Sydney

Sydney


Hello new continent!! Landing in Sydney slightly tired after a 7 hour flight and not much sleep, I made my way over to the centre of the city to get myself settled in my hostel. Probably the easiest airport to accommodation of my whole trip, a fifteen minute train with the hostel slap bang opposite the station. I then had a cheeky nap (as you do) and went downstairs for a bit of a talk on what do to in Sydney (not just for the free beer included!), then remained in the bar for the rest of the evening performing admirably in the weekly pool tournament, by admirably I wasn’t close to winning but came top ten.


The next day (due to some more lucky timing) I made full use of the hostels free walking tour of the city, so saw the botanic gardens, some super friendly wild parakeets, these crazy looking long beaked birds that are really common here apparently, Sydney harbour bridge, the Opera House as well as some other sites around the city. I also was a typical tourist and posed with a very motionless bronze coloured gent on a bench. Having met a few people from the hostel by now we’d planned to try and go to an AFL game (Aussie rules, the biggest most popular sport in Australia pretty much only played here), but instead luck had it Ryan, a friendly Scotsman had managed to get some free tickets for a college American Football game being played the same day, so we all decided to check that out with a couple of Aussies from Perth who were going too.



The game was great and held in the old Olympic stadium from 2000. The colleges were California and Hawaii and we got the full show, acrobatic cheerleaders, college bands having a band off at the start, a cannon for touch downs, cheesy entertainment such as kiss cam and crowd karaoke, and of course the full first team players giving us a cracking game! After being chuffed to bits and managing to escape certain Rudolph nose sunburn by moving seats, me and one of the other Aussie guys Karsten, decided we still fancied a bit of AFL. So we got a cab (overcharged fare still being disputed…) over back to the city centre to the SCG (Sydney Cricket Ground), the home ground of the Sydney Swans AFL team. After much wandering around trying to find cheap tickets we eventually got some for the second half for 28 dollars each, which for 60 minutes of sport was pretty great. The atmosphere was brilliant (the fact that the home team were cruising it probably helped), but I was also amazed at how many families were at the game, loads of little kids all I’m Sydney Swans gear getting properly involved.




After an evening forming my passive aggressive politely English complaint to Uber I had a beer and burger then called it a night. The next day I ended up heading across to Manly. Now Manly isn’t somewhere where only butch men are allowed (my still developing beard wouldn’t have made the cut if so!), it’s the name of a seaside town a ferry ride away from Sydney. AND on Sunday’s all travel is $2.50 for the whole day, bargain. So we headed over around lunch and hang out around the beach for a bit, which had wifi… Beaches have wifi these days, and had a little wander and shop around the town. One of the best things about making this trip apart from the price is the views from the ferry as you can see above.




The following day after a change in plan for the evening I ended up visiting the wildlife centre in Darling Harbour and then because we changed plans from seeing a rugby league match I got my culture on by going to the IMAX. The wildlife centre was actually pretty cool, having been to Calgary zoo and the night safari in Singapore you might be wondering why the hell I would want to go see more animals. Well this place was Australia themed, so I saw Tasmanian devils, wombats, kookaburras, wallabies, kangaroos and koalas. Sadly the resident salt water croc Rex had recently passed away. The wildlife centre was really interesting and a great little insight into some Aussie wildlife. Apparently kangaroos are pretty safe as you could walk around without a fence between where they were and the visitors. As the museum of contemporary art was close by I thought I’d genuinely try and be cultural and check it out, it may have also been free… However I swiftly learnt after seeing: some rubber gloves floating over fans; some motorised rubbish; and a super creepy monkey baby thing which may haunt my dreams; that modern art still isn’t really for me. In the evening I went to the IMAX, now this was the biggest IMAX theatre in the world so I had to really. I went to see Ben Hur which although apparently it’s lost $75 million at the box office I quite enjoyed. That may just have been a combination of the insane screen size and Morgan Freeman’s soothing voice though.




