A Travellerspoint blog

From the West Coast to the East Coast of Australia

Melbourne, you so fine!

sunny 17 °C

When I left off last Sherry and I had just finished up a weekend in Geraldton WA and we were about to make our way to Perth to catch a flight all the way over to the East Coast where we would spend a few days in Melbourne. To get to Perth we purchased bus tickets in Geraldton, which were just another reminder of just how expensive things are in Australia, as it cost us about $165 in total to get us both to Perth. Back in Thailand we could have got 3 plane tickets for this price! But, as the blog is titled...it is, what it is, and we needed to get to Perth and this was how it had to be. I will talk more about the cost of living in Austrlaia in a later post and so for now, I will just say that you need to be prepared for some sticker shock if you are travelling from North America. Our bus left around 8:30 am on Monday March 9th and we arrived in Perth around 2:30 in the afternoon. Unlike our bus travels in south east Asia this trip was pretty uneventful. Don't get me wrong, I was quite alright with that being the case. This drive took us along the in-land route to Perth, so the scenary was pretty uneventful, with the only breaks in the flat dessert looking landscape, being our short stops at gas stations for food or to pick up other passengers. Through our travels back and forth to Perth we got to know the routine pretty well. Along the way you would always stop at a gas station where you could grab some deep fried goodness that was waiting under a heat lamp for you or in some cases there would be fresh homemade meat pies waiting for you to devour and stave off hunger. These stops were not so great for my gluten intolerant companion, but sherry made sure to pack some snacks, as she is usually prepared to do that no matter where we go until she figures out the local appetite for gluten free options. There are restaurants attached to some of the gas stations but when you are making the drive to or from Perth, all you want to do is get it over with, so it is almost always just a grab and go stop. After a short taxi ride to the airport (couldn't find a cheaper or more timely way to get there at that time) we checked in with plenty of time to spare before boarding our Virgin Australia flight at 5:30. Our flight would be around 3.5 hours but due to crossing over time zones we would be getting into Melbourne at right around midnight. For those people wondering about finding the cheapest or best flights, my only recommendation right now would be to shop around. I know, I know, thanks for blowing our minds with that insightful travel tip Shayne! The truth is we have tried all sorts of websites and apps to book our flights, and hotels for that matter, and we haven't been dissappointed with any particular one yet. Some of the most user friendly ones are Trip Advisor (app or website) and Kayak (app). These sites give you a look at all the different offers out there, whether it be from Expedia, Booking.com, Agooda, CheapOAir, Tripsta or one of the many other online offerings that are out there. You will find that prices can tend to escalate from the price you see on the initial search when you go into the booking so make sure you read the fine print and know what costs you are adding on and if you really need them. Some sites may look cheaper then others based on the initial search but it will be the added costs once the booking starts that bring them back to par with the rest. Expedia has been one that we have been particularly happy with in terms of the price being the same in the initial search as it is when finally hitting "ok" to make your booking.

Before getting right into the details of our time in Melbourne I will touch on briefly why it was that we decided on going there and not Sydney or one of the other highlight city's along the Gold Coast. Sydney is always the front and center choice for travellers when they go to Australia and I am sure as many people are reading this they are under the mindset that Sydney is the capital of Australia due to how much press and marketing it gets globally. Well, it is actually not the capaital, Canberra is and as I was told by some of our teacher friends back in Geraldton, even some students still believe that Sydney is the capital! We talked with many different people along our travels to date, trying to gauge what places might peak our interest on the Gold Coast, and Melbourne was the overwhelming number one. People kept telling us that Sysney was very busy and congested with tourists and that we wouldn't find very many tried and true Aussies there. We just were not in the mood at that time for a crazy busy city and being in the monotony of hopping around from tourist attraction to tourist attraction just to say we were there. Please don't get me wrong, Sydney is definitely on our list of things to do, but given our short time frame and our desire for a more relaxed experience, we landed on Melbourne. Queensland is another beautiful place we hope to be fortunate to travel to some day.

Our flight to Melbourne was right on time as we landed just after midnight. With no customs to clear, we buzzed through the airport and were in a taxi before 12:30. Since we arrived too late in the night, taxi was the best option to get us to our destination in a timely fashion. It cost us about $50 to get right to our hostel in the centre of Melbourne, which seems like a lot, but again based on the speed at which we got to our place it was definitely the best option. We stayed at the Space Hotel, which despite the name, is in fact a hostel. It was around $32 a night to stay in a 6 person dorm room. This may again seem somewhat expensive to seasoned hostel goers, but this place had great ammenities and I would highly recommend it. Everything was clean, comfortable and well taken care off, which are all things that can go a long way to helping you maintain a positive outlook on your travels. We did our best to sneak into our dorm room without disturbing our roommates but thankfully they had just landed in from a night out drinking so we fired up some drunken banter with them, sharing a few good laughs before finally putting head to pillow. The next morning I was awake pretty early as I am a fairly light sleeper and a couple of our roommates were up and on the way out to their next destinations quite early. I was totally fine with being awake, and I felt pretty good for having limited sleep, so I grabbed a shower and toured around the hostel to see what all we had available to us, while Sherry grabbed a few more zzz's. We had no real definitive plan for our time in Melbourne so the first day we grabbed a map and just started walking around. Our plan was to make our way down to the harbour and beach area, then just go with the flow from there. As we were further south in Australia now we noticed a change up in temps as the highs of 32 degrees Celsius were exchanged for average temps around 16-18 degrees Celsius. As a point of reference I will just remind everyone that it was mid March which was the beginning of their fall or autumn season, so all and all that is pretty good in my mind. I located a walking path that would take us all the way down to the harbour and it was only a few blocks from our hostel that we were able to connect up with that. The pathway follows along the Yarra River which we found out makes for a beautiful and relaxing walk. The path was paved the entire way and well marked for bikers, walkers and runners. It become very evident to us that Melbourne is a fitness forward city as we encountered bikers, joggers and walkers of all ages along our journey. The city has made the fitness lifestyle very accessible to its citizens by creating the infrastructure they need to partake in and enjoy being fit. The pathway's are so well designed for bikers, which seemly must cut back on the amount of traffic on the roads. It appears that many people were using bikes to get to and from work instead of driving their car or using public transport. There was even a rock climbing wall under one of the over passes that people were stoping at to literally and figuratively hang out. After a few directional mix ups, we finally made it to the harbour area around lunch time, so we figured the only proper thing to do at that time was to eat! We made our way out along St. Kilda pier, passing fisherman, tourists and locals along the way. The sun was out and there was a slight breeze which made the walk quite comfortable and enjoyable. About 2/3 of the way down the pier there is a restaurant called "Little Blue Restaurant" which has both indoor and patio seating and this was where we decided to take a rest to have some lunch. We sat out on the patio overlooking the harbour and back towards Melbourne which made for an excellent backdrop during our meal. We took some photos of our stop here which I will have up and posted soon! We both really enjoyed our lunch here and would recommend making a stop in if you find yourself wondering around the St. Kilda pier and your stomach starts to growl at you. I was in total relax mode after this stop, partially because we had done a wack load of walking already and partially because the environment around us was so calm and beautiful that it was pretty hard not to be. With nothing else planned on our agenda we walked back down the pier to St. Kilda park and then eventually started making our way back to the city center. Along the way we passed many of the same city sites we saw along our way to the harbour but because of the time of day the activity in and around the Yarra River had increased considerably. The work day was over, school was out and people were all over the place. Bikers, runners, joggers, walkers, and rowers all made up a very vibrant pulse around this waterway. Sherry and I stopped and watched the rowers for awhile to give our aching feet and legs a rest. One, two, four and eight person boats made their way up and down the river with their coaches shouting instructions through a megaphone as they kept pace biking along shore. There were young and old alike taking part, with some boats just being out there for exercise and enjoyment while others were clearly there for competition training. Having never been exposed to live rowing in my life, but being a fan of sport in general, this was a really cool and unplanned stop along the way. That night we were both pretty played out from all the walking we had done, so we grabbed some dinner and made plans for the next day and tucked in for a somewhat early night.

