A Travellerspoint blog

South East Asia Summary and Highlights

A round up of our SE Asian adventure in the same format as our South American summary


View South East Asia on Roaming Rolts's travel map.

Number of days in South East Asia: 88 days

Countries visited:

Thailand: 12 + 17 = 29 days
Laos: 8 days
Vietnam: 24 days
Cambodia: 5 days
Malaysia: 7 + (Sabah: 5 days) + 2 + 2 = 16 days
Brunei: 2 days
Singapore: 2 + 2 = 4 days

Accommodation:
45 different accommodations
+1 night bus (after that we decided never again! Not in Vietnam at least where the speed limit was 60kph most of the time, 80kph at best and flights were less than £30.)
+2 night trains

We changed accommodation within the same town on 3 occasions:

Luang Prabang was booked up for the second night.
Saigon we had booked two nights originally but the guesthouse was not particularly clean and had a bug problem so we did not extend our stay there.
Kuala Lumpur's B&B hostel got a booking for a school party therefore double booked our room and so we had to find a hotel for one night before moving closer to the train station for the second night where it was cheaper and more convenient for our early start to the airport for Australia.

48 different places over 88 nights gives us an average stay of 1.8 nights at each place, compared to 1.7 nights in South America; however we moved around a lot more in Asia, as South America’s average included changing three times in the delightful town of Calama, 3 nights camping on the Inca Trail and 9 nights travelling. If you look at the average for staying in a hotel or guesthouse only, South America’s average is 2.25 nights and Asia is 1.96 nights. Regardless of which way you calculate it, it is safe to say we moved around an awful lot! It felt as though we moved a lot more in Asia, as we rarely spent more than two nights in the same hotel.

Our longest stay for the whole time was 4 nights in Krabi over Christmas. We managed 3 nights on Phu Quoc island in Vietnam and 3 nights in Hanoi. I think it's fair to say we have literally not stopped moving for 3 months.

We rejected one accommodation and did a midnight dash (at 11pm) to another hotel in Siem Reap, where the hotel was expecting Chris to return with a hooker, when he booked the room with absolutely no belongings. The hotel we left was filthy with gunge and slime in the bathroom and the air conditioning did not work in the stifling 40 degree heat of Cambodia. That and the owner was pretty rude towards me for being a fussy English woman, with a boyfriend (husband) who just goes along with whatever I tell him. Marriage must be a strange affair if this is not the case in Cambodia!

Top 3 Accommodation

This is a lot more difficult to decide for South East Asia as everything was so cheap, we really did not slum it. We did not stay in any dorm rooms, mainly double rooms, occasionally twin and until we got to Malaysia, we did not even have to entertain the notion of sharing our bathroom.
The best country for accommodation is Vietnam, where £18 will get you a very nice 3/4 star modern western style double room with buffet breakfast. Excluding Singapore, which is just generally a lot more expensive, Malaysia was least value for money, with rooms being very basic and bathrooms being a wet room the size of a closet. Turns out our cupboard under the stairs is more than big enough for a bathroom, when I had previously thought it too small to be a downstairs toilet. North Thailand was probably the cheapest and best value for money. We struggled to spend much more than £10 for a cute little bungalow. We also stayed in the most authentic rooms here, without needing to lower expectations in comfort.

Anyway.... I digress.

Chiang Mai, Thailand - GAP's House: lovely traditional large room with lovely wooden furniture and a good breakfast. The hotel was set in the grounds of a garden, which was more like a jungle.
Krabi, Thailand - Cozy Place: this was like a miniature holiday resort hotel with the 20 or so rooms all overlooking the pool. The bed and room were massive, the balcony was a good size, breakfast was good competition for a Brazilian breakfast and Barrel dog lived there! This dog was the roundest fat dog we had ever seen!
Phu Quoc, Vietnam - Lan Anh Resort: these were cute little bungalows around a pool and garden with a lovely outside bathroom behind your room. The breakfast was pretty good too.

We stayed at the Radisson in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, which goes without saying that that was our nicest hotel, but we paid nearly £50 a night for that, and although you couldn't get anything at all for less than £40 a night in BSB, I'm sure if we had spent £50 a night in Vietnam or North Thailand we could have potentially got something even nicer. The Sheraton in Sandakan comes a very close second in the international chain hotels category.

Worst Accommodation

I would say we generally had better luck with accommodation in South East Asia, probably due to the fact there was a lot of competition and more options for each budget in each town. Also in South America, our budget although considerably more per night, was normally the minimum amount you would have to pay to put a roof over your head for the night. Anyway, the worst three:

The aforementioned dirty accommodation in Siem Reap (although can that count if we didn't manage to stay more than a couple of hours here?)
Saigon - the room with the bugs and unwashed blankets
Chiang Khong, Thailand - had a broken toilet and so faeces leaked out over the bathroom floor. Nice.

Travelling Times

We had a lot more land to cover on this section of the trip, but perhaps cheated by flying through most of Vietnam, as a 12 hour bus or train journey costed £25 for the one hour fight. Numbers in brackets are times from South America to show a comparison.

Time spent on buses: 90.75 hours (141.5)
Time spent on trains: 25 hours
Time spent on flights (excluding connection times): 44.75 hours (37)
Time spent on ferries: 33.5 hours (13.5)
Total time travelling: 194 hours/ 8 days and 2 hours (192/8 days)

Stuff Stolen

$4 additional fees at the Cambodian border. $2 of that was for the official medical check.......the other $2 were because I have your passport and because I can.

Probably completely ripped off at various other times, but actual thefts are zero! Yay! (Compared to three in South America.)

Highlights

So again I will try to do this as a top three for each country. We have an incredibly long list of highlights to choose from though.