The next day I’d booked a tour through the Blue Mountains, this is a national park just outside of Sydney. Firstly though they’re not actually mountains, it’s more of a canyon and the reason it’s called blue is the slight blue haze from all the eucalyptus trees. Anyway we went with a friendly Australian who took us not only to the tourist spots but to some ‘secret’ spots along the way too. Lunch consisted of kangaroo pie with breathtaking views and I’ll let the pictures do the talking. It was a great taste of a tiny tiny bit of Australian national parks and I’d highly recommend it if you’re in Sydney. I finished off the evening with a drink with an old uni friend who has moved out here, and also had some of the best pancakes in Sydney at a place near the bridge.


On reflection as I write this the night before I fly off to Fiji, although my trip here has been short it’s definitely been enjoyable. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that I need to come back at some point to see all the rest of what Australia has to offer! To all my Aussie friends, sorry I haven’t spent longer here, but I’m sure somewhere down the line I’ll be back!

Singapore

Singapore


So after my time in SE Asia I landed slap bang back in the western world in Singapore. Now I had originally only planned on visiting here as I was flying through and thought why not check it out. I was also originally only supposed to be staying in a hostel however due to a slightly tenuous family link (My grandparents, friends friends daughter) in Singapore I’ve been lucky enough to stay with the Clarke’s. By lucky enough, I’ve been extremely lucky, their house is beautiful and I’ve been treated to all sorts of delicious food, drinks and also full use of their pool! They also have three dogs and two labs so I felt right at home.

After seeking some advice on what to do and where to go I set out on my first full day to visit Sentosa Island, historically this is where the British set up their defenses against the Japanese just before the Second World War. But in modern times it’s where most of the tourist attractions are, eg universal studios & the aquarium etc.’So after being slightly clueless on how to actually get to the island, I spotted a gondola and thought that looks fun. In the queue there were lots of weird and wonderful options of different tickets and packages so I ended up getting a day tour around some highlights of the island, including the gondola pass and the aquarium amongst other things. It turned out I was actually the only one on my tour so had a extremely friendly Singaporian guide to myself all afternoon. I travelled all around the sights by gondola and had a go on the luge, a 4D log ride, visited the sky tower and Fort Siliso museum, checked out some of the beaches on the island, and then finished at the aquarium.


The next day was very relaxing, I explored a little bit of the local area but mainly chilled out by the pool, watched NZ smash the Aussies (poor Aussies) and then had a lovely roast dinner. The day after was to be jam packed with exploring the city and some of the must sees. I started off heading over to the MacRitchie nature trail, which is a path around a reservoir just north of downtown. This ended up being great as not only is the lake pretty picturesque in itself but I saw turtles, monkeys, some slightly ugly ducks, and all sorts of interesting plants. I actually firstly only briefly saw some monkeys in the trees which I was pretty happy with, then just as I was about to leave saw a load of them playing around in the grass so was pretty lucky! I then headed around the city stopping by Little India, Chinatown and finally Marina Bay which was definitely the highlight, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.


After some further exploring a few places in the local area and also a great meal in the evening in one of the small food villages with the Clarke’s and a couple of their friends, the following evening I went to the night safari. Although not the easiest to get to via public transport it was definitely worth it once I was there. They had fire breathers and a fire show whilst you were waiting and essentially you got to sit on your backside and be driven around seeing all the animals at night, including lions, hippos, elephants etc. The only slight downside was it was extremely busy and full of a lot of tourists, some of whom didn’t understand queuing… Other than that though it was a great experience and really informative. Fun fact of the day was that Singapore comes from ‘singa’ and ‘pora’ which means tiger city, as a man who discovered the island claimed he saw a tiger (although tigers aren’t found here).