The next morning Sherry got up early and was successful in getting us booked on a tour that would take us out of the city and out to Phillip Island where we would get exposed to more of the beautiful countryside and some of Australia's awesome local wildlife. I will give a quick shout out to our tour company "Go West" (http://www.gowest.com.au/our-tours/penguin-parade-day-tour/) as we had a great day and were entertained the whole time by our fantastic tour guide Dennis. The tour we selected would take us to Phillip Island which is south east of Melbourne and takes about 1.5 hours to get to by bus. The island itself is now connected by road way and has a permanent population of around 9500. During the summer months the population explodes to around 40,000 due to all the seasonal guests with cottages and summer homes. Our tour group was nice and small with only about 20 or so people which allowed us to easily get to know everyone throughout the day. We departed our hotel around 11:00 am, making our way to our first stop which was at Rhyll Trout and Bush Tucker Farm. Here we started with a great lunch, which included fresh fried rainbow trout for me and a gluten free option for Sherry which was a salad with grilled fish. There were two other options which we had time to choose from while we made the drive out from Melbourne. The meal was a great start to our day and was another opportunity to meet more of the people on our tour. All fuelled up, we headed out to walk around the property, receiving a lesson in bush tucker along the way. Bush Tucker is essentially a collection of wild growing plants and trees that are edible and which have been used for centuries by the local tribes. Our guide was quite knowledgable and kept things entertaining all along the way. Back on the bus, I sat with my new friend from Tokyo who was over on holiday visiting her boyfriend who lived and worked in Sydney. She had spent time going to school in the United States and as such she spoke English quite well. She was very friendly and inquisitive which lead to some great conversations about just about everything. These interactions, for me, are what travel is all about. Getting to informally learn about the greater world around you through the experiences of other people. The next stop for us would be the much anticipated Koala Conservation Center. During this part of the tour we would be guided around through the centre, getting the chance to snap photos of the Koalas in a very natural environment. Now, I have to say, these little buggers may be cute, but dammit they are lazy! As you will see from pictures, they are sleeping almost all the time and are tucked away in the branches of the trees. As I said to the tour guide, it pretty much seemed like these guys were dealing with a permanent hangover! Regardless of their static nature, it was still really cool to see them. During the tour we also came across some wallabies which are described as small or midsized macropods, that look quite similar to kangaroos, but as the description suggests, they are smaller. All and all we spent about an hour at the center before jumping back in the bus and arriving at our wine tasting session out in the beautiful countryside of Phillip Island. With expansive views of the small vineyard, the surrounding farmland and the ocean, this place had curb appeal that could not likely be matched - it was stunning. It's not very often you hear about wine tasting experiences going bad, and I am not about to start! We had a great time with our host Karen who presented us with three white and three red wines to try out. Of course the wine was accompanied by a selection of fresh local cheeses as well. I can safely say that I did learn a bit about wine during this expeience but mostly I just caught a buzz as Sherry passed her unfinished glasses over to me to finish, so she could get topped up with the next wine, which would inevitably be passed over to me as well. It was a vicous cycle, but I prevailed, managing to resist the temptation to go all "John Belushi in Animal House" up in there. Before loading up on the bus, most people made the change to some warmer clothes as the sun was starting to go down and the air temperature was doing the same. After a short stop in the small town of Cows for a snack, it was off down the coast to the "Knobbies" where we would get to tour around the giant coastline and take picutures of little penguins as they snuggled up in the wooden huts along the cliff side. These little fellas would also be the main attraction that night at the Penguin Parade, but since it would be night time during that show, we would not be able to take photos due to the flash of the camera disorientating them as they made their way up the beach. The coastal views at the Knobbies were incredible and it got me even more excited to get over to Ireland where I knew I would be encountering even more of this great natural beauty. Finally, at just before 8:00 pm we arrived at the site where we would watch the worlds smallest penguins, who had been out at sea for many weeks, come bouncing out of the ocean and make their return to their babies and their homes which are scattered all over the coastal area. This occurrence happens daily. It is almost like clockwork, with the penguins starting to waddle up the shore at or right around 8:30. The way things are set up, you literally have these fellas walking right beside you as they call out to their families and eventually start doling out food to their young ones. There are tons of people around, so you do need to be patient, but it's certainly an experience that is well worth it - just remember to dress warm and all will be well. With the penguin parade all wrapped up, our day on Phillip Island had come to an end. Back on the bus our driver turned off lights and it was nap time for most people, but as we had been doing all day, my friend from Tokyo and I started to chat again, and we did do for the entire 1.5 hour drive back to Melbourne. What a great day that was and I am sure it goes without saying, but I highly recommend taking in this adventurous day. Between the amazing sites, comical tour guide and the great people we got to meet, it was well worth the price of admission. Back in Melbourne, it was straight to bed for Sherry and I as we had to be up for a 10:00 am flight to Queenstown, New Zealand.

Melbourne was a wonderful experience for both Sherry and I. It is an absolutley beautiful city that seems to offer a little bit of everything. It certainly has a passion for the arts with plays and exhibitions readily available, while also offering many outdoors activities for its residents and visitors. We definitely would like to make a trip back to Melbourne some day when we can take even more time to experience all the hidden gems tucked within it's city walls. Well, it is off to New Zealand!

Cheers,

Shayne and Sherry

Posted by Shewy 10:38 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Australian Hospitality

A chance to spend time with old friends and to make some new ones.

sunny 32 °C

As I am writing this post it is around 6:00 am in Dublin, Ireland. No I am not still up from partying the night before, rather I am up early after sleeping off the jet leg which was induced by 20 hours of flying from Perth, Australia! As they say,' I may not know whether I am coming or going' just yet, but what I do know for sure is that our time spent over the last month in Australia and New Zealand was well worth it! There is a lot to cover off, so sit back, relax, maybe grab a beer or a glass of wine and here we go....