Thailand

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The Royal Palace, Bangkok

Bangkok - Exploring the capital city of Bangkok, which we both absolutely loved. Some of our favourites were the unmissable Royal Palace, a long tail boat tour around floating villages on the Thonburi canals, Wat Arun lit up by night, exploring the locals’ alleys around the river by our first accommodation and enjoying cocktails at the Sky Bar by night.
Kanchanaburi – Riding Death Railway over the River Quai bridge and a day trip to the picturesque Erawan Waterfalls
Chiang Mai – Cooking class and the elephant conservation park, where we washed the elephants

Thai Beaches
Ah I’m cheating already….

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Sunset at Khao Lak

Khao Lak – The best snokelling trip we went on was to the islands of Koh Similan
Krabi – Kayaking around the mangroves, karsts and caves
Koh Jum – Actually stopping to relax on this deserted rustic beach island. There is nothing to do, which was just what we needed!

Laos

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Mountain scenery between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng

Slow boat along the Mekong from the border to Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang – The food! Our own private buffet barbeque and taking a rowing boat across the river to a hidden bamboo restaurant in the trees
Vang Vieng – tubing along the river and exploring the hidden caves, which included walking through the pitch black empty caves in water up to your chest.

Vietnam

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Hanoi by night

Hanoi - Exploring the narrow streets of the old quarter on foot and by cyclo before enjoying a coffee overlooking the chaotic rush hour traffic in the square below and then enjoying the corner bars known as ‘bia hoi’.
Hoi An – Wandering the streets of the old quarter, by day and lit up with colourful lanterns by night before stopping for a relaxing cup of tea and cookies in a deaf tea house.

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Children in a minority village

Kon Tum – Tour in French by moped of the minority villages and all the interesting stories he shared with us.

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Locals returning from a fishing trip at sunset on Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc Island – Relaxing on the beaches and exploring the island by moped before taking a boat out for a snorkelling trip.

Cambodia

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Former school, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Phnom Penh – Former S-21 prison, now home to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Cocktails at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club
Cheoung Ek - The Killing Fields

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Temples at Angkor

Siem Reap – Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples

Malaysia

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La maison bleue, Georgetown

Langkawi - Walking up the Telega Tujuh Waterfalls and sliding down the rocks between the Seven Pools
Georgetown - Wandering the streets of the UNESCO centre and admiring the street art, traditional Malay shop houses, Peranakan mansion house and Cheong Fatt mansion house (La maison bleue) before heading to Little India for a traditional banana leaf curry.
Ipoh – Visiting the strangely placed Kellie’s Castle, which does not exactly match its surroundings.

Borneo – Sabah

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Orang-utan!

Sandakan – Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre and Rainforest Discovery Centre and its canopy walkway
Sandakan - Afternoon tea in the traditional English tea house overlooking the bay
Kota Kinabalu - Scuba diving off the coast of Gaya Island

Brunei

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Kampung Ayer Water Village

Bandar Seri Begawan - Royal Regalia museum, the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque lit up at night and the boat trip with self-assigned tour guide for a driver along the river to find the proboscis monkeys.
Tasek Lama Park – Walking the trails along tarmac and climbing root covered steep muddy hills before watching the monkeys cool off in the stream just outside the park
Kampung Ayer – starting off in the visitor centre, which goes into more detail about the history of the villages before meandering through the jetties, which link this water village together

Singapore

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Gardens by the Bay

Singapore zoo and night safari
Gardens by the Bay Light Show before enjoying cocktails in the bar atop one of these trees
Sentosa Island - Waterslides at Adventure Cove and snorkelling through the tropical fish tank, taking the chair lift up the hill in order to toboggan back down and the S.E.A. Aquarium.

Overall, our favourite country was Thailand, with Vietnam being a close second. In both countries, they enjoy a good haggle; however this seemed to be quite light hearted and more of a game in Thailand, whereas in Vietnam, you always wondered how much you were going to have be ripped off. You never felt like you were winning or at the very least breaking even in Vietnam.

We absolutely loved our adventures and have had the most amazing six months of our lives, but my goodness, by the end of it, were we tired! We found it incredibly tiring for the last couple of weeks to pack up and change accommodation again; however this was probably partly because we knew we were nearing the end of our trip. Six months was a decent amount of time. If we had more time, we would have loved to have better explored Australia; but where do you stop?

Last post will be a short summary of our fortnight in Australia. I decided to do it separately to the Asia summary, as it was such a contrast.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 10:37 Tagged beaches singapore cambodia thailand malaysia vietnam laos borneo highlights asia sabah brunei south_east_asia summary Comments (0)

Singapore Part Two

The final destination

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View South East Asia on Roaming Rolts's travel map.

Friday 7th February

We were not to be as lucky with our return bus journey from Melaka, which took an extra hour and had a twenty minute break two hours into the trip. We finally crossed the border into Singapore at about 6pm; just in time for rush hour. We found our hotel, part of the Singaporean Fragrance group chain, which is also known for its hourly rates. Judging by the area in which we were staying and the great big sign outside saying 'business hotel', I am sure our hotel would be more than obliging should you need a room for an hour or so, with one of the plenty of girls lining the street just outside.

In the evening, we headed down to the waterfront to see the tail end of a parade before walking around the bay, which had colourfully lit up fabric models of dragons and horses and Chinese displays for Chinese New Year.

The following day we decided to visit the resort island of Sentosa to visit Adventure Cove. Sentosa is a small island to the South of the main island of Singapore and is home to the various theme parks, attractions and resorts. Adventure Cove is a water park aquarium. There are a number of water slides, all of which you go down on either an inflatable ring or a float mat. These were good as you could get single or double ones, so Chris and I were able to go down together. Chris was somewhat put out that the heavier person always had to go at the back; however on one of the whirlpool slides we ended up facing the wrong way and so for the final section Chris got to lead.

There was a wave pool, which was actually fairly tame, as well as an assault course over four metre deep plunge pools. The assault course involved a balance beam, an tight rope with a lax rope above to help you balance and a cargo net. There was also a dive in and climb up the rope 5m or so to ring a bell at the top. I did not quite manage this one as the ropes really hurt my feet. (And probably having no upper body strength did not help either).

