A Travellerspoint blog

Frasier Island


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It's not worth reporting much on Rainbow Bay itself, there really wasn't much to do there. However, the hostel was really great and they do a really good job organizing the Frasier Island trip ( I think more so than the companies originating from Hervey Bay). I managed to meet a German kid about 10 minutes before the orientation started so we put our names together to be in the same group. Each jeep had 8 people in them, and ours had a nice mix of nationalities (irish, scottish, ductch, german, american, english, and israeli). Overall our group was awesome, we all got along really well and that definitely made the trip well worth it.

Unfortunately the weather over there wasn't perfect, but the group dynamic is definitely more important and not only was our car really good, but all the people who joined the trip that day were relatively cool which made the daily activites and especially nighttime a lot more fun.

The trip basically consisted of driving along the wide open sandy beach, trying not to get stuck along the way, which was almost impossible to avoid. Everyone started to get a bit tired towards the end of the first day's driving to the lookout point Indian head so we decided to have a crack at the goon we stocked up on. That ended up being a great idea and set the tone for the rest of that day. The lookout point was beautiful and we got to see a whale in the process. That night we all set up shop at one of the campsites, cooked our dinner, and started drinking until late in the night - a ton of fun.

Dingos tend to be a problem for a lot of groups, but we didn't have any issues with them. They were definitely around so it was good to be cautious, but none of them really entered our campsite.

The following day we all woke up and made breakfast before driving back down south the check out Mackenzie Lake, which is one of the major attractions on Frasier Island. It was a bit of a drive and basically took the whole day to get there and unfortunately the weather turned to shit right as we arrived, so the water was by no means as crystal clear as you see in the brochures. But most of us jumped in nonetheless to rinse off some of the sand (which was everywhere), and that was quite refreshing. Basically the same story for that night, lots of fun, drinking, and games.

On the third and final day, we actually ended up not doing anything. The day was really pretty and we were meant to swim around in one of the lakes, but never quite made it there due to lack of time. We underestimated the distance from our campsite to the lakes, and decided to walk there since the tides were still rather high. However, by the time we arrived to the starting point, we had run out of time and had to walk back. It was a bit dissapointing, but in the end didn't really make a difference.

The trip was really nice. Although, it wasn't anything breath-taking scenic wise, the whole experience was definitely unique and definitely memorable. Our group had a great time together and I was even a bit sad to say goodbye as we all split off the following morning. I should be running into at least one member of our group a little farther up north, which should be fun, but a majority of the kids were going back south down to Brisbane.

The following morning it was raining the whole day so I took the opportunity to wash my clothes since I was completely out at that point. Continued up north for a quick stop in Hervey Bay (not interesting at all), and am currently waiting for the night bus to take me to Airlie Beach. Hopping on the boat The British Defender tomorrow afternoon, and I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that the weather holds up nicely. Until next time...

Posted by STEVO1285 01:05 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Noosa Heads


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Quick post here. I only had about half a day in Noosa, so immediately after checking into the Dolphin Hostel (nice), I headed to the Sunshine Beach to begin the coastal walk through the national park. Definitely better than any of the walks I had done in Sydney. This one hugged the coast line the entire time and was a bit more secluded compared to the running trails of Sydney. Apparently you can see some Koalas on the walk, but I only saw some dolphins, which was still pretty cool. The hostel was a bit away from the main street area of Noosa, so you kinda had to plan your day around the free shuttles that go back in forth 9 times a day, but it wasn't too bad. Had some pretty good food while over there and bought some supplies for breakfast the next morning. There was a great sunset, but unfortunately I wasn't in a position to take any good pictures.

That night I met a few nice people from England and Toronto that was traveling through the Oz Experience. The English couple are actually planning on visiting Dallas during their travels which blew my mind. I offered them some advice and suggested Austin as a better place to go, so hopefully they'll enjoy it.

Woke up bright and early the next morning to catch sunrise on the beach, and after sprinting along to get a good vantage point for some pictures there ended up being too much cloud cover along the horizon to really see anything. Good excercise though I guess. I left around 9am that morning so I could get to Rainbow Bay before the 1:30pm Frasier Island orientation at the Dingo's Hostel (really good).

Posted by STEVO1285 00:59 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Byron Bay

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After getting to Byron Bay later in the evening and checking into Nomad (good hostel), I joined everyone for some free wine (goon) and cheese (cheddar) at the bar before we headed out to a few bars nearby. CHeeky Monkeys is the famous bar there since you can dance on tables (apparently that's an attraction in it's own right). Stayed out pretty late and managed to get a few hours of sleep before waking up around 5am to walk with a kid I met that night to the lighthouse for sunsrise. The hike wasn't bad but we got there a good 45 minutes before the rise, so the wait was pretty boring and unfortunately the sunrise wasn't too spectacular - maybe just do the lighthouse at a normal hour.

The rest of the long day I spent roaming around the small town, which I must have walked up and down a hundred times before I left. Took a small nap on the beach, but it was a bit too chilly to get in. I just recall one restaurant I ate at called Mangos gormet fish and chips - really good. And right next door was a solid looking Middle Eastern restaurant as well that was packed.

A lot of people take a day trip to Nimbin from BB, which is a one-street town that's apparently stuck in the 60's where weed and the like is totally illegal. Some people like the trip others didn't, I don't particularly care for those types of tours that visit areas completely set up for tourists so I skipped out.

Everyone I spoke to was really enthusiastic about Byron Bay, but unfortunately I got a bit bored of it early on. I think it definitely appeals to the more party-going, relaxing during the day crowd, which at that point I hadn't gotten into much. So needless to say, I boarded the early morning bus and continued north to Noosa Heads. I also took the time to book my travel plans using Peter Pan, so it was nice to have the next few weeks completely scheduled. I also at this point started to realize how expensive Australia is with respect to its activities, food, and drink. No wonder everyone carries around re-usable grocery bags filled with cooking needs.

