Tag Archives: Travel

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.

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A pedestrian in Perth

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The most isolated city in Australia, as well as possibly the most laid back, Perth is beautiful (or I should say “buuuudiful” like a real Western Australian). And, as I happened to arrive just after the Queen’s visit, it looked even more immaculate – beaches combed, lawns coiffured and flowers in full bloom.

It is an interesting city – more a large town really. Everyone’s friendly and welcoming, the pristine beaches beckon you to the ocean, the shopping malls pulsate with urbanites going about their business and Swan River, which runs through its heart, is a watersports playground.

Whether you are in Northbridge’s backpacker and cultural hub with its vintage boutiques and eclectic cuisine or you have bagged yourself a bed with an old friend in the ‘burbs (a million thank yous Anna), there is plenty to see and do (depending on your budget).

Getting around within the city is free (literally) and easy with a network of CAT buses and there are good transport links to the main destinations – however getting to them initially from outside the city is a bit of a mission on foot. And, if you do walk, don’t expect to see a single other soul and for those driving past you to look at you like you are crazy!

Despite the Government’s best public transportation intentions, outer Perth is a network of suburbs and sprawling retail parks built for the car owner. To escape the 40degree C daytime temperatures in the summer people do not walk outside, they go from air conditioned car to air conditioned shopping mall to air conditioned office and this behaviour carries on throughout the year.

Fortunately I had a phenomenal friend who ferried me around, fed and watered me and helped me find the best things to see and do – including a great day out at the micro-breweries and wineries of Swan Valley, the uber trendy tapas of Andaluz, finding cheap backpacker tour operators and the fresh and funky suburbs of Leederville and Beaufort Street in Embleton.

In the city (or CBD) there’s King’s Park, with stunning views over the Swan River, shopping galore including London Court (if you’re a little homesick from Dick van Dyke’s mockney London town!), the Bell Tower, Perth Mint (where I happen to be worth AUS$41,614,725 – my weight in gold!), the Zoo and so much more.

Along the coast there’s a whole host of stunning beaches with white sands and clear blue waters – Cottesloe and Scarborough among my favourites. Then there’s the quaint chilled vibe of Freemantle. The port city boasts an historic prison, great local markets, enviable harbour side eateries, including Little Creatures Micro Brewery – a must visit for pizza and a pint!

So, there’s more than enough to keep you occupied for a few weeks, especially if you take a trip to the Perth Hills, spend a night on Rottnest Island with the quokkas, visit the wineries of Margaret River or head even further south to Esperance. The only negative is the price, thanks to the resource boom in mining, Perth is one incredibly expensive place to play!


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.


Thailand – Land of Smiles, Lemongrass and Corianger

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It’s reputation precedes it… Sexy, seedy, scorching. Thousands of travellers (young and old) flock there every year – the Land of smiles, Lady Boys, Ping-Pong shows, Thai Brides, Full Moon Parties and “The Islands”…To be honest, it all felt a bit daunting.

However, my first foray as a “Farang” helped me see a completely different side to the traveller stereotype and gave me a taste of Thai life as a local (well sort of). Thanks to the amazing volunteering organization Lemongrass, I spent an incredible two weeks teaching English at a Government school in Surin (a seven hour bus ride north east of Bangkok).

Possibly the most reasonably priced volunteering scheme around, Lemongrass provides its volunteers with a very comfortable home, full teaching support and the best tour guide in Thailand (thanks June) to see the local sights by scooter or local truck (or bike if you can ride one!).

Trip highlights included the Thasawang Silk Village where you can see intricate Thai silk being woven by hand; the Ta Klang Elephant Village in Tha Toom District with four-legged  film stars and footballers and the Khwao Sinarin silver making village, where it’s impossible not to be mesmorised by the hand made beads being fashioned from makeshift tools, under the shelter of a stilted, wooden house.  And, that’s without even mentioning the local markets, the odd Rice Convention (did you know there are over 120,000 types of rice?) and a Thai Country and Western Karaoke.

But we were there to actually teach…Every morning the Tuk Tuk rumbled and spluttered outside the house, we took the 15 minute ride to school to be met with the wide smiles and eagerly expectant eyes of our students. Having not experienced many native westerners before, the pupils were fascinated by our hair, skin, the way we spoke and the games they knew we’d be playing throughout the lessons – Bingo was a particular favourite!

Staying through rainy season we experienced floods, waded through knee deep water to get to the noodle shack across the road and watched the fish swim across the driveway. During downtime we’d wave to the local elephant as he made his daily walk by the house selling (and eating) sugar cane, got to grips with a great number of geckos and learnt to cook Thai food – June’s fish can salad has a mean kick!

