Monday, April 29, 2013

New Adventures...

Well, it's been a little over a month since I returned to Melbourne, and now I'm sitting in a Brisbane motel, preparing for an early morning flight overseas.

I won't elaborate on details, but I'll be going into full-time volunteer work in a nearby developing country for the next few months. As much as I love travelling, I also miss using my professional skills, and so this will be an opportunity to do both!

However, in the interests of maintaining the reputation of the program that I will be involved with, as well as maintaining good relations with the organisation and the country that I'll be working in, this blog may fall into a temporary hiatus.

But one thing is for sure - it'll be an adventure! Hopefully, I'll be able to tell you more about it later!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Holiday in Cambodia

So, I arrived at Nha Trang for the Vietnam Lindy Exchange, which was definitely a highlight of my month overseas. A weekend of dancing, swimming and hanging out with 80 or so other dancers from all over Asia and beyond. Then on Monday, I travelled through to Saigon, and succumbed to bit of a nasty cold, which is not the most fun in the soaring heat that I encountered there. After a few restful days, I boarded the bus, which took me over the border to Cambodia, and on Thursday evening I arrived in Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh is definitely a very charming city, with beautiful architecture and friendly smiles everywhere I went. I couchsurfed for a couple of nights with some young engineers, and in one of those freak coincidences, found out that their team leader was a former librarian whom I worked with in Darwin about five years ago! On the Friday evening, we all headed up to the city stadium, and joined in on the public khmer-pop aerobics, which was, strangely enough, one of the most awesome things I did in Phnom Penh.

Saturday morning took me on another bus to Siem Reap, and once I checked into my hotel, I jumped on a hire bike, and took myself to Angkor Wat. The temple region is a lot bigger than it looked on the map, and it was a good half hour or so before I reached anything resembling an ancient temple, but it was a lovely way to experience the grounds. Being late in the afternoon, it wasn't so hot, and I could avoid the bustle and pollution of roaring around in a tuk-tuk.

Then, the next morning, I rose at 5:30am-ish to make the obligatory visit to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise. Along with hundreds of other people. It was still worth it, and once the sun was up, it was the perfect opportunity to ride around to some more temples whilst the morning air was still cool. Three hours later, it was starting to heat up, and I started peddling back into town - past the dozens of tuk-tuks all queued up on the narrow streets, waiting to take their passengers in.

With my flight leaving that evening, I found a nice hotel that had a swimming pool that they allowed casual visitors into, and relaxed with some much-needed relief from the afternoon heat. One last mango smoothie later, the time came to bid farewell to Cambodia, and bring an end to my month of travelling around South East Asia.

Ahoy, Hoi An!

So, I arrived in Hoi An, and almost immediately I have that overwhelmingly disappointing sense of being caught in a tourist trap. Pretty much everybody who wasn't in a store or pushing a hawker stall was white. Fortunately, I'd only committed myself to being there for a day and a half, so I made the most of it, and strolled around town, trying the local food, including some Banh Mi that was made famous by an Anthony Bourdain documentary. It was pretty good, actually!

The next morning, I made the most of the local bicycle hire, and braved the traffic, once I was out of the old town area, it became a little more picturesque, and it wasn't far until I'd reached the nearby beach. I knew that this day would be my last opportunity to appreciate the cooler climates of Northern Vietnam, and weather-wise, I couldn't have asked for a more glorious day for cycling around the Vietnamese countryside.

It didn't start bucketing down until I arrived back at Da Nang station that evening, ready to travel on to Nha Trang...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The last train out of Hanoi's almost gone...

So, the next day, I caught the 11pm train from Ha Noi to Da Nang (SE3). It was my first time on a sleeper train, and it was surprisingly comfortable.

The next day, everybody in my carriage got out at Hue, and I was left with my sleeper cabin all to myself, which was a lovely way to spend the next couple of hours, with spectacular views outside. Eventually, I arrived at Da Nang, where I caught a taxi to take me to Hoi An......

Friday, April 19, 2013


So, I went to Ha Long Bay, which was kinda obligatory since I was in Northern Vietnam. However, I only had one day to fit it in, which involved a two and a half hour drive each way.

If I'd been travelling with friends, I would definitely have wanted to spend longer there, but to be honest, there's only so much natural beauty I can take, and after a few hours of cruising around the islands, I was ready to move on to the next stage of my adventure...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hello Hanoi!

So, I'd foolishly booked an early flight to Hanoi, leaving Bangkok at 7am, without first thinking of the logistics of getting to the airport. This, of course, meant setting my alarm clock for 4am, actually waking up at 4am, checking out of my hostel, spending ten minutes in a sleep deprived state haggling with taxi drivers who were unwilling to put their meter on to take me to the airport, and then getting to the airport with enough time to be checked in by 6am.

This was not fun.