At this park, you can pay considerable amounts of money to go diving (£500) or swim with dolphins (£250); however included in the ticket is snorkelling with 20,000 fish in a huge fish tank. This tank was full of beautiful, colourful fish, a lot we had seen either diving or on snorkelling trips, as well as a lot of others we had not seen. Despite the slightly false feel of this and the lack of the thrill of discovering these fish hidden amongst the corals yourself, it was still pretty incredibly swimming amongst the schools of tropical fish. This attraction is definitely the highlight of the park.

The final attraction is a lazy river, which runs around the whole park, acting as both an attraction and a route around the park and to the slides. The first time we went round, it must have taken a good twenty minutes to complete the circuit on inflatable rubber rings. The second time, we decided to swim in the one metre deep water while wearing life jackets, which actually turned out to be more fun than the rings, particularly when you sit in them and allow yourself to float around.

Most of this circuit is various scenes with statues and music playing as you go around, but the last section takes you past a sting ray tank before going into a glass tunnel with fish swimming over the top. It had been a challenge to stop on the rings the first time to get a good look at the rays and fish, which is why we opted for doing the second half with the life jackets to return to the entrance.

Friday night was the last night of our trip and so we headed back down to the harbour front, where there are the gardens by the bay. Each evening at 7.45pm, there is a light show put on at the gardens. These gardens have your normal maintained flower beds with winding pathways in between, but what makes these gardens original are the giant trees which have been constructed out of metal frames. They tower far above so that you can see them from pretty much any point within the harbour. The circular metal frames, which make up the trunks of the trees, are completely covered with plants so that from a distance they almost look like very tall hedges. At the top of these towers, the metal branches splay out to create a funnel, inside of which lies a large upside down plain lampshade type object, which by night is lit up, creating a silhouette look with the branches. Between two of the tree towers runs a walkway, high off the ground, overlooking the gardens. As part of the light display, the trees and walkway are lit up in various different coloured and styles of light, which are accompanied by rainforest music.

In the centre, the highest tree tower has become a restaurant and tree top bar and so Chris and I took the lift up and enjoyed a couple of drinks overlooking the Singapore skyline by night. Chris had a Singapore Sling which he would describe as 'fruity'.

Saturday 8th February - The Final Day!

After checking out of our 'business' hotel, we returned to Senstosa Island to visit the S.E.A. Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the world. This gave us a chance to take photos of the various fish we had seen snorkelling and diving, as well as seeing a lot of others we had not seen. This aquarium is home to the largest viewing panel, which was absolutely massive.

Although this aquarium is supposedly the largest, we still preferred the aquarium in Osaka, Japan as this had a greater selection of fish as well as other aquatic wildlife.

After lunch, we decided to go on the Luge, which was like tobogganing down a road. To reach the top of the run, there is a chairlift, which offers great views back over Singapore as you climb the hill to the top. From the top, you are given a quick lesson on using the brakes on your sledge before you set off down the 700m course. One of the routes had quite a few twists and turns, but on the other path, you could travel much faster to the point where your toboggan would lift off on one side. We had three runs on this before heading back to the mainland of Singapore, if you can call it that?

We spent the last couple of hours browsing the shops, where Christopher bought himself a new coat, which I am going to be very jealous of when we land in Gatwick at 6.30am tomorrow morning. After a cup of coffee it was time to leave, pick up our bags from the hotel and head to the airport.

How did we get to the end of our magnificent trip?

Posted by Roaming Rolts 12:30 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Melaka, Malaysia

One final trip before home!

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Melaka, Malaysia

Tuesday 4th February

We had both been dreading the four hour bus journey from Singapore to Melaka, hoping that the bus would be Singaporean rather than Malaysian as the one and only bus journey we had taken from Georgetown to Ipoh had taken several hours rather than three. And of course there were the Kuala Lumpur airport buses with the driver sniffing goodness knows what while maintaining an average speed of 80mph. We were pleased that we were potentially in with a chance of a reasonable journey as we booked with a Singaporean bus company; however this is Asia, so we were far from surprised when we were shown to a Malaysian bus from a completely different company. We were obviously lucky though as this bus did set off only 10 minutes late, had no unscheduled stops and arrived as timetabled four hours later.

We arrived at 11pm and so did not see any of Melaka until the morning.

Wednesday 5th February

Melaka is a UNESCO World Heritage town, due to its Dutch style shop houses, as opposed to the more recent British influenced shop houses found in Georgetown. The shop houses here still have the five foot walkway; however most are separated by a wall to create a veranda for each property. Unfortunately this means there is no pavement for pedestrians to walk along, which makes visiting this town a less pleasant experience. Pavements you can walk along are something of a luxury in Asia, but I would say Melaka is one of the worst places we have visited. Here you have to slalom in and out of parked vehicles, minding out for great holes in the drain network, while watching for moving cars and mopeds who will not allow you any room to move.

Once you have successfully navigated the side streets to the centre, you will find a beautiful church which has been rendered a deep red to match the various buildings around it. In front of the church is a fountain in memory of Queen Victoria and surrounding that are some colourful and well maintained flower beds. Parked up right in front of the church is a line of traditional trishaws, which have been decorated to within an inch of their lives, most with Hello Kitty in order to appeal to the majority of tourists who visit Melaka, the Japanese.

Around and behind the church runs a heritage trail which takes you up and over the hill. On the top of the hill is a dilapidated church with no roof, with a large clock tower to the front. If you carry on down the back of the hill, you are taken to another run down church, although this one is less of a ruin and considerably smaller.

On one of the streets just off from the centre, there is a former shop house, which is considered the most authentic in Melaka. This shop house has had very few alterations since it was first built in the 1800s. The original shop at the front had been converted into a museum, which explains what makes a shop house original and different to buildings constructed today, showing examples of which materials were used and where. As part of the UNESC status, this house has been restored, while staying true to the original. The walls have been stripped back to the original limestone used and the floor is back to the original terracotta tiles in places. The man who works there gives you a little tour and description of the house and clearly very passionate about ensuring the history of these shop houses in Melaka continues to be preserved and shared.

