A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: acard

"There is a reason Aussies go to live in London..."

"...because it is fun."

sunny 15 °C
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We're not lazy, just busy enjoying one of the biggest and most fabulous cities in the world! Its been 3 months since my last confession...

Luke and I have been in London since Easter Saturday at about 11pm - not the optimal time to come off a 13 hour flight! Of course it was raining in London, and after all the searing heat and humidity of SE Asia, the cool climate was very welcome. We caught a black cab (ooh err!) to Aberdare Gardens, our new home, and were a bit stressed about answering exactly where the house was - we didn’t know. When we arrived though, thoroughly sick of our backpacks, we arrived in a warm, big ground floor flat, with helpful signs on the doors to advise whose room is whose (to prevent us from sleeping on any of our new housemates), our bed made up and very cute easter eggs in our fridge! All down to Shev, and we were very very grateful. We crashed into our new bed.

And I woke up 4 hours later. Jetlag is not imaginary.

I slipped out into the loungeroom to read my book so I didn’t wake Luke (showing some uncharacteristic thoughtfullness). While I sat in the half dark half light with my Air Asia blanket, I thought 'Wouldn't it be cool to see a fox?!', looked up, and saw a fox. I will say right now that I love seeing casual foxes and cheery squirrels in our backyard. I know squirrels carry rabies, and that foxes can make a sound at night like a screaming horror, but these do not take away from the fact that I am in ENGLAND and there are FOXES and SQUIRRELS. And I like it.

I was a bit worried that we wouldn't like London; it gets a bad rap. But as Jess pointed out; "There is a reason Aussies go to live in London - because it's fun!" And it is.

So far we have been to a music festival, seen the house where Dad was born, been to Westminster to view Big Ben (on Easter Sunday; this area is now significantly less exciting as you can see big ben from my work), been to Abbey Road Studios, Shopped in Camden and Covent Garden, had a beer on Baker St, sunned ourselves in Regents Park, taken in a show, had a drink in Kate Moss's local. To people who live here or who have lived here, these are not big London things, but to that I say shhh! They are exciting to us, and having planned and saved and waited to get here, we are excited about them and pleased to be here; we are definitely not too cool to enjoy it!

We are living in South Hampstead, which is in London's north west, between Swiss Cottage (fancy) and Kilburn (un-fancy). It is a really nice area, quiet, fancy cars, but still pretty and green. We are living with Joel and Shev, Joel is another Deakin kid, Cath, a nurse, Charles, who is actully English; a 22 yo newly qualified lawyer, and Pratima, a kiwi accountant. Admittedly this is lot of people, and keep in mind this is just the downstairs flat, there are more upstairs, but everyone keeps mostly to themselves and we have not yet (in my time) had a situation where noone has a seat on a couch. And the people upstairs do not use the garden, that is our domain.

When we got here, we swung into 'looking for jobs' action - I was quite trepidatious about this part of things! Trying not to argue about who has the computer when was hard, until we started to get appointments and interviews and be out of the house at different times - after 2 months nose to nose this was interesting! We both have good jobs now, and we are not keen to repeat that particular process soon.

