, Thailand

days 134-136

sunny 35 °C

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After we made check-in for our flight to Bangkok by the skin of our teeth, we met up with the New Zealand couple who looked bored to death having been in Surat Thani airport for hours, and it really isn't an airport to spend much time in. Aside from browse the sweet shop, there isn't a whole lot else to do.

The kiwis had already been to Bangkok earlier in their trip, had stayed at the Raumbtri Village Inn hotel, and were returning there on this occasion, so on their recommendation we had booked 2 nights there as well. Its set far enough away from the infamous Koh San road that you avoid the noise of the revelling masses, but close enough that you can have a nosey to see what all the fuss is about.

Before heading into one of the bars for a drink, we walked the length of the Koh San road and back, just to get a feel for what it is all about. In that time we could have bought fried scorpions, fake passports, fake degrees, custom made suits, drugs, women, and some were offering all of the above. Add in to the mix the debauchery of the bars, all competing with each other by playing their particular choice of 1000 beats per minute generic dance rubbish, and you get the sense of a road that has got more than a few people into trouble in the past, and will get more than a few in trouble in the future.

We chose our bar and ordered a tower of Chang to share between us. The beer was served by a young girl (or boy, it really is hard to tell) wearing a tiny dress emblazened with the green Chang logo. There were similarly clad girls with Singha dresses on, and the whole scene was an anything goes scene of unabated hedonism. After finishing our tower off we headed around the corner to the Rambutri road where everything is just a little bit less hectic, and you can get great chicken skewers. After finding the food we found a street bar that was a converted VW hippie van, and sat outside there until the small hours, working our way through their extensive cocktail and shot list, and spending very little in the meantime.

The next day was our last full day in Thailand, so while the girls went off to get their hair cut, the chaps took ourselves off for a last Thai massage and endured a final hour of twisting, pulling, elbowing and general battering, wondering if this can all really be any good for us.

As our flight wasn't until the evening we still had time to fit in one more bowl of Tom Yam soup and some 10p chicken skewers from the road side but that was just about that for Thailand and after nearly 5 months it was time to depart Asia and head for Australia.

Posted by Kan_Kan_Can 15:17 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok san road koh rambutri Comments (0)

Koh Phangan, Thailand

days 131-134

sunny 33 °C

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As we were half way through the lunar phase, there was to be no full moon party whilst we were on Koh Phangan. From what I gather these parties have lost a bit of their authentic feel of late, but are still worth seeing. I'm sure given the chance we would have gone along to see what the fuss was about, but I'm equally as sure our livers were secretly delighted that our timing was off.

When I was picking an island for us to go to, I picked Koh Phangan as it seemd to be one of the smaller and less-developed islands, and closest to the Andaman islands that we had enjoyed staying at so much just a couple of months earlier. The island seemed to have about 30 beaches which were split between 18-21 year olds getting sozzled all day and all night, and more relaxing beaches with a slightly older crowd, but still lively crowd, and it was one of these that we chose – Thong Nai Pan Noi.

We didn't fancy staying in a proper beach hut again – that is, one that has holes between the floorboards for spiders to crawl in, a drop toilet, no attached bathroom, etc, and we figured that as there was no full moon party on we would be able to find somewhere semi-decent for no more than a 10er a night. The first place we checked out had air-conditioning, huge beds, a gigantic bathroom and every luxury you can imagine. At 40 quid it was way over budget but sometimes you need to treat yourself when you're away for so long. But sometimes you just can't quite justify it, and so in the end we reluctantly said no to luxury and found a little bungalow set in lovely gardens just back from the beach for our agreed 10 quid a night. There were no holes in the floorboards, indeed it even had a concrete floor (with lilo on top of it), and a shower, AND the shower had hot water. What more could you want?

As beaches go, Thong Nai Pan Noi was fine for a dew days. The water was shallow and quite lifeless, but the sand was clean and the choice of bars and restaurants for later on was plentiful. As we only had 3 nights before our flight back up to Bangkok, the emphasis was on lying still for the majority of the day and drinking G&Ts at night. We were fortunate that we had sun for our whole time there, as at that time of year a few days of rain is not un-common at all.

As on the beach at Palolem, Goa, each night there was a BBQ going on outside at least a few of the restaurants. I was made up to see that my favourite barbecued fish from India, red snapper, was on the menu again, and Lou got re-acquainted with her old friend the tiger prawns.

On the first night we had seen from a distance a fire juggling show, but by the time we had finished dinner they had finshed juggling So on the second night we had dinner earlier and headed to where we had seen the fire juggling the previous night and got there just in time for the show. The whole thing looked pretty spectacular, and more than a little bit dangerous, but they put on a 30 minute show without any incident... until the last minute. One of the juggler threw an alight rope to the other, and in one movement he tried to catch it and throw it back, except instead of going forward to his partner, the rope flew sideways towards the bar. By a stroke of complete luck, it landed on the only seat that wasn't occupied. I thought that a bad case of flatulance was the best way to clear a bar, but after that night I realised that its definitely throwing fire at people – the bar went from packed to empty in seconds.

In order to try to get to Bangkok as quickly and as cheaply as possible, we decided to book a flight from Surat Thani rather than Koh Samui, as it was over half the price. We thought it was a little odd that the price was so different, as Koh Samui is 30 minutes on a ferry from Koh Phangan and Surat Thani port is only 2 hours more.

The night before we were due to leave, we sent a message to the New Zealand couple to see where they fancied meeting in Bangkok as their flight to Bali left on the same day as ours to Sydney so we had prearranged to meet up for a last drink together. The last time we had seen them was in Luang Prabang and their plans had been to head to Koh Samui for a few days on the beach, however at some point their plans had changed and they had in fact been on the next but one beach to ours for 10 days, and were on the same flight as us the next day. We thought it odd that they were planning on getting the 7am ferry from Koh Phangan, as we thought we'd be fine with the 11am ferry – a full 4 hours to get to the airport, but the owner of our accommodation reckoned we'd be ok we stuck with our initial choice.

If we had done a little research, we would have discovered that Surat Thani is the name of the province as well as the time. Where it would appear from their names that the ferry arrives and leaves from the same city as the airport, in reality is is more than 100km from ferry port to airport. We only realised this when we were already on the boat, and when it left 30 minutes after schedule, I realised that if we were to make the flight, it would have been by the skin of our teeth. The flight ticket said that check-in would close 45 minutes before the flight left – meaning 3:10pm, and from speaking to an expat on the ferry, it would take about an hour and a half to get to the airport. We finally got off the ferry and into the taxi just after 2pm, and thought we would miss the flight. The taxi driver reckoned an hour and 15 minutes, so our hopes of making the flight were resting on the check-in desk. Every few minutes when we passed a mileage sign I was checking how fast we were going, seeing how far it was to the airport, and working out a new ETA As soon as we got in the cab, we had let the taxi driver know the situation, and he drove accordingly in excess of 140mph. The ETA was creeping down and down closer to The magic time of 3:10pm. We hit some traffic near to the airport but burst through the doors and up to the check-in desk at 3:07pm. I asked out of interest what would have happened if we had arrived 5 minutes later and the guy told me that we would have missed the flight, and the next ones were all full.

Posted by Kan_Kan_Can 17:20 Archived in Thailand Tagged beach bar koh phangan flip flop Comments (0)

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