A Travellerspoint blog

Traveling from Sydney to Cairns

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From Sydney, we rented a car and drove north to Byron Bay. Australia is enormous – it is roughly the size of the continental US, so we were covering some ground. After about seven hours in the car, we decided to take a pit stop at a wildlife park to see some native animals. It was really neat to see koalas up close and get to touch one (they really do very little other than eat and sleep). We also got to feed a whole slew of kangaroos. We were a little timid at first since the kangaroos were not in cages and no one was around to tell us what to do- plus I’ve seen America’s Funniest Home Videos where they kick and slap people. Initially, we just threw the corn at them, but eventually, Jeff just put his hand out and they came over, grabbed his hand, and started to eat right out of it. It was then that we realized they were actually pretty docile.
IMG_3621.jpgOne of the cute koalas at the park
2IMG_3655.jpgSteven getting up close- I think the koala looks like it's smiling
IMG_3669.jpgOne of the kangaroos carrying a baby in her pouch
IMG_3697.jpgJeff feeding the kangaroo some corn

We arrived in the small town of Byron Bay after about ten hours of driving and were spent. Byron Bay used to be a sleepy little place, but it was discovered by surfers back in the 70’s and has since become a popular tourist destination. While we were there, we loaded ourselves up with activities, starting with surf lessons. Even though the “waves” were pretty small, it was still a lot of fun figuring out how to stand up, balance and turn. It was Steven and Emily’s first lesson and they were fast learners. After surfing, we moved on to one of Mom’s bucket list items – horseback riding – she had never done it before. It was really amusing seeing her constantly talking to her horse and telling it to “go easy on her”. Steven had a horse that was naughty and wouldn’t listen, which I thought was a great fit for him. We spent the rest of our time in Byron Bay relaxing on the beach, enjoying views from the lighthouse, and checking out a nearby farmers’ market. It is a really great town to visit and I was impressed that it maintains a local feel despite all of its notoriety.
DSC00282.jpgGetting our "land lesson" and me just being a goof
P2240177.jpgDoing the surfer stereotype
P2240181.jpgLooking very excited- and check out how big that wave is! :)
P2240188.jpgEmily going for a wave
IMG_3782.jpgMom looking pretty giddy pre-ride
IMG_3823.jpgThe equestrian gang towards the end of the ride
IMG_3723.jpgA nice view of the Byron Bay Lighthouse
IMG_3779.jpgThe beach at Byron

After three full days in Byron Bay, we drove two hours north to Brisbane in order to catch a flight to Cairns. On our way, we stopped for a few hours to watch the Quicksilver Pro Snapper Rocks Professional Surf Competition in the small town of Tweed Heads. Having never been to a surf competition before, it was very cool watching some of the best surfers in the world perform. Our timing was perfect because we showed up just in time to see Kelly Slater, one of the biggest surfers in the world. What I find most ironic is that we went all the way to Australia to see Kelly Slater, a guy who’s from Cocoa Beach, Florida, just down the road from Orlando!
IMG_3876.jpgAn action shot of Kelly Slater during his heat
Kelly_Slater.jpgKelly Slater during his post-surf interview
IMG_3910.jpgProves we were there :)

After catching our flight from Brisbane, we landed in Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. It’s pretty far north on the east coast of Australia and is currently in the midst a rainy season, but, fortunately for us, it wasn’t that rainy. Our main goal in traveling to Cairns was to dive the Great Barrier Reef. Mom, Steven, and Emily all suffered through a winter time SCUBA class in Pennsylvania just for this, so we were very excited to go. We took a boat out to the outer reef and completed three dives. The reef was beautiful, the fish colorful and diverse, and we even saw several small sharks. A lot of the reef is located 10 to 60 feet below the surface, so the colors can be National Geographic vivid, especially near the surface when the sun is out. From hearing Steven’s stories from the SCUBA class, Mom sounded like a bit of a spazz under the water – “she’s up, she’s down, she’s at the surface” – but she was a champ diving with us. Learning something like SCUBA at almost 60 is very impressive!
P2280235.jpgThat blue thing is the inside of a huge clam- pretty amazing
P2280243.jpgA white-tipped reef shark
P2280303.jpgThe back of our dive boat- we had a mix of divers and snorkelers
P2280343.jpgJust before heading back to Cairns from the reef

