Tag Archives: Sightseeing

The best way to travel solo from Perth to Exmouth

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After considering hitchiking, the Greyhound bus, sharing a trip with randoms from the hostel noticeboard, renting a campervan or buying a car and driving myself, I settled on the often least favourite option of the solo traveller to make the trip from Perth to Exmouth – the group tour. Turns out it was the best decision I made down under….

The west coast of Western Australia has an incredible mixture of stunning natural phenomena, world beating wildlife and bleak red dusty roads, which stretch for miles. There is so much to see, but with seriously long periods of nothingness in between. And, without someone to warn you off the often dangerous flora and fauna, a driver which knows the right turns to take to get you to a premium lookout point and a guide that gives you the full low down on gas stations and safe watering holes it’s easy to miss scenic hotspots, waste hours and find yourself in the blistering heat, 600km from the nearest petrol station.

So for value for money, expert guidance and a jam packed itinerary that even includes a trip to another country, I cannot recommend the Red Earth Safari eight day return tour from Perth to Exmouth highly enough.

By far the most reasonably priced package on offer after trawling through countless trips available (and trust me, in Australia bang for your buck is hard to come by) the Red Earth Safari minibus starts early o’clock on day one from the central bus station, picks up at a range of hostels along the way and takes you on an incredible journey through the most westerly points of Australia’s wild west coast.

Tour leader, driver, chef and host for the week, Terry (the Legend), makes sure you are fed and watered throughout – food and accommodation is included (except for bus snackage, ice creams and dinner to cover his one night off).  Although not great for the waistline, the range of hearty meals give you all the energy any explorer needs.

If its animal antics you’re after then you’ll be blown away by the chance to cuddle Kangaroos, coo over Koala’s, face up to your fears with slippery snakes and feed a host of four legged friends at the Grenough wildlife sanctuary. Plus at Coral Bay and Monkey Mia there are a range of options to get close to marine life, feeding dolphins, snorkelling with Manta Rays and even produce “turtle porn” – but that’s a whole different story!

Shell Bay, the Pinnacles, Nature’s Window and Z Bend Gorge are just awe inspiring and a true insight into the power of nature. Not to mention the Hamelin Pool Stromatalites in the world heritage Shark Bay area – boasting claim to the longest living natural creation on the planet.

For those more interested in the quirkiness of folk, a visit to the Principality of the Hutt River Province and an audience with Prince Leonard and Princess Shirley is not to be missed. Neither is a trip to the westerly most pub in Australia at Denham, where remoteness doesn’t hinder the progress of karaoke or a good old knees up – but beware a few stares.

Spectacular sunrises and sunsets, snorkelling in Ningaloo Reef, immaculate and deserted sandy beaches, crossing the equator, cooking fish and playing the didgeridoo with “Capes” on the beach under the moonlight, countless games of “who am I?” for bus entertainment, meeting royalty, sleeping under the stars at an outback sheep station, swimming in gorges, staying at a convent and, above all, making some fantastic friends – what a way to spend a week!

From bumping into a few (and very few) solo travellers who did the trip via the options I mentioned above, it seemed a long and lonely haul in sometimes often deserted digs. So a huge thank you to everyone who kept me company; Petra, Rebecca, Tommy, Fiona, Lee, Madoka, Ellen, David, Julie, Deb, Sam, Dunja, Judith and “Bush Tucker” Terry (did I mention he is a LEGEND!) for an unforgettable trip and one of the highlights of my year away.


Singapore Champagne Slinging

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Hit by the humidity after 28hours on the air con bus from Koh Samui, Singapore was stifling, yet spotless – as everyone said it would be.

Concerned with only a shower and a solid meal, I was pleasantly surprised how helpful people were in finding my hostel for me! The subway was too confusing even for the eagerly assisting expats and recommended a cab after seeing the size of my luggage and the spreading sweat patches. The taxi driver gave me a “Singlish” guided tour on the way through the Little India, past Chinatown and toward Bugis Junction – destination of my digs, the super eco and highly recommended Tree Inn Lodge hostel  – as well as home to the Singapore’s tradition of hawker stalls and street food.

Refreshed and enthused by the exuberant hostel hosts (fellow back packers with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things ‘traveller’), I set out to see the many Singaporean sights – of which there are probably enough for four to five days at least.