We arrived in Perth in the wee hours of the morning on February 21st after connecting flights from Bangkok to Phuket and then onto Perth. As usual, travel itself sometimes creates some interesting times and our connecting flight in Phuket was one of those times. We were almost 40 minutes delayed getting out of Bangkok and with only a short layover in Phuket, where we would join the sun and booze soaked Aussies headed back home, we would be under the gun to make our connecting flight. We had a game plan when we got off the plane which involved running as fast as we could to our next flight, I would get our bags and Sherry would go to the check-in counter...pretty rough plan I will admit that, but it was a plan nonetheless. This all got tossed out the window when instead of being dropped directly at our terminal, we jumped off the plane to see a series of buses waiting for us which would transport us to our gate. More time was spent waiting on the bus and the quick math I was doing in my head told me it was going to be near impossible to make it to our flight. Luckily when we excited the bus and entered the airport we noticed a man holding an 8.5" x 11" piece of paper with the word "Perth" sloppily written in light blue highlighter on it, so we stopped to see if this was for us. As luck would have it this guy was waiting for us and after making sure we were the people he had spent so much time making the sign for, he asked if we could run. It was game on and as we passed through the airport (seemingly breaking rules all over the place) he let us know the check in counter closed in 5 minutes and did his best to get a description of our luggage so they could deliver it for check in. Now, thankfully we had fairly distinct luggage, with red straps circling our bags and "Canada" written on them, as I have no idea how else they would have been able to distinguish our bags from what I am sure are hundreds of similar looking peices of luggage. We were wisked into the check in line, where our luggage followed shortly after and the crisis was averted. As it turned out we ended up with time to spare, which allowed us to spend some quality time with the depressed Aussie vacationers who were heading back home from their vacations in the islands of Thailand. The Thai islands are the equivalent of a Cuba, Mexico or Dominican Republic vacation for most North Americans. Sandy beaches, plus cheap booze and accomodation's - returning to work was the last thing these people wanted to do and the looks on their faces said it all. Sherry and I couldn't help but laugh to ourselves a bit as we enjoyed our fortune of not being in the same boat as these folks. Sherry would later bring up an interesting personal observation she had while we sat in the airport in Phuket and I will share it with you now as I think it is quite interesting and relevant. For Sherry and I, we had spent the last month walking through South East Asia in anonymity it would seem. We did not really care what we looked like, the cloths we wore could be repetitive from day to day and we felt comfortable with who we were amongst the people, not being challenged to meet some uncomfortable standard of the society around us. As Sherry put it, once she became surrounded by people who were more culturally similar to us, she felt the "care-freeness" about her image being challenged. I have to admit at first when she was explaining this I struggled to understand where she was going with it but it came up in a few conversations over the coming weeks, and each time my appreciation for her feelings grew. It really reinforced for me how we assess or compare ourselves locally, rather then globally and just how quickly our self image can be challenged. Now, Sherry was not saying that all of a sudden she felt poorly about herself or who she was, but rather she was making an observation of how quickly that feeling can creep up on you. I think we are all subject to these feelings throughout our lives, with many of us falling victim to them by uncomfortably changing who we are in order to fit in with our surroundings which is based on what we think others think of us. Whether it be at work, out in a social context such as a bar or restaurant, or just visiting with friends, we all face these personal challenges and to me, that is life, and I don't think that will ever change. The part that we control though is our response to these feelings and simply recognizing them when they arise is a huge start to it. Don't worry, I am not going to go on and wax philosophically about the human ego and all the intimitley detailed stuff that has been studied and published over the years, but I do feel that it is important to raise the observation for people's consideration and as a reminder that even though we may be seen to be living this incredible dream journey (which we are), that we are still human and as such we will continue to face the same personal challenges that everyone else does regardless of status in life. Okay, wow, I did not see that coming when I started wrttting this post, let's get back to trip!

As we exited the Perth airport around 7:00 am we were greeted by the familliar faces of our friends Joe and Angel Italiano who where there to pick us up and take us back to their home in Geraldton (4 hours North of Perth) where we would be setting up camp for the next couple weeks. Joe grew up in Australia, while Angela was born and raised in Paisley, Ontario before meeting up with her husband to be and moving to Australia 5 years ago. Unfortunately we were not able to make their 2013 wedding in Italy, so we were long over due in getting to spend some time with them. Even though we were crazy tired from the over night flight, we both got our second winds as we hung in there for some breakfast before making our way out of the city. When Joe pulled into a cemetery as we left the city I questioned just what he had planned for us, but he just grinned and laughed when he realized I recognized that we where making this questionable detour. It all made sense when Joe pointed out to the right side of the vehicle and we saw mobs of Kangaroos hanging out all over the place. With a loaf a bread in hand we jumped out and before long we had wild kangaroos eating right from our hands! Not a bad little start to the Australian leg of our travels. Joe took us down the coastal route to Geraldton which provided some great views on the ocean and the beautiful coastal landscape. By all rights we both should have been out cold sleeping, but there was no way that was going to happen. Between soaking up the scenery and catching up with our friends, there wasn't much room for sleep to happen. I kid you not when I tell you that Sherry and Angel where talking for the entire 4 hours of the drive!

We arrived in the west coast town of Geraldton, which has a population approximately 36,000, around mid afternoon. The town itself is supported largely by the shipping industry as it contains a major seaport. There are also several schools throughout the town which offer employment for many folks just like our friends Joe and Angel who both work at Nagle Catholic College. Angel also works in Joe's sisters shop called "You Little Beauty" where she has massage clients on Thursdays. Nagle is a large catholic school which takes in many students from outside of Geraldton and as such they have a boarding house to accommodate them. The boarding house would be where Sherry and I set up shop for the next few weeks as that is where Joe and Angel have their apartment. After getting settled into our new residence it was time for the couch! Joe tossed on some cricket, which was pretty bizarre for me as I didn't know any of the rules, but it wasn't long before I had the basic premise figured out and was able to follow along. Soccer, cricket, rugby, and Footie would become my new sports diet! As I sit here today and am writing this, Austrlaia is playing New Zealand in the World Cup final and I am cheering for the Aussies to bring home a 5th championship. I was quite surprised how into the sport I got during our short time in Australia but like in many other countries, sport is a bonding agent that can bring common ground to just about any relationship regardless of nationality. I would find myself popping my head into bars as we walked around Perth in the later weeks to check the scores of the Aussie games and make sure the boys were doing well hahaha. So, what was our plan for the next month or so? Of course I wasn't just going to sit around and watch cricket for a month straight - here is a little run down of the fun we got up to in our first couple weeks.

Joe and Angel were both working during the days, so Sherry and I had time to ourselves to go out and explore the town on our own and to catch up on some R &R. As with every other new place, we spent time just touring around the town on foot and seeing what new experiences were at our finger tips. The first week was really laid back and lazy for both of us during the days but we did get the chance to get out and meet some of Joe and Angel's friends and family. First on the docket were Jess and Nigel, who's home we visited for some pizza and drinks on Jess's birthday. Jess and Nigel are both teachers as well, with Jess teaching at Nagle alongside Joe and Angel, and Nigel teaching physics at a different high school. Sherry and I both felt extremely comfortable and welcomed by Jess and Nigel and over the coming weeks we would spend more time with them and I think it is safe to say that a friendship developed with them - I say that with confidence as when we were leaving Geraldton the last we saw of them was Jess running down the road, pulling out a wedding invite from her purse and giving it to Sherry hahaha. It was amazingly hilarious and as if Sherry didn't have enough tears in her eyes at the time, this act of kindness sent her over the top! As mentioned, we also had the chance to meet some family as both Joes sister and his parents live in Geraldton. It was Joe's nieces birthday and we were invited to tag along for a birthday BBQ. It was a beautiful evening as we enjoyed the company of Joe's parents and his sister in-laws parents while chowing down on some good old steaks, salads and hot dogs. As Joe's last name suggests (Italiano) he comes from an Italian family. I know, I know, an Italian, with the last name Italiano! It seems like it is likely to be a fake name hahaha. Joe's parents have been in Australia for 40 years now but they all still hold true to their Itlaian heritage as family is absolutely everything to them. They have a lovely family and it was a pleasure to get to meet them.