We walked along the river, which has various properties backing on to it, some of which have opened cafés off the back to face on to the river. Along the river are various water villages, although these seem to be reached more easily by land, rather than linked with jetties. It looks as though it is only the backs of the properties which are in the shallow waters.

Thursday 6th February

On the Thursday, we had hoped to catch the bus back to Singapore at 8am; however this one was booked up and so we could not get a bus until 2pm. With hindsight this was actually better as we had not relaxed or taken it slowly for a good few weeks and were still exhausted from our incredibly long day travelling back from Australia. This meant a lie in (until 8.30am) and a chance to visit a former Chinese mansion house before coffee and a cake in time for the bus.

This Chinese mansion house was three terraced houses, each approximately 200ft long and linked together to created an impressive maze of rooms. During the Dutch rule, houses were taxed according to their width, and so properties tended to be long and narrow. To allow light into the middle of the houses, double height open roof lights, let the light to flood in to the courtyard and rooms below. These are also perfect for Feng Shui, as they stop negative energies from being trapped in your house. As they are open air, the rain will come in too, which is apparently also lucky.

Our tour guide was quite entertaining, partly from her accent and the way she told some of her anecdotes and stories. She liked to link marital life from the 1800s with similarities in today's marriages and the importance of the woman really being in charge of all good marriages. The house itself was magnificent and contained the original ornately carved furniture as well as about five different sets of china, used depending on the importance of your guest.

In one of the bedrooms, there were the hundred year old wedding robes and in another room there was a red outfit and cloth worn and used to celebrate birthdays. On the opposite wall was a navy blue cloth, which would be hung up to show the family was in mourning, with a matching blue outfit. Below that sat a cloth used to cover the family coffins. There was some implication that it had not been used for a long time, but the two brothers were now in their 80s so it might get an outing soon.

Her favourite joke was to remind us to smile for her retired boss who had noticing better to do than watch us on CCTV all day before removing a 10cm square section of floor board, which opened up over the front veranda allowing for 19th century CCTV.

After our delicious cupcakes at Heerem guesthouse café we commenced our final bus journey of the trip back to Singapore. It feels strange that the idea of doing a 4-5 hour bus journey really is no big deal now. Prior to our trip, any journey over two and a half hours had to be for a good reason or a significant amount of time at the other end, rather than just over 24 hours. I am sure after a couple of Great British traffic jams my mind will have changed again. Here is to our last stop, Singapore!

Posted by Roaming Rolts 07:15 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Singapore, Singapore - Part One

Our last new country to visit on this trip.

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In the interests of saving money, we had booked a flight for 6am from Melbourne back up to Sydney. I can't remember how much we saved by not flying direct from Melbourne to Singapore, but I do hope it was a considerable amount. We got up at 2.45am and left our apartment at 3am to do the 2.5km walk across town to the bus station. Being a Saturday night, the streets were still relatively busy. The man selling the tickets for the 4am bus later turned out to be the driver too. We arrived in Sydney shortly after 7am, which meant a wait of nearly 7 hours before our next flight at 2pm. We landed in Singapore at 6.30pm local time, which being 3 hours behind Australia meant we had already been up nearly 20 hours. We arrived at our accommodation like tired hungry zombies, having barely eaten all day, had some dinner and went straight to bed.

Monday 3rd February

We decided that to make things easy and not have to plan what to do with our day before going to bed the night before, that we would spend the day at the zoo and work out a plan for Singapore the following day.

Singapore zoo is the best zoo we have ever been too. I still prefer Woburn Safari Park, but as zoos go, this is by far the best. The animals do have good sized and well equipped enclosures. They all look pretty happy, with none of them pacing around looking as though they have gone crazy. Most of the enclosures are not really enclosures at all with a moat separating you from the animals. The oragnutans have free roam around the park should they want it, with a massive area with ropes and platforms for them to swing between.

This zoo was very well stocked, with a lot of animals from Malaysia and Singapore of which we had never even heard of before. Also as you wandered around, there were various other creatures within the grounds. We saw a few lizards, one about a metre long, and a small snake.

Next to the zoo, there is another zoo called the Night Safari. You could get combined tickets for the zoo and the safari, which opened at dusk after the zoo had closed. At the Night Safari, there is a tram, which does a huge circuit around the animals as well as four trails, which allow you to visit the remainder of the animals on foot. We set off on the first trail to find we were the only people walking around the zoo, which was a welcome break from the hoards of noisy visitors with whom we had just spent the day.

We wandered through the wallaby enclosure, which was a path winding through the middle of a wooded area with wallabies behind a one foot wooden bar. If they wanted to join you, they could and they were more than happy just sitting at the edge of the path.

The night safari had a lot of the same animals as the zoo; however all the animals were a lot more lively after dark. A few of the big cats appeared to have gone out for the night, leaving their enclosures looking empty, but we managed to spot most of the other animals, which included some incredibly aptly named slow loris, a lot of otters, civits, a tiger, deer, lions and flying fox bats.

We caught the bus back to town at 10pm after spending 11 hours at the zoo. So much for a more relaxed day to recover from our long day travelling.

Tuesday 4th February

We ran out of time in Malaysia and didn't make it to Melaka, which is 4 hours from Singapore and so we booked a bus for 7pm this evening to spend a couple of nights there before returning to Singapore for the last couple of days before flying home.

First thing, we browsed one of the shopping centres next to Bugis metro station. Afterwards we wandered across to the National Museum, which had about five different exhibitions. One of the exhibitions looked at the history of Singapore through the medium of black and white photos. Some of these were fascinating, with the pictures giving you an insight into Singaporean life during the 20th century. Another exhibit looked at the significance of street food and hawker stalls in Singapore's history, particularly during the 19th century, when the male population outnumbered the female populations 10:1, creating a flourishing demand for cheap yet good fast food. Some of the best food we have had on this trip has been from street stalls.

