A few weeks ago Christmas was just an inconvience making my travels complicated and expensive. I had always planned to be on a beach on Christmas day, regardless of the weather and whether I was alone with a good book or with new friends, but I can now say I had the best Christmas!
I booked back into Base Hostel in St Kilda for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so that I could be by the beach. I met up with Julia, the Brazilian girl I had met on my first day in Melbourne and we sat on a grass area opposite the beach drinking in the sun and chatting with the many others doing the same.
As the sun was setting we got ready to go into the city to spend the evening with a group of French girls Julia had met. They lived in an apartment in the city and put on a buffet and we sat chatting and drinking for hours. We then went to a bar in the city where we finished the night.
Waking up Christmas morning did not feel strange at all. I think I am that content in hostels they must feel like home! I woke up, cheerily wished my room mates merry Christmas and tried to facetime friends and family. I was only able to get through to 2 of my friends as they had just got home from a night out, it was so nice speaking and laughing with them and once I had spoken with them
I was even more cheerful. I went downstairs to have breakfast and started speaking with a guy and 10 minutes later we were arranging the day at the beach. By 12pm I was sat in 34 degree heat on the sand surrounded by hundreds of people in swimwear and Santa hats, sat with a great bunch of people with the music blaring and the alcohol flowing! It is amazing how a “good morning, merry Christmas, what’s your name?” can lead to when you are backpacking!
At 3pm it was time for Christmas dinner. I had paid the hostel $20 and myself and 40 (plus) backpackers sat together enjoying turkey with all the trimmings and pulling crackers with new friends. It was not long before I was back at the beach partying with a new bunch of great people until an amazing sunset. We enjoyed the sunset together and as they began to disperse I was invited over to party with another great bunch of people. By midnight there was 3 of us left standing and so we made our way to a club to see in Boxing Day morning.
My alarm was set for 8am Boxing Day as I had booked myself onto a tour to visit the set of Neighbours. Neighbours is an Austrslian TV programme which is very popular in England. It was extremely popular back in the 80’s and as a child I was a huge fan. I have not seen the show for about 15 years but I wanted to visit the set as it was a big part of my childhood. Admittedly I did not recognise much but I did recognise the houses and the street and that was enough to make me happy. I spent the rest of Boxing Day window shooping at City Docklands, watching some of the Ashes (cricket) on the big outdoor TV screen in Federation Square and walking around the city.
I met some wonderful people and I will never forget my fabulous Christmas of 2013.
My first day in Rainbow Beach was not so great. After another long bus journey I arrived to heavy rain which lasted all day. Even though it was raining I still did my usual thing of getting lost and exploring my new surroundings but there wasn’t much to see, just a parade of shops and about 3 hostels and a beach. I then spent the rest of the day watching movies in my hostel, Pippies.
The following day was much better, the sun was out and I went for a morning jog along the beautiful coastline then sunbathed on the beach before my 2pm meeting to discuss my camping trip;
3 days and 2 nights on the worlds largest sand island – Fraser Island.
The meeting was to advise us of the dangerous animals, especially Dingos and how to drive on the island. We were then split into 4 groups of 8 and these people would be who I would be sharing the 4×4 and cooking with. I was very fortunate to be put in a great group, 5 lads from Belgium and Germany and 2 girls from England. After the meeting we set off in our groups to do our food & alcohol shopping for the 3 day trip. We spent $26 each which provided us with breakfast, lunch, dinner & snacks and luckily we bought just enough to last us.
The next morning we all gathered around our cars for a few final tips and then we made our way to the ferry to take us across to Fraser Island. Once on Fraser Island the fun began immediately. Always following the lead vehicle driven by our guide Brett, the first driver of our car, Benni, raced us along the long stretch of sand dodging waves and rocks. We then swapped drivers twice whilst driving inland up and down sandy tracks surrounded by forrest. The forrest was amazing, especially when you remember that there is no soil on the island at all, just pure sand. After a few hours of crazy bumpy driving we arrived at Lake Mackenzie.