Last weekend we went to Ireland with Jess and Clyney and it was amazing! We flew into Shannon, had our first Guinness in Limerick, drove around Dingle, did Blarney and Cahir castles, kissed the blarney stone (unneccesarily), met an american named "Uncle Bill" who, when I made a bad joke, said "Oh! I get what you're doing there; humour! You!" which got a thrashing. We did donuts on Inch (technically it is driving in circles on a beach you are allowed to drive on; not illegal at all). I thought the beach was called 7 Inch, and it took the other three a long time to disabuse me of this notion. We all drank one Guinness per day (Jess and I escaped the last day - win!), took lovely photos, and spent a bit of time loving the lovely scenery, which, after 3 days in the car, never got boring. We had a big night out in Galway, where we met Andy ("I was on Neighbours), Donald the friendly American, New Hampshire who had a real name but we ignored it, Zach, aka Michigan, the 23yo philosophy student, and had great craic singing Whiskey in the Jar. Locals seemed not to hate us, which was an unexpected bonus. On Monday, the last day, we had hangovers corresponding to the amount of fun had in Galway, but dutifully set off to see Clyney's #2 attraction - the Salmon Weir. There was no Salmon there. We then set off to the Cliffs of Moher in a very ragtag fashion, getting there in twice the time it should have taken (fortunately time was something we had plenty of). The Cliffs were beatiful, the water a lovely blue, and when we got to the point furthest from the car, in true Irelandfashion the rain bucketed down on our heads that were NOT covered in rain jackets. Unhappiness ensued. But when we hopped into our trusty car and drove to Lahinch for lu-hinch (see what I did there? Humour!) and had the most AMAZING fish and chips for lunch. Lahinch is an adoreable town (apart from the old lady who was mean to us - I thought little old irish ladies were supposed to be lovely? Anyway we spent lunch thinking of ways to further upset her.) we then continued our meandery way, eventually ending up at Shannon and the long way home. Suffice to say this has been a long week…!

Coming up we have some exciting events and special guests; Ruthie and Cormac this weekend, Shell Hallam mid june, and Melsy early July for her birthday! We are very much looking forward to these little slices of home!! Also this month we are going to Royal Ascot (ooh err again!), and next month we are going on a trip to Portugal with Jess, Clyney, Shev, Joel, Quinny, Penny, Freeman and Mel to stay in a lovely house and soak up some rays. Combine that with sunny weekends and hanging out with our special guests, we are excited about the fun times heading our way….

More next time I feel we have something to say… :)

Posted by acard 13:17 Archived in England Comments (0)

Mui Ne and Phu Quoc Island - Beaches and Birthdays...

sunny 35 °C
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So we arrived in Mui Ne, after the bumpiest bus ride we have had so far. I think we got about 1 foot of air! Another large amount of time for a relatively small distance; that's Vietnam for you!

Mui Ne is actually really just a stretch of highway, with the beach on one side (behind many resorts) and shops etc on the other side. We were staying on the non beach side (unknowingly! our hotel had two locations), but it was a nice place with a huge pool so we were'nt too sad.

We spent the arvo and the first day between the beach and pool; Mui Ne has a sand erosion problem so there is not much beach to choose from, but what there is is amazing. Kite surfing is rife here, which made going into the sea a dangerous task. Safe to say we were pretty relaxed, hopping in and out of the sea or pool, lying on sunlounges, applying sunscreen... The third day, however, was the trip to the sand dunes in an old school Jeep. I think I (Ann) was just as excited about the jeep as the sand dunes! And it did not disappoint, no windows, rickety, doors hard to work. Loved it! Our "english speaking" driver (who spoke no english) liked to drive up the middle of the road, which was fun as well. He was actually one of the safest drivers we've had! We went to the "fairy stream", (which I'd pictured in my head as in the middle of nowhere, but was actaully in behind some shops), and walked up that for a bit. Luke fell over in the fairy stream, which was a nice change for me, as I am the one who falls over/gets stung/hits her head/trips up/stains clothing. Unfortuantely no video was taken of this momentous event.

Then we were on our way to the dunes! The driver pulled over on the side of the road at one point and said what I thought was "Grand Canyon"... I thought he was overstating the situation a bit, it was a little canyon, probably about 3 metres deep at the deepest point... we have since learned he was saying "Red Canyon"... but there were no rangers there either? I did think I saw Ron from the Harry Potter series, but it was a mirage.

Then onto the white sand dunes. This is where my hatred of sand came in.