The main part of the museum looked at the history of Singapore in a more traditional style museum. This section came with an audio guide, which if you listened to it all and followed the tour around all the exhibits, you could have easily filled a day. After introducing early Singapore, the majority of the museum focused on stories from the various different communities which migrated to Singapore during the 20th century.

There was an art gallery, which Chris and I whisked around and some nuclear energy exhibit, which we clearly missed the point of. The room was pitch black, yet on entering, you were given a thick booklet to read. Inside, there were about 30 luminous green chandeliers, which were various different sizes, each representing a country which uses nuclear power and how much. In the far corner were about 30 cardboard cut outs with people projected on to them, which just seemed to be milling around. They looked like if you went over to them, they'd speak to you or something but nothing happened. We quickly left, confused, returning the booklet.

After a cup of coffee, it was soon time to catch the bus to Melaka.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 07:33 Archived in Singapore Tagged history zoo museum safari Comments (0)

Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Exploring Australia's most European feeling city.

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Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

The final drive around the bay of Melbourne from Phillip Island to the centre of the CBD took just under two hours. Our car was to be returned with an empty fuel tank. As we approached the CBD, the fuel light came on to alert us there was 50km of fuel left, which was fine as we only had about 10km to do; however the digital fuel calculator disappeared to be replaced with a flashing last bar on the fuel gauge. Chris suggested we pulled off the freeway, but seeing as we were a matter of kilometres from the drop off and further from a petrol station, we continued. Fortunately we managed to drop off our bags at the apartment before taking the car back and running out of fuel. We would have been fine though, we were uphill from the car drop off point!

After returning the hire car, we headed down to Federation Square where we met up with my cousin, who I have not seen for 10 years. It was also lovely to meet up with my Aunty and Uncle, her parents, who were over visiting. We all had a coffee in the sun before heading across town to visit Cooke's Cottage.

Cooke's cottage is a small country cottage which was brought over from England and rebuilt here. It's a very small two up two down and is set amongst beautiful gardens.

After having lunch, we all went our separate ways and Chris and I began to explore the city and decided to sight see on the free circle route tram, which used an old fashioned tram car.

In the evening we visited Queen Victoria market, which holds a night market every Wednesday evening. This was a lot busier than we had anticipated and there was a good variety of food from all over the globe available. We feasted on some delicious Moroccan style lamb burgers.

The following morning, we visited the state library, which much be one of the best libraries I have ever visited. (Have yet to visit the British library.) this building from the outside is an imposing building with columns out the front. Leading up to the library is a pleasant little garden terrace area with plenty of benches and shady lawns to sit on. Inside the library, there are your relatively conventional square box rooms which 'do their job' of housing all the books, which are rather grand with their double height ceilings. The real reason for visiting though is to see the dome room, only recently restored after having the glass ceiling dome boarded over for the best part of a century. This room is truly magnificent. It retains its original charm with the reading tables from the turn of the 20th century. The room is set up in a circle, continuing the flow of the dome roof. Overlooking the great room are balconies which are home to yet more books. Around the edge of the ground floor there are bookshelves reaching high above your head. You can head up to the balconies, giving you an aerial view of this great room.

Around the edge of this room, on the balconies are various temporary exhibits, one of which explains more about the history of Victoria and how it came to be an independent state, separate from New South Wales in the middle of the 19th century.

In the afternoon, we visited the former gaol, which used to look after all of Melbourne's growing criminal population. Hundreds of executions were carried out within the gaol, where the original hanging platform can still be seen. Within the museum, you can explore the various different cells, which contain fact files on some of the gaol's residents. These include background information leading up to their crime and if they were executed or not.

Some of the cells contain death masks, which were made in order to establish if their was a link between skull shape and size and brain to the likelihood of someone leading a life of crime through the studying of phrenology. You can explore all three floors of the male cell block; the women's cell block has been demolished.

Alongside the gaol is the watch house, a remand and overnight cell block, which was used for short term stays, usually of a few nights, up until the 1990s. The gaol had been a free tour, this one was a guided experience tour. You were lined up outside before being arrested and given a character to play. As part of the tour, you are walked through the various parts of the station and shown to the cells. In Australia, they have wet and dry cells. Dry cells have wooden floors, wet cells are smoothed painted concrete with a drain in the middle so that they can easily be hosed down after a drunken guest or two.

On Friday, we wandered around the centre, stopping to look at the old treasury building and Parliament House. We walked along the river, and up along the South Bank.

In the afternoon, we visited an exhibition in Federation Square. The exhibition called Spectacle looked at how music videos have changed the way we listen to music and showing how sometimes the video can be more popular than the song itself. The exhibition looks at different techniques used over the years and documents those which, for their time, were deemed adventurous and daring. The exhibition went up to present day, with the latest craze of people remaking the music videos and posting them on YouTube.

In the evening, we took a tram down to the bay to visit the town of St. Kilda. This is a popular little seaside town, particularly with kite surfers. There are plenty of cafés along the streets and after a walk along the promenade, we stopped for dinner at a comical Italian restaurant. All the staff were foreign, and we didn't hear any native English speakers, most sounding European and a few were French. Anyway, boss man (potentially Italian?) didn't seem to have too much patience for his staff, who to be fair, were relatively incompetent. It was quite entertaining watching him become frustrated when they didn't understand or asked questions, from the customers, which he deemed irrelevant and pointless. For example, what's the house white. (It's dry white and $12 (£6) a litre, what more could you possibly want or need to know?) The food was good, even if the starter did come out sometime after my main.

At one end of the seafront, there is a Luna Park, which was relatively deserted, but at least everything was still lit up with brightly coloured lights. Just up from that there is a pier, which extends some way out into the sea with a beach section off to one side. Along the beach, meeting the pier are loads of large rocks and within the gaps of these rocks are various little penguin nests. As it was sunset, we sat and watched and saw about five different penguins coming in and wandering around. Chris was not impressed that we had paid to see this the other night, but you couldn't really compare it as at this time of year there are a lot fewer penguins.