Posted by STEVO1285 00:49 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Sydney

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These following posts on Australia will be pretty short. Just gonna hit the major highlights and move on from there. I started my month long trip in Sydney arriving early in the morning pretty jetlagged before getting the shuttle over to WakeUp Sydney hostel. Immediately after dropping my stuff off I headed over to the fish market to grab some fresh oysters and sushi from some of the vendors. Every Monday the hostel offers a free 6 hour tour of the city with a free beer afterwards, so I couldn't pass that opportunity up. The tour was great! Although the weather was pretty miserable for most of it, we saw basically all the major highlights of Sydney except the beaches, and it was a great way to meet a few people along the way. After getting back to the hostel, I joined a large group for some drinking in one of the rooms before heading to bed early that first night.

The second day I took the Manly ferry early in the morning to Manly beach in order to do the 10k Sydney Spit to Manly walk. Manly beach was really nice, even better than the others, and the walk was really nice for about the first 5k or so before I was a bit over it. The ferry in the morning over was a definite highlight since it gave some great views of the opera house and bridge. And by the time I finished the walk and made it back to Manly I decided to wait around for the ferry departing around sunset back to Sydney. The sunset behind the bridge and opera house made for some great pictures, and for anyone with a short amount of time, hopping on the ferry a few hours before sunset to check out the beach and then the sunset ferry back is all that's completely necessary. I ended up turning that 10k walk into more like a 20k after I took a few wrong turns and ended up going the longer way which went through some old army bases and what not.

On my final day, I only had about 4 or 5 hours to kill before my flight to Byron Bay, so I took advantage of the time and did the coastal walk from Coogee to Bondi. The walk was definitely more attractive than the Manly/Spit one, but I'd recommend starting at Bondi. Most of the views are in the direction of Coogee, so it'd be best to have those in your front view at all times.

Got my plane flight into Ballina and grabbed the airport shuttle over to Byron Bay where I stayed at the Nomad Hostel.

Posted by STEVO1285 00:34 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Laos

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So we rushed out of Vietnam in order to have a few extra days added on to our already short amount of time in Laos. We heard such amazing things about the country - it's ruggidness, kind locals, great trekking, and all around relaxed place; however, we soon realized that the country for us wasn't as amazing as it was made out to be. While I do admit, we stuck pretty close to the well-trodden path, I still feel that a longer period of time wouldn't have altered our perception much. Vientiene, the capital city, didn't have much to offer in terms of attractions. The food was nice as well as the sunsets, but only a day there easily sufficed. On the way towards the highly famed Luang Prabang province, we stopped through Vieng Vang for a day to participate in the tubing extravaganza. We knew it was going to be extremely touristy, but it was an activity I was told about literally a year ago and had always been something that sounded pretty entertaining. Obviously after the amount of time that's passed since an Australian girl told me about it back in Italy, it no longer sounded too appealing to me, but we still gave it a shot since it was on our way. To be honest, the drinking, swinging, and tubing that draws the most tourists to this area of Laos, as well as its beautiful scenery of limestone cliffs, was much more fun then the full moon party, and better than we expected. The one drawback is that the entire town is completely geared for this activity and the tourism it brings, so expect mainly western restaurants, all playing episodes of Friends or Family Guy on repeat. Also, don't be alarmed while eating to see numerous drunk Westerners stumbling back from a hard day of drinking making fools of themselves. Unfortunately it's hard to criticize when you're that same way the following day. Before we went tubing we rented bikes and rode to a cave and blue lagoon which was a nice way to see the scenery, away from the hussle. There's a monopoly for renting large inner tubes and paying a hefty fee to be driven 4km north to the first bamboo bar. Or you can rent a small blow-up tube from a guesthouse and pay them a nominal fee to drive you up there, overall costing about a quarter of the price.

We left the following day for Luang Prabang, which we were highly anticipating. And unfortunately, were a bit dissapointed. The old part of the city wasn't as well-kept as other heritage sites we'd been to. And this little "oasis" of a place, trapped in time, was teaming with tourists walking around, and the streets were lined with restuarants, bars, accomodation, and markets geared towards foreigners. So it definitely didn't maintain that 'charmed' feeling you hope to get in these types of places. We stayed for a few days, visited the waterfalls outside the town, which was nice, but we got stuck in a massive downpour on the way back down. The falls were pretty similar to the ones we visited in Erawan National Park all the way back in Thailand, I think Jessie preferred the one in Laos, but I liked Thailand's better. We did take a really good cooking class our last day in LP. I can't remember their name, but for $30 you got an entire day's worth of cooking and eating, and all really good food.

Our original plan was to take the slow boat from Luang Prabang, eventually heading back into Thailand, in order to fly to Beijing from Bangkok. However, we realized that it would be much cheaper to cross into China overland from northern Laos and catch a flight from Kunming, the closest major transport hub of Yunan, to Beijing. So for that reason we continued up north to the "trekking mecca" of Luang Namtha and Muang Sing. Muang Sing is a little bit farther north then Namtha, so we figured the trekking experience would be even more legitimate since less people go there. We were one of ten tourists in the entire town (we only know this because we ran into the different groups multiple times), and the morning market we visited was pretty interesting, but nothing incredible or must-see. As for the village treks, they all turned out to seem more touristy then expected, and while we didn't mind that part, the expense of hiking for a few days in Laos was much more expensive then we expected. For two days the cost was close to $60 and even more expensive in Luang Namtha. We were a bit taken back by the price and with the itinerary offered we didn't feel it was worth the cost. A bit dissapointed since we gave up hiking in Sapa for this, we settled on a one-day hike to at least do some walking in the national park and see one village. Laos' trekking is world-renowned due to the numerous ethnic tribes living in the national park, so on any given two or three day hike, numerous tribes can be visited. It was interesting to see the difference in gender roles here. The women do all the manual labor, while the men stay at home with the kids. So it was typical to see large groups of women climbing down hills with large baskets around their back filled to the top with wood or rice, while men sat around drinking and hanging out - interesting.