Fortunately, I had the good sense to pre-organise a hotel transfer from Hanoi airport, as I was getting pretty fed up with taxi drivers by this stage, and the hotel was even kind enough to check me in early, at about 10am. Naps ensued, followed by spending the day wandering around the Old Town of Hanoi.

Hanoi definitely made an impression right from the start. I don't know if it was the colourful narrow streets, the bustle of busy shop owners, or the fact that I was in a much more bearable climate without the heat and humidity of the previous week and a half, but I felt much happier in this city - it just felt full of life. Yes, I got ripped off by a nice old lady selling donuts out of a basket, but the donuts were good, as was the Bun Cha that I had later in the day.

That evening, I went on a street food tour of the city, and discovered the wonders of Banh Cuon, Banh Mi (of the miniature variety), milk fruit (wow!), various barbecued things, and ended the evening with an intriguing coffee that had a meringue-like topping made from whipped egg white. It was interesting, but I don't think I'd have it again.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Two nights in Bangkok

So, after some relaxing days in Phuket, it was time for a change of pace, arriving in Bangkok late in the evening. Fortunately, this time the taxis were well-regulated at the airport, and before long I was on a meter taxi on the way into town.

After checking into my hostel, I wandered down to the local bar where I knew there would be a local rockabilly band, and possibly some dancers. However, to my surprise, I ran into a friend from my university days, who happened to be living in Bangkok. The world gets smaller, indeed.

A few other dancers arrived, and eventually a couple of us wandered down to the Patpong area of Silom - more out of an idle curiosity than anything else. And there it was, in all of its neon glory with, strangely enough, a touristy market right in the middle of it. Apparently this was introduced in recent years to make the area more family friendly, but unfortunately it's just made it more weird and creepy. I definitely felt conflicted and uncomfortable - even though I didn't pay to see any shows or anything - like just being in the area was contributing to the Thai sex industry.

The next day was one of idle wandering. I was definitely starting to feel a little culture shock and homesickness by this time, being ten days into my month away, and I was decidedly grumpy. Still, I made the most of some of the local street food, and visited Siam Square, which turned out to be a giant construction site. However, wandering into the food hall at the Siam Paragon department store, I was overjoyed to find a CoCo Ichibanya restaurant, and got my curry rice fix (although I was disappointed that they had no katsu sauce - nor did they know what katsu sauce was!).

Finally, that evening, I headed in to The Hop for some swing dancing. And it was a huge night, with a great local crowd plus quite a few international visitors passing through after SEA Jam and before VLX. I would have loved to have stayed on into the early hours, but I had a 7am flight to Hanoi to look forward to...

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Don't you Phuket about me...

So much has happened in the last five weeks since my last blog entry! I suppose I'll start there...

I "went travelling" for four weeks around South East Asia - or as others put it - I went "on holiday" although, as enjoyable as it was, there were definitely times when I felt far more exhausted than relaxed.

Anyway, five weeks ago, I boarded my AirAsia flight, and endured the eight-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, where I spent the weekend taking part in SEA Jam - a weekend of swing dance workshops during the day with some of the best teachers in the world, followed by social dancing late into the night. It was definitely the sweatiest dance weekend I've been to - I was running out of clean dry clothes by Saturday evening - but I learned plenty of new moves, and met a whole new scene of awesome dancers from Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, plus a substantial number of expats from Australia, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Sweden!

On the Monday, I headed on to the island of Phuket, Thailand, where I was to meet up with a group of Swedish dancers for a few days of beach-going, banana-pancake-munching, exploring and - of course - dancing. After having adjusted to the humid bustle of Malaysia, Thailand was definitely something else. Stepping out at the airport, I was immediately accosted by a number of enthusiastic taxi drivers, who I had the common sense to ignore. Unfortunately, these cabbies have definitely collaborated in finding a consistent rate for fleecing bewildered tourists, and the standard government rate which was publicly listed on the billboard next to the cab rank held no authority, as the drivers insisted on a substantially inflated price. I instead moved across to the "Taxi-Meter" rank, hoping to get a taxi that would put me on the meter. Clearly, I was naive in this approach. Eventually, I found a mini-van that would take me to Karon at a price substantially less than the taxis - though, admittedly they took twice as long to get me there! Welcome to Thailand.

Karon was an interesting place - down the road from the infamous party town of Patong, this was much more family-friendly, and the preferred destination for middle-aged Russians and Swedes. Wandering around, there were times where it seemed like there were more fair-haired tattooed westerners than locals. The days were hot and sunny, and I cursed my negligence in packing sunscreen - and then cursed the local price for sunscreen. Afternoons were spent in the pool, and in the evening I joined my fellow travellers for some social dancing, as we took over the floor of a local Korean restaurant, and then revelled late into the night at the nearby Reggae bar. Clearly we were getting into the local culture.

After a few days of tuk-tuk travelling, reading, swimming, and unsuccessful haggling at the market, it was time to return to the airport and fly to my next destination - Bangkok!