A Travellerspoint blog

October 2009

Tales from the land they call down under

Where the beaches are plentiful and the sun quite often shines

sunny 30 °C
View Round the world in about 365 days!! on machine's travel map.

I landed in Sydney on a glorious, but very early saturday morning and was picked up by my good friend from back home Gunny, I had not seen Gunny for about 2 and half years, so after an emotional hello we went back to bed for a few more hours kip! When we eventually got up we made breakfast, in true Gunny style he had what was very nearly English bacon, certainly the best I had tasted since leaving England and English recipe beans to boot! You can take the Gunny out of England, but you cannot take the England out of Gunny!

Gunny lived in a area of Sydney called Coogee, I had actually been here many years before during my first visit to Oz back in 2002. Nice part of Sydney with a good beach and a couple of good boozers, including the Coogee Bay Hotel (CBH), which is famous for been the biggest pub in the Southern Hemisphere! God knows why Gunny choose this location!

As it was a lovely day we trotted down to the beach and gave a surprise hello to a slightly hungover Danny and newly wed missus, Gemma! Danny later informed me that he thought Gunny had got talking to one of the local beach bums when he first saw me, though to be honest he never has been the sharpest tool in the box!! With Dan's comments in mind it wasn't long before I treated myself to a hair cut whilst I was in a country with hair dressers that I trusted, only a slight trim you will be pleased to know….

After an afternoon reminiscing and catching up with my old friends I moved my stuff to Danny and Gemma's house where I would have my own room, this was a luxury I had become accustomed to been without! I must say that both Dan and Gemma were very good hosts and looked after me well, though Gem I never did get that Sunday lunch with Yorkshire puddings and Gemma also kept feeding me up on chocolate...

That first night we spent celebrating Gunnys girlfriend Amelia's (yes all those of you that know Richard, that is not a typo! He has actually netted himself quite a catch) birthday in the palace pub. Between all my friends from back home they had managed to meet lots of other like minded people and I wasn't long before I was getting on well with them, I was trying to think of a saying that would sum up this sort of situation, but could only come up with shit attracts shit, but that doesn't quite get the message across in the right way….. or maybe its does :-) Thinking about it I think thats not even a real saying and could be a Matthew Walkerism...... By the way congratulations to Matt and Rachel on news of their pregnancy!

I would have nearly three weeks in Oz, for the first few days I took the opportunity to catch up with some business I had to sort out back home and generally lead an almost normal life but on the other side of the world and with a 9 hours time difference from England! I would goto the gym, do shopping, clean up the house, make cakes and many other things that probably are not not very interesting blog topics, I suppose I am just trying to emphasise that it no longer felt like I was backpacking! Though to be honest I could hardly afford to step out of the house, Australia certainly isn't a cheap place with the pound being so weak, a schooner of beer, thats 425ml, not even a pint is about 5 quid!!

One of the main reasons for having a longer time in Oz was that one of my friends Phil was coming all the way from England for a two week jolly! I think in hindsight he wishes he had a bit longer, but still was good to see him. Phil arrived on the Thursday and all four (Dan, Gemma, Gunny & I) of us picked him up, Gunny and I had been on the beach followed by the CBH all afternoon and were a little inebriated so say the least. We were also in the dog house also we were meant to be cooking for Dan and Gem and instead had to be dragged out of the pub to pick up Phil, not without getting a pie and mash from the world famous Garlo's I might add! This was the first day of Gunny's two weeks of holiday from work and he was already getting me into trouble!

That night we went to the Kings Cross area for another one of our friends birthdays from back home, Jo! Jo is over from England on a working holiday. We topped up our alcohol levels a little bit more and talked about the weekend to come, celebrating Jo's birthday up in Terrigal in a swish pad we had rented out.

The next morning another one of my good friends from back home Noel also arrived in Sydney, Noel is moving over to Oz for the foreseeable future so it was really good timing. Love it when a good plan comes together!