When Friday rolled around it was time to do what I had been looking forward to for some time now and that was to get my skinny, pale-ass frame up on a surf board and ride the waves of the ocean. Friday was the beginning of a long weekend for Joe and Angel so we had a beach day planned out. We loaded up the surf boards and it was off to the beach to catch some waves. Like a kid in a candy store I ran to the ocean, doing my best David Hasselhoff impression for his baywatch days and then smashed into the ocean with the grace of a dog learning how to swim for the first time - thankfully there were no on lookers as the beach was deserted and we had it all to ourselves. A few waves in I somehow managed to stand up and get a short ride in and with that, my confidence was through the roof. I figured I had this sport mastered and that maybe it was just as easy as it looked on T.V. . It would be hours before I stood up again, as my body got rag dolled around in the ocean. Reality paid me a visit and made sure I knew just how out of shape I was as the waves pushed me around and held me back from getting back out to where I needed to be to if I was going to catch another one. After a couple of hours of sun, sand and yes, even some surf, we pulled up stakes and headed back into town. I was content with my effort and happy that I got to give surfing a go. On the plus side of it all, I didn't get eaten by a shark and no jellyfish stings either. Funny enough these were things that I didn't consider much before entering the water hahaha. We finished our Friday evening off by having dinner out with Joe, Nigel, Angel and Jess at a place called the provincial which was full of great food and drink, but it was also the place where the somewhat harsh reality of my sunburn started to check in! Caught up in my desire to surf, I failed to slap on the SPF early enough to prevent a wee bit of a burn. The next day it was off to Perth with Joe and Angel to take part in a celebration that is quite famialiar to both Sherry and I - it was time for a "Stag" and "Staggette" weekend or as they call it in Australia "Bucks and Hens" night/weekend. Both party organizers were gracious enough to let us tag along, which gave Sherry and I both some time to meet new people and to have some time apart after almost one and half months spending every day together. Some girl time and some guy time was just what the doctor ordered. The highlight of the weekend for me was getting to attend a professional soccer match between the Perth Glory and the Brisbane Roar. The match ended in a tie...no surprise there, but the experience as a whole was pretty cool. I always knew that soccer fans were wild, but the seats we had which where located in the area known as "The Shed" gave me an up close and personal view of all the craziness. Beer would fly through the air when goals were scored or if an opposition fan was spotted in the mix. Cheers and chants were a constant, with referees being jeered for making a bad call against the home team or the opposition goalie being psyched out as he attempted to move the ball up the field. It was all good fun, especially being there with all the fellas in the stag trip, and I will no doubt always remember my first taste of live professional soccer. Something else I was introduced to while in Perth was the "Sunday Session". On the surface this just seemed like going out and drinking on a Sunday at a nice hotel bar, which fundamentally is what takes place, but the roots of this activity come from further back in time. There was a time when the hours in which bars could sell alcohol were very restrictive and many hotels started setting up illegal drinking sessions on Sunday afternoons. This sounds somewhat similar to the adaption of "speakeasy" bars during prohibition. Eventually the laws loosened up and now many hotels and bars open their doors early in the day to serve up great food, booze and entertainment. The places where these "Sunday Sessions" are being held are fairly classy joints so don't roll out of bed in your joggers and a t-shirt thinking you are grabbing a greasy spoon breakfast like you would be back in Canada. In fact, depending on the place there are some well enforced dress codes. Sherry's highlight would be enjoying proper high tea with the girls and of course lots of dancing with the girls as the toured from bar to bar.

The Monday that we rolled back into Geraldton was again a holiday and we took full advantage of it by vegging out on the couch, periodically falling asleep and waking up to wonder if anyone else had noticed. The rest of the week was filled with touring around the town and enjoying the beach. We also made a stop at the HMAS Sydney Memorial which is a focal point for Geraldton sitting at the peak of the town looking out over the ocean. Here is a link if you would like to read more about this beautiful memorial http://hmassydneymemorial.com.au/. We were lucky enough to have a vehicle to use while staying with Joe and Angel, so we would load up the standup paddleboard (SUP) and head down to the beach for most of the days. Sherry caught on to the paddleboard pretty quickly and was cruising around the harbour area like she owned it. On a few occasions while paddling around I noticed some small stingrays swimming underneath me and I would have some fun chasing them around, until I lost my balance and fell in right on top of them. Thankfully they were more scared of me! The beach we went to got some pretty good waves and we would bust out the boogy boards to mess around in them which was a lot of fun (I left my surfboard at home or else I would have definitely been up shredding those waves......). When the weekend rolled around we made plans to go out for dinner with Jess, Nigel and Angel at an Indian restaurant. Joe was away on a camp trip with the school so Angel had us all to herself....well most importantly she had Sherry, I am pretty sure I was just background noise hahaha. Dinner was great and this was the first BYOB restaurant I had ever been in so I can check that experience off my list. Angel and I took full advantage of the BYOB, not as much as the guys who had a 40 of rye and 2 bottles of coke beside us, but we did good enough that driving was out of the equation, which put Sherry behind the wheel for us. Driving on the opposite side of the road to home was no problem for her and she got us home safely. She had a bit of practice one night before that when we did a little touring around after going to the movies and she handled it all pretty well. Once we got back to the boarding house I decided to bust out a dance party for the girls getting them fired up with hits from the 90's. It all started with a little Ghetto Superstar, which progressed into everything from Boyz II Men, Montel Jordan, The Fugees, Smashing Pumpkins and so many more....there was even some Wilson Phillips splashed in there for Sherry. It was a hilarious walk down memory lane which hopefully didn't cause the neighbours too much pain as the girls belted out there best karaoke voices while dancing like nobody was watching. It is kind of funny looking back on it now - all the new experiences are absolutely amazing but sometimes taking time to relive the old ones brings you just as much enjoyment.

The next morning we loaded up the vehicle with the SUP and headed North for a place called Kalbarri National Park. Of course we had Jess and Nigel on board with us for this adventure as well. Along the way we stopped at one of Western Australia's pink lakes, which gets its name...wait for it....because the water is Pink! It kind of looks like if pepto bismol were to come naturally from the earth, this would be the place. Scientist's apparently still don't know exactly what causes this, but believe it has something to do with the bacteria in the salt crusts. Being as i don't have my monthly subscription to World of Science right beside me, I am going to have to go with that for now. After a few photo's we were back on the road again and before long we were doing some off-roading as we made our way through Kalbarri National Park. What we arrived to I think can be best described as Grand Canyon like scenery. Red and rocky mountain sides, spilt by large, deep waterways were all around us. The views where breathtaking and the pesky flies, well they where annoying as hell, but it wasn't enough to detract from this amazing natural landscape. I will have lots of photos posted of our time at the park but in case you are keen for some more info I have attached a link http://www.kalbarri.org.au/. The big ticket item at the park is Natures Window which is a rock formation that, as its name aptly describes, is in the shape of a window....a large window. Through the window is an amazingly beautiful view which has been the backdrop to millions and millions of tourist photos over the years. After several photos we hiked our way back to the car park (I am learning to be more literal in my descriptions through my Aussie interactions) and made our way back along the shore making a few stops along the coastline to enjoy the incredible views out over the Indian Ocean. Nigel was driving by this time and with possible rain creeping in around us we made a B-line for the beach to get a swim and SUP in before the weather turned. We tossed the truck into four wheel drive and headed down the beach pulling up wherever we wanted as we had the place all to ourselves. After a couple hours of relaxing on the beach we loaded up and started our trek back home, but not before a quick stop at a road side heritage site which was Port Gregory Convict Hiring Station back in the 1850's. This is where criminals from Britain would be deported to, housed and then if they were not too dangerous, they would be assigned farming jobs around WA. If they didn't make the cut for the work world, they were sent down the coast to Fremantle where they would be imprisoned. It was pretty cool to walk around this piece of history, taking time to appreciate a very impactful piece of Australia's history.