After diving the Great Barrier Reef, we spent a day exploring the rainforest surrounding Cairns. We took a 4.5 mile long gondola ride above and through the rainforest canopy to the small town of Kuranda. Along the way, we also took a few short hikes through the rain forest, came upon several humungous spiders (apparently not poisonous, but they gave me the heebee-jeebees anyway), and saw a massive waterfall. After walking around town and grabbing lunch, we took a historic train ride back to Cairns.
IMG_3966.jpgOn our gondola ride to Kuranda
IMG_3979.jpgHUGE spider!
IMG_4052.jpgOn our train ride back from Kuranda- amazing waterfall!
IMG_4069.jpgOur historic train- said to be from the late 1800's

After two fun filled weeks of traveling around Australia, our time with Mom, Steven and Emily came to an end and they headed back to the States. As Steven and I have gotten older, family vacations have become harder to come by, so this was a rare, wonderful and forever memorable family vacation! Thanks to Mom, Steven and Emily for making the trip!
IMG_4085.jpgSo, this is funny- our last night together for dinner we pick the "#14 restaurant in Cairns on tripadvisor"- turned out to be the hotel restaurant at the Best Western, slightly dumpy but did in fact turn out to be pretty good :)

For the next leg of our trip, Jeff and I have rented a campervan and are driving south to Brisbane. We’ll write again soon!

Posted by geldere 02:55 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Landed in the Land Down Under

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We’ve left behind rice, street food, and bargaining in Asia and have arrived in the Land Down Under! And let me tell you what, their economy is doing well because life here is expensive! Nevertheless, it is definitely nice to be back in a first world country where the main language is English :) Although, I’ve already been called “mate”, have had to ask what’s an “esky” (it’s a cooler), and was told I needed to take off my “thongs” after 10 pm (flip-flops). I enjoy the lingo here :)

We were scheduled to meet up with my mom (Ann), brother (Steven) and brother’s girlfriend (Emily) in Sydney four days after we arrived, so instead of spending time in Sydney on the front end, we headed north to New Castle to see some different sights. We spent the first two days enjoying the beaches and walking around the cute downtown. I had an amusing cultural experience at “Gloria Jean’s Coffee Shop”, it went something like this: “Could I please have a coffee?” “What kind would you like?” “You mean like what kind of bean?” “No, would you like a cappuccino or a latte?” “No, just a regular coffee” “Oh… we don’t have that here.” “Umm [thinking – we are at a coffee shop, right?], ok I’ll just get a latte”. It was a pretty funny exchange. They don’t just serve normal drip coffee. On our third day in Newcastle, we took a small group tour to the Hunter Valley for some wine and cheese tasting – Australia’s version of Napa. Thank goodness someone else was driving, because after about the third vineyard, I don’t recall much. In our tour group were two, young Australian couples who left their children with family for a big day out. It was a nice chance for us to get to interact with locals, but let me tell you, Australian’s can drink!
IMG_3099.jpgDowntown New Castle
IMG_3116.jpgThe beach in New Castle
IMG_3147.jpgEnjoying the local flavors
IMG_3157.jpgAnd, we topped it off with a stop at the local brewery

After three full days in New Castle, we made our way back to Sydney and met up with my Mom, Steven and Emily at the airport. They made the long journey to Australia for a two-week vacation and we were so excited to see them! We headed to Bounce Hostel (yes my mom stayed in a hostel) to get our accommodations set and then headed right out for some sightseeing. We walked all over the downtown and through the botanical gardens where we gawked at the enormous “flying foxes” (big bats with fox like faces), the famous Sydney Opera House, and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. We ate dinner in a downtown neighborhood called “The Rocks” at a place specializing in pancakes (delicious!) and got some great views of the harbor at night. Sydney is a beautiful city!
IMG_3206.jpgThe gang in front of the Opera House
IMG_3176.jpgThe flying foxes- and they're as big as they look!
IMG_3233.jpgCan't beat pancakes for dinner

Since Sydney is a pretty big town with lots to see, we decided to sign up for a two-day hop-on, hop-off bus tour. On our first day, we hopped off at the Sydney Fish Market where we ate a boatload of fried seafood; the Sydney Harbor Bridge which we walked across for some great views, and; Circular Quay where we picked up a ferry to Manly Beach. On our second day on the bus, we took a tour of the Sydney Tower and spent the rest of the day around Bondi Beach, including walking the famous cliff path (where we made Mom nervous by getting too close to the edge) and watching the locals catch some waves. It is amazing that so many really nice beaches are only a short commute away from downtown.
IMG_3245.jpgGetting excited for our tour!
IMG_3255.jpgAt our fried seafood bonanza
IMG_3277.jpgA view of Sydney Harbor
IMG_3286.jpgThe Sydney Opera House
IMG_3292.jpgTaken on the Sydney Harbor Bridge
IMG_3309.jpgOn the ferry to Manly Beach- boating competition
IMG_3363.jpgAt our 4D Sydney tower experience
IMG_3405.jpgMe and my little bro at Bondi beach
IMG_3433.jpgOn the cliff walk at Bondi
IMG_3437.jpgMe, Steven, and Emily getting close to the edge ;)