On a sunny friday we set off on the 90km or so drive to Terrigal, as you can see the pad we stayed in was pretty nice to say the least!! The idea of the weekend was to make the most of the house, soak up the sun by the pool and celebrate Jo's birthday in style. We were really lucky with the weather, bearing in mind that Sydney was in middle of spring we were having days where the temperature was getting into 30's, not bad really! We did have an incident where we got caught in a rip tide down at the beach, I wasn't too worried as I got my gold swimming badge at the age of 10, but a couple or the guys had a bit of a fright, just goes to show you how dangerous the Ozzy sea can be!

Though we were in this plush pad my sleeping arrangements had gone distinctly downhill, both Noel and I being the gentleman that we are offered to sleep on the floor as there were not enough beds for everyone, OK it was because we are tight yorkshire man came and were happy not to pay full whack for a bed. We ended up sleeping on the top floor of the apartment, we woke up at the crack of dawn next morning boiling hot, partly due to it having no curtains and also virtually all the walls were actually windows, from that morning on it was labelled as the green house! The second night I slept underneath the staircase to try and get away from the daylight and Noel slept underneath the glass table…… though he did get woken up in the middle of the night by a bird that had sneaked in and started shitting all over him, bird of the feathered variety, of course!!

After getting back from Terrigal we had a few days and nights of Manly beach, obligatory opera house visit, drinks in Bondi, watched bizarre red sand storms & playing the odd game of poker! Gambling is massive in Oz, I played poker a few times and actually found myself really enjoying it and can certainly see how people get addicted. Don't worry Mum I am not going to gamble away the house, the extent of my poker playing was confided to 20 dollars one night at the rugby club, 9 dollars in the Melbourne Crown Casino and M&M's. This leads nicely onto our next road trip, The Great Ocean Road (GOR)!!

On another splendid sunny Friday morning we grabbed a taxi to the airport and headed to a not so sunny Melbourne. The rest of the day was spent looking round, couple of hours in the casino, food and drinks in st. Kilda all whilst it rained! Whilst in Melbourne we were meeting up with my old college friend Phil, who has also literally just emigrated to Australia and would joining us on the GOR. Another really good opportunity to see a good friend that I had not seen for nearly a year and if I were not to see him in Oz would probably not see him for another 2/3 years. Anyone would have thought this was planned……. Couldn't be further from the truth….

After a our night out in Melbourne we picked up the the mini van and hit the road, no sooner had we left Melbourne the rain started! It rained and rained, when we eventually got to the ferry on the Mornington Peninsula it just about stopped raining, so much for the scenic drive down. Still sprints were still high so we had a few games of poker to pass the 45 minute ferry crossing and ate skittles.

We would have two nights on the GOR which would be spent at Lorne and Port Campbell, I had done the GOR back in 2002 so I thought it was rather nice to see all the attractions but in much stormer and far moody weather than my previous visit. We saw all the main highlights which included the lighthouse from going round the twist, Bells Beach, the setting for the great old time classic Point Break starring Patrick Swayze, the 12 apostles and some of the most stunning ocean scarred scenery I have ever seen. Whilst on the subject of Patrick, it was only about a week after his tragic death and you can be rest assured he was in all our thoughts during our visit to Bells beach.

We spent our Saturday evening in the Lorne Hotel and experienced a genuine local yokel evening complete with dodgy band, fight and Gunny betting all his hard earned cash on some silly game called Keno and the greyhounds! This time next year Richard Gunn will be at gamblers anonymous, fact!

Back in Sydney my time was coming to an end so after a day chilling and 'surfing' on Bondi we all had a nice leaving meal in Darling Harbour and early the next morning I got my next flight to Christchurch, New Zealand for my next adventures…….