The hike we did was nice. We hiked around the forest for a good while, got to spend some time at one of the local villages, which did retain an "untouched" sense about them, which was very important, had some good food, and got our leech experience. The leeches were everywhere! We must have picked off a dozen from our pants throughout the hike, and that doesn't include the ones that actually broke the skin. On the way back, Jessie and I both had leeches on the bottoms of our feet and didn't realize until they had already plumped up and released. As you know, leeches release an agent that disables the body's blood-clotting mechanisms, so we lost a decent amount of blood from those guys, but nothing major. After the hike we spent one more night in the town and headed out to Jinghong China the following morning.

When people asked us what we thought of Laos, we weren't able to respond too quickly. It was tough to tell. Our answer typically involved should shrugging and drawn out sentences. Nothing bad happened, but nothing spectacular occured either. It was just fine, and that was pretty much all we could say. There were some nice aspects to the country, but it was hard to tell why we had a different outook from most people. Maybe it's because we just came from our favorite country Vietnam, or that most people come to Laos straight from Thailand, which would create two different perspectives on Laos. Either way, it was a fine country, but by no means a highlight as there's really not that much offered. It's main appeal is the relaxed nature of the locals, and finding places where few tourists are present. But while in South America this type of place is appealing, in an area where you don't speak the language, if you can't really interact with the locals and get a sense of their day-to-day lives, then you're just spending time with yourself, which is ok, not ideal. We also just simply hyped up the country way too much in our minds. We expected Laos to be what people told us. More rugged, really cheap, amazing trekking, etc. and I guess compared to Thailand, Laos is all of these things, but saving the country for last really didn't provide us with the things we hopes. But by all means, give it a try!

Posted by STEVO1285 08:04 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Vietnam

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Well since my computer once again was stolen, and this time on the last bus we took, I lost my in depth report on Vietnam. While I'd love to recreate the previous blog, now that my trip is over, it seems much easier to simply give a recap. Vietnam was definitely my favorite country on the Southeast Asia trip. The combination of really nice people, beautiful scenery, plentitude of activities, great accomodation, and smooth transport all added up to a memorable experience. In the south starting in Saigon we learned a tremendous deal about the Vietnam War visiting numerous museums in Saigon as well as the Cu Chi tunnels slightly north of the city. The food in Saigon, and our first taste of Vietnam cuisine was also some of the best. The Ban Xeo, Pho, and Lunch Lady all resulted in really tasty meals that all represented Vietnamese food properly, hot and flavorful dishes with lots of fresh herbs to accompany and add to taste. We then headed south to the Mekong Delta for a few days to visit some of the largest floating markets in all of Southeast Asia. While traffic was terrible getting there, and our tour around the markets was painfully slow and long, it was still interesting to see how the markets work and view the boats and residents in their natural habitat. The markets were not as exciting as we had thought and the apparently 3 hour bus ride ended up taking 6 hours both ways, which didn't add to the experience. The great thing about Vietnam as well is that most destinations are a perfect night bus distance away, so unlike other countries, no days were wasted on travel time.

Further up north we spent a full day in Nha Trang, the "party beach" of Vietnam. While at first we thought about skipping this destination because we weren't looking for another Kuta in Bali or Thailand experience, we were very happy with our decision to stay since we saw some of the most beautiful beaches on the trip and even my life. The "party" reputation is definitely in relation to the other deserted beaches of Vietnam, since Nha Trang was no where near as touristy as other places we'd visited. We took Travel Fish's advice, rented a motor bike, and immediately headed south and spent the day at two beaches. While I forget their names, the first was 20km south - pretty, but still close enough to attract visitors, and the other, 60km south, one of the most pristine and untouched beaches I've seen. It took us a while to get there, but it was worth the constant stopping to ask for directions. The water was crystal blue, white sand beaches empty except for large wicker baskets used as small boats to bring fisherman out to their larger boats, and delicious, fresh seafood for almost nothing. We spent the rest of the day there swimming, lying out, and eating tons of squid and fish with two beers that only costed 5 USD total. After our time was up we headed back to Nha Trang for sunset and to catch our bus to Hoi Ahn. That day in Nha Trang was perfectly executed and the scenery was magnificent. Even drive the drive to the beaches were great.

Hoi Ahn, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was also a great place to spend a few days at least. The heritage area was very pleasent to walk around and well preserved along the riverside, the market was large and very interesting with tons of fresh seafood and produce, along with multiple stands offering dishes containing Hoi Ahn famous noodles. There must be something in the water because the carbs in Hoi Ahn are the best in Southeast Asia. The noodles were amazing, but most importantly their bread was ridiculous. Probably better than anything you'll find in France. That being said, before our final stop at a sanwhich stand our last night, Cambodia was winning the battle for best sandwhich; however, the final one we tasted, I was sure would be a winner. There was a huge line with three women working in back preparing the sanwhiches filled with numerous meats and sauces. Added to the bread, the sandwhich there was the winner hands down and finally relived us of our quest for the best sanwhich. We spent the first day walking all along the heritage sites as well as the town, and on the second day we rented a few push bikes and took a ferry to a close by island to meander around aimlessly. While the island was pleasant with no tourists around, we accidently stumbled off the island, back on to mainland, but from another direction and literally stepped though another time zone. All around us were rice fields after rice fields stretching as far as the eye could see. And as the only tourists around everyone was very friendly with lots of hellos. It was a great two hours spent. We took the rest of the day to explore the beaches 15 minutes off of Hoi Ahn which were also very nice. Overall, Hoi Ahn is a must-see in Vietnam. While the heritage area is crowded with tourists, only 15 minutes away will take you to a world before tourism hit, to beautiful rice fields, beaches, and water bufalos.

The next morning we caught a plane to Hanoi, landed early in the morning, and spent the entire day walking all around the main areas and planning our trip to Halong Bay. We finally settled with our guesthouse's tour outfitter, which worked out perfectly. Hanoi is known for scamming tourists by creating business with the same name as reputable ones, learing unsuspecting tourists in and decieving them into a bad experience. So we were very cautious and made certain to ask specific questions in order to avoid being dissapointed. We opted for the 2 day one night stay on the junk instead of the extra day at Cat Ba Island, an island we heard was not impressive and not worth the time. The trip was amazing. The food was great, room really nice, and views spectacular, especially from the viewpoint atop Titop island. Overall it was perfect.