Now I usually have no issue with sand; you want the beach, you get sand. However, big sand hills with no refreshing ocean to dip in or lovely grass umbrellas to recline under are only nice in photos! So we took a lot of photos. Some are of me sitting down, as a rest from the hard yards it was to walk on the dunes. It really was very pretty but a bit hard to get photos that didnt have the 5 busloads of Vietnamese tourists in them, but we managed. After my large amount of hatred, I was a bit skeptical of the red dunes, where we were going for sunset, but thankfully we didnt have to walk as far, and got good pics with no tourists in (apart from us). The photos of me are quite odd as the wind was up and I got red sand stuck to my face - sand, sunscreen and sweat make a mean combo! After the lovely sunset and playing with the settings on the camera, it was time to go home, very hot, sandy and over sand dunes in general. The pool at the hotel saved us, as we got straight in (and left about 10kg of sand on the bottom of the pool).

The next day it was time for another bus... this time back to Saigon. We'd been wondering if we would still like Saigon as much the second time around, after seeing so many other cities... we did. It felt like home, strange though it might sound. We immediately set off to see if there was availability at our first guesthouse with our new bus friend Richard, from Holland. It would seem that a lot of people from Holland travel and are friendly; we've met a lot of them! If you tell a Vietnamese person you are from holland they will say "yes! wooden shoes! tulips!" in a similar tone they use when you tell them you're from Australia: "Kangaroo! Sydney! Melbourne!". We didnt get the same guesthouse, but one owned by the girl's uncle, and just around the corner. We had a rest and a shower to get rid of the Bus Grime, and met up with Richard to go to dinner and drinks. We went back to Allez Boo, the bar we frequented last time, and were remembered with smiles, hugs and high fives! Was a lovely feeling, and validated our warm Saigon related thoughts. Saigon is a dangerous city - dangerously fun! We had another big night, and got home at 4am.

The next day we were off to Phu Quoc Island, which is a small island at the bottom of Vietnam/Cambodia (but it is part of Vietnam, despite being mostly under Cambodia... intrigiung). Waking up a little "weary" (read: Luke was fine, Ann was a schmozzle), we rushed around getting ready to go to the airport. After a few interesting incidents (I had accidentally thrown my bank card in the bin in our room, general rushing around), we finally got to the airport on time, and started the flight... which was fine. A bit of turbulence, but fine!

It was hot hot hot on Phu Quoc Island! The owner of our resort later told us he cant remember it ever being this hot at this time of year... of course not. It is one of the most beautiful places we have seen, and also one of the least developed. There is a small township but outside this the roads were unsealed and everything pretty spaced out. It certainly isn't a place you could walk around easily! Shows such as Ship To Shore have given me the impressions that islands are small and stroll-able - I should know better! We got to Beach Club, which is where we staying, and it was so pretty! A bunglow, right on the sand, those grass covered umbrellas, recliners, and cold beers - perfect! We dumped our stuff and hopped into the sea... where something started biting us! Commonly called sea louse, or sea lice, they are technically bits of jellyfish or microscopic jellyfish or something, and they don't like getting trapped, so they sting you! With an "Ow!... Ow! Ow!" I jumped out of the water, and had a freshwater shower (apparently the worst move). Luke stayed in for a bit but that was the end of the sea for me, apart from a couple of very quick dips. That night, we had a nice dinner in the restaurant, and had an early night, in preparation for my birthday the next day!

It really is odd having a birthday away from everyone (especially my birthday buddy Sars - who to plan a party with?!). I woke up, happy to have a "Day of Ann", and we had breakfast, where I threw caution to the wind and had chocolate banana pancakes. Delish! Then it was onto motorbikes again, to go around the island and to scout out my birthday present; Luke told me I was to pick a necklace made of the local grown pearls. Nice! We went to a couple of pearl farms, and chose a lovely one. I am now ready to meet the Queen when she comes to get me from the airport - sweet! After a lunch we headed home to chill out in the bungalow, and Luke made me log onto Skype, as he'd lined up a few special guests - some friends and fam to talk to! Lovely, I chatted my head off, and then we went out for tea, at the restaurant owned by the son of our Swedish friends from Ha Long Bay. It was lovely and they gave me some cookies for a birthday present. It was a lovely day spent in one of the most intriguing places we've seen; it was hot and the water bit you, but it's hard to find a slice of real vietnam now unless you really go off the beaten track (and we didn't really... we are sub standard backpackers? who cares, we've had a ball and learnt a lot).