The rest of my time I’ve spent doing a mixture of relaxing, throwing a tennis ball for a very enthusiastic labrador (as you can see above) and wandering around so it’s been some nice rest-bite after a jammed packed month in SE Asia. I’ve once again been so lucky with where I’ve been able to stay and being spoilt rotten. Also I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Singapore, there is a big expat community here and a really interesting history to the place. It’s also one of the safest lowest crime countries in the world which is always a positive! So next I’m flying off to Sydney for a week in Australia, staying right in the centre of the city. As of today I have no idea what I’ll be doing or seeing but let’s see what’s in store…

Vietnam

Vietnam


After flying into Hoi Chi Min from Cambodia we got ourselves sorted and recovered after a heavy farewell night the night before, we met up with the new group that were joining the trip, went for a meal and then a couple of drinks. So a pretty quiet one, which after knowing how heavy the following night was going to be I was pretty glad about!



The next day we visited the floating markets around the Mekong, learnt about some traditional Vietnamese cooking methods, as well as sampling snake and banana whiskey, or ‘happy water’ as its sometimes called in Vietnam. We then hopped back on the boat into smaller boats rowed by locals that took us into the jungle where we were to be staying.




Now because there were thirty of us the homestay included staying in dorms, I ended up being an odd one out resulting in a solo room for me so I wasn’t complaining. When we arrived we were greeted by three family pets, two very friendly dogs, and a giant snake… By giant I could lift about a third of it so had its back end (unsure of the snake term) wrapped around my shoulders. We then went for a little bike ride around the local area before our competitive activity for the afternoon.


So after being split into teams we proceeded to climb in a pool of clay and mud to go fishing. Now by fishing you are chest deep in thick mud trying to catch fish with your hands… This was a lot more difficult than it looked and unfortunately our team lost as one of the guys Joe discovered he had a scarily good ability and natural talent at this! We were then hosed down, literally before dinner.


At dinner we were treated to some musical performances by the family before a delicious meal. There was also the option to try rat and snake, so I did. Rat actually just tastes like chicken, KFC watch out… But snake was pretty slimy and gross. The night finished with jungle juice, now this was a pretty lethal cocktail of vodka, red bull and orange juice that lead to is all feeling pretty horrific the next day…



After a bit of a drive we went to visit the Vietkong tunnels, this was actually super interesting and better than I was expecting. We watched a Vietnamese man squeeze into a tiny hole and one of our group try to navigate through the more realistic sized holes, he got lost and ended up where he started but got further than anyone else! I couldn’t even get my shoulders in… Also this tunnel was in the pitched black, really windy and absolutely tiny, you have to crawl on your hands and knees. So I gave the tiny one a miss. I did however crawl through the slightly bigger longer tunnel, about 100m with lights and a guide, in case it stuck! This was still about 1.2m though and bloody hot so when your six foot it doesn’t help… But the thighs made it through along with a very hot exhausted me.



Before flying to Nha Trang we visited the Vietnam war museum, or as they refer to it the ‘American Aggrssive War’, this was pretty harrowing but fascinating and one of the best museums I’ve been to, it was really interesting learning the Vietnamese perspective but also pretty harrowing not once again that people can do these things to each other. Unfortunately after landing the next couple of days I came down with a pretty bad fever and felt terrible, so spent pretty much all of the two nights we had in Nha Trang stuck in my hotel room, Nha Trang was more of a beach resort owned mainly by Russians so I missed out on some mud baths and a boat/snorkelling party. Luckily both of these things I’ll be able to do later on in my trip so it wasn’t too bad! We then flew into Hoi An which was really pretty if not extremely touristy. We had a bike tour and saw the town and went to the tailors where the top gear boys got their suits made, most of our group got some custom gear. We also had another ‘cooking’ class, I say cooking lightly as most of it was putting things in rolls but I still enjoyed it nonetheless. At this point I’ll mention how insanely hot it was at this point, as in 40 degrees…. So having some chilling by the pool time was needed. The next morning we visited the My Son temples which was interesting but again insanely hot and uncomfortable in the sun.