The following day (Sunday) would be our last day in Geraldton for a little bit as we made plans to head to Melbourne and then onto Queenstown, New Zealand. We made the most of our day though starting out our morning with some beach time and then heading out to a small animal rescue centre called Greenough Wildlife Park. Here we got to get up close with many of Australias native animals for just $10 each. Dingo's, emus, ostriches, crocodiles, birds, snakes, camels and of course kangaroos - they had it all. There was even an albino Kangaroo hanging out at this place. You even get to feed the animals, which was a lot of fun when we got to the Kangoroos who would prop themselves up on the fence like a parent watching their kid at a baseball game and then would jostle around getting into position for the feeding. This became known as kangaroo selfie time for Angel and Sherry. On the way back to town we made the traditional tourist stop at the leaning tree for a photo, then it was back to the boarding house to pack. You will see photos of the leaning tree coming soon and I will describe it better there. But the short and sweet if it is the the winds of off of the west coast apparently blow so hard that they force the trees to grow low and to the ground in the same direction as the wind is going - this is not entirely true as there is some more science to it the that but I will explain that later in the pictures.

Alright, that seemed like a lot and hopefully I didn't lose too many readers along the way. This won't be the last you will hear of Gerladton but it is time to move onto our travels to the east which where filled with lots more fun and craziness. Thanks for hanging in there and please don't hesitate to email me at sshewfel@msn.com if you ever have questions about our travels and are looking for more info. It is so hard to pack it all in and I know I have left lots out.

Cheers,

Shayne and Sherry

Posted by Shewy 05:10 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

A Quickie in Da Lat

26 °C

Get your mind out of the gutter, we just happened to only be in the city for a few short days before we had to make our way back to Saigon, then to Bangkok where we would catch our flight to Australia - it s not that kind of blog! Now with that being said we did manage to pack in some top shelf adventures while we where there. As with the previous blog post I feel obliged to fill you in on our bus trip from Mui Ne to Da Lat because well, unfortunately, it wasn't the sleeper bus that I had banked on it being. 5:00 am on February 16 crept up way too fast, but it wasn't long before we had ourselves up, out of our room and down by the road to wait for our bus, which was to show up anywhere between 6:30 and 7:00 am. The only comfort I took in knowing that I was up so early was that I going to be crawling onto a lovely sleeper bus and grabbing at least a little bit of shut eye during our 6 hour trek to the Central Highlands of Vietnam. So, you can imagine the look on my face when I saw a vehicle stop in front of us that was maybe just a tad bit bigger then the van that scooby doo and his crime fighting gang toured around in! Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration but it doesn't change the fact that this sucker was small! This must be a mistake, or maybe this was just the bus that took us to the depot where we would transfer on to a bigger bus, ya that must be it. My hopes of stopping at a larger depot to board a bigger bus where dashed quickly as we made our way through, and eventually out of town. Empty seats which filled up between hotel pickups were the ultimate tease as I went from stretching my legs out across two seats, to eventually assuming the human pretzel position and letting the numbness take over the lower half of my body. If this bus started on fire there is a good chance that my scrawny upper body would not have been able to pull me out of the flames. Thankfully that did not happen and I have to say after I came to terms with the situation things weren't so bad I guess. Once we started climbing through the mountains I became sufficiently distracted by the beautiful scenery around me. We seemed to climb in elevation for almost 2 hours straight, passing jungle, small towns and hydro electric dams. I should mention too that the continuous honking, partnered up with another lovely game of highway chicken was in play on this tour as well. By now I was almost used to it though and really didn't expect anything more than that. Once we completed the uphill mountain pass we began our decent towards the valley and through some more towns which got larger and more developed as we neared Da Lat. Along the side of the road there were mile markers which told you how far you where from the next town and once the ones for Da Lat started popping up there was a very distinct change in our surroundings. Vast pine tree forests surrounded us on both sides and the smell of fresh mountain air filtered through my open window and into the bus. Immediately I felt my body relax in a way that it hadn't since the previous summer when we made trips up to my parents cottage in the Muskoka's.

The views when we entered the city where spectacular as we made our way to our drop off, and we really didn't know where that was, but when everyone on the bus stood up and existed at the city centre we followed suit. A very friendly greeting from some tourist staff followed our exit from the bus along with a map showing us how to get to our hotel. No sales scams, no up sells or shady dealings came our way - just friendly people wanting to help and make you feel welcome. A short walk to our hotel ($28 Cdn/night), we unloaded our bags and set out to find Pine Trek Adventures office where we would book a waterfall repelling tour for the next day and a mountain biking tour for the day after that. We had done some research while in Mui Ne and this place came highly recommended for adventure tours so I made it my mission to make sure got booked in with them. You really don't want to mess around with safety when you are working your way down waterfalls and these guys had great safety reviews compared to some of the other local shops. With that task all squared away we took to touring around town. Unfortunately it was too late in the day to catch the scenic gondola ride but we made our own tracks as usual touring the towns lake front area and the famous crazy house. Crazy House is an expressionist and detail intensive piece of architecture in the heart of the city. This structure certainly lives up to its name with crazy shapes, structures and screams all around it. For a more in depth look at one of the 10 weirdest buildings in the world click on this link http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hang_Nga_guesthouse. As late afternoon came around we walked down to the lake which is located in the centre of town and enjoyed a calming walk around watching all the tourist who where cruising around in the swan paddle boats. A quick dinner and an early evening was in order with an 7:00 am rise on its way to head out for our canyoneering adventure.

Canyoneering was definitely not something that was on my radar when we headed out on our trip but once I saw what is was all about through some internet research it quickly became a must do. The short description of this outdoor adventure sport is that it is basically rock climbing without the ascending part and only the descending. The little twist that was thrown into this adventure was that we would be descending into waterfalls which was the most intriguing part for sure. When we got picked up and arrived at our location the coolest surprise for Sherry and I was that it was just going to be us and our two amazing guides whom both spoke excellent English and who where friendly as ever. Most companies likely would not have bothered to schedule this tour with only two people but as we found out this was preferred for Pine Trek tours as they could ensure that safety was always being adhered to and they could give us the best experience possible. A couple practice runs and an introductory 15 meter ascent and it was off to tackle the water falls. Although this was a crazy new experience for me, it was a way bigger day for Sherry as it had been almost 6 years since she had done anything as adventurous as this due to her post concussion recovery. Caution was thrown into the wind, or rather the water in this case, and she tackled all the challenges thrown at her including a 7 meter cliff jump and two trips through the waterfall ascent which is affectionately known as the "washing machine". Everything from the waterfall descents, to the beautiful mountain surrounding us and the lunch time chat with our guides, was simply amazing. I can't lie, I was cringing every time Sherry took her turn in the waterfalls but it was something that was important to her to do and who was I to get in the way of that. We have lived the ups and downs for almost 6 years now and I was ready to accept either outcome on that day.