Now came the big decisions. Did we want to purchase a ticket the following morning for a flight to Laos, a country we heard such great things about, or continue north to Sapa for a 3 day trek into scenery very simmilar to Northern Luzon, with the possibility of bad weather, and an experience too touristy to enjoy. Obviously from the sound of my options, the first seems better, so we choose that one and left the next morning for Laos. However, after looking back on the decision we made and having spent time in Laos, we would probably say our biggest mistake was not going to Sapa. We took one kids advice who said some negative things about the trip even though our hostel that organizes a group said no one has ever complained. While the scenery may have been similar, it would have still been beautiful, we would have been able to hike for multiple days and see multiple villages, and we could have visited the famous Bac Ha sunday market. We heard there was some of the best trekking in Laos, so we figured we could have the same experience for a lower cost and a less touristy experience; however, in the end Laos was just as expensive, with scenery not as pretty, no famous markets, and we ended up only doing a day trek. So overal, not the best choice, but something to come back for.

As I mentioned before....the food, transport, people, activities, scenery, culture, and overal experience was amazing in Vietnam and all combined to make it our favorite country and one of the first places I would return to later in life. If you only have 10+ days to visit one country in Southeast Asia, make it Vietnam hands down, no other option. Thailand is well known, but is crap comparatively.

Posted by STEVO1285 21:37 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Siem Reap

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Arriving in Siem Reap we headed to the Prince Mekong Villas, as it came highly recommended by the same couple who told us about the orphanage while in Thailand. The guesthouse is run by a German who offers free bike rental, breakfast, laundry, and a solid amount of advice on the best way of visiting the Angkor Wat complex. We arrived with an original plan of attacking the temples, and in the end, we probably should have stuck with it and not listened to the German’s advice, but everything still worked out for the best.
The first day we spent visiting the main temples on bike (except Angkor Wat, since we planned on returning back in the afternoon), starting at sunrise and finishing about 8 hours later. We planned that evening to return back to see Angkor Wat for sunset, but the sun had taken it’s toll on us and we passed out for close to 4 hours on return, and we were still feeling pretty week into the night.

The temples were very interesting and the bike ride was a definitely recommended way of visiting the temples. But as we were expecting, after a while you quickly start to get templed out. The next day we rented a tuk-tuk and headed back to the main temple complex to view Angkor Wat for the first time and then headed for the unanticipated very long journey to a few outskirt temples that have been completely overtaken by the jungle on the way to one of the floating villages nearby. The temples were interesting, but probably not worth such a long ride, and while the floating village was very interesting, it took us so long to get there that we didn’t have too much exploring time and left immediately after the boat ride ended. We opted for the less touristy and farther away village to visit; however, since we didn’t even get a chance to really spend much time walking the streets, it wouldn’t have made a difference whether we just went to the closer and more touristy one instead. But the houses are built on 7-10m high stilts and while they were exposed now during the dry season, they are completely covered when the rains start. So it was interesting to think what life would be like to live in a place where daily life is completely different depending on the seasons. The people were very friendly while we were driving by and the kids cute as usual, I just wish we had more time there. We headed back to Angkor Wat again for the late afternoon to catch sunset and get pictures with a different light. We didn’t understand why people choose another location other than Angkor Wat to view the sunset, but as we quickly found out, the temple closes half an hour before the sun sets, which makes viewing the temple impossible…makes sense now.

So overall, the temples were very impressive, but one day would have sufficed for us, since the second day wasn’t completely necessary, but still interesting. As for Cambodia, this was the shortest time we’ve spent in one week, and it was difficult to get a full sense of the culture. However, it was easy to see how friendly the people are given their horrible past, and the food was surprisingly really tasty as well. The next morning we left early for Ho Chi Minh City, formally known as Saigon, Vietnam.

Posted by STEVO1285 08:23 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Phnom Penh

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After a long flight we arrived in Phnom Penh early in the morning, awaited at the airport by Ratavy and her younger sister. It was unfortunate that we got such great treatment after living life pretty well in HK since showing up to Ratavy’s beautiful house and comforts would have been even more refreshing after a stint of cheap guesthouses and cold showers, but either way, the hospitality and friendliness her family showed was more than enough during our stay, and we really appreciated it.

Ratavy had just recently arrived back to Phnom Penh from graduating, so we didn’t see much of her during our stay since she was busy visiting family and friends before heading back out to Tokyo. So in the end, her house was mainly our location to return back to after a long day, but we kept ourselves busy, everyday visiting the city and volunteering at an orphanage teaching English.

The first day we arrived, we met some of Ratavy’s extended family for lunch at a French restaurant, having the chance to taste real bread in a very long time. It was a bit surreal actually, just arriving in Phnom Penh and in a matter of hours being surrounded by baguettes and pate while everyone at the table was speaking French, I felt like I was in a different world (Ratavy’s mother’s side live in Paris). For the rest of the day we spent time touring some sites and finished the day off on a boat ride along the river, visiting a piece of land Ratavy’s family owns - a nice introduction to the city and in a very different manner than usual.

The next day we continued as if we were in every other destination. We started early in the morning and walked all day until the sun set. During our second day we visited The Killing Fields, Genocide Museum, and a few other neighborhoods along the way. Both sites dedicated to the Khmer Rouge regime and their atrocious actions were very moving and enlightening, especially since most of the world is in the dark about what occurred not too long ago. The Killing Fields is the location where thousands of people were brought, tortured, killed, and buried, and the Genocide Museum was the location of a detention center where much the same occurred. We did a bit of research that night and found an orphanage we wanted to visit the following morning to see if there were any teaching opportunities.

We arrived early in the morning at the Orphanage, Save the Poor Children in Asia (sounds fake, but it’s not), and were immediately embraced by the students and founder. They even forced us to join them in lunch against our wishes, while they struggle with enough food to feed their family and 13 other orphans that live under their roof. The teaching was one of the more rewarding things I’ve done in my travels and I couldn’t be happier we decided to stay on for the additional day. We bought school supplies and food to bring with us, and while at that moment, there were enough volunteer teachers to lead the classes, Jessie and I were able to focus on helping individual kids during the different class periods, which in the end was even more rewarding. The kids were unbelievable in every way. They always had smiles and were quick learners, not to mention probably the cutest kids I’ve ever seen. We decided that Cambodia takes the cake for having the cutest children in maybe all the world, literally we saw hundreds while there and every single one was picture worthy.