The next day we had a downtime day; chilled at the bunglow, and then took the motorbike to scan for a pool (where things didnt bite you). We ended up at La Veranda, the poshest hotel on the island - sweet! It was amazing, the staff wore safari suits (and hats!), and all addressed you as Sir or Madam, and said Good Afternoon rather than Hello. Amazing! We went to ask if we could swim, and after a massive communications battle, where I'm sure they didn't understand that we wanted to use their pool and were willing to pay), they motioned us through. Paradise! All leafy, manicured but tropical gardens, and fancy old people. We hopped in the pool, feeling very cheeky. To feel more at home, we adopted fancy personas, such as Lucas Winthorpe III, and Ann Card (haha), and both spoke like 100 year old English men. It was great fun. We lasted a couple of hours until the guilt at answering questions about when we checked in got to us, and we scooted home on our trusty moto. A delicious bbq dinner and we were off to bed.

That was yesterday. Today we flew back to Saigon, then went on a mission to find calculator watches that I have sworn not to pay more than $5 for. The big market near us didn't have them! They did have handbags and silk dress things and earrings however... whoops! Then to the post office and to dinner... which was delish. Tomorrow we fly to KL, and the next day we fly to London, arriving at 10.30pm on Easter Saturday; whoops! We have a room at a friend's house to live in, and are looking forward to not moving every 3 nights, as we have done since early Feb.

The trip has been a resounding success; we have seen a lot and had no massive dramas. Some small ones: stolen money, sunburn, long bus rides, tiredness, terrible accommodation and hangovers, but nothing epic and nothing lasting. We have met some new friends and spent some time with old friends in new cities, which was amazing. We have loved almost every minute of this trip, and are looking forward to coming back to SE Asia to see things we had to miss and revisit favourite places. Well worth the time and money if you are considering coming this way.

Some stats and facts about our trip:

Best meal – Moon Restaurant, Hoi An, set menu
Best town - Hoi An
Best sightseeing event - Temples of Angkor
Best room – Sunshine 3 Hotel, Hanoi
Worst room: Luang Prabang! Moved after 1 night
Worst Food: KL
Best moment –Angkor Wat sunrise/Motorbikes on Cat Ba Island

Number of hours on bus – 54
Number of different accommodations – 22
Number of meals cooked personally – 0
Number of countries visited – 4
Number of km travelled - too hard!
Number of clothes washed (by us) 0

Posted by acard 08:20 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Da Lat - "She's an easy rider..."

Where Ann became a biker moll

rain 15 °C
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Today was Easy Rider day! Where we went around the countryside around Da Lat, originally home of the Lat people (a hill tribe who was made to move when a Vietnamese person thought Da Lat "seemed nice for people"). We were escorted by Lan and Buffalo. My rider was Buffalo, who was a bigger bloke, and Luke had Lan. We set off, a bit nervous and a bit confounded by Buffalo's sense of humour... it was odd. But we grew to love him, as we did Lan.

First we went to a Pagoda; I cant remember the name to be honest; we are a bit pagoda'd out. The exciting bit is that when we walked out of the pagoda, we saw a statue...

"Its Monkey Magic!" I cried!

Luke looked at me like I was odd, and even I thought I might have been stretching it a bit. Lan, however, agreed.

"yes this is characters from famous movie"

It was ace! Pigsy was there, and the one on the horse, and everything. I took many photos.

