A Travellerspoint blog

July 2011

Our Oz adventure begins...

2 action-packed weeks to kick off our stay in Australia

sunny 24 °C

After a fond farewell to Southeast Asia, via Singapore Airport, it took two flights to make it to Australia where we are due to stay for the next two months. The flights themselves totalled 12 hours, and even though we had a quick hour stop at Darwin in the middle we were very glad to make it to Cairns as we both didn't manage too get much sleep.

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We had booked in with Caravella Hostel, and they gave us a free pick up from the Airport which was cool. After putting our bags in our room we headed straight out to find out what the place was like. Being in Australia was quite strange at first, as we had been used to chaotic Asian cities with strange smells and noises going on, but in Australia it is much more like home so that was weird to get used to. Cairns itself was lovely, it was obvious quite a bit of money had been thrown at it for tourism as there was a massive (and free) swimming lagoon, a long promenade, free BBQs to use and even exercise areas for energetic types.

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It didn't take long before we took the opportunity of going in the lagoon as the weather was nice and hot (although a few degrees cooler than in Singapore!). The only problem with the lagoon is that nights are quite cold in Australia, so the water was literally freezing. Kayleigh dipped her toe in and decided against going in, while Phil went in for a swim after hesitating at first!

One of the main differences we've found with being in Australia now is how expensive everything is, particularly food and drink. This means we have been cooking our own food a lot more using various Hostel's kitchens as well as the free BBQs which were lined up along the beach. We absolutely loved getting some nice steak going on the barbie, sharing a bottle of wine together (as its cheaper than beer) and watching the sun go down, bliss!

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On the following night we bought some sausages and burgers and headed to the BBQs to enjoy another night by the sea. However there was a large group of people joining in a free yoga session (about 200-300 people) so all of the BBQs were taken up, doh! We decided to sit on one of the benches and eat the only other food we had, a cheese board with 4 different cheeses as well as a bottle of red wine. So looking like posh so-and-so's we ate the cheese with some french bread and polished off the wine, needless to say by the end we were pretty damn drunk and loving every second!

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Our main reason for coming to Cairns was to check the Great Barrier Reef, which stretches all down the North-Eastern coast and is easily accessible here. We booked a day snorkelling tour and went to two different Reef sites which were both very different. The first, Michaelma's Cay, was a small island with lots of colourful fish, really clear water and many different types of coral to see. We spent about an hour and a half here, swimming around the shore and back to the boat. The island itself had a fenced off area of about 20 metres, as the rest of the island is a bird sanctuary for thousands of birds.

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After enjoying some buffet lunch on the cataraman, we headed to the next stop which was Paradise Reef. This was a site more out at sea, but when we got in we realised the sea was pretty choppy and it was much harder than at Michaelma's Cay. We got to see some other types of fish and coral, and had about an hour or so to enjoy it. By the end we were absolutely knackered but it was a brilliant day!

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We stayed in Cairns for 5 nights and decided our next destination would be Townsville, a city 6 hours south. Before leaving the UK we bought Greyhound Bus passes which entitle us to travel south between Cairns and Sydney as much as we like, as long as we don't go north. These have turned out to be brilliant purchases, as the buses here are expensive when buying trips one at a time so we've saved money already after a few journeys. The buses are also really good here, reliable, clean, nice drivers who actually tell you where we're going (not a lottery like in Thailand!) and radio / DVDs playing on longer journeys.

In Townsville we were staying at the Civic Guest House Hostel in a 4-bed dorm room, and managed to get a free pick up from the bus station on arrival. The city was quite similar to Cairns, we spent a full day checking out the beach and the impressive gardens along the coast.

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As we were only staying for one full day we didn't get to see too much else, but with the weather nice and warm we enjoyed chilling out and taking it easy for a change!

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Next, we headed 4 hours by bus to Airlie Beach, the main stopping point for trips to the gorgeous Whitsunday islands. The hostel we stayed at, Airlie Waterfront Hostel, was practically 100 metres from the bus stop so instead of being lazy we walked to it with our bags! :-)

We spent the day exploring Airlie Beach, looking around the bay and the lagoon before booking our next snorkelling trip, we really fancied another go after such a good experience in Cairns. That evening we enjoyed homecooked spag bol with a lovely bottle of red wine, before heading to Magnums a local bar for a few scooners of Tooheys beer.

The next day we were up early excited about our trip. Arriving at the Marina we boarded Big Fury, a huge speedboat, and at an impressive speed headed out to our first stop, Border Island. It took an hour to get there and with the boat going so fast we were completely wind swept, Phil's hair especially was pretty funny.

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Ater quick instructions from the tour manager we changed into our wetsuits, grabbed our snorkelling equipment and jumped into the freezing cold sea. The weather on the day was windy and overcast which unfortunately made the water a little murky, but with the water being so shallow the coral and fish were still just as beautiful as our last trip. This time the tour manager threw fish food into the water while we snorkelled, the result was us being surrounded by hundreds of various types of fish, all swimming through our legs and around us.