I stumbled upon Raffles by accident – honest! Spending a Saturday night with a spot of live Jazz and a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar sounded like a real treat. Surrounded by fellow tourists sipping on said ‘Slings’, flashing their cameras for the souvenir shot and sitting amongst the peanut-shell strewn bar, I tried to blend in and not draw attention to my solo status. However, a misbalanced Champagne bottle flew from the tray of a passing waitress, hit the stone floor and within seconds I was the centre of attention, soaked in a Champagne shower and being stared at by the entire crowd! Ah well, drinks were on the house from an apologetic Maître De and a sympathetic drinking companion and the Jazz was a blast, so no harm done (and no real dent in the budget either!).

After a night on the tiles, a hostel buddy took me to Bugis food court for a mango smoothie and claypot rice brunch, which set me up nicely for a mammoth meander round the city, including the hustle and bustle of Chinatown, Little India – with the streets all beautifully dressed for Divali and the stunning Singapore Museum.

The Red Dot Design museum was a highlight, which has also cleverly teamed up with local like-minded arty types and can suggest full and half day tours of many places of interest in the surrounding area.

Bugis Junction is an enormous shopping plaza bursingt with the latest designer gear, whilst over the road Bugis Street food and clothing market is home to the less than original branded wares.  Hawker stalls provide a fascinating feeding experience, where literally hundreds of Singaporeans and expats alike spill out onto the pavements and chow down on a plethora of delicacies and drink cheap(ish) beer.

Once fed and watered for under a fiver, I headed to Marina Bay, which hosts even more high end retail and top notch bars. Every evening, to add to the waterfront ambiance of the lotus flower ArtScience museum and the stunning Singaporean skyline, an incredible light show provides even more entertainment with holograms projected onto droplets of water – quite amazing.

The last mention needs to go to the architecture. If you like colourful buildings, a bizarre blend of old Chinese temples in amongst glass skyscrapers or colonial style villas brightly painted in rainbow hues, then you will never tire of taking in the many and varied streets, alley ways and avenues which never fail to surprise in Singapore.

It can seem expensive compared to the likes of Thailand and Malaysia, but if you keep out the shops, eat like a local (leave Raffles as a one off) and use local transport with a tourist pass or hit the streets on foot, your budget can go far.

Cambodian Culture Shock

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Cambodia has become a trendy, almost cliché, destination for gap yahs and travellers – but don’t let that put you off – as it’s as grateful for the tourist dollar as you can get and it is certainly an experience you will never forget.

Films like “The Killing Fields” and books including’ “First they killed my father” and “When Broken Glass Floats” have highlighted the plight of Cambodians under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. I’d watched the film in communist China (where incidentally it is banned) and read enough to be moved into visiting this country that has lived through unspeakable horrors during my lifetime.

Cambodia is an incredibly interesting, uncomfortable and humbling country. It also offered my first taste of complete culture shock…

The usual things are different and, like anywhere, take a bit of getting used to – there’s the language with its flowery and ornate alphabet; the food – unique, flavoursome curries with delicacies borne out of extreme poverty such as grilled cockroaches, fried crickets and ants, snake bacon as well as the ‘medicinal’ tarantula rice wine (not for the weak of stomach)!

But there is a whole new level of culture shock in Cambodia found amongst the lack of roads (mainly dirt tracks), crumbled infrastructure, the seriously depleted public amenities (everything from basic electricity and water supplies to inadequate hospitals and school buildings).

And that’s even before the rainy season hits and washes away and entire year’s rice crop and turns the muddy streets into a waist high, brown rivers. Or, before one of the estimated 50,000 orphaned street children surrounds you – tugging at your arms (and your heart strings) to buy postcards, bracelets and other wares for “one dollar mister” so they can afford to go to school and avoid becoming  sex workers or child slaves.

In contrast to this are the cash-bought Lexus’ that cruise the streets of Phnom Penn, where the disparity between rich and poor are a stark reminder of the country’s corruption.

And, if that isn’t mind blowing enough, there’s the average age of the population…21years old. Only 3% of the country is over 65. Every single generation of every family has been affected by Year Zero and the maiming and killing of completely innocent citizens –sometimes for something as normal as wearing glasses or coming from a city.

But from Siem Reap and the awe-inspiring temples of Angkor Wat or the extreme tuk-tuk rides through dark and flooded back alleys, to the beaches of Sihanoukville and the Killing Fields of Phnom Penn, nowhere else (yet) have I found more genuine, warm and hard working people, always smiling and would share with you anything they can, including their stories.