The following day, Saturday, was our last day in Melbourne. We started the day by visiting the Eureka tower which has an observation deck on the 88th floor, considerably higher than any of the buildings around it. The views were great and you could see right down to the bay. There is also 'the edge' experience, which is a glass cube which extends three metres out from the side of the building and once fully extended, the frosted glass floor clears so that you are standing on a clear glass platform. The views were no better in the cube, and seeing as it extends over a car park, the view down is nothing special either. This is definitely one that is more for the novelty factor and the ability to say you had done it.

All around the observation deck were some forty viewfinders which you would look down to see a specific labelled building or monument. This was a really easy way to clearly know what you are actually looking at, compared to when we went up the Petronas Towers in KL, where the pictures showing the skyline were about 10 years old and incredibly outdated!

In the afternoon, we wandered around the shops, and sat in the park before heading back to our apartment to pack, have dinner and get an early night as we had to get up at 2.45am to catch the bus to the airport to fly to Sydney.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 17:39 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

East Coast Australia - Sydney to Melbourne

sunny 30 °C

East Coast Australia - Sydney to Melbourne

Saturday 26th January

Taking the most direct route from Sydney to Melbourne would take about nine hours to cover the 881km on the highway inland, going through the capital of Canberra. The alternative is to meander along the Princes Highway, which weaves in and out of the various coastal towns, running along the seafront.

We started in the Blue Mountains and headed south east towards the coast, stopping off at the sleepy towns of Bowral and Bundanoon. Bowral had a quaint little high street set in traditional old buildings with a good selection of book shops and cafés. We stopped for a coffee and a browse around a couple of the shops. Bundanoon was more of a village and we just had a quick drive through it.

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Some of the views we have been forced to endure on our drive

We continued across to the coast and headed down, stopping to look at the gorgeous coastline in Ulladulla, before arriving in Durras North for the night.

Durras North is in the middle of Murramarang National Park. We had planned to stop in Bateman's Bay; however it was recommended we stop here as it was less touristy and kangaroos are guaranteed. You don't need to tell is twice!

We booked a cabin on a holiday park, which assured you you would see kangaroos and as we were checking in, a couple went bouncing past the front of reception. Later that evening, there was one just hanging out down the side of the caravans, looking as though he thought if he didn't move or look at us, we couldn't see him. The following morning, they were just lounging around in the shade on an open area of the campsite.

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Kangaroo!

Our cabin, described as retro was a mix between that and vintage. It was more like a very old mobile home with a Portakabin attached for an awning living room area. The sofa chairs in the living room were vintage dark floral green, the dining chairs and table looked like it was from the 1950s with its part pink leather upholstery. The curtains were all various different dark floral patterns. Fortunately the bed was newer and incredibly comfortable.

Sunday 26th January

The following morning, we walked the discovery trail along the lake and through the woods behind the campsite. Theses woods felt incredibly British, just lacking in heather! The route took a little over an hour and took you along the side of a tranquil blue lake with forest surrounding it on all sides.

After an early lunch, we walked along the deserted beach on the golden sands. The water was a beautiful turquoise and midnight blue mix with waves crashing at various points on the way into the beach. Sadly there were no kangaroos on the beach, preferring to stay at the campsite.

Back on the road again, we were stopping for the night at Merimbula, about an hour north of the border between New South Wales and Victoria. Along the way, we stopped for a cream tea in Central Tilba, which could probably be best described as Australia's answer to the Cotswolds. The buildings were traditional frontier style with timber weatherboard cladding and corrugated tin roofs, painted on earthy hues. The town was set in rolling green hills with a few token black and white cows. We climbed the hill to the water tower, which offered panoramic views of the valleys and mountains.

We stopped for the night at a motel in Merimbula, perched high up on the hill overlooking a picture perfect blue bay. The owner advised us do a driving route around town, which took us to a long stretch of beach, and a fisherman's jetty. The motel was west facing and so we watched the sun go down over the bay from our room.

Monday 27th January

The next morning we crossed the border into Victoria and immediately the weather improved. So far Australia had felt like those first days of spring, with the crispness gone but the sun not quite strong enough to warm through you. In Victoria, it's back to hot summer days, but at least without the humidity of Asia.

We stopped in Mallacoota, a town on the sea, where the river meets the ocean, forming various lakes and inlets which form part of Croajingolang National Park. The best way to explore these waterways is by hiring a motorboat for a couple of hours. Chris was thrilled that he got to be the captain of his own ship, even if at top speed it was passed easily by windsurfers. We passed through a couple of lakes and explored a couple of mangrove lined creeks.

After Mallacoota, we had quite a drive to Bairnsdale, where we were spending the night at another caravan park. Our reason for stopping here is to the East, on the coast there is a town called Paynesville. From here, you can park your car and take the ferry for free to Raymond Island. Raymond Island his home to a colony of koala bears, relocated here from Phillip Island in the 1950s. There is a koala trail around the island leading to a wooded area, where we found 8 little koala bears just chilling in the branches, each with their own tree, making it more of a challenge to spot them. I wonder how many we missed. Some of them watched you as you walked around their tree to get a better look.

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I'm watching you!

In addition to koalas, the island is home to some colourful green birds with red, blue, and yellow chests as well as kookaburras. After about an hour wandering around the island, we caught the ferry back to Paynesville. Now all we need to see are some wallabies and wombats.

Tuesday 28th January

Today is our penultimate stint along the coast before we arrive in Melbourne tomorrow.

We headed inland to Walhalla, a former gold mining town, which thrived during the 19th century. The town is set in the hills about 40km from the main highway. This town is very traditional, with its original post office, which avoided renovation or conversion and therefore looks just as it would have done 100 years ago. There is also the original wooden firehouse set over the river and an elevated bandstand in the centre of a very pretty garden alongside the stream. There are a couple of cafés, a hotel and a general store, but the main attraction is a trip down the disused gold mine.