Our second and last stop was Whitehaven beach one of Australia's most beautiful beaches, where on the right day and time the sand swirls with the different currents of the sea and creates a marble effect. We got off the boat and enjoyed a tasty lunch, and shared some of it with the local lizards that have been accustomed to vistors throwing them bits of leftovers. For the rest of the afternoon we relaxed on the beautiful beach, the sand like flour beneath our feet and with the view of the surrounding rainforest it was simply a wonderful end to the trip....or so we thought.

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Making our way back to the marina on Big Fury we were taking in the views of the other Whitsunday Islands when a gentleman on board shouted "Whale". With it being the beginning of the migration season for humpback whales we were all hoping that we might catch a glimpse of the whales, but with it being so early it was quite unlikely. BUT, we did. Check out the video below of the two whales we saw that were swimming along our boat. Amazing!!

The next day we checked out and caught the Greyhound bus to Rockhampton, the beef capital of Oz. The 7 hour journey passed quite quick and again we were picked up from the bus station from our hostel the Rockhampton YHA. We arrived at the perfect time, on a Friday night at 7pm. Friday nights in Rockhampton are reserved for bullriding and enjoying steak and beer at the Great Western Hotel, so that's exactly what we did. Neither of us knew quite what to expect, but when we arrived there was a large arena, a BBQ, a bar and all the locals enjoying the night dressed in all their best cowboy gear.

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We grabbed a drink and sat in the stands ready to watch the rodeo competition begin. Those people are crazy. With the bulls doing everything they could to kick them off their backs the competitors held on for dear life. Some lasted just a few seconds, while others managed to hold on for longer to the elation of the crowd. The guy in the video below actually came second overall.

While we were there it would have been an insult not to indulge in a nice steak as they are supposed to be the best in Australia, so we joined the queue for the BBQ and ordered 2 steak sangas which were massive and sooo good. We were then really greedy and had some chips as well. Yum. We had a great night, it felt like we were in an old American western movie.

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The rest of our time in Rockhampton was spent looking around the local town centre, we visited their art gallery which was exhibiting aboriginal pieces and had the Melbourne Cup on display. There wasn't really anything else we wanted to do in Rocky so we relaxed until it came time to leave. Our next stop Brisbane....an 11 hour overnight bus journey that would take us half way down the coast on our way to Sydney.

We've got just under 2 weeks before we are due to meet up with the Buckleys in Mount Annan which we are both really excited for, until then though we still have so much more to fit in.

Speak to you all again soon.

Lot's of love,

Phil and Kayleigh

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Posted by JoyRyderRTW 01:34 Archived in Australia Tagged snorkelling singapore australia lagoon darwin bbq cairns great_barrier_reef rodeo whitehaven_beach townsville rockhampton airlie_beach joyryderrtw michaelmas_cay paradise_reef steak_sanga Comments (6)

Goodbye Thailand, hello Malaysia and Singapore

Making our way down through KL, Melaka and Singapore

sunny 29 °C

We stayed in Koh Phangan another 5 nights after the Full Moon Party, by which time with a touch of cabin fever we were definitely ready to get off the Island and start making our way to Malaysia.

After a one night stay in Surat Thani (and one night is enough, there is nothing there) we hopped on a train to Hat Yai where we would change trains and head straight for Kuala Lumpur (KL). The train to Hat Yai was fairly pleasant, with local people hopping on and off in between stops selling fried chicken for us hungry travellers. The train did take over an hour longer than it should have done and we were starting to worry that we would miss our connection to KL. However our worrying was without cause as when we arrived, with time to spare, the train was fully booked. Doh. What to do?? We were almost marched to the nearest bus tour operator by a group of around 8 local guys who were repeating – “the bus to KL leave now”. After asking the price the cheeky sods wanted 850baht each for the journey. Politely we said we would think about it and left. Around the corner we nipped into another operator who offered us the same journey for 450baht each. That's more like it!

A 9 hour overnight bus journey was all it took to arrive in KL. While the bus had nice comfy seats that reclined all the way, they had the air-con on full for the whole journey (as they do all over Asia) so it was like being in a freezer with only a blanket to keep the warmth! Luckily for us, the bus pulled in just outside Puduraya bus station at 5am which was perfect, as it was just a 5 minute walk to our hostel. We couldn't check in until 12pm, so we crashed on the sofa and chatted to Ali the night manager and watched a couple of episodes of Lie to Me. Haha. After a (cough cough) Mackies breakfast we relaxed a bit and then in the afternoon headed over to the see the huge, twin Petronas Towers and have a look around the Suria KLCC shopping centre; we ended up watching the Green Lantern at the cinema and having yet another Indian meal for tea. When we left it was dark and the Petronas towers were all lit up, and looked quite spectacular.

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The next day we took the LRT to the very busy Petalling Street in China Town. We browsed the different stalls selling clothes, jewellery, herbs and fruit etc, before having some lunch. Lunch was good, we tried quite a few things that we weren't quite sure what they were - but decided not to ask. lol. Kayleigh did get fooled into picking what looked like a very juicy piece of chicken that was in fact tofu. Yuck.