The rest of our day included a gondola ride through the forests outside of the town and a tour of the Monastery. The gondola ride was great as we got a birds eye view of Da Lat and all its surroundings. Although I have never been to British Columbia, I have seen lots of pictures from people who have and I liken the views of Da Lat to that of BC. As for the Monastery tour it was one of the most peaceful and beautiful 2 hours of my life. The Monastery is home to several Buddhist Monks who go about their day as tourists walk around and take in the beauty of the grounds. Perfectly manicured gardens, paved walkways and spectacular views welcomed us every which way we turned. I was relaxed before I got here and now I was almost comatose! Sherry even took time to meditate in one of the temples, while I, all but fell asleep sitting on a bench looking out over the nearby lake. For the record, I am not an old man, just a little tired out from the early morning and fresh air during our canyoneering..... Well, that just about wrapped up our day as it was back to the hotel, out for a quick bite to eat and then into bed early once again as we had mountain biking to do in the morning! Ya I know, seems a bit ridiculous, but what the hell, "when in Rome".

As with the previous day our tour guides met us at our hotel and drove us to our outdoor adventure. We were both a wee bit sore from the day before but nothing to terribly bad. I was pumped for the 30km bike ride which would take us through the countryside to see coffee plantations and lots of small villages. The trail we selected was called Skid Trak and was listed as by far being the easiest one they offered....or so they said... The 40 minute ride out to our drop off was enjoyable as I got a chance to chat with our guide who was very knowledgable and was able to speak to the current state of Vietnam and some of the lingering fallout from the Vietnam war. We talked about the educational system, as well as Vietnamese relations with the US since. When we arrived at our drop off point we quickly assembled our bikes, tossed on our helmets and started making our way down a paved road. Things started off smooth, but then we took a quick right turn that began our off road tour down the mountain side towards the valley. I was a bit apprehensive at first and I know Sherry was as well, but we rolled on and soon I found myself enjoying the ride. Sherry was back a bit with one guide (we had the same guides as the day before) and I was doing my best to keep up with the other guy. It wasn't long though before my front brake failed on me so I had to pullover and do a little maintenance. It wasn't major at all and I had things back to normal quickly but not before Sherry and her guide caught up. All was well and we all took off except this time Sherry was in front of me, and when she suddenly hit the brakes on a steep decline I lost my balance and she was ass over tea kettle for me! A couple scrapped knees and a bruised ego was all the damage that was done and I was back up on my bike in a few short minutes ready to redeem myself. This time I took off ahead of Sherry with the other guide again and we began cruising along quite well. After a couple steep hill climbs my guide and I pulled off to the side to catch our breath and to wait for the other two. A few minutes went by and we both knew something was off so we toured back to see what was up. Well, what we found was a scrapped up Sherry sitting on the side of the trail with her guide busting out some first aid to her cuts and cleaning her up the best he could. "By far the easiest trail they had" was now up 2-0 on me and Sherry, except Sherry was a little more worse for wear as she went right over her handle bars. I didn't see it, but from what I hear the judges where handing out unanimous 10's across the board. Only about 6km into our 30km tour, Sherry, quite understandably, waived the white flag and called it a day. I was just happy that she was in one piece and that nothing worse had happened. The trail was tough and I was really surprised she even lasted that long, but she's tough as anyone I know and she wanted to challenge herself so she faced the test head on (literally). We worked out a plan where I would continue on the trail with my guide and Sherry and the other guide would meet up with the van early to get her back to Da Lat. Our guides were incredible and we could not have asked for better. I am happy to say I finished the rest of the bike ride which saw us take some serious inclines, cross over a sketchy bridge and arrive back into the city of Da Lat without further incident. Sherry had only arrived back just a short while before we did and the owner of the company was at her side attending to her scrapes and cuts. They felt terrible about what had happened but as the title of the blog goes "it is, what it is". A couple photos with everyone and we where on our way back to the hotel for some R&R. I was surprised to have Sherry tell me that she actually got back up on her bike for a bit and that even her guide had a little spill off of his bike, which she said they both had a good laugh at. After a solid relax back in the room, both our aches and pains started to take over. I snuck out for some pizza while Sherry rested, then she went out for a smoothie while I took another rest. It was Chinese New Years at midnight and we both wanted to drag our butts out of bed to see the fireworks, but we just couldn't muster the will to do it. Our outdoor adventures had won the two day battle and with a 9 hour bus ride back to Saigon, followed by a 1hr 1/2 flight back to Bangkok, we decided to take all the rest we could get.

As I am writing this I find it funny that I have so much to say about our short time in Da Lat but I guess that is just a sign of how much we really enjoyed it. Bumps and bruises aside it was just what we needed. For me, I needed to challenge myself with some crazy new adventures to get the blood pumping, while Sherry was ready to step outside of her comfort zone and see just how far she had come over the last 6 years. It would have been easy for her to just step back and let the fear of ruining her travels take her over, but she didn't, and even though the scrape on her chin might signal something different, I know she is smiling inside and content with testing her abilities. Da Lat is a must see recommendation for both of us. The French influences, accompanied by the beautiful scenery make it an easy place to loose yourself in. The people are quite friendly and there is so much to do. I am pleased to report that we did in fact get a sleeper bus for our trip back to Saigon - I think I would have lost my mind if it was the same bus that got us to Da Lat - ya ya I know, first world problems. Hahaha. Well that's all for now folks. We are just about to land in Melbourne after two weeks on the West coast of Australia which I will be writing about next.

Cheers,

Shayne and Sherry

Posted by Shewy 17:59 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Mui Ne - South China Sea Coast Line - Da Beach!

sunny 28 °C

As I mentioned in a previous blog we made our bus to Mui Ne on time and made it to our destination without any issues. What I failed to elaborate on was the 5 hour bus experience itself which was a bit interesting on its own. I couldn't have been happier when we boarded our bus and saw that it was what I know now as a "sleeper bus". There were 3 rows of seats, one along each window and the one right up the middle of the bus with each seat reclined back into a sleeping position. This was unreal and very much a welcomed surprise after jamming my knees up on cramped planes for most of our long travels so far. So now it was just a matter of curling up in my seat and nodding off until we reached the coast. Not so fast there Shayne....what proceed to take place over the next 5 hours was what I describe as the longest All Ontario Championship victory tour I have ever been a part of! You see when hockey teams win a championship it is not uncommon to jump in the fire truck or in the back for some pick up trucks and ride through your home town honking horns and sounding sirens to let everyone know you are the champs. Well I don't know what the hell we won, but our bus driver was on the horn more often then he was not from start to finish. I was never so thankful for having my iPod and headphones! Basically, honking is a very well accepted practice on the roads to let scooters and other motorists know that you are coming up behind them and to get the heck out of the way. Now, mind you, we are doing this in one direction and as you might expect traffic coming the other way is doing the same. What that all adds up to is an extremely long game of chicken where drivers are honking and flashing their lights as they bob and weave between their lane and other side of road passing vehicles that just aren't keeping the pace they are after. It is really just best to look out the side of bus and not pay any attention to the gong show that is taking place in front of you hahaha. Another detail I noticed missing from this bus once we got cruising was that there was no washroom......anywhere. Now, I have held it before for a long time but the thought of 5 hours was a little daunting. Thankfully we did make a couple pit stops along the way which allowed for some snacks and a washroom break. The washrooms along the way where a true indicator of just how bad you had to go, never did the saying "just get in and get out" apply better! But that is what this whole experience is about - seeing how the rest of world lives and stepping outside of our comfort zones.