After our two days at the orphanage we went on a tour trip to the Wildlife Refuge Center which came very highly recommended, and while the trip had redeeming aspects to it, such as watching a baby elephant with a prosthetic leg taking a swim in the pond (absolutely euphoric), we were a bit disappointed about the rest. After that day we grabbed a few Cambodian sandwiches for the ride back home and ate dinner back at Ratavy’s, the type of dining experience we had almost every night. We were obsessed with the sandwiches - deliciously crisp bread, mystery meat, a pate-like substance, and pickled cabbage with a sweet and spicy sauce. The next morning we left early for the trip to Siem Reap.

Posted by STEVO1285 08:13 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Hong Kong

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Hong Kong Blog !

After successfully leaving Bali, Jessie and I were looking forward to a little break from the backpacking scene and ready to return back to a large and very well structured city. At first I wasn’t sure whether staying until Saturday evening would be overkill and leaving a day earlier would be best; however, we took advantage of each day, rain or shine, and stayed busy up until the last second visiting almost every main attraction and site Hong Kong has to offer. Many people say that Hong Kong is a place for shopping and eating, and while the shopping aspect didn’t occur, we fully took advantage of the restaurant and food scene to the fullest. Unfortunately the weather didn’t work out in our favor, but we had a glimpse of sun and perfect weather the final day, which was a nice touch to the end of our visit.

We first arrived in Hong Kong Tuesday evening and took the bus over to Nathan Street where the famous Chunking Mansions are located. Set in a perfect location, the Chunking Mansions is the location for most of the budget accommodation in the city, and well known for its diverse residents (mainly Indian and Pakistani) and it’s rumored origin of the SARS virus. Yet, HK is doing a lot to clean up the area and it turned out to be one of the nicer rooms we’ve stayed in thus far, and the location was indeed perfect for getting anywhere in the city quickly. That night I wondered around looking for food before settling on a popular looking place where I had my first taste of roast goose with rice noodles - cheap and delicious. The next morning we headed over to the embassy to start the visa process for China, which actually took very little time and was extremely efficient. We also stopped by the tourist information center and picked up some valuable pamphlets on different city walking tours, good maps, and most importantly, a guide specifically geared to presenting the top restaurants for congee (rice porridge), rice noodles, noodles, and rice, which we used religiously each day.

The congee we tried multiple times was really nice. The rice porridge is very easy on the stomach, and the bland flavor of rice lends itself to any added flavors, in our case either pork and fish, or fish, jellyfish, and minced pork. The dish used to be only popular for morning meals, but is now consumed at all hours of the day. We also went that first day to a place where fresh fish balls have been made for the past 60 years, and they were indeed delicious as well. After getting the visa process underway, we took a bus down to Stanley Market, a very famous waterside market on the southern tip of HK island in order to see some of the beaches and beautiful surrounding islands. We didn’t realize we’d be back there for the boat races the following day, which was unfortunate since we would have chosen another location to explore, but it worked out in the end. Jessie’s best friend, Kristen, who’s family is from HK arrived from Beijing in the middle of the day, so we finished our walk through the HK Park in order to meet up with her. That night we were invited by Kristen to have dinner with her family at a private restaurant specializing in Shanghainese food. The dinner was absolutely incredible. Private restaurants became really popular in HK after the SARS epidemic since people were no longer going to restaurants. Certain entrepreneurs decided to turn their apartments or offices into small kitchens and eating areas where they would invite friends and guests over for dinner. The government currently turns a blind eye, and in the case of this restaurant, the décor was such that it actually felt like you were in true restaurant. Without adding boring details, there were about 20 different items served that night including braised pork, chicken, fried fish, tofu (in multiple ways), stir fried noodles, raw jellyfish, and much more, including my favorite dessert…glutinous rice balls filled with sesame! It was all really delicious and we couldn’t have asked for a better meal from Kristen’s family.

That night we went over to Carlson’s apartment (Kirsten’s boyfriend) to watch the Barcelona soccer game, which started at about 2:45am, and although I couldn’t make it through the first half without dosing off, apparently they won so everyone was in good spirit’s the following day for the boat races.

We woke up leisurely the next morning to meet up with Kristen and Carlson at around 1pm to head back to Stanley to watch the races. I was almost positive that different parades and events occurred early in the morning, but apparently the excitement doesn’t start until later in the afternoon, so I didn’t feel pressured to get there early. However, soon after arriving, we quickly realized that the hype and our expectations for the races were not going to be met. Our travel book made the races out to be very ceremonious and traditional, yet the beach was lined only with corporate tents with international members involved in the races. The boats themselves were simply canoes with a dragon headed nailed to the front. Apparently the races occur at three different locations around HK, with the two others being more “local” in nature. So we quickly rushed to one of the others in hopes of catching a glimpse of the real thing before they finished. Unfortunately once we arrived we discovered that the races had ended 4 hours before, but it was easy to see that the venue was much more geared to watching the races and less on drinking champagne and eating pate. So the whole race situation was pretty disappointing, especially since that was the main reason I wanted to visit Hong Kong at that time. However, we decided that the boat races probably just aren’t as big of a deal as we had thought. When talking with a bunch of Carlson’s friends, none of them had ever been, which should have tipped us off. Anyways, we took advantage of being in an area yet explored and walked around the for the rest of the day.

The following day was much the same, walking around and exploring different neighborhoods of the city. That night was my first real karaoke experience with private rooms, food, alcohol, multiple microphones, and a massive flat screen TV. Not to mention, a room full of people that all sang really well. Apparently when kids from HK are in high school they take breaks for lunch called “Lunch K” where they eat at a karaoke venue and practice their singing - pretty enlightening.