What did my time in Australia mean to me? The answer to that is that is meant a lot, it was like home from home as I had so many good friends from back home there Gunny, Gemma, Danny, Phil, Jo, Noel and Phil 2, all made my visit memorable and homely. Sydney was also the new people that I met virtually over night and enjoyed their company immensely, there are too many to mention but I am sure they all know who are they are. Australia is the place where the sun nearly always shines, the waves nearly always leave you for dead and the scenery is literally jaw dropping. Sydney for me was a nice break from all the trauma of travelling and enabled me to have an actual home for a few weeks, some of best days I had were just pottering around the house with Gemma (who is also now pregnant, lets hope is gets it genes from the Banks side), watching Ellen and eating chocolate!

So whilst I left Australia having to say goodbye to many good friends and that in itself made it hard, many of them will be back home by the time I get back and many of them are making goods lives for themselves and I couldn't be more happy for them! Bon voyage, until the next time!

More pictures of Sydney & Terrigal at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=334113&id=650820432&l=d1e4aa9401
More pictures of the Great Ocean Road at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=334126&id=650820432&l=097a0300c3

Posted by machine 03:32 Archived in Australia Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

South East Asia on a shoestring or should it be flip flop?

Back to the warmer climates and cheaper prices

sunny 35 °C
View Round the world in about 365 days!! on machine's travel map.

As soon as I landed in Singers I am immediately welcomed with a wall of humid heat. I make my way to Sam's, the hostel we are staying in. Waited around for my brother (Mark), seems he was doing the good old tourist thing and treating himself to a few cocktails over on Sentosa island. Mark had taken voluntary redundancy from the bank he was working at and managed to get himself a new job straight away, he had a bit of time to spare before starting his new job so came to meet me for a few weeks!

Here I am having a 20 quid Singapore Sling in raffles...

After an emotional hello we set down to business and decided where to goto next….

STOP THE PRESS……. As I write this I am nearly 2 months behind with my blog and I am certainly not getting as much time to work on my blog as I would like, therefore I am just going to stick with the nitty gritty facts and get caught up with things!! I know some of you maybe disappointed and I am sure others will rejoice in the fact that I will not be rattling on about so much rubbish!

24 hours and one drunken reunion later in Singers, Mark and I boarded a flight to Kuala Lumpur and spent the evening looking round the various night markets and having a couple more beers, was a pattern emerging? Mark was literally like a pig in shit when it came to the markets and all the clobber on offer, didn't take him long before he was filling his bag with fake Mont Blanc ties and Tiger beer t-shirts…

KL was a nice city and whilst certainly not as clean as Singapore is well worth a visit! Whilst in KL we went up the Pertronas twin towers, ate some good curries and generally got ourselves ready for some beach time! As Mark was with me for three weeks and I had already spent some time in South East Asia before, I was more than happy to let Mark decide what he wanted to do. Mark likes his beaches so beaches it was!! Good job Malaysia and Thailand have some cracking beaches to offer!

After a short but sweet visit of KL we boarded a night train to Penang, the sleepers were of really nice standard and if it weren't for the two guys snoring I think we would have had a great nights sleep! The train arrived in the early hours and we soon found ourselves checking into another cheap and cheerful hostel, due to his recent redundancy package Mark had the idea that we might stay in slightly better accommodation than grubby hostels. I said I would be happy to do so if he paid, being the tight Yorkshireman that he his, that was never going to happen, so hostel life it was for us……

Penang had a few nice temples and a cable car ride up the side of a mountain to offer, I also introduced Mark into some more street food! I think he was actually starting to enjoy the backpacking life.

After a good night out on the tiles in Penang we got the ferry across to the island of Langkawi and checked into the Gecko guest house! We spent three nights in Langkawi and mainly frequented the laid back bars, hitting the beach and I even got back into a bit of running on the beach with the help of a couple of girls Rachel and Holly! One thing I have really noticed whilst I have been away is that its hard to exercise, sometimes its enough hiking and walking around, but sometimes you just want to just break a good old sweat and doing so reminded me of just how much I really enjoyed it! By the way, that doesn't me I have let myself goto pot, my 30's are treating me very well, if I do say so myself! Whilst we were in Langkawi Mark celebrated his 29th birthday (won't be long before he catches up to me), we spent the day by the beach, ate sea bass for tea (sorry evening dinner) at a very nice restaurant, had a few drinks at bar Babylon on the beach and also found ourselves at the local nightspot The Sun Ba!