Lake Mackenzie, originally named Booroongora, is a huge lake made of pure fresh rainwater. The sun was blazing and so it was a welcome relief to jump into the fresh clean pure water. We spent a few hours here before it was my time to drive! I was nervous to begin with, as I haven’t driven for a few months, it was an automatic which I had never driven before and I was going to be driving on sand. Once I got going though, it was so much fun and easier than I thought.
Heading further north after some lunch we stopped at the shipwreck S.S Maheno. The Maheno was a luxury passenger ship and also used as a medical ship in World War I. The shipwreck will stay in the same spot until nature takes it away.
Another driver took to the wheel and we headed for camp. Pippies Tag Along Tours have a campsite permenantly set up and so all we had to do was choose a tent, crack open a beer and start cooking dinner. Our group had decided on bbq for the first night and so we had a lovely feast of meats and salad. After food, the alcohol took control and we all started chatting easily and then started playing drinking games and ended the night dancing around the campsite.
The next day my group were severly hungover but luckily we knew we were in the tour guides car that day so we didn’t have to drive. Instead we were able to relax and enjoy the day. First stop was the Champagne Pools, this is actually the sea but rocks are placed in a way that the waves crash over them and then the sea water forms lots of little bubbles, hence the name Champagne Pools. After a nice refreshing swim we then headed for Indian Head. This is a huge cliff face where the original natives of the island spotted Captain Cooks ship approaching the island. We sat on top of the cliff for a while watching Mantaray and Turtles gliding through the waters below us.
After a spot of lunch it was on to Eli Creek. Eli Creek is a flow of fresh water on the beach pushed out by natural springs further in the island. The power of the springs pushing the water out creates a natural flow which enables you to slowly float down the shallow creek. Our tour guide provided us with rubber rings which added to the fun.
Another night was spent in camp (after sandboarding down the sand dunes) eating and chatting and I also had an encounter with a Dingo! We had seen a Dingo in camp the night before but it just looked at us and walked away. This time I was coming out of the shower block alone when the Dingo came out of the bushes and started walking towards me. I doubt it would have done me any harm but it was not worth the risk. I calmly shouted back to the girls in the showers to open the door quick and I slowly walked backwards into the block. I waited 5 minutes and then we all walked out together, by this time the Dingo had moved on. Phew!
The last day on the island was spent at Lake Wabby, a lake formed in the sand dunes. It was once one big lake, but over years more sand dunes have formed, creating smaller seperate lakes. Again this was fresh water and after a long, hot, tiring 40 minute walk into the island and across sand dunes it was a beautiful welcoming lake. A lovely end to such a great weekend.
Our tour guide Brett was brilliant, so knowledgable, passionate, relaxed and good fun, I would definately recommed this tour to anyone travelling the East Coast.
So much fun and so much beauty on one island where nature is your playground.
I was so sad to leave Asia, the culture, the food and the people. It is extremely easy and cheap to travel Asia which enabled me to experience more than I ever thought I would in such a short space of time. I learned so much of the history and way of life of each and every place I visited and saw so many different sides to each country:
I witnessed the hardship, learned of horrific pasts, I took in the beauty of the natural surroundings from simple rice paddies to active volcanoes. I partied with other travellers and locals in up and coming areas. I lazed on beautiful beaches, swam in waterfalls and trekked through muddy forrests. I tasted the most amazing local dishes and even learned to cook some of them. The list goes on and on and as much as I enjoy writing and sharing this travel blog I could never fit on paper the amount of wonderful memories I have and will cherish forever.
Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pai, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Koh Rong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Lombok, Gilli Tarawangan, Ubud, Kuta and Sanur – a small section of beautiful Asia but a big part of my life.
How fortunate I am that the next part of my adventure is only about to begin. Australia here I come….