Although at first we thought staying until Saturday may have been overkill, it ended up being one of the more eventful days on our visit. We woke up early and headed towards the airport where a gondola is located that gives great views of the city and ends near the large sitting Buddha, which we quickly visited before returning back. Afterwards we met Kirsten and her other set of family for a traditional Dim Sum lunch at Lei Garden, which once again was incredible. For my first real Dim Sum experience, it will be hard to top, but the food was great and would have been enough by itself to make the last day worth it. The day finally cleared up and we took the famous Star Ferry back to the Kowloon side and walked along Hollywood avenue, soaking in the skyline before heading to the airport for our flight to Phnom Penh..

Posted by STEVO1285 08:12 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Final Thoughts: Indonesia

Indonesia was probably one of the most beautiful places we’ve visited so far. The differing topography lends itself to every type of activity imaginable and the towns amongst these natural beauties are just as interesting in their own right. The beaches are beautiful, volcanoes impressive, and temples interesting and ever present, lining almost every street along Bali. And with this vast array of temples, the towns themselves were really nice and intricate as each step provided differing architecture where offerings, wrapped in bamboo leaves, were scattered around all shops and streets at all hours of the day with incense perforating from them. We were able to experience a nice blend of everything Indonesia has to offer. We dabbled in the arts, saw performances, spent time on beaches and viewing volcanoes, and tried all of their typical foods: Gado-Gado (steamed vegetables served with fried tempeh and bean curd, covered in peanut sauce), nasi campur, es campur (similar to cendol in Malaysia), nasi goring, mi goring (fried rice and noodles), bakso, soto (both noodle and meat soups), many typical snack and street foods, suckling pig, young jackfruit in coconut milk, different curries, satays, and their famous black rice pudding dessert, just to name a few. Overall it was a great country to visit with still so much more to offer that we didn’t have nearly enough time for, and will definitely warrant a trip back. As for tourism, it was definitely aggravating at times to constantly be asked where you’re from, where you’re going, and whether you need to use their services (those three questions were asked non-stop and always in that order). From back massages, to transportation, purchasing goods to massages, and considering it was the off-season, I can’t imagine what Bali is like once the crowds flood in. We were just lucky to be there at the right time. So overall, there were a few hiccups along the way, but another successful and interesting two weeks added to our trip, but we’re both excited to be spending time in Hong Kong before our last month of travel continues. After leaving Thailand the countries we’ve visited thus far haven’t embodies that ‘Asian’ culture I was expecting since both Malaysia and Indonesian are largely Muslim, and the Philippines is very Westernized. So I’m extremely excited for our last month in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos as these three countries will surely provide me with that typical Southeast Asian experience that I’ve looked forward to. After enough time away from Thailand, while I did complain some about the people there, I’m a bit nostalgic of their culture, and for that reason I’m ready to get back to that type of environment, for now. Until next time….

Posted by STEVO1285 16:44 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Bali Part II

Indonesia

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On the way to Kintamani we stopped at Besakih, which is the holiest temple complex for the Balinese people. And while on a clear day, it may be more impressive since the temples are situated along the base of Agung Agung; however, at the time we visited the clouds had come in, leaving a pretty murky and unimpressive sky. The temples themselves were indeed as our guide books describe, ‘schizophrenic” not only in the sense that there was no order to the construction of the temples (they’re positioned completely randomly) but also because of their juxtaposition. Although it’s the most venerated site, you can’t help but have a taste of disappointment as you must walk past hundreds of stalls along the way selling all types of goods, while “guides” sit around the temple deceptively telling tourists they must enter the holy temples with locals in order show respect (in other words, pay random people to take you in) . We didn’t spend too much time there, just a quick stopover to see it, but pretty unimpressive, and then continued on.

The drive towards Gunung Batur takes you higher and higher in elevation; however, the volcano remains unexposed until the very height of the drive on the crater rim, revealing an awesome site. We continually were wondering if our direction was correct since the volcano wasn’t in our horizon, but once we reached the rim, there was almost a gasp coming from us as the massive Batur Lake and Volcano came into sight. We spent the rest of the afternoon driving around the rim and resting near the lake for sunset views before sleeping in our car park awaiting the early sunrise walk to the highest crater for some apparently great views. However, there is an organization of guides that have a monopoly in the area that tell tourists they must pay for a guide up to the top. In our books, it mentions that strong opposition will be faced if you attempt the hike without a guide, but we took that as to signify they would constantly be hassling us (which they were already doing non-stop) so it wasn’t a huge deal. We also figured that since a lot of people usually hike up in the morning that we could simply follow them so as not to get lost. Long story short, this association of guides has a monopoly simply because they’re composed of a bunch of thugs, so after some altercations trying to prevent us from climbing alone, followed by an attempt to bargain a price with us, which at that point we were clearly not going to do, we decided to forget the hike up and watch sunrise from the rim, which was still a really nice view, and possibly better than on top of the volcano. We were even called terrorists from one of the thugs in the group, which was a first, and sort of speaks loudly for the intelligence of those idiots.

We left early that morning south to Ubud, a town most popular for its culture and artistic inspiration. While tourism has taken over in the last however many years, resulting in the central area transforming into store after store, only a few blocks away reveals the quiet rice fields and duck farms (smoke duck is their famous dish). Ubud is not only well known for it’s theatrics and duck farms, but also it’s boutique shops and restaurant culture. So for the day we were there, we spent our time walking all around the stores and rice fields, eating at some of the best restaurants on our trip (one place that only serves suckling pig), and watching another Balinese Kecak show at night. We were skeptical that the show would be similar to the ballet, which neither of us found too entertaining, but it ended up being really interesting and showcased multiple dance styles and performances.