We then got the ferry over to the Thai boarder port of Saturn and then a bus up to the Thai town of Krabi. Krabi was a nice town with some great street food, whilst as nice as it was we didn't stick around too long, Mark was looking forward to some more beach action on the island of Koh Phi Phi.

We got the ferry across to Phi Phi and ended up staying in a really nice bungalow resort, as Mark has been to the Maldives and various other far flung beach resorts he is hard to please, but I think for the money he was pretty happy with the accommodation with its air con, fancy bed sheets and fridge in the room. Though I must admit the resort was the sort of place that would attract honeymooning couples, if we weren't brothers we could easily been mistaken for a couple of sausage jockeys (no offence intended) on their annual jaunt away! Still I have not really been to a island as pretty as Koh Phi Phi before and it was a pleasant change from grotty hostels and as r kid was paying this time, who was I to complain? There were no roads on Phi Phi and you could only get around by long boat, basically old wooden boats with a Toyoto Corolla or such like engine stuck on the back with a big propeller, the long boats would cost me big in the end, but more about that later!

Phi Phi had been hit hard by the 2004 Tsunami, though to look at it you would not think so! Whilst the area we were in was a really nice beach resort, the main town centre was like something from Ibiza with touts trying to get you into bars and clubs, its own street jam packed with brothels and 1000's of drunk tourists drinking copious amounts of Chang! Therefore whilst on our first night a Paradise Pearl Beach Bungalows and after just finishing dinner and realising that whilst Pearl Beach was a paradise, it was about of banging as a nunnery! With that in mind come 8pm we were on the last long boat over to the main town, come 8:15pm we were drinking our first rum bucket, come 2:00am we were heading back to Paradise Perl on a long boat whilst under the influence of numerous buckets, come 2:05am I found myself up to my neck in sea water as I failed in my attempt to exit from the long boat with grace. As the water in Thailand is about a constant 30 degrees and I was on the shore, it did not worry me too much until I realised what I had done! The night would turn out to be a very expensive night as both my iPhone, small digital camera were both soaked in salt water and I was minus my brand new Berkenstock sandals…. I had left my old, rather tatty but well used Berkenstocks in Singapore as I had arrange for r kid to bring some new ones out for me, so only a few days ago I had two pairs, now I had zilch!!

We has three nights on Phi Phi and apart from the incident it was a great place, we even managed another night out on the tiles on the last night!! Though that night we had to walk all the way back to Paradise Pearl as the water was too low by the time we set off back! If I remember rightly Mark was non too happy as we walked through jungle, beaches and rocky terrain! All I could do was walk, laugh and mearly state that this sort of stuff is character building and also may I add very good exercise!

The next stage in the Watson brothers travels was to board a boat to Phuket, we would then be flying to Koh Samui that evening. During our last night in Phi Phi we met a guy with his son and daughter (Rick, Brittan & Shannon), all I can say is that Rick was a legend and has spawned a couple of cracking children (though who are not children now, obviously), we all got on well and decided that we should hit the beach near the Phuket airport! I think we all agreed it was one of the best airport waiting lounges that we had been in.

That night we had a look around Koh Samui, if I am honest, it didn't do much for me. Most of the bars were full of Go-Go Girls and the streets were filled with old white men driving around on scooters with young pretty Thai girls on the back! The next morning we made a bee line for the ferry over to the party island of Koh Pang Yang.

