Melbourne – Australia’s Cultural Capital

544 miles from Sydney and a 17 hour bus journey is Melbourne, ‘Australia’s cultural capital’ and (what should be) my last destination before flying back home to England.

I was lucky enough to be invited to stay with a friend of a friend whilst in Melbourne, but for my first night I booked a bed at Base Hostel in St Kilda. I have grown to love hostels as they are a great way of meeting like-minded people and with Christmas approaching I felt it would be nice to meet more people. St Kilda is also Melbourne’s most famous beach and when I booked my ticket to go travelling the one thing I knew I wanted the most, was to be on the beach on Christmas Day.

When I arrived in Melbourne I was greeted by a dark sky and pouring rain. The bus dropped me off in the city and I had to make my way to St Kilda. I knew there was a tram that would take me there but having never used a tram before it was a long process. First I had to find the correct tram stop and then I had to find somewhere that sold tickets as you cannot buy them onboard. After a 17 hour bus journey, walking around with my backpack and 2 other bags in the pouring rain wasn’t much fun. But as soon as I arrived at the hostel I was greeted with a friendly face who let me check into my room early for a shower & change of clothes. When you have spent the past 2 nights on a bus and had your morning wash in McDonalds this is ‘Christmas come early!’

After a hot shower and a chat with the people in my dorm I set off to explore. St Kilda Beach reminds me of the beaches back in England. There is a theme park called Luna Park situated in front of the beach and although the sea is clean and clear it is more of a grey colour than a nice bright blue and with the dull sky, it really felt like England. I had met a girl from Brazil, Julia ,at breakfast and we were to go on a free walking tour of the city. Unfortunately we didn’t make the tour on time so we wondered around the city ourselves and came across the Exhibition Centre where a James Bond exhibtion was being held. We then wondered through the streets of Fitzroy, home to lots of quaint and quirky shops and cafes. It was then back to the hostel where I had a few drinks with my room mates.

At 10am my friends friend, Dan, came to collect me. Dan lives in Richmond which is about 5 miles from St Kilda. The weather was still dull and so we went to Chadstone Shopping Centre, the biggest shopping centre in Australia!

After 2 months in hostels, it was nice to be in someones home with a home cooked meal and a double bed in a room all by myself. But, the following day it would be back to the hostel for Christmas celebrations…

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Touch Down in Cairns

150,000IDR airport tax, 2 flights and 10 hours later I touched down in Cairns, Australia. I had pre-booked a hostel called Nomads Serpent and they provided free airport pick up which was a great start. Because Australia is quite expensive for a backpacker, a lot of hostels seem to help with that issue in small ways. For example the hostel Nomads offers free airport transfers, free bus to and from town every hour, free bus to the Reef Terminal once every morning, a kitchen so you can cook your own food, the choice of a $3 meal every night, (usually a pasta or rice dish, never any meat) and lots of activities in the hostel. It does mean that people do not venture out as much, as they have so much comfort in the hostel, but for gap year travellers it’s a good set up.

My first night in Cairns was spent with a group of girls I was sharing a dorm with and we purchased our ‘goon’ (cheap box wine) and stayed in playing drinking games. The next day I explored by taking a long walk into town along the coastline. Unfortunately the beach is not the sort you can sunbathe on and you certainly cannot swim in the sea as Crocodiles inhabit the area. There was however a huge free outdoor swimming pool, also known as the lagoon.

Oh and can I just add, the idea of cooking for myself and doing my own laundry is not pleasing me! I have had to do laundry but so far I have managed to avoid cooking by eating the free hostel breakfast, buying things like noodles and fruit for lunch and eating the $3 meal. Happy days!

As you have probably come to realise, I am not the sort of person who can laze around for too long, so the thought of hanging out in the hostel for days was not appealing to me. So me and a dorm buddy set off to the Tour Agents to book some trips. Australia is very backpacker friendly and like Asia there are lots of Tour Agents willing to give you a good deal. But unlike Asia, the tours are very very expensive. We managed to get a 3 day and 1 night deal. The first day we were to sail to the Great Barrier Reef and snorkel 2 sites, then the second and third days we would be doing different activities like trekking the rainforrest and midnight walks to see the nocturnal animals of Australia, accommodation, food and transport for $333 (£203).

I was also very tempted at the offer of a skydive, I was very close to booking but it was so expensive. If I have money left at the end of my trip…watch this space!!

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Freedom of Travelling. Cambodia to Malaysia.

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?!

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Another side to Cambodia – beautiful beaches and no pollution!