For our last day in Sydney we headed out of town to see the Blue Mountains via a train to Katoomba. We saw the famous “Three Sisters” and enjoyed beautiful views of the surrounding mountains from several view points. We spent the rest of the day walking along paths through the forest and eventually ended up at Scenic World. From there, we took a train down a steep incline to the valley floor (Mom had us all hysterically laughing after she screamed like a little girl as the train took a steep drop, or maybe that was me :)) and a gondola back out.
IMG_3495.jpgA view from the Three Sisters
IMG_3541.jpgOverlooking Blue Mountains National Park
IMG_3564.jpgRe-creating our train experience on a non-moving specimen :)

All in all, we had a great time in Sydney! In four days, we just skimmed the surface and could have visited much longer. Of all the cities we have visited on our trip, it is definitely one of my favorites!
IMG_3586.jpgSunset from the rooftop at our hostel in Sydney

Next stop, Byron Bay! We’ll write more soon!

Posted by geldere 00:03 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Our Last Hurrah in South East Asia!

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We left Siem Reap, Cambodia and bused it nine hours to the Bangkok airport in order to meet up with four friends from home, Teri, Kiley, Adrienne (my PA school classmates) and Matt (Adrienne’s husband). We were so excited to see them! They made the long trip from the East Coast to spend a few days with us and see some of Thailand.

Their flight arrived close to midnight, so after meeting up, we headed straight to the Siam Square Lub’D Hostel for a good night’s sleep. The next day we ventured out to see some sights in Bangkok and even saw a few new sites for us, including Jim Thompson’s House and Wat Arun. Jim Thompson was an American entrepreneur who made it big in the Thai silk trade back in the 1970’s. Unfortunately, he mysteriously disappeared without a trace in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands and his Bangkok home has since been turned into a museum. From Jim Thompson’s House, we took a canal boat to Wat Arun – a smelly experience. The Bangkok canals collect a lot of trash and water runoff, and are shockingly stinky as a result, so much so that even the locals attempt not to get splashed by canal water for fear of disease – sometimes I wish I could just bottle up the smells here and send them to you – don’t you :)
IMG_2388.jpgIn Jim Thompson's House
IMG_2418.jpgOur tour down the infamous Khao San Road, nicknamed the "backpacker ghetto"
4IMG_2450.jpgWat Arun
IMG_2438.jpgAfter huffing it up the stairs at Wat Arun
DSCN1565.jpgChecking out some Thai boxing
IMG_2460.jpgEnjoying our crazy tuk-tuk ride back to the hostel

After one full day in Bangkok, we jetted south to the island of Phuket and took a ferry to the secluded island of Ko Phi Phi (pronounced “ko pee pee” – we got a few laughs out of that one). I’ve been waiting almost our entire trip to find sugar sand beaches and turquoise blue water and this place seemed to have both in abundance! We spent the better part of three days soaking up the sun, floating in the Andaman Sea, watching amazing sunsets, enjoying delicious fresh fruit shakes, and catching up with old friends. On one day, we took a longtail boat to several nearby beaches and did some great snorkeling. The longtail boat even stopped at gorgeous Maya Bay, the site where the movie “The Beach” was filmed.
2IMG_0730.jpgOn the metro- catching our ealy am flight to Phuket
IMG_2794.jpgReally amazing scenery
IMG_2605.jpgOur beach :)
IMG_2635.jpgThailand's famous longtail boats
IMG_2594.jpgA fire dancer show we saw one night
IMG_2597.jpgOn our walk back from dinner
IMG_2540.jpgViews from out on our longtail boat day trip
IMG_2653.jpgAttempting snorkeling
IMG_2771.jpgReally fantastic sunsets on Ko Phi Phi