Koh Pang Yang was also quite a nice island and is famous for the full moon parties, we were about a week too early for the full moon party but the beach on the evening was still very much a party atmosphere. We met a couple of Irish lads who were a good craick (as they would put it!), after an afternoon on the beach we got on the beer in the true Irish style. One of the bars in Koh Pang Yang is situated on mushroom hill, I don't know where it gets its name from but, lets just say its sells these mushroom shakes… Whilst I would usually prefer a good old strawberry shake to a mushroom shake we thought, whilst in Rome and all that…. A couple of shakes between us later the shakes were starting to take effect, Mark and the boys headed home and I saw in the sunrise with a few people I had met! I won't go into the nitty gritty of the evening, but a lot of what I thought was quite weird stuff went on involving dogs digging, other people helping the dogs to dig, colours moving in the sky like I have never seen before, Bruce Parry in the Amazon has nothing on Koh Pang Yang……

After a fairly quiet second day in Koh Pang Yang where everybody was feeling sorry for themselves, in fact I was the only one that made it down to the beach that day, we decided that we would get the boat across to the next island Koh Tao.

In Koh Tao I started a course to become a PADI certified scuba diver, Mark sat by the pool and had a mosey around the island and I read books, watched DVD's and generally learnt how to dive. We would be in Koh Tao for 4 nights, as I was diving most days I chose to take it easy on the booze, after all I had learnt my lesson with the sea sickness whilst cage diving in South Africa! It was in Koh Tao that I fell in love with diving, the feeling of freedom as you actually breath under water, the feeling of almost weightlessness is a thrill that I have only ever found in snowboarding before. The last night in Koh Tao we kicked back, enjoyed a few beers with people from my course / hotel and even visited one of the islands clubs! I now had a real taste for scuba diving, could I keep it up?

Mark's days in South East Asia were numbered, one morning we got a boat to the mainland and then a 6 hour bus to Bangkok, I had been to Bangers before 8 years ago so was looking forward to seeing how it had changed. From what I noticed Thailand in general had changed lots, the exoticness of travelling in a far away country has slightly been taken away from the country. What I mean is that when I was last in Thailand I remember getting old crappy buses and old crappy fishing boats, they have all now been superseded by fast ferries, air conditioned executive buses and other services and amenities that remind me of a tourist infrastructure like Spain, Bangkok was no different! Bangkok and especially the Koh San Road has been developed a lot, though if I am honest it has still managed to maintain some of its 'charm'. With its street stalls selling food, fake cloths and its little bars and cafes the Koh San Road is certainly not a bad place!

On the way up from Koh Tao we met a really nice chick called Sandra, she had actually been at the same dive school as me and was leaving on the same day as Mark. Whilst in Bangers we would have a few bevvies, listen to some Thai guy in a bar complete with guitar, dodgy English, singing good old acoustic classics, had our dead skin on our feet eaten away by Doctor fish and even managed to hit a couple of night clubs!

After an teary goodbye Mark and Sandra went for their flights and I gave some thought to my next destination.

After much thought, the next port of destination would be Cambodia. I would fly from Bangkok to Phenon Pheng the capital of Cambodia. Phenon Pheng felt like a cross between Thailand and India, certainly far less developed than bordering Thailand. I ended up meeting an oldish Scottish guy called Graham, who I somehow ended up in a tuk tuk with and somehow ended up sharing a room with! He was a bit of an oddball but thats nothing new me attracting weirdoes, he was quite a nice chap really, knew a fair bit about Cambodia and thankfully didn't snore! We had a curry, walked round the night market and generally took in the city!

Whilst in Phenon Pengh I bought myself some fake Birkenstocks, which I was happy with and even thought that they might be a great replacement for the real thing! You might think that this was to replace the ones I lost in Phi Phi, you would be wrong I had gone through a record number of 2 more pairs of Havaianas since I lost the Berkies….. One pair lost in Koh Pang Yang, probably on mushroom hill somewhere and another pair in Koh Tao lost on the beach somewhere. I was not having a good time of it, the fake Berkies unfortunately didn't cut the mustard and the soles wore down after less than 24 hours of use! I asked Phil my friend from England who I would be meeting in Oz a few weeks later to get me a pair to bring over. Moral of the story, you get what you pay for!