After a couple of days in Hoi An we coached over to Hue for one night and drove across stunning scenic mountain roads, a lot of which you’ll recognise from top gears Vietnam special! When we arrived after some great 5 spice duck at a local restaurant we all got on a huge convoy of biycyle type things each powered by a Vietnamese man. Luckily mine was quite competitive so did all sorts of risky manoeuvres and overtakes (probably just for the tip, which by his disgusted face when I handed one over wasn’t big enough!), and then we left the cheeky bicycle men behind and explored Ho Chi Min’s memorial and burial spot as well as the imperial city.


Our next and final stop was to be Hanoi and Halong Bay. There were a few fragile people on the flight to Hanoi after a rather heavy night in Hue, buckets of alcohol make for fun times and then horrible hangovers… Luckily I stuck to beer on this occasion! We arrived afternoon time so got settled then explored the local markets and got some once again extremely tasty food. We also attempted to find pirate outfits for a fancy dress we were having on our boat in Halong bay, which took a while and in the end we resorted to drawing and ripping some tshirts.


So our penultimate night was to be in Halong Bay. Now I’ll let a lot of the pictures do the talking but we were staying on a boat. Now this boat was lovely, it was like a luxury hotel inside and a great way to see Halong bay. We had a kayak, visited a viewpoint a slightly exhausting hike up and then hung out on the beach. Throughout our time on the boat we were treated to fantastic seafood and meals, they even gave us brunch! So after feeling a bit spoilt we got our pirate gear on then proceeded to drink and party the night away, there may have been some karaoke going on too. The next day sadly we had to leave Halong bay, we visited some caves in the morning (which were full of slow Italians blocking the way…) and saw a erm slightly suggestive looking rock. We then drove back to Hanoi for our final meal and another party to see the trip home. 


Finally a massive shout out to my Contiki Group, for anyone who hasn’t travelled in a group before I’d massively recommend it, we had some great times a lot of laughs and will always be able to remember the shared experience together. Any of you reading this you’re all awesome and I’m so glad I met so many incredible people! So next up for me it’s Singapore, I have an extra night in Hanoi tonight then it’s onwards back to the developed world and shiny skyscrapers for a week.

Cambodia


So after a short but sweet couple of nights in Cambodia, tomorrow we’ll be leaving to fly to Vietnam where I’ll be spending close to two weeks travelling all over. It also means sadly that half of or group are leaving too and being replaced by a new bunch of people and I’m sure a new bunch of antics.


Although we haven’t been in Cambodia too long I’ve really enjoyed my time here and learnt a lot about the country’s often quite dark history. Our first full day here we learnt about the terrible atrocities committed by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the seventies, so only 40 or so years ago, and the devastating effect it had on the country. I haven’t got any pictures of the museum which was an old prison for the victims or the killing fields we visited but to summarise approximately 3 million people were killed during this time when the population of the country was only 7. Infrastructure was destroyed and anybody who was educated or might rebel against the regime was killed. Although this was obviously a very dark subject it really makes you realise the hardships people from Cambodia have been through. It’s pretty rare to see any old people and most families have lost close relatives and loved ones.

On a slightly lighter note we flew into Siem Reap from the capital on our second day and then got an early night before a 4.30am start the next morning. I’ll let the pictures do the talking here but we visited Ankor Wat before exploring some of the other temples in the afternoon. We also saw wild monkeys, elephants, cows, chickens and all sorts of crazy things going on. The temples we visited were also where a lot of Tomb Raider film was filmed.

Laos

Laos


So after crossing the Thai/Laos border we all hopped in Laos style Tuktuks to meet our boat that would be our transport for the next couple of days cruising down the Mekong. After the pretty heavy night before there was a lot of napping on the boat I between enjoying the scenery and great food put on by the family who owned the boat. We then arrived at the village where we were staying for the night, met the local hotel dogs and settled in before going to ‘happy bar’ the one bar in town for a couple. After a huge thunderstorm in which we thought a bomb had gone off the thunder was that loud we managed to spot an elephant being taken for a stroll at the sanctuary across the river. Not your average breakfast viewing! We then hopped back on the boat for more cruising down the Mekong seeing a lot of buffalo and some caves and other stunning scenery along the way.