We trundled on, Buffalo making awesome jokes like pointing at the exhaust and saying "careful! leg bbq!" and ducking when we went under something that was at least 2 meters overhead. We saw strawberry fields (more women doing back breaking work), another pagoda (I know, pretty broad, it wasn't awesome), lots of agricultural stuff. We were also confusedly dropped off at random places and picked up 50 meters up the road; to get a feel for walking along a road? not sure, it made for good photos though. I bought something from "hill tribe people" - they never say which tribe, they just generalise; "ethnic minority village" was another place we went... that was pretty cool actually, we had just weathered a massive rain fall in a ramshackle coffee house on a lake (no real reason), and everyone was inside, so our village experience was walking down an empty road in the rain, with a puppy for company, and hill tribe people peeking out their windows at us. We did meet one hill tribe lady who whipped a child from behind her back (surprise! or jane, "supplies!") so we could take photos of it. She said some things. We dont know what they were. We looked confused and shuffled away. We would have been especially intriguing, because to shield us from the rain, we had bough poncho type things; Buffalo had gone in to suss them out, and thoughtfully given himself a plain blue one, leaving white with green polka dots for the rest of us. Buffalo was awesome. We have a video of us doing poncho dances during one of our 50m random walks. These are for special viewing only.

The best part about the Easy Rider trip was being on the easy rider. Besides straddling a bike behind bloke you dont know (both of us), it is pretty relaxed, and you can just sit back and watch the world slide by (although sometimes you have to close your eyes because that truck was waaaay too close). Even with the rain we had a lot of fun. Don't miss the easy rider trips if you come to this part of Nam, it is a massive highlight.


Posted by acard 03:12 Archived in Vietnam Tagged motorcycle Comments (0)

Nha Trang – Beachy Delights and Buckets of Booze

sunny 33 °C
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So we arrived in Nha Trang at 6am, tired, grouchy, and with that magical sheen that bus travel gives a backpacker. Luke’s favourite thing is to get to a place and find accommodation; my favourite thing is to have a bed booked and get into it. However we figured that as we got in early, we had some time up our sleeves to hike around and find a cheapo room.

We went to the Blue Sky Hotel, and the Nice Hotel (creative names, yes?) and settled on the Golden Hotel, all very close to the beach. We did not, as I thought we would, go into the room and flake out, but we dumped our stuff, put sunscreen on, and headed to the beach. We paid about $1 USD each for one of those umbrella/table/recliner setups that you see in the photos, and nabbed a prime spot as we were so early. It was super overcast but it soon cleared up. Then came the exe drinks, snacks, and good times! It was a perfect way to spend a super tired day; I read a book and Luke snored gently to the sound of the sea… haha he did that on the bus too. At about 5pm, we left the beach; hard day at the office, and then went out for a delish seafood dinner.

The next day was snorkel day! We booked an unboozy trip out to three islands for snorkelling. It was great; we love to snorkel! Luke is emphatically not a mouth breather so it was a little struggle at first, but after some splutters we were fine. I, of course, was a natural… haha! We saw about a million different types of fishes (we swum with the fishes), and a turtle swimming along (slowly… damn those children’s stories), which was a highlight. We then had a night on the turps, and turps is probably a bit too close to the truth of what we were drinking. We were on the buckets… but never again. The next day I was sick and Luke had massive holes in his memory. Tough times! Relaxing day at the Louisiana Brew House, some expensive food and several pots of beer (for Luke) sorted us out.

We didn't mind Nha Trang; it is over touristed and full of young white people wanting to get drunk, but they are easy enough to avoid and the long stretch of beach is convenient and pretty, one of the best we've experienced (see Vung Tao - ugh) And we lurrrrrrved snorkelling!

Then it was off to Da Lat, which we have only heard good things about. A bus through some areas where a road is a far off theory (one memorable part was going backwards for a while, no apparent reason. Then there was the truck that had tipped over in the middle of the road, the driver scowling on the side of the road holding his arm). It took 5 hours for 100km - same distance from Geelong to Melbourne; tough times. I was feeling a bit ill on the bus but put it down to travel sickness and terrible roads; but no, it was the other type of travel sickness, brought on by many germs and bad food, probably. So last night and today were fun, with me lying in bed feeling sorry for myself, and Luke also feeling a but under the weather. We just went out for my first meal in 24 hours; good times. We have had to extend Da Lat by a day, tomorrow is our tour of the countryside around Da Lat, on an Easy Rider; a big bike where someone drives you around. Ace, we are looking forward to it. Here’s hoping I feel better! xx

Posted by acard 04:45 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Hoi An - a delight

sunny 30 °C
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Hello all, Luke here this time. We have been to Hoi An and Nha Trang since we last wrote. I am blogging Hoi An and Ann will blog Nha Trang.