Early the next morning I visited the Killing Fields, this is where the mass graves of all the people that were executed during the Pol Pot regime. That afternoon I jumped on the bus for a 6 hour journey to Sihanoukville, this is where I would get my second dose of scuba diving! This would be in the form of the dive centre that a friend (James) I met in India had recommended.

After one night in Sihanoukville we got an old fishing boat (this was more like the travelling I had become accustomed to) over to the island of Sam Leom, whilst not intentional I would end up spending 7 wet but happy days on the island. The island itself had a population of about 50 people who mainly lived off the land and sea. The dive school had built a couple of very basic dormitories on the boat pier and had employed some locals to cook 'food' in the kitchen. I call it food but seven days of rice for breakfast, dinner and lunch did take its toll, I am slightly exaggerating, but not much, seriously!

I actually was only meant to be on the island for 4 days, but ended up getting stuck on the island due to a bad storm. None of the dive boats or fishing boats were going out! They say that every cloud has a silver lining and whilst it was mainly rain cloud over the island of Sam Leom I think the silver lining came in the form of the group of people doing some coral conservation research diving. Being the dive schools only client on the island the research team adopted me. I can honestly say that Miriam and the gang gave me many hours of amusement, especially as I was on the island for their Saturday night piss up! Here is young Alex getting 'Harry Pottered' after passing out in the communal area! Moral of the story, no matter how drunk you get always make it to a bed….

Whilst on the island I managed to take my dive count up to 12 and also passed my PADI advanced scuba diver! On a very dull Tuesday morning we got on the boat for the 2 1/2 hour journey back to Sihanoukville. Once in Sihanoukville I decided to plan the next part of my trip, I wanted to goto Viatnam maybe Laos, but knew that I really did not have much time. With this in mind I decided to go and meet my air hostess mate Kelly in Singers for a night out and a promise of a nice dry, posh hotel room and seeing the great weather they were having in Sydney I moved my flight to Oz forward a few days and cut my time in South East Asia slightly

Whilst in Shanikoville I took the bold move of having a shave, with hindsight it was well overdue and was getting a bit wild as you can see from some of the pictures!!

Landed in Singers and was greeted with a rough feeling Kelly, she had been out the night before even though she was explicitly told her that she needed to be feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed for my arrival! Bad kelly! Still we had a good night out with a few people from her crew, tasted some of the great food court food of Singapore, had beers in Chimes bar, cleared out the mini bar and even managed to hook up with some of the Quantas crew that would be on flight QF7, the flight that I would be taking to Sydney the very next day. To give Kelly and her work mates their due, she did try and do her best to get me upgraded on the flight, I mean where better than having a few beers with the people that would actually be in charge of the cabin and the first officer in charge of actually flying the aircraft? Despite all their best efforts it seemed we were destined to fail, unfortunately I looked a bit of a scuffy (though actually a lot better than a few days ago as I had shaved) bastard, as one of the cabin crew from QF7 put it, fingers crossed for the next flight! :-)

After a lazy day feeling sorry for ourselves in Singer, Kelly and I said goodbye and I went to catch my peasant class flight to Sydney..……..

To summarise South East Asia, lovely place, smashing beaches, great food, fantastic people and jolly nice to catch up with r kid!! Slight pity that its got far more touristy, but I am pretty sure you can still find some hidden gems! Also I just scratched the surface, plenty more to go at!

Next stop Australia...

More photos of Singers & Malaysia at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=322111&id=650820432&l=ccfc9a4ff2
More photos of Thailand at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=322129&id=650820432&l=ba3226eeb
More photos of Cambodia at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=324970&id=650820432&l=0eb798666b
More photos of Singers with Kelly at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=328833&id=650820432&l=2f2253fd8d

Posted by machine 02:06 Archived in Thailand Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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