The mine entrance is located 500m up the hill out of town, and offer tours at various times of the day during the weekends with one a day on weekdays. We joined the half one tour and donned our hardhats. The tunnel into the mine was quite high and we were able to stand most of the way through the 500m tunnel into the mountain. The edges of the tunnel were jagged from where they had exploded their way through. Along the floor lay the original tram lines used for removing the gold. The mine had a couple of lower tunnels, but even they were 5ft. One area opened out, which used to be home to the boilers and is sat next to the former lift shafts.

After looking around the old post office and the town museum, we did the final couple of hours to Phillip Island, home of the Little Blue Penguins, which tend to be referred to as just 'Little Penguins'.

We arrived at Phillip Island at 6pm, had some dinner before heading to the beach where the Little Penguins nest. The penguins come ashore at dusk, which is currently 21.15. We arrived shortly after 7pm to guarantee front row seats on the sand.

Walking along the boardwalks to the beach, there was a wallaby posing for photos up on the sand dunes. Another Australian animal ticked off the list!

Shortly after 9pm, the first few penguins began to come out of the sea and waddle up the beach. They were so cute as they came out of the water, being knocked over by the waves and pulled back in again. Some of them were more skilled than others at getting out; one took nearly five minutes. Once they made it out of the water, they had to scurry up the beach past all the seagulls, who were not too much smaller than the penguins who are only just over 30cm high. They tended to leave the water either alone or in groups of about four or five. On the beach, they would congregate at the bottom of the sand dune before heading up in a line to find their waiting chicks.

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Nesting penguins

As it's towards the end of the breeding season, the chicks are now about six weeks old and are nearly ready to leave the nest. As we walked along the boardwalks, which overlook the nesting sites, we saw an adorable little chick, who was just beginning to lose his brown fluffy baby feathers, so he looked like he had a fur gilet on with his flippers coming out the side.

We were finally kicked out at 10.30pm to find one in the car park all on his own.

We returned to our cabin for the night, ready for our final drive to Melbourne the following day.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 03:03 Archived in Australia Tagged koala penguin coast kangaroo wallaby Comments (0)

Hunter Valley and the Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia

rain 24 °C

Hunter Valley and the Blue Mountains are both easily accessible from Sydney, with tour companies offering day trips to both or you can take the train or as we did hire a car and enjoy the drive.

Hunter Valley, located a couple of hours drive north of Sydney is famous for its vineyards and wineries. We hired a car and began to head up the coast to Cessnock. Heading out of Sydney, we drove over the Harbour Bridge as opposed to taking the tunnel and on to the freeway.

At Gosford, we left the freeway to meander through the villages alongside the Yengo National Park. We stopped for lunch in a sleepy little village called Wollombi, and had the tastiest Greek style lamb burgers.

Once in Cessnock, we found a vineyard called Tambauline, where I'm unsure of the owners business logic. All the vineyards offer free tasters normally amounting to about five 25ml samples before you're expected to buy a bottle of your favourite. This guy was chatting away the whole time, making fun of his advertising stating 'sold out is just a marketing term which makes you want to buy it. Same applies with stock running low, means we've got too much to shift!' He was also a liberal pourer, probably offering about 50ml each time. As we discussed which wine we would buy, he interrupted us to say 'don't feel obliged to buy anything, you're backpacking!' As it was £5 for a very nice bottle of white, we didn't let him put is off.

In Australia, there used to be a law that if you owned a pub or bar, you had to provide accommodation for anyone who became to drink to get home, resulting in most towns having an abundance of affordable rooms. We thought we would give one of these establishments a try and had a very comfortable and reasonably priced room with shared bathrooms; however as this was a Thursday night, there was only one other couple there.

The following morning we visited another vineyard with sculptures in its gardens. We tried a few more different wines here before buying another cheap bottle. This winery seemed a little more interested in making a sale, with samples being smaller, but you were still unsure if they were really that fussed either way.

After this we hit the road and took the scenic route down to the Blue Mountains. Driving in Australia is so much more pleasant with rolling hills and empty roads. We headed along a 35km section of 'unsealed road', which is a gravel road to you and me and only saw a couple of cars in the other direction as we snaked our way through sections of forest and open plains. On spite of all the signs warning of kangaroos, koalas, wallabies and wombats, we were not lucky enough to anything more than some large black and white birds.

We stopped for lunch by the river in a village called St. Albans, which was very different to the St. Albans we know in Hertfordshire. There was an old fashioned pub and general store opposite the picnic area alongside the river. After lunch, we continued through to Wiseman's Ferry and, expecting to find a bridge, nearly shot off the end of the road into the river, not realising that you had to take a car ferry to cross the river.

Our last stop before Katoomba was Windsor, which had a peaceful little pedestrianised area set back from the river.

As we neared the Blue Mountains, it began to rain and cool down quite considerably. We found our hostel and actually felt cold for the first time in months!

The Blue Mountains are just over an hour to the west of Sydney. They are part of the Blue Mountains National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In the evening, we ventured down to the edge of the town where there are viewing points and trails around the Blue Mountains. We looked out on to three stacks of rocks known as the Three Sisters. Down the side of the Three Sisters is the giant staircase which is 900 steps to the bottom and rather more challenging back up again. We were more than pleased that this was not an option as it was drizzling and we only had a couple of hours of daylight left. We took the trail around the cliff to Katoomba Falls, which took about half an hour. The views were stunning, with the tree covered mountains as far as the eye could see looking a beautiful deep shade of blue in the distance.

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The following day we were pleased to see blue skies and the sun shining, while still cool, making for perfect walking conditions. Today we visited Wentworth Falls, where there are various trails along and just below the cliff edge. Again, the views were spectacular with the different coloured layers of rocks rising above you as you walked along the paths made mainly from rocks. The falls themselves were flowing well after all the recent rain, and had smoothed some of the sections of rock where it flowed before cascading over the cliff edge.