Gone are the days where you are greeted a your hostel with a welcome bag of weed but yes, there are psychedelic aging hippies and more than the ideal quota of Trustafarians which give it the great unwashed traveller stereotype, but it is an incredible, resilient place that should be given its dues on any travellers itinerary.

Nothing cootchie-coo about the Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam

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About a two-hour drive outside Ho Chi Minh City are the Cu Chi Tunnels where the Viet Cong defended Vietnam from American invasion from the 1960s. A bizarre attraction, with a wealth of reconstructed bunkers, tunnels, artefacts of torture and an AK47 shooting range.

The ingenious, hand dug tunnels on three levels between three and 10 metres deep, ventilated by bamboo holes at 20m internals were often booby-trapped and had their own wells to supply water.

Very narrow (crouching room only), dark and damp – up to 16 people lived there at a time for months on end. Following instructions from our guide the curious among us climbed down and shimmied along all three – sweating profusely, beetroot red and mildly claustrophobic. It was impossible to imagine how people had lived within them, let alone built them by hand in the pitch dark, sweltering conditions.

Returning to the surface, batting off the dirt and letting the shakes in our thighs subside after 20 minutes of crouching, we ate a typical snack of tapioca with ground peanuts and sugar dip and rehydrated with hot tea.

Among the ‘attractions’ were homemade instruments of torture including booby traps made from nine-inch nails, door swings to impale unwanted visitors and my personal favourite, the ‘fish trap’ also known as the ‘Souvenir’, as when someone stood in it they got a nail through their foot and the protruding nails around the top stop them pulling it off their leg, so had to hobble back to where they came from with the contraption still attached.

If you are so inclined you can shoot AK47s for 30,000 Vietnamese Dong  per bullet (minimum 10 bullets). Most of these are high quality replicas provided by China during the Vietnam war. The originals were supplied by communist ‘big brother’, Russia!

A private bus from Saigon with a guide was US$15 – you can do a local bus trip, but it takes longer and not a lot cheaper.

Understandably, it is not an uplifting place. As you hear the shots fired, take a walk through the forest, look down in the tunnels and see some of the weapons you can only imagine the horrific conditions endured during the war. It is however, a very insightful and interesting place that should be part of any Ho Chi Minh City/Vietnam visit.

Miss Saigon, miss out

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Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known (and still referred to by the locals) as Saigon is a must see place – even if you hate it, as many do – just so you can believe the traffic!

With a population of 10million (and an estimated 7million motorbikes), it is busy, hectic, filthy (in parts) and only the brave survive crossing the road.

Despite following the ‘walk slowly, do not stop or hesitate’ rules, on my first solo road crossing only a Matrix style hips-forward manoeuvre helped me to narrowly escape being run over by a moped who’s driver was picking his feet rather than avoiding petrified pedestrians!

First day there I wasn’t impressed and, although I still feel Saigon lacks soul, after a few days settling in it grew on me and I enjoyed the contrast with the rest of Vietnam.

Walking is the best way to get around (if you are brave enough to cross the road), but regularly repeated warnings of bag snatchings and pickpockets mean minimal valuables are advised.

A US$15 bus trip and guide to the gruesome and impressively masterminded Cu Chi Tunnels (where the Viet Cong lived during the war) and then a drop off at the war remnants museum is a fascinating  and spine chilling day out, as well as a lesson in propaganda at its best .

The beautiful architecture of the Colonial Post Office and the Catholic Cathedral are worth a trip, as is the hidden gem of an Art Museum. It’s 30,000 Vietnamese Dong (about £1) entrance fee gives you admission to two buildings of exhibits, which are impressive enough without the paintings. And, out through the courtyard are four or five smaller commercial galleries are all worth a look.

The Imperial Palace could be given a miss, unless Soviet style war strategy basements and 70’s architecture are your thing. And, if you’ve been to China, the central market doesn’t offer much variation – only in attitude and it’s not more positive!

For a treat and a glimpse of expat Saigon, the rooftop bar at The Rex hotel is great, but not cheap and the opera house, tourist information and high-end shops are close by.

On the flip side, Pho 2000 does some of the best (and cheapest) beef noodles in town – without the frills!

I had high hopes for Ho Chi Minh City and am happy to say I’ve seen Saigon, but three days were probably enough to soak it up.

Hong Kong highlights

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I LOVED Hong Kong. Despite a traumatic arrival, it was a place where acquaintances became life-long friends, I was re-energised to tackle the world and, above all, I had a really, really great time.

After being put in touch with an old school mate through a mutual friend (Facebook does have some benefits), a suggested catch up for coffee turned into two weeks of home comforts, family feasts and an expert expat take on the best of Hong Kong that I will never forget.