Leaving the chaos of Phonm Penh it was time for beach time. Just a 5 hour bus ride at $7 to Sihanoukville and the madness of Phonm Penh was replaced with a beach resort. It reminded me of any other seaside town; a beach, bars and shops. Once off the coach we were met with tuk tuk drivers and men on motorbikes. For $1 me & my backpack jumped on the back of a motorbike and headed for a hostel. The hostels here were mainly bungalows, which could be quite pricey as a single traveller but lucky for me I was with Jenni, a Spanish girl I had travelled there with and so we shared a bungalow at Big Easy Hostel for $4 each. After being in Thailand, prices in Cambodia seem rather expensive!

We started our first day on Serendipity beach but this is where all the nightlife is and so the sea wasn’t very clean. We paid a man & his motorbike $2 to take us to Ortis beach; this was more like it! Clean white sand and clean blue sea.

The next day a group of us headed for “the island” named Koh Rong.

A 2 hour boat trip at a pricey $10 each way, I was met with pristine white beaches, turquoise water and limited development. Backpackers staying in Sihanoukville will undoubtedly head over to “the island” for a few days, but with only 18 clusters of bungalows, no roads and no electricity, only current generator generating electricity at certain hours of the day, it still has that desert island feel. I doubt developers will allow it to stay like this for long though!

As there was 6 of us we were able to get a lovely beach bungalow at Happy Bungalows for $12 each, very pricey for a backpackers budget, but it was a treat to ourselves.

Unfortunately I only stayed for 1 night and 2 days and by day we relaxed on the beach and swam in the warmest sea I have ever been in. By night the sky was so clear you could see hundreds of stars. We drank through the night and by 3am we were swimming in the sea (still as warm as a bath) amongst the lights of the plankton. What an amazing experience!

I left the island at 4pm the following day and sailed back to Sihanoukville. I found a hostel for $1.50 named Utopia, which was the worse dorm of my trip so far, but for such a cheap price I was happy. Not wanting to spend too much time in the small smelly dorm I headed out to the bars and stayed there until I could drink and dance no more, meaning I only had to sleep for 3 hours before I was getting my bus back to Phnom Penh…

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Bangkok life!

My first morning in Bangkok I woke up to the loudest thunder, brightest lightening & heaviest rain I have ever heard, but by 12 noon the storm had passed leaving it very hot and humid. A little uncomfortable, but to me this jus adds to the great atmosphere of Bangkok.

I had estimated to spend 3 nights in Bangkok but have just booked an extra night here at Napark Hostel. I met a great bunch of people on my first day and its been non-stop since. On the first day we walked to Wat Pho which is a beautiful temple in Bangkok and home to the Sleeping Buddha. Entrance fee 100bht. We did originally set out to see the Grand Palace, but got lost and ended up here instead!

The following day me and Rachel headed out early to the Umbrella Market and the Floating Market. The Umbrella market was unusual to say the least! The market traders set up stalls along the rail track and when the train comes they put down their unbrellas until it passes. Of all the places they could set up market, why here, I have still yet to research!
The floating market was another interesting experience, traders trade from their longtail boats on the river and although this an historic market it has now become a tourist trap. But if its helps the Thai people earn money then there is nothing wrong with tourist traps in my opinion. We had to pay an additional 150bht to cruise along the river market, but I was happy to pay this as the experience was one of a kind.

This trip cost 350bht. I booked it through a travel agent I came across whilst out walking.

Napark Hostel is a brilliant starting point, its safe, clean, friendly and central. A bit more expensive than others but a great place to meet your first set of travel buddies.

My first 4 days has been everything I expected and I am really enjoying myself.

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Excited, nervous, sad, excited!

Excited, nervous, sad, excited. This was the emotional roller coaster I experienced on Tuesday, the day of my flight to Bangkok & the first stop on my travels.

The sadness came from having to say goodbye to my parents, obviously because I will miss them, but the fact that I am only away for 3 months makes that easier, it mainly came from knowing that I was leaving them very worried and it makes me sad to know that I am putting them through it. But I know they are pleased for me.

My flights ran smoothly but because I had a 2 hour stop over at Dubai it made the whole flight seem extra long & tiring. When I finally landed in Bangkok I gave a taxi driver the address of my hostel & he drove me to Khao San Road. Khao San Road is a stretch of road filled with market stalls & hostels, but I knew my hostel wasn’t on this road. The taxi driver insisted it was but knowing he was wrong I paid him as I knew my hostel was only a few streets away. Any Thai person who spoke English asked if they could help me find my way and after several friendly attempts at helping me, not one person got me to my hostel. So I found a tuk tuk driver who tried to charge me 200bht, I laughed and after some haggling I got him down to 20bht (about 40p).

So after about 30 minutes of searching, I finally arrived at my hostel. After removing my shoes I stepped inside to be greeted by lots of fellow backpackers chatting and relaxing on the cushioned flooring area. As I had arranged to meet a friend of a friend I locked my backpack in my dorm cupboard (so pleased I remembered to bring a padlock) and headed out.

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