50 minutes on a fast boat is pretty hard going, but it got me to land where I was able to get my bus to take me to Ubud, Bali. What was supposed to be just over an hours journey turned into a 2 hour journey when the wheel axle on our bus broke. We had to wait for roughly half an hour for another bus to come and get us. The second bus got me safely to Ubud and luckily it stopped only 15 minutes walk from my hostel, The Happy Mango at a price of £4 per night.
As soon as I arrived at the hostel I went out to book a morning trek up
Mount Batur which is an active volcano, last eruption was in 2000.
The trek cost me 350,000 IDR which included transport, breakfast, a guide and lunch. I was picked up in Ubud at 2:30am so that we could see the sunrise over neighbouring volcanos. Walking 1,700m up a volcano is not easy at all, but I did it and was extremely proud of myself, even overtaking many other groups.
We made the trek in good time for sunrise, but, unfortunately it is rainy season in Indonesia and the beautiful view was ruined by cloud and rain.
But the trek was still an
amazing experience and a great achievement for me.
Our guide then took us on a walk around the top of the volcano to view the steam vents, where we could warm ourselves up, just a shame it couldn’t dry us too, the old lava flows and the spot where there was once a village which was wiped out by an eruption and an ancient cave used as a temple which is very sacred so we were unable to go inside.
The trek was amazing and I would certainly recommend it.
Wanting to stay active after an alcohol fuelled and lazy week on Gili, I booked a cycling tour for the following day. The tour cost 300,000IDR and was worth every penny. We had a massive traditional breakfast of black rice and coconut milk, chicken, rice, crackers, salad and pancake, overlooking Mount Batur which I had climbed the day before. The sun was out and I was able to see the volcano in all its beauty. We then hopped on our bikes and cycled through Ubud to the local villages, where the children were extremely excited to see us, running along and shouting hello. We saw people at work in the rice fields and got to marvel at the beauty of Bali away from the tourist hot spots. We were then treated to another traditional feast of roasted duck, chicken, rice, noodles, satay, vegetables and an array of sauces also followed by a fruit and honey dessert. Delicious!
I have really enjoyed my time in Ubud, next stop is Kuta which I have been warned is a noisy, touristy area, but 1 night before I leave wonderful Bali wont harm.
Another last minute decision to visit Indonesia turned out to be a great decision, although my first day in Lombok I didn’t quite feel that way. I arrived in Lombok after a 3 hour flight from Singapore, but landed a lot later than expected due to a delay. I was not keen on using the cheaper local transport which I had originally planned because I was on my own and it was no longer daylight so had to pay out for a taxi to take me to Singiggi, over an hour away, where my pre-booked hostel was.
I checked into my room with the little Indonesian Rupiah I had which then left me with no money, which I expected, as I had planned to draw money out at the ATM. Unfortunately the ATM didn’t want to give me any money and so I tried to call my Bank on the 2 phones I had with me but neither of them would connect. I was in a terrible hostel, which normally I laugh at but I had no money and no phones, and it just felt as though everything was going wrong. I was feeling a bit low but I decided to hold my head up and reminded myself how much I am loving travelling and that these were minor issues that were going to happen sooner or later. So, I got myself a drink, took a stroll along the main high street and as I was starting to feel happier I came across an ATM and just decided to try my luck, and as luck would have it, I was able to get some cash out! I instantly knew I was not going to enjoy Lombok and so by 10pm I had booked a bus and ferry to Gili Trawangan leaving at 9am the next day.
After a short bus journey and a slow boat I stepped onto Gili Trawangan the largest of the 3 Gili islands but the estimated permanent population being only 800.
I checked into my hostel, Le Grand Gili Backpackers at a price of 80,000rp (about £4.50) but it was really empty and I was the only one in the dorm, so I set down my backpack and went in search of another hostel. I found Gili Hostel which was right on the beach and close to all the bars. I booked myself in for the following 3 nights.