After saying a sad goodbye to Ko Phi Phi, we took the ferry back to Phuket and checked in to our hotel a short walk from Kata Beach, a beautiful crescent shaped beach with excellent people watching (including topless 60 plus-ers from Club Med strutting their stuff). In addition to more beach time, we spent one afternoon trekking through the jungle on the backs of huge elephants. Teri and Kiley’s elephant was only 14 (considered a teenager) and had a mind of her own. We’re pretty sure their elephant trainer was also drunk and thus didn’t seem to care that they often took the path less traveled and/or made their own “special path”. Towards the end of the trek, the trainers let us sit in the “manout” position directly behind the elephants ears and try to steer the elephants – an amusing experience.
IMG_2813.jpgOur stretch of sand on Kata Beach
IMG_2952.jpgThe view from our elephant trek- and Teri and Kiley with their elephant on the "road less traveled"
IMG_2918.jpgAdrienne and Matt with their elephant
IMG_2979.jpgThere's really very little of me "guiding" here
IMG_3005.jpgThese gibbons were hilarious- to me this looks like she's saying "yup, just relaxing, how's it going with you?"

Given how isolated Ko Phi Phi is, it did not have much nightlife, so we tried to take advantage of the nightlife around Kata Beach. On our first night, we happened upon a restaurant which had an extremely talented male singer/guitarist covering both old and new American music (it is amazing how popular American music is worldwide). Later that evening, we hit up The Boathouse, a beach front bar with pricy drinks but a great view. Our extremely kind waiter helped us purchase and setoff heart shaped, floating lanterns in honor of Valentine’s Day. Amusingly, Adrienne had to get a second one because her first one crash landed in the ocean seconds after takeoff.
DSCN1897.jpgA shot of Teri and I about to let our lanterns fly

For our second night in Phuket, we headed to the infamous Patong Beach. It has a reputation of being pretty seedy, but in the end it was more like a circus – tons of tourists, neon lights, lady-boy cabarets, shops, go-go dancing bars, etc. It was interesting to just walk around and get a glimpse of tourists behaving badly. We ate dinner at an Irish pub and thoroughly enjoyed singing along with the band in the bar – we may have even requested Journey :) We capped off the evening by stopping by a well known ice cream joint where the waitresses were dressed like French maids – it is Patong after all.
DSCN2055.jpgThe neon and cheesy in Patong
RSCN2072.jpgAt the Irish bar for dinner
RSCN2105.jpgDinner and drinks with an amazing view one night for dinner

We finished up our time in Phuket the next morning at a local spa. The girls and Matt got their first traditional Thai massages while I got a foot reflexology massage and Jeff had his haircut and feet eaten in the fish spa. For the fish spa, you sit with your feet in a big fish tank while special fish eat the dead skin off your feet – it is very popular in Asia and I don’t know how Jeff lasted the whole 20 minutes- seems like it tickles. We all flew back that afternoon to Bangkok where we enjoyed our last dinner together at a Japanese hibachi restaurant. It was amazing for us to spend time with friends from home and to share with them life on the road! It definitely made for some good times and great memories :)
IMG_3072.jpgGetting my reflexology on!
IMG_3065.jpgJeff enjoying the fish spa

It is hard to believe, but our three months in Southeast Asia has come to an end and we are leaving Bangkok for the last time. Our South East Asia guide book says the first time you come to Bangkok you feel overwhelmed and excited, when you return you’ll feel pampered and relieved, and when you leave for the last time you’ll feel sad to go. I find that sentiment to be extremely true! South East Asia was such a change from everything else we have seen on our trip – we really enjoyed it! Overall, the locals here are very friendly and respectful. It was extremely affordable which meant we were able to “live it up” more there than anywhere else on our trip. It is also a part of the world that is developing at a rapid pace and seeing the clash of new and old is fascinating . And even though I am thoroughly done with rice and noodles, I expect I will miss them soon enough :)

We are moving on to Australia next and we’ll write more from the “Land Down Under” soon!

Posted by geldere 04:48 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Catching the Surf in Bali & Wandering the Temples in Angkor

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Bali is a surprisingly large island with a lot to see and do. We decided to set ourselves up in the main beach town of Kuta first in order to get in some beach time and take a surfing lesson or two. Bali is a legendary surfing destination and Kuta in particular is a good place for beginners. On our first few days the beach time was severely limited by one ominous black cloud after another – it is unfortunately the rainy season on Bali. So in between downpours, we also checked out the town, enjoyed some local food, and even found a Cold Stone (we hadn’t seen one since leaving the States). I’m not sure if it was exciting or sad, but at some level you expect a place like Bali to be secluded and non-western, yet clearly visible from the beach are the ubiquitous gold arches. Most of the tourist population here is Australian, but I guess that is to be expected since Australia is as close to Bali as the United States is to the Caribbean.
IMG_1917.jpgSunset on our ferry crossing to Bali
IMG_1930.jpgA funky little street in Kuta Beach
IMG_1932.jpgThese cute kids put on a show for us in honor of their religious festival