Our last day with the car we quickly sped over to Pura Tana Lot, the most photographed place in Bali to take some pictures of the beach, surrounding black cliffs, and black sand, before dropping our car back off in Kuta. We immediately left for Sanur, the jumping off point to the small island, Nusa Lebognan, where we planned to spend the last two days on the island since it apparently had some good surf, which we wanted to try again, and dives to Manta Point, where lots of Manta Rays reside. We also heard the beaches there were some of the best in Bali, so for all these reasons it seemed like a great final stop. We were a bit disappointed to find out that since a major swell had just come in none of the dive shops were going to Manta Point for the week, and after quickly realizing the surf was way too advanced for us, the two main attractions were quickly erased. Because of this, we decided to rent push bikes and spend the afternoon on a few of Nusa’s beaches, Dream Beach and Mushroom Beach, both of which were really nice. Since there was no reason to stay an extra day, we left on the early ferry the following morning so we could spend a day in Kuta just relaxing on their famous white sand beach and using any modern amenities we needed before our flight the next morning. And we did just that.

The Kuta Beach can get pretty packed with tourists, but it’s pretty easy to escape the madness a short walk north. It’s no way near as crowded as the beaches in Rio, but for being the off-season there’s still quite a few people with just as many people outs on the beach renting out surfboards. I originally wasn’t going to surf that day, but the waves couldn’t be more perfect for beginners, so I set out again and successfully got up many times, sticking mainly to the white wash. I definitely recommend working on techniques in Kuta since the water is relatively shallow and the waves break early on so catching the smaller ones is easy and can carry you for pretty far distances. After eating our last Nasi Campur dish while in Indonesia (our favorite consisting of rice, peanuts, any type of meat, delicious sauce, egg, and vegetables), and had our third helping of the super cheap Mcdonalds ice cream cone we headed for bed, woke up early the next morning, and our currently on our flight to Hong Kong.

Posted by STEVO1285 16:42 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Bali Part I

Indonesia

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We arrived into Denpasar late in the night and immediately checked into our guesthouse before venturing to a night market for a little grub. The following day we set out to rent a car around the neighborhood which turned out to be near impossible since there’s surprisingly only two car rental shops with the same ownership and all their cars were occupied. So we had to get a taxi south to Kuta (the most touristy area of Bali, and the location of recent Islamic fundamentalist attacks) to rent a car. There are a plethora of car rental shops amidst the narrow streets crammed with surf shops, restaurants, and tourists. We didn’t feel the need to stick around so we found a place that looked legit enough and rented a car, cheap enough to warrant the hassle and large enough for us to crash in if accommodation wasn’t available in certain places. Since the car was stick, Jessie was our permanent driver with me as the navigator (a job I failed at miserably, even though I blame it on the terrible map we had). We set out south to the Bukit Peninsula, which is popular for their many beach and surf spots surrounded by limestone cliffs. We only spent a day total there, but it was a definite highlight of our Bali tour. Each town was constructed on the cliffs, and long downhill walks were needed to reach the beaches. Dreamland beach was our first stop and by far the most picturesque, while other locations farther south were better for surf lessons, which we took advantage of the following morning. On the very southern tip of the Peninsula is the Uluwatu Temple, which is perched high on a cliff providing nice views of the surrounding water and is also the location for Kecak Fire Dance performances that takes places each night. We saw the show, and it was really good. It was completely different in style to the ballet we experienced in Yogyakarta, and the overall atmosphere and performance itself was impressively better. The following morning we woke up and had our first surf lesson with the company Impossible Surf. It was a great lesson as the waves were just right and there weren’t other people out that day, so we weren’t getting in anyone’s way. It lasted about 3 hours and we got up on our board tons of times, which built our confidence and made the whole class much more enjoyable.

We had an issue that first night with the passenger side window, so after the class we headed back to Kuta in order to get a better, functional car and then took off for the East Coast finishing our day’s trip in Padangbai, the jumping off point to either the Gili Islands or to Lombok (the neighboring island, a destination we were hoping to visit). We arrived late in afternoon, and after much debate (a little too much) we decided it wasn’t worth the cost or time to visit Lombok or the Gilli Islands for this trip, and it would better to see more of Bali at a leisurely pace instead of rushing through it. Lombok will just be for another trip. We slept in our car that night near the Blue Lagoon Beach and woke up to catch sunrise before renting some snorkel equipment to check out the fish and coral in the surrounding area. It was surprisingly really clear and the water was at a shallow depth so visibility was high. We had breakfast and continued on our busy day that would eventually lead north to Amed.

On our way to Amed, where we would organize a dive trip to see the Liberty ship wreck, we stopped through Candi Dasa, a nice beach resort town for a glimpse of one of Bali’s many black sand beaches, we also took the opportunity to book our plane tickets to Hong Kong at that point. We then continued on towards Tirtagannga, a small town overshadowed by the largest volcano in Bali, Gunung Agung, and where Bali’s most beautiful scenery is situated. On the way we saw signs for White Beach/Virgin Beach which that Canadian kid we met recommended us seeing, so we stopped there for a quick stroll, and it was indeed a really pretty beach and very quiet. Afterwards, we made it to Tirtagganga where the Water Palace is located and had a visit there while taking in the beautiful surrounding scenery of the volcanoes, hills, and rice fields. Lastly, we arrived in Amed late in the night and organized our dive trip for the following morning.

The dive site is actually located in Tulamben, about 20 minutes West of Amed, but we heard the operators were cheaper coming out of Amed so we went there instead. The dive was really nice. It was a two dive package, the first dive took us around the entire battle ship to view it from the outside while the second dive was more focused on the interior. We had woken up for sunrise that morning as well and the skies remained crystal clear, exposing the huge Gunung Anung in the distance. After the dive ended, we had lunch (included in the cost) back at the dive shop and then left for Kintamini where the volcano Batur is located (a really beautiful hike for sunrise).

Posted by STEVO1285 16:40 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Mount Bromo

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We took off that morning for a 10-hour drive to our accommodation near Mount Bromo. At a higher altitude, the weather was a bit chillier, which was a nice relief. Mt. Bromo is extremely famous in Indonesia and probably one of it’s biggest tourist attractions. While it gets packed with people desperately awaiting the sunrise, it’s still a magnificent sight and can’t be missed on anyone’s itinerary. We woke up at 3:30am the next morning for our jeep ride to the viewpoint. As predicted, it was teeming with people and almost to the point of completely ruining the experience. However, we found a spot with a nice view unobstructed by other people with cameras, so we were able to spend the hour taking some great pictures and soaking in the views to what was truly a great sight. I won’t try to describe the lay-out of the multiple volcanoes, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but the early morning cloud cover and mist surrounding the volcanoes really made the scene. After our time at the viewpoint we drove to the base of the Bromo volcano for the climb to the rim. It was really fuming from inside which was cool, and while there were lots of people and horses there as well, the entire rim is walk able so it didn’t take long to find a place just for ourselves to sit and enjoy ourselves. We took a van back to Probolingo, the main jumping off town to Bromo and are currently on a bus heading to Denpasar which should be getting us in around 7:30pm.