As much as sleep was what I really wanted it just wasn't going to happen on this bus trip. Not because of the noisy horn, but because everything that we passed by along the way was new to us and we really didn't want to miss out on seeing something interesting and new. Rolling into Mui Ne was very picturesque as the sun was shinning bright over the South China Sea. Instant relaxation set in as we toured along the beach strip eventually making our way to the Rang Garden Bungalows (hillside). We where greeted by a Vietnamese man named Tan (pronounced "Tin") upon our arrival who immediately threw me off with his intermittent Australian accent. He was very very kind and as I toured around I noticed his business commerce degree hanging on the wall from a university in Australia - now it was starting to make sense. A couple noteworthy things from the short few hours we had been there was that many places advertised prices in American dollars and almost all store signage was accompanied by a Russian translation. The Russian translation peaked my curiosity and I would soon learn that a lot of the hotels and restaurants in Mui Ne where owned by Russians. With the commonality in their government structures this soon started to make more sense.

We had 4 nights and 4 days to chill out in Mui Ne before we headed off to the Central Highlands to check out Dalat. So, how did we spend our time.... As we have done in most places we started by just walking around and checking out our surroundings to see what we had access to. After a good nights rest on day two we rented some good old peddle bikes to tour around the town. Before we did that though I decided I had some energy to spare so I got up around 6:30 and went for a run, with my destination being the fishing village which was just 4km to the north down the coast. Well I won't even try to B.S. everyone and let on that I ran the whole way there and back, but considering I had been living off a diet of cheap beer and a mix of western and noodle/rice dishes, I thought I did pretty good. The way to the fishing village was peaceful and I eventually made my way down the beach where I walked amongst fishing families who where hauling in and sorting through there catches. The ocean breeze was fresh and the smell of fish, along with other sea creatures, dominated the air. After walking the shore I climbed some stairs and just sat watching the people do their thing on beach. Nets where being emptied, catches being sorted and sales of the freshly harvested sea creatures where happening in real time. The sun was starting to warm and my pale skin had no sun screen on it so I jumped back on the road and made my way back to the hotel with a great appreciation for just how important the health of our bodies of water are to the livelihood of soo many people. Now, back to the bikes. For $2 US we rented bikes from our hotel that resembled the kind of bikes you might have found laying around in your grandparents shed back in the day. A little rusty, a little faded, definitely not what the cool kids where riding around on, but they got you from point A to point B so you couldn't complain. We spent the day making our way up and down the strip with a good long stop at the public beach area where we saw hundreds of kite boarders doing there thing out on the water. The beaches where really nice and unlike in some places, we where not subjected to constant pushy vendors wanting you to buy there trinkets and other goodies. There where a couple of women selling fresh fruit but that was it. The kiteboarding scene is huge here and if you look at our pictures you will see just how big it really is. After a great day of exercise and site seeing we saddled up for some dinner at Joe's Cafe and some excellent live music. If I have't mentioned it already, I absolutely love sitting in bar, sipping away on a cold beer and listening to bands showing off their talents. Music is another one of those common grounds that I have discovered while travelling and it is has become quite clear just how big of an influence the UK and North America has been on the rest of the world when it comes to popular music. Sitting in a beach front bar listening to a Vietnamese guitar playing gentleman rock the Beatles and Eric Clapton was a really cool experience....a very simple one yes, but one I won't forget and which always leaves me with a smile on my face.

The next day we signed up for a jeep tour around Mui Ne which took us to some of the popular places in and around the town. Our jeep just may have been last serviced during the Vietnam war, but luckily I got the front seat while the rest of folks (including sherry) where packed into the back 2/3 of the vehicle. The middle row where Sherry sat was still comfortable, but I am not sure how the girls in the back faired out being as there was very little, to no suspension in this war relic. The major highlight on this tour was the white sand dunes that are located about 40 minutes outside of the town. The drive there may have also topped the highlight reel as we cruised along nicely paved roads looking out over the coast for almost 30 minutes. We came across many burial grounds as well during our drive and I couldn't help but notice that many of the tombs prominently displayed what I know as the Nazi Swastika. This was quite puzzling for me as I couldn't immediately make the connection between the two countries. So, once again it was Google to the rescue. After doing some reading I came to understand that the Swastika was first recognized as a symbol of peace and prosperity before it was adopted by the Nazis which completely changed the connotations that came with its presence. After the global perception change around this symbol the use of it on Tombs became less and less but there still are many tombs that had its marking before the Nazi's adopted it which still do to this day. The last leg of the trip to the dunes was off-roading at its best as we bounced all over the place traversing sand and rough roads. We got stopped just short of our destination when another tour jeep become bogged down in the sand in front of us. I didn't need to be told, I knew it was "go time" , which is why I was half way out the truck already when the driver tapped my on the shoulder and waived me towards the stuck vehicle to help get him out of our way. This wasn't mud, this wasn't snow, which I am quite used to pushing vehicles out of, it was sand, so I knew it wouldn't be to tough. My only concern was making sure I translated whether we where pushing him forward or backwards as i didn't feel like getting a tire track tattoo on this trip. We quickly had the jeep on its way and it was just a few short minutes before we got to the dunes. Unfortunately we only had 45 minutes at these dunes but we made the best of our time climbing to a really nice peak where we took in the views all around us and watched the many tourists running up and down throughout the vast sandy landscape. Another unfortunate item to note was that our camera had died so we did not getting any pictures while at the dunes. Feel free to Google Mui Ne white sand dunes to see what we saw, it is worth the time to look for sure.

When we returned from the jeep tour, the next stop was dinner out as it was after all Valentine's Day. We settled on Jibes surf shop and restaurant as we knew they were putting on a buffet that night. The meal was excellent, with plenty of variety for everyone's tastes. Now, one thing I will make note of, was that as we ate our dinner just 60 feet from the ocean, I began to notice some of our furry little friends racing between the large stash of surf boards lined up against the shop (rats). This was not an uncommon scene for us by now, but for those that may be making their first trip to south east Asia you may want to prepare yourself for this. For the record, we never once got sick from any food and we enjoyed almost every meal we had, but there are some standards you are going to have to compromise when it comes to dinning out or else you may never eat or you will go broke eating at the really expensive places. But if you are eating those expensive places then you may as well have went somewhere else as you will be missing out on some of the real parts of Vietnam (my opinion only).

Our last day in Mui Ne I decided just to take some time to chill and catch up on some writing while Sherry rented a bike again and toured around the town. It was nice to have the downtime and to enjoy the rang garden bungalow poolside area.
That evening we paid up our tab at the hotel, had a good chat with Tan and then crawled into bed for a good sleep as we needed to be up around 5:00 in the morning to catch our bus to Dalat which was 6 hours away - no big deal though at least we had a sleeper bus to ride on.....