After watching a few surfers from the beach, we decided to give it a try. It is definitely harder than it looks. We took two, really fun lessons through Odyssey Surf School. They gave us the most enormous, idiot-proof surf boards possible in order to increase our chances of standing. We learned some techniques on the beach first and then headed out to the water to give it a shot – experience is the best of teachers. After our two lessons, I now know why surfers are in such good shape – it is exhausting to paddle back out after each wave! All in all I think we did pretty well – I was excited – I stood on my very first wave! It took Jeff a few tries to get the hang of it, but he was standing by the end as well. We took some video of each other surfing, click here for the highlight video and here for the blooper video (it gives me a good laugh).
Jeff's Blooper Video
A Minor Victory

IMG_1966a.jpgGetting ready to hit the surf!
IMG_2014.jpgJeff with our enormous surf boards
IMG_2041.jpgThough not graceful- standing!

After three nights in Kuta, we moved on to a different beach, Jimbaran, in order to try and see what a more secluded Bali was like. Sadly, it was very disappointing – I have never seen so much trash on a beach in my life and it actually left us feeling just plain down. Locals said that during the rainy seasons, the frequent rains flush out the rivers on Bali and that the winds carry trash east from Java. Jimbaran was described in our guide book and online as one of Bali’s top beaches, but apparently all of the reviewers visited in the dry season. Thankfully, our little resort near the Jimbaran beach was very nice and had the “Bali” ambiance we were looking for – the sound of running water from fountains, lush landscaping, a turquoise pool with swim up bar, etc. – it was really peaceful!
IMG_1973.jpgReally, the trash was depressing
IMG_1987.jpgAt the resort
IMG_2011.jpgWe were able to catch some Balinese traditional dancing one night at dinner

After five days on Bali, we flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia via Singapore (fast becoming my favorite Asian city – clean, well air-conditioned, lots of malls). Siem Reap is the town that supports the “8th wonder of the world”, Angkor Wat. The town was a sleepy little place until the 1960s when Angkor Wat first became a huge tourist draw. The Temples of Angkor are coincidentally not just one temple, but several dozen spread out over a hundred plus square kilometers, one of which is Angkor Wat. They were originally created to honor Hindu gods, but were later converted into Buddhist temples. The temples, all of which were made of rock, were each likely surrounded by a village made of wood, but the wood has since disappeared.
IMG_2359.jpgA creative tuk tuk in Siem Reap
IMG_2361.jpgIn downtown Siem Reap
IMG_2369.jpgThis was great- an actual ice vendor- he would come by and saw off a piece for local businesses

Since we only had one day to sightsee, we hired a tuk-tuk for the day to buzz us around several temples. We saw a lot of temples but below I've only put pictures in of a few, or else you'd be reading forever. While spending just one day at Angkor is considered a sacrilege to some, it was unfortunately all the time we had. The Temples of Angkor are truly amazing and definitely a wonder of the world!

Angkor Wat
aw1.jpgThe national symbol of Cambodia. It was built between 1113 and 1150 roughly in honor of the Hindu god Vishnu.
aw2.jpgInside of the Angkor temple
aw3.jpgOne of the wall carvings named "The Churning of the Sea of Milk". It depicts gods on one side and demons on the other, both holding an enormous serpent that churns the sea to produce an elixir of immortality :)
aw4.jpgOutside the main Angkor temple

Bayon Temple
bay3.jpgDescribed as a basket of bottles, each of the 49 towers is surrounded by four faces.
bay1.jpgOne of the towers and faces up close
bay2.jpgOne of the carvings supposed to depict everyday Khmer life at the time
IMG_2284.jpgMonks in their fabulous saffron robes coming to the temple for prayer

Ta Phrom
ta1.jpgOne of the most atmospheric temples in Angkor as it has been left to the elements. It is also, coincidentally, where they filmed Tomb Raider
ta2.jpgEnormous trees and strangler figs have grown all over the site and in some places on top of or straight through structures
ta4.jpgJust outside the temple

We hiked up their small "mountain" for some sunset views. It was pretty cool to see the main temple of Angkor from a distance.
IMG_2332.jpgAngkor Wat
IMG_2338.jpgJust at sunset

With only eight days left in South East Asia, we are heading back to Bangkok in order to meet up with my PA school friends for some Thailand island hopping! We’ll write more soon!

Posted by geldere 08:34 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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