Although I enjoyed learning to cook, Thai food was my stumbling block. Despite sampling a full range of Thai cuisine from roadside Pad Thai, Pork Satay, a plethora of noodle soups; the school canteen’s ground, minced and fried frog and super spicy papaya salad; plus hotel A la Carte curries, I am still not a Thai food convert. This is due to my absolute hatred of coriander – the standard ingredient of most Thai food. This menu translation for fried fish summed up my feelings and gave us a titter!

Anyway, apart from my food foibles, suburban and rural Thailand is beautiful and completely different from the decadent and debauched ditties of many a traveller. The Lemongrass experience was amazing. I have made some great friends, been humbled by the kindness and generosity of wonderful students and learnt to appreciate a totally different way of life.

Lemongrass are always looking for volunteers, so get involved and have yourself a unique Thai experience you’ll cherish forever…


What’s not to love about Laos?

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First off, Laos is stunning. I didn’t know too much about it before I visited and when I arrived I was blown away by the scenery. No-one mentioned that!

Landlocked Laos sits between Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam within South East Asia. It’s 6.2million people are hugely ethnically diverse and are largely self-sustaining, through living off their land, earning an average wage of US$2-300 per year.

Arriving in Lac Sao, after crossing the Cambodian border, there was not much to see other than our hotel, the local market and “The Only One” restaurant (named for obvious reasons).  Reminiscent of a Cambodian market but even more sparse and with squirrel and lizard on offer, it was a sight for tired eyes. After sampling some deep fried donut style treats we retreated back to the hotel amidst the enquiring and curious stares of the locals.

For dinner we went to the only restaurant in town and received a bizarre dish of macaroni with beef that was supposed to have been broccoli stir fry, (minor menu mis-translation). Anyhow, washed down with a Beer Laos, it was all fine and set us up for our onward trip the following day.

Vientiene, Laos’ Capital, was destroyed by the Siamese (now Thailand) in the 1800s and the French returned it Laos some time later. It is now a thriving city, with a growing expat community and prosperous bar and restaurant scene. We happened to be around for the public holiday and a huge festival lined the banks of the river. The vibrant evening carnival had a great party atmosphere with floats, stalls, games, food stands and whiskey tasting.

One of the main sights in Vientiene is the “Vertical Runway” – a replica of the Arch de Triomphe, so called because it was built with money given to Laos by the US Government to extend the airport runway. Instead, in a two fingered salute to their American pals, they built a huge monument for the people. I liked Laos’ sense of humour.

Vang Vieng was the next stop after a very long and bumpy bus ride. A water front resort home to the infamous “Tubing” i.e. going down the river from bar to bar on a rubber inner tube drinking buckets of vodka and covering yourself in fluorescent spray paint.  Immensely popular, great fun and the reason most people visit. There are also loads of other activities including trekking, caving, kayaking and cave tubing from as little as US$15 which are all worth a go.

Luang Prabang was the last main stop before the two day slow boat to Thailand. Absolutely beautiful, quaint and had a lovely vibe. We were lucky enough to join a Laos family for a traditional feast and full blessing from the elders too. There are also plenty of worthwhile projects to get involved with, particularly the book donation scheme which ensures the children of the river boats get a regular supply of educational materials and schooling.

Travelling from A to B is a mission in Laos as the roads are little more than dirt tracks and the major roads wind up and around the many mountains. It takes about 7-8 hours to travel 150km by road and there are no trains, but the scenery more than compensates for the bone shaking.

Laos people are shrewd yet friendly, embracing tourism possibly to the detriment of some towns such as Vang Vieng. Plus, large areas of landscape are being destroyed through logging to provide much needed income. However, without a doubt worth a visit and an unexpected trip highlight.


It’s good but it’s not right

Roy Walker’s classic quiz show catchphrase “It’s good but its not right” from the classic ‘80’s TV show of the same name, gets a regular outing in Asia, particularly China.
From the “Spoony” shoulder bag of the loveable, black and white cartoon dog and “Boos” the well-known men’s aftershave, to the comedy translations found on signage, there isn’t a day goes by without reading a slogan or phrase that leaves you in stitches or just plain confused.
There are a couple of entertaining books by Oliver Lutz which epitomise the Chinese command of English, known as Chinglish and, from my travels in Asia and Singapore (where they prefer the phrase “Singlish”), I’ve picked a few of my own favourites…menus and public signage among the best.

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The most revolting sounding meal was possibly “Deer meat soup added liquid feces in intestine” – not surprisingly came with the disclaimer “Bitter Taste”! A close second was the alternate option of “Deer meat salad soaked in liquid feces in intestine” – seemingly the less bitter option as no tasting notes with that one!
My personal favourite was a Thai restaurant, where due to my hatred of all things Coriander, the mains included “Lamb and corianger”, which Thai food gave me repeatedly.
It’ll be a fascination of travellers forever and the mistranslations will no doubt continue to cause a titter or two, but for now hope it’s given you a light-hearted look at what a confusing place the world can be – even when it doesn’t necessarily need to be!


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.