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It rained for most of the afternoon so we spent our time looking around yet another shopping centre – there are loads, all of them huge (Kayleigh and the girls on a shopping trip would be in heaven). At the night we walked to Menara Tower to take in the impressive night view of KL, it was pretty magical. Before we left we had a laugh on the F1 simulator, (Phil was not impressed that his turn on the simulator was cut short due to the place closing...grrr) ,we then continued on the night at Brussels Beer Cafe for some drinks. Good times!

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Our last full day in KL was very relaxed, we window shopped at a variety of shopping centres around the Golden Triangle before finishing the night at the cinema again, this time we watched Super8. That's it for KL, we had such a short amount of time to spend in Malaysia that the next day we moved on, happy enough though that we had taken in the key 'to-dos' while we were visiting.

Our next destination in Malaysia was Melaka, a lovely old-fashioned city by the coast (and a World Heritage city), it only took a quick 2 hour bus to get there. On arriving we headed out to check the various cafes and restaurants by the river, all lit up it was very pretty indeed.

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The next day we went out to explore the city further, going to A'Famosa, the ancient Portuguese fort, the maritime museum and the town square. One of the main reasons we chose to stay in Melaka was for the prominent Portuguese influence, particularly as we had wanted to try El Diablo Curry (Devils Curry). Its a mix of Portuguese, Malay and Indian food, we had made some before leaving the UK and it was very tasty.

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The Portuguese settlement in Melaka was a good hour trek out of the city centre, so we made our way there and were suprised to find the locals celebrating 500 years of having lived there, a definite bout of good-timing! The locals were outside cooking different foods, competing in 'the best St Peter boat model', playing live music and generally having a great time. Our first port of call was to sit down and have some Devils Curry, and as we had expected, it was absolutely gorgeous. The day was made complete by enjoying the sunset by the sea!

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With our time in South East Asia running out, we moved onto Singapore as we fly to Australia today (4th July). Another bus journey was the easiest and cheapest option, with just 5 hours being all it took to cross the border. Luckily for us, the bus happened to terminate about 10 minutes from the hostel we had booked, Betel Box Hostel, where we were staying for 3 nights in a 20-bed mixed dorm.

One of the main reasons we had chosen to stay at this specific hostel was to go on the 'legendary food tour of Singapore' run by the owner, Tony. Fortunately, the tour was due to start half an hour after we checked in, and as we were both pretty hungry it was great timing to head out. We were joined on the tour by 21 other people, some from our hostel and others who had heard of it elsewhere, and we were all treated to a tour of the local area, a visit to a green grocers to try exotic fruits and then being taken to a local restaurant to sit down and enjoy about 20 different dishes.

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To be honest, some of the foods weren't to our taste, but we tried everything which included fish curry, beef randang, chilli crab, shrimp noodles and lots more. We were even given a number of different Chinese deserts to try, which we weren't massive fans of as they were pretty bland (and lacked some serious sugar our Western taste-buds were used to!) The tour was really well planned, and we were surprised with how much knowledge of Singapore Tony gave us, for example, he explained how its technically illegal for men to have hair longer than 7 inches and how hanging is still used as punishment!

The next day we got up to enjoy the free breakfast included at the hostel, and went out to explore the city with Pascal, a German we had met on the food tour the previous night. After taking the train to the centre, we went to the Marina Bay to see the city in the sun, as well as checking out the Merlion (half lion, half fish) which guards the river. Once we were getting hungry, a quick walk to China Town was in order to enjoy some lovely stall food.

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We decided to take a look at the other ''Singapore to-do's'' the following day, again going out with Pascal to see Little India, which was awash with shops playing bollywood music and the smell of Indian spices everywhere. Pascal had a friend who lived in Singapore, Grace, who met up with us along with her friend's little lad who she was baby-sitting for the day, 4 year old Daniel. She was really nice and gave us her own guided-tour of Singapore which included Hindu and Buddhist temples as well as a walk along the river. At first Daniel was very shy, but ended up coming to life and playing around with all 3 of us, particularly Phil, who he seemed to take a liking to (Phil thinks its cos he found his face funny!)

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Again, we were very lucky with timing, as the city was practicing for its up-coming National Day Parade, so there were helicopters flying overhead with the Singapore flag, passing jet planes, sky-divers, bands performing songs, a light show from the Marina and best of all a massive fireworks display which lit up the night sky. It was amazing to get to see it all really!

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Our last day in Singapore (and really SE Asia) was very relaxed, although we did enjoy a nice Muslim / Indian meal at ZamZams, a restaurant present in the city since 1908. This was followed by a few beers at a pub by the river, and as the Wimbledon final was on, we just had to watch it all (we were cheering for Djokavic). With the time difference being 7 hours, the match finished at 12pm, and we rushed to make the last train home but missed it by 2 minutes, doh! Not to worry though, a quick taxi ride got us back to the hostel, with fine memories of our last night.

So on to Australia next, we fly to Cairns in the North-East where we have a month to make our way down to Sydney, we can't wait!

Speak soon,

Love Phil and Kayleigh

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Posted by JoyRyderRTW 03:16 Archived in Singapore Tagged kuala_lumpur singapore fireworks kl melaka merlion petronas_towers wimbledon joyryderrtw devils_curry suria_klcc marina_bay Comments (1)

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