We arrived in Hoi An, again we were hassled by someone to go and book into their hotel. We already had one in mind though so we took off in the general direction. We instantly clicked with Hoi An, it seemed a fun and friendly city. We checked into our hotel and headed straight for the tailors – they are everywhere, I can’t believe some of them survive; they would only sell two suits a month from what I could see.

We conducted a bit of market research into the tailors and sought advice from friends. We restrained ourselves from ordering everything under the sun on day one, slept on the whole thing and ordered up the next morning. We loved one tailor; she was a real character. She called both of us “Ann” every time we were in the store or even when we were walking past to go into town. She told us that after our suits were made we “would be so happy ecstatic that we would be ordering on the email”, she was a good saleswoman.

The tailors (or sweatshop workers) are amazing; they had our suits made and ready for a fitting within 24 hours. The shoemakers also, we ordered our shoes in the morning and they knocked them out by the afternoon. We ended up quite happy with quality and fit of all our shoes and clothes and have posted it all to London for our arrival there. Jess and Clyney, consider yourselves warned.

We had a win with a restaurant we tried out for lunch on day one – it was awesome, a little expensive by Vietnam standards but the food was possibly the best we have had. Fair to say that wasn’t the last time they saw our faces. The name of the place was Moon Restaurant for those who are interested.

Day two we toured the city. The old town of Hoi An, is quite impressive. Its narrow streets and old buildings are pretty and interesting. We bought a city tour ticket and spent an afternoon wandering around seeing the sights. The Japanese bridge was good, as was the Assembly Hall we saw. After two days we decided that we really loved Hoi An and booked an extra night. This took us to 4 nights. As I said, we really loved Hoi An.

We visited My Son on day three, this is the ruins of the Cham holy city temples. We booked the sunrise tour, departing at 5 am. While we were waiting for the mini bus to pick us up, several young-uns arrived home to our hostel from the pub – we felt very old!! We were hoping to get a spectacular morning at My Son but unfortunately the sun didn’t want to come out that morning. It was still nice, as we were the first people there it was quiet and there were plenty of good photo opportunities. In comparison to the temples we saw at Angkor in Cambodia, the Temples at My Son are very ruined and far less impressive – we expected that though. We had a good guide for the morning and it was an informative trip.

Day 4 we spent at the beach. A lovely coconut palm shaded beach was there for our relaxation purposes, the annoying old ladies trying to sell us anything and everything was not relaxing. They eventually gave up on us though. We had a nice seafood dinner (lobster!) on the beach and then headed down to an area that has mats out for people eating and drinking on the beach, we had some nice cold beers on the mats under the light of a kerosene lantern. One young Vietnamese boy who had had a few too many beers took a real liking to me and wouldn’t leave us alone. He even invited me to join him in a beach pi$$, think he may have liked me too much.

Day 5 was our travel day, leaving at 6:30pm on the overnight sleeper bus (a new experience for us) to Nha Trang. We organised ourselves for the trip, cruised the market and old town again and retired to the pool at the hotel for the afternoon.

We really hated the sleeper bus. There was no sleeping, so the name is redundant. Ann wants to rename it “super uncomfortable recliner bus”, but it is not as catchy.

We can’t really pinpoint what it was about Hoi An that made us love it so much. I think it may have been a combination of the more relaxed atmosphere of the city and the jovial nature of the locals. People tend to notice us and stare at us through Vietnam and that was no different in Hoi An, but somehow it was all carried our in a more friendly way.

Posted by acard 04:25 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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