Just a quick final note on our time in Mui Ne.... It was really nice to be out of the city and in a more relaxed environment, but I am not sure if this was the best beach area we could have went to during our time in Vietnam. A couple other places we heard a lot of good things about are Nha Trang and Hoi An. As with all our other stops we certainly have no regrets about our time spent in Mui Ne, but the cleanliness and the immediate access to sandy beach was a bit of a take away from the overall experience. You never know unless you try something for yourself and I am glad we had the opportunity to try Mui Ne out!

Cheers,

Shayne and Sherry

Posted by Shewy 18:32 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

That's it for Thailand, Good Morning Vietnam (Had to do it)

Ho Chi Minh (city) - Holy Sh*t

sunny 32 °C

So it's been awhile since my last post, but we have been on the move pretty good for the last two weeks and I have been writing, just haven't had the time to edit and post. With that being said, you should see a few posts back to back, along with lots of pictures very soon.

On February 10th we spent our final few hours in Thailand as Sherry ran out to try and get us some currency for Vietnam and I continued to pack my bags. Unfortunately the currency didn't work out as the banks or money exchange places didn't seem to carry the Vietnamese Dong. Not sure why, but we where fortunate enough to be able to get some when we arrived at the Chiang Mai airport. To get to Vietnam we needed to take a 1 hr 15 min flight to Bangkok and then connect up with a 1.5 hr flight to Ho Chi Minh City which is in the south of Vietnam and is also known as Saigon. After the Vietnam war and the defeat of the South by the North, Saigon was renamed after the leader of the North who was Ho Chi Minh. Don't thank me for that little history lesson, thank Wikipedia hahaha. Both our flights went fine and we had no issues with the connections. Once we got to Vietnam we would have to go through the Visa approval process which, as I expected, did take some time. Even though we had applied for and received our visa on arrival approvals already we still had to wait in a somewhat disjointed line up to process our Visa's and of course pay the man. After about an hour we finally made some progress getting our forms and passports submitted for stamping and approval which was a welcome victory. Next we just needed to wait in the cue to hear our names called and we where good to go. Now this is when I noticed that almost everyone had out American currency to pay for their approvals and then I realized we did not. I asked a few people if they knew whether or not it was a strict policy on the U.S. currency and was eventually told by a lady working there that they would accept Thai baht. Well she was right...but the exchange rate was not very favourable at all - lesson learned, make sure you are packing the exact amount needed to purchase your visa type when entering Vietnam. After that was dealt with we exited the airport into a crowd that would have made you think we where rock stars. Hundreds of people where crowded around waiting to pick up people and take them to their hotels, but we just worked out way past the masses and headed for the taxi line up. Before we could flag a cab we were waived down by another couple who where from Idaho and who where looking for someone to split a cab with. After a brief chat we grabbed a cab and headed out. The cab driver was being bit coy about the price and we found out why quickly. He refused to give us the rate we where after and the next thing I knew the guy from Idaho had the back door open as moved through traffic and was getting out. The cabby quickly told him he would pull over, which he did and we got out. After a little bit of chatting with some cabs lined up in the street we found a guy that would take us to our destination for half the price of what the other guy quoted us. Now, there is some sort of fee that the drivers have to pay to the airport to be able to pick people up at the gates which I am sure was part of the reason why the first guys price was so high but it didn't account for all of it. It isn't too far to get right out of the airport gates so if you are travelling light you might be able to walk out to the road to grab a cab or just do a better job then we did of confirming price before hopping in.

Ho Chi Minh city is absolutely crazy and is pretty overwhelming at first glance. We had a long travel day, I was getting pretty hungry and a little bit tired too, so masses of scooters, continuous horn honking and insane traffic manoeuvres did not sit too well with me. After checking in and dumping our bags off we headed out to get some food and to tour around a bit. Sherry could tell I was still feeling overwhelmed as my eyes bulged out of my head watching the crazy traffic fly by, along with what looked like near misses all over the place. There where bright lights everywhere in district 1 which is where we stayed and I couldn't make heads or tails of what I was looking at for quite a while. After walking around for about an hour, it was 9:00pm and we finally found a place to eat. The prices where a bit higher then what we expected but we just needed something in our stomachs. After our meal we noticed the same couple we shared the cab with rolling by in the streets so we flagged them down and they came in for a beer. Chad told us some stories about his travels all over the world and about how he only works 4 months out of the year at a Christmas tree farm then spends the rest travelling and picking up small jobs here and there. This was the first big travel for he and his partner Jen together and they where going to buy a motorbike and head up north with three months to spend in Vietnam. It was really cool getting to hear about their adventures and we enjoyed their company. I was finally starting to calm down a bit and settle into my surroundings but it was still sensory overload for sure.
We only had one full day in HCMC so we decided to pick a couple spots we really wanted to see and not try to jam too much in. For me it was the War Museum and for Sherry it was the women's museum. The War museum was a very real eye opening experience and I would recommend this to anyone. For 15,000 dong, or just under a dollar Cdn you get to see military planes, helicopters, tanks and 3 floors of exhibits depicting the horror that was the Vietnam war. Of course the perspective is one sided so you have to take it with a grain of salt, but that doesn't change how real it made a war that happened over a half a century ago feel. Graphic photo's showing the torture of prisoners and the impacts of the Americans use of agent orange sent chills throughout my body. After 2 hours of touring around the museum I left with a very somber feeling but had no regrets about the time spent there. It was just another reminder of how fortunate I have been to grow up in Canada and to have not been exposed to the tragic effects of war. The women's museum definitely of more interest for Sherry then me, but you have to make sure that when you are travelling with other people, not just your spouse, that you make time for the things that are important to them as well. It is easy to slip into the selfish mode where you only put energy into doing what you want to do, communication is key! A pleasant surprise was that the women's museum was free of charge and there where almost 4 floors of exhibits detailing how the Vietnamese women's way of dressing has been influenced over time, how they where intricately involved in supporting the war efforts, along with how the women's movement has been supported and grown as whole.

Legs tired from all the walking we had done we took a rest back at our hotel then headed out for some dinner and another early night as we had to be up around 5:00 to catch our bus to Mui Ne which is a surf and fishing down located right along the coast of the South China Sea. I am undecided still whether I needed more time in Ho Chi Minh city but I know Sherry really enjoyed her time there and could see going back again. I think once you get over the initial shock of the traffic and congestion and you adjust your pace and movements to match that of city, then things become much easier and enjoyable. For some this may never happen and for others it is an easy transition. Well I am happy to say we made it to our bus on time and landed in Mui Ne and I will have some on our experiences there shortly! One little quick travel tip is to look up the best places for taking our money before going to an ATM. Citibank and Commonwealth of Australia seemed to give the best rates, but if you are not careful you can easily be tossing away up to $8 dollars on a transaction. Some ATM's may appear to have low fees, but they also only allow you to take out small amounts, which forces you To make more transactions, so in the end you really haven't saved anything. A quick google search will help you to find the best ATM's. Also there is places for food and drink to be found and as long as you are willing to walk a few blocks out of the core of district 1, you will find significantly better prices for your meals. Not much different than any other city, you pay for convenience.

Cheers,

Shayne and Sherry

Posted by Shewy 17:33 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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