Next transportation was bike Tuktuks which took us to Luang Prabang which was to be our home for the next couple of nights. The group all had some bicycles so we went to a local temple, I had my fortune predicted and luckily it was all good and also managed to lift Buddha above my head which apparently bodes well. After a cheeky pre dinner ‘new old fashioned’ at a cocktail bar owned by a Brit and styled like one in London, we went for dinner at a local restaurant in town run by a Canadian and full of travellers overlooking the Mekong. Now in Laos the country is communist so there is a 11.30 curfew. However there is a bowling alley that for a reason I can’t remember is exempt from this. So a bunch went there and having not had nearly enough whiskey on my travels so far I journeyed back to the cocktail Bar with a few others for some scotch.


The next day was our first lie in! All mornings so far had been early started before 8am and usually waking up before 7. So getting to sleep in until midday was pretty ideal. The trip was to some local waterfalls which were absolutely beautiful and probably the best of my trip so far, especially because they were located next to a moon bear sanctuary so I got to see some bears. I did my best superman impression and luckily managed to get a photo of me in the air on third attempt and then finished the afternoon off with a very local delicacy of a Nutella crepe.




In the evening we went to explore the night market which seemed to I on for ever. There’s also a short hike up some stairs to a peak in the middle of Luang Prabang where we were staying and the views from the top were spectacular as you can see. I finished the evening off with a cheeky dip in the pool before it closed at 9.


The next morning we were up at 5am for the Alms giving ceremony, this is where people from all over donate food to the monks from various temples each morning. After being slightly nervous I wouldn’t get my rice in their bowl or do something otherwise clumsy and innapropriate it all went fairly smoothly. I also enjoyed seeing two clever local dogs walking alongside the monks for any rice that might have gone astray.


After that we hopped on a tuktuk and then coach for what was to be a lol travelling day. We drove through the mountains seeing stunning scenery along the way and stopping for lunch at a place called ‘spectacular views’, I’ll leave the pictures to unlock the mystery of why it’s called that for you. 


That evening we arrived in Vang Viene and the view from the hotel was absolutely incredible and a definite top three from my trip so far if not the best… The place is situated right on the river with a stunning backdrop of mountains and the sun setting right behind them. I had a beer or two and made full use of the cocktail happy hour getting a couple of cocktails in the sunshine before heading out for dinner. I was blessed in the traditional Laos Baci Ceremony and then we ate, drank and were merry in the Kangaroo Sunset bar in town. 


The next morning was probably one of my favourite in Laos so far, a short drive from our hotel and a short walk in the 35 degree sun… We got to tune through some caves. Now tubing is basically sitting in huge rubber rings floating about, we had head torches on so see in the dark, and navigated our way through using rope attached to the cave walls. Afterwards we went back downstream and hopped in kayaks working our way 5km downstream to the hotel. Then after a quick bite for lunch we went to Blue Lagoon, a small stream where you can relax in the water and jump of a 7 metre high tree, although slightly intimidating this was great. We finished the evening with some food in an Irish bar without any Guinness (this made me very upset obviously)… Then ended up outlasting the hotel bar staff at the riverside bar.


The next day we had a half day drive to the capital Vientiane where we saw some of the sights the city had to offer. We also visited the COPE foundation who help people disabled by leftover bombs from the Vietnam war which was really interesting to learn about and also good to help out. In the evening we then headed to the night market to finish the day with some great food. Overall Laos has been incredible and I definitely enjoyed it a bit more than Thailand. I think obviously we spent longer so got to see some breathtaking scenery, but also as a third world country you really got to experience completely different ways of life and even by being a tourist you’re massively helping Laos develop as a country.