Gili Trawangan was a lot like Sihanoukville in Cambodia; beach, bars and accommodation. This made an ideal setting for my birthday celebrations. I had an amazing 4 nights on the island partying by night and sunbathing by day. It is also very popular for scuba diving and snorkeling trips but I decided to use the time in Gili to relax and save a bit of money. Every night there is a food market where stalls set up in a square and in the middle if the square is seating, the food was freshly cooked, extremely cheap and was a good social area. A must do if you visit Gili.
In asia fire stick twirling is quite popular and one night at the sunset bar I asked the talented guys if they would show me how to do it and I was lucky enough to give it a go. It is not as easy as it looks!
Whilst on the island I was able to get some good tips on my next stop which was to be Bali. So filled with more excitement I booked my fast boat and bus ticket to Ubud, Bali.
Under budget and doing well for time I have decided to add a few more places to my trip. I love the freedom of travelling!
I got the bus from Shianoukville to Phonm Penh for $7 which was a 5 hour trip and straight from the bus station I got a tuk tuk for $7 to the airport and for £60 I was on an Air Asia flight from Phnom Penh Airport to Malaysia. After a 3 hour flight it was a 1 1/2 hour bus trip to Kuala Lumpur Sentral Station and a train to Masjid Jamek (2 stops away). I had pre-booked a bed at Reggae Mansion which was recommended to me by another traveller. Unfortunately the further from Thailand I get, the higher the cost of living gets. The hostel was £10 a night but was an amazing hostel. It was massive and so clean, staff were brilliant and it had everything a backpacker needs and more, like a cinema room!
For the first time since I started my travels I was travelling on my own but it didn’t phase me, I had my independence again and it felt good to have some time to myself. My first day in Kuala Lumpur I got myself a map but made the decision to just get myself lost and enjoy what the streets of Malaysia had to offer. I came across Central Market which used to be a fish market but is now a shopping mall, I walked through China Town to be surrounded with stalls selling fake designer bags etc. I visited a mosque, and a chinese temple and then found myself at a train station. I got a map and jumped on the train to KLL where the famous Petronas Towers are. The twin towers host the biggest shopping mall I have ever seen. Housing designer shops and restaurants. It was here that I had the most delicious malaysian dishes.
The next day I went on a tour with the hostel, for 70 Malaysian Ringgit, (about £13), it was a good way of meeting people and a great way to learn about some of the best places in Kuala Lumpur.
The population of KL is 50% Malay 30% chinese 10% indian and 10% native, and so there are many different places of worship. We visited a major mosque, a beautiful Chinese temple set upon a hill with a lovely view of KL and where I received a fortune and learned that I was born on the year of the Rooster meaning I am honest, careful, humorous, sociable and intelligent! We then had the pleasure of walking up 278 steps to Batu Caves to see the Hindu shrine. I didn’t find the steps challenging but I did struggle with my fear of the wild monkeys who seemed to think all handbags contained food for them! I was lucky enough to be left alone but others weren’t and there were a few ripped bags and angry monkeys!
KL was once a large tin producing place and we visited a small factory where we could see the process of pewter made into tankards, bowls and the Moto GP Trophy.
Next stop was the Palace. Malaysia has 9 Royal Families and every 5 years they take it in turn to be King. The Palace was lovely but we could only see from outside the gate just like at Buckingam Palace in London. After a few ‘cheesy’ touristy photos with the guards and much to our surprise, we were lucky enough to see the King arrive at the Palace by car. I was too busy photographing the moment that I missed him waving to us.
As I had met some people on the tour I was able to venture out to the city at night and was able to see the Petronas Towers lit up which was lovely.
Malaysia is a lot more western than Thailand and Cambodia, with designer shops, Nandos, Pizza Hut and more, but I am pleased to report I stayed away from them all and stuck to the street markets and malaysian food. Is the material girl in me fading away?!