There was so much to do and such diversity of culture and landscape… Whether it was tasting life as an expat in Sai Kung or bunking down with the backpackers in Causeway Bay, I could wax lyrical about Hong Kong all day long, so here’s the condensed version…

Hong Kong Island…

Vibrant, bustling and cosmopolitan – a rich blend of Asian alley ways, western consumer culture and corporate skyscrapers.  Whether it’s brand name shopping, top notch cuisine, an evening’s entertainment, a visa run or a walk along the waterfront, you’ll find everything around Causeway Bay, Central and Wanchai.

Lang Kwai Fong and Soho, in and around Central/Mid-Levels (ingenious escalators), are the places the rich kids hang out. It ain’t cheap, but so many great spots to soak up the after work drinkers vibe, sample menus from all over the world, take in the antique streets and meandering markets. You’ll also find Asia’s first comedy club – which is a very entertaining night out indeed!

For a unique experience, the funicular tram up Victoria Peak is fantastic way to see the city and beyond. Not to mention the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co restaurant at the top (which fellow Forrest Gump Fans will find fabulous!), that has some of the best views over Hong Kong from its bar. Nearby, the Zoological and Botanical Gardens offer respite from the tourist trail and is home to many plant and animal species.

Happy Valley Races are a must for any racing fan (or horse racing virgins). At HK$10 for a ticket on Sundays and Wednesdays, it’s a great night out on the cheap and you might even get lucky backing the winner!

In the south, a short bus ride to Stanley, passing Repulse and Discovery Bays on your way, is a relaxing way to escape the city, check out the market, get some beach action and see a slower side of Hong Kong life.

And that’s just the Island, I haven’t even got started about the other stuff!

For a more authentic Asian experience, Kowloon offers up even more delights – from the Rolex and Gucci lined Nathan Road and the infamous Chungking Mansions (where I had the best curry ever – thanks Jordan), to the markets of Mong Kok and Temple Street. There’s also a LA style ‘Avenue of Stars’ with a free light show every evening that illuminates Hong Kong in musically accompanied neon lights!

Over on Lantau there’s the Ngong  Ping 360 cable car taking you to the Big Buddha Temple (and that is one massive Buddha)and an illegal drive (apparently you should have a permit) takes you to the quaint and quirky fishing village of  Tai O.

Towards the New Territories there‘s the lesser known, but fascinating Ten Thousand Buddha Monastery in Sha Tin and for a bit of nature there’s the  beautiful Sai Kung Country Park.

Then there’s the food, the trams, the Star Ferry and so much more…take your walking shoes, extra memory cards and go and see for yourself!

Dedicated to Family Atko…you are the best and I can’t ever thank you enough for making a good trip GREAT x x x

A flash and inspiration at Moganshan, Shanghai

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For art lovers and explorers alike, Moganshan Art District in Shanghai, is well worth a visit – even if modern art isn’t really your thing.

Easily accessible by subway and a bit of a walk, the graffiti lined hoarding (that Banksy would be proud of) which leads you to a maze of exhibition spaces has an urban, industrial feel. It leaves you wondering whether you are actually entering a part of East London’s derelict industrial past rather than a contemporary corner of downtown Shanghai.

In a country where originality and innovative thought are largely quashed at birth and state controlled communication offers only diluted input from the outside world, the creativity and controversial pieces on display are a testament to the rebellious youth borne out of the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution.

There is an inspirational mixture of sculpture, ceramics, paintings, traditional techniques combined with state of the art digital installations – some with a communist theme, both satirical and historic. Huge models and handmade goods have an interesting take on global icons and propaganda paraphernalia. There’s also a range of quirky eateries and watering holes, all showcasing the best work from some of China’s rising stars.

We stumbled upon one gallery with an opening party and were given a giant glass of French red – the first all trip and it was divine! That, combined with the cosmopolitan café culture vibe, an alfresco cappuccino and an eclectic display of talent in a peaceful, funky and modern setting was the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of Shanghai.

And, just when we thought we’d seen enough, on our walk back to the subway a guy cycled past on his bike shouting “Hi….You like?” only for us to realise his trousers were underdone around his waist and he was frantically flailing his flaccid penis around with the hand that wasn’t on the handle bars! Shocked and stunned we giggled our way back to the subway station like a pair of kids!

A perfect place to spend a Sunday in Shanghai, but you might see more than you bargained for!