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We met a kid traveling around from Canada in Yogyakarta, and he was just recently in Bali with a group of friends. Renting a car had been on our minds since it’s a small island with tons of places to visit, so having that kind of liberty to come and go as pleased, was definitely appealing. The Canadian and his friends rented a car, and for less than 10 dollars a day said it was the perfect option, and the views between the destinations were just as impressive as the places themselves. So with that kind of backing, we decided that’s what we’re going to do. It’ll be a first for me, which is what this experience is all about, and we’re both really excited to partake in this type of travel. Next entry - BALI!

Posted by STEVO1285 01:56 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Yogyakarta

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Once arriving in Yogyakarta we noticed in our gruesthouse a flyer for the ballet performance at the Ramadan ( the very famous Hindu Temple that was partially devastated by a recent earthquake), so we quickly hopped on a public bus and headed over there to watch the performance which lasted around 2 + hours. It was a nice experience to get a sense of Indonesian culture and I know these performances are also very popular in Bali. It gave us the chance to view the three main pillars of the temple at night.

The next morning we joined a tour from our guesthouse which let before sunrise to view the Borobudur, the famous Buddhist temple, at sunrise. The temple is an elaborate design of carvings depicting different stories throughout time, but the main attraction are the large circular cones on top along with the surrounding views of forest and volcanoes. Both this temple and the previous were built in the 9th century AD.

After arriving back around 10am we completed our visit to Yogyakarta with lots of activities, trying to get a sense of the city in only a short amount of time. We visited a Batik painting shop where we were given a brief demonstration of it’s process followed by a few good purchases. We then headed to a good silver store so Jessie could buy some gifts for the family, and then we split off so I could take a quick cooking class at the restaurant Via Via. It was a one-on-one course that lasted a few hours. I learned how to make a few dishes on their menu, one being a young jackfruit in coconut curry sauce and sautéed chicken with chili and tomato sauce. To go with the dishes we also made a yellow coconut rice, fish chips, and fried tempeh. It was really good, and it also allowed me to see some of the differences between Thai and Indonesian food. Although most of the ingredients are very similar: garlic, shallot, ginger, lemongrass, Thai basil, lime leaf, and chilies, there were some obvious differences. For the curry, Indonesians also add nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and turmeric, which Thai food lacks, but they don’t rely as much on fish sauce, limes, spice or palm sugar. Since it was only me, I was able to ask a lot of questions and get some better insight on Indonesian cuisine.

Once I finished, Jessie met me back in the restaurant to help me eat the two dishes and then we took advantage of the free WiFi to get some business taken care of. Although we debated for a bit whether we wanted to pay the extra cost and do a scheduled tour that leaves Yogyakarta, stops at Mount Bromo, and then continues on to Denpasar, Bali, or do it on our own, we heard the cost wasn’t too different, so we just decided to eliminate the hassle and join the tour, which in the end, probably wouldn’t have made a huge difference either way, but the peace of mind was a nice change of pace. There were three other people with us along the way, so it provided us with a lot of space in the van for the long journey which was a plus.

Yogyakarta was a really great place. They not only have the temples, and delicious food, but even their street art and graffiti were very impressive and gave the city a lot of character. Similar in feel to KL, but on a much smaller scale, Yogyakarta has it all. It contains all the amenities of an advanced city to appease anyone‘s needs, yet still retains within it’s old-city walls and surrounding neighborhoods the same culture and atmosphere that has thrived there for centuries. It’s a pretty large city with a small feel to it, and the people were incredibly helpful and friendly, so overall one of our top smaller towns we’ve visited thus far.

The next morning we woke up early to begin our long journey towards the capitol of Bali.

Posted by STEVO1285 01:51 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Jakarta

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Since we only have less than two weeks to visit Indoneisa we didn’t want to waste a day in Jakarta, which we felt would be similar to most large and hectic cities we’ve encountered thus far on our trip. So after checking into a guesthouse we went to a travel agency open 24hrs to purchase a train ticket leaving early in the morning for Yogyakarta, a more interesting and historical town with two very impressive Hindu and Buddhist Temples located nearby. We heard from other travelers that transportation in Indonesia can be pretty painstaking and exhausting, and since we just went through those same issues with the Philippines, we decided it would be best to go through a travel agent just to make certain there wouldn’t be a problem, but we were wrong on that one.

Our train leaving the next morning was at 7:20am and since we needed to be there an hour before and it was already early in the morning, we opted to stay awake and just sleep through the train ride. Not only did the travel agency charge almost double for the price of the ticket, but a lack in communication caused some confusion, basically preventing us from getting on the train and losing our money. One of the agents gave us a slip (another girl from the Netherlands was with us too) and told us to be at the office at 5:30am so he could take us to the station. We read this as a free ride, and after already waiting 20 minutes past the scheduled time for the worker to show up, we decided it was worth the cost of a taxi to arrive at the station in order to make the train, not realizing that we actually needed to meet with him beforehand so he could give us the tickets. Anyways, I stormed back yelling my face off, which in the end wasn’t too helpful since he had already purchased the tickets for us and it’s difficult to blame a little misunderstanding. But I was at least able to get the mark-up of the ticket back so we only lost the “real” cost of the fare. We then purchased at the station tickets for the luxury bus leaving an hour later since we wanted to make it into Yogyakarta that day. The train ride was very pleasant, with meals served. I pretty much slept through it’s entirety until we arrived around 5pm.

Posted by STEVO1285 01:47 Archived in Indonesia Comments (1)

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