We followed the National Pass around the cliffs, taking you past various miniature waterfalls. The recommended walking time was 3-4 hours, a challenge Chris and I were more than happy to try and halve. We managed the route in about 50 minutes, if not less as we missed the marker for the end of that trail.

After the Blue Mountains, we began our journey along the East Coast from Sydney to Melbourne.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 02:59 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Sydney, NSW, Australia

semi-overcast 24 °C

So much for 'Two Rolts, Two Continents, Two Rucksacks'!

Sunday 19th January

We set off at 5.30am to take the bus to the airport for our flight to Sydney. Considering the standard of driving, the bus ride was uneventful; however we were pleased to be off the 80 mile an hour bus being driven by a man who didn't look much over 20, on his phone, and sniffing a clear liquid out of a small glass bottle.

We checked in for our Air Asia flight, which had cost all of £100, even after all their Ryanair style add-ons.... We headed through to departures, got some food and drinks for the flight and waited to board. Our flights from KL international had all allowed you to take your drinks through, but Air Asia did not allow it at the low cost terminal. Seeing a chance to make more money, they also re x-rayed your bags at the gate, confiscated drinks bought in airside and forced you to buy their overpriced water on the plane. I bet Ryanair is disappointed that they don't have access to x-ray machines at the gate for this little stunt.

We arrived in Sydney at about 9.30pm to find that we could finally test out the epassport gate! (These never seem to be working in London.) We both headed up to the gate, and I had to take my glasses off. Without my glasses, I can see absolutely nothing, and so had to shut one eye and cross the other to try and read the screen. Clearly the machine didn't like that, wouldn't work and so I had to use the normal passport counter, much to Chris' amusement as he had gone through.

We checked into our accommodation, which had been advertised as shared bathroom. We were very pleased to discover that not only did we have a balcony, but also there was a private bathroom off of that! You know you've been travelling too long when you're more than pleased at having a bathroom, even if it's technically not attached.

Monday 20th January

The following morning, we dropped off our laundry, which probably weighed about 5kg. Lately in Malaysia, we've struggled to get it done for much less than £2 a kilo and so were not looking forward to hearing the cost of this. Turns out it's $10 (£5) to have it washed dried and folded!

That morning, we visited the Powerhouse museum, which is in the former steam powerhouse in Sydney. Along with quite a detailed exhibition on steam power, there were also exhibitions on space, Australian shops from the early 20th century, when the Beatles toured Australia, and an exhibition which had lots of ways to play with light.

Insert by Christopher: Another exhibition had real inventions but with ridiculous and amusing made-up stories for each one. For example shoes with mice on the front which the 'inventor' made to help his wife get over her fear of mice, only for her to try to run away from her own feet. Unfortunately I was waffling while Zoë was reading the introduction, causing her to misread it and not realise it explained this and read each of the twenty or so explanations believing them to be true. I had quite a giggle at how gullible she was. She really is quite stupid.

In the afternoon, we wandered through Hyde Park, to the cathedral in the middle. This cathedral looked a lot older than its 200 years and was pretty impressive. Afterwards we visited the shopping area, including the magnificent Queen Victoria shopping centre, which was incredibly grand inside with Victorian tiled floors and an open double height central area with balcony walkways between the shops. Chris bought some new clothes as he was beginning to look quite the scruff bucket.

Feeling as though we couldn't confirm we were in Sydney until we saw the Sydney Opera House, we took a train up to the harbour and by the time we got there, is was wet and miserable with a heavy drizzle. We headed to a restaurant for an early dinner, hoping it would pass and we could see the harbour by night but had no such luck.

Tuesday 21st January

The following day we visited the Sydney Museum, which shows Sydney life during the 20th century. The museum is located on the grounds of the first government house from the 1700s. At the front of the museum, there is a viewing cube, which looks out onto the square in front of the museum entrance. From above you realise that the various different coloured slabs and tiles have been placed to show the foundations and floor plan of the original building.

After lunch, we wandered around the harbour and the front of the Sydney Opera House before taking the ferry across to Manly bay. The main reason for taking this ferry is to obtain a better view of the harbour and therefore the Opera House and Harbour bridge.

We spent a couple of hours in Manly, wandered along the beautiful coastal path, which overlooks the crystal clear waters before stopping for a coffee on the promenade. All along the coastal path were signs warning of penguins, but unfortunately we were not lucky enough to see any.

After sailing back to Sydney harbour, we walked over the Harbour Bridge and took yet more pictures of the Opera House.

Again after dinner it began to rain and so we headed back, hoping to see the harbour by night on our final day.

Wednesday 22nd January

We rose early this morning and took the tram to Sydney fish market. We had read that this was the second biggest fish market after Tokyo's and so had fairly high expectations after the huge, chaotic Tokyo fish market being one of the highlights of our trip to Japan back in 2012. Sadly, there was not much to compare, with little bustle and only a few stands, with most of it shut off to the public. Never mind! We stopped off on the way back into town at Paddy's market, which is housed in an old fashioned looking market building.

We took advantage of the cheap electicals and the very good pound to dollar exchange rate and Chris purchased a new wide angle lens. I have now lost my husband to the ability to take new types of photos.

Despite the weather still not being great, (this is not proving to be what I had always thought about Australian summers; it is similarly wet and miserable at times and no one is saying 'it's not normally like this' but rather affirming 'this is Sydney',) we took the train to Bondi beach, which has gorgeous fine gold sand beaches. There is a large pavillion and cafés along the streets. It kind of reminded us of Brighton, if it were to have a facelift and some sand imported. It's a shame we didn't see it in the sun, but there were still a few wetsuit clad surfers playing in the waves.

We took the bus back to Central Quay, which was definitely more interesting than the underground train as we travelled through the surrounding suburbs of Sydney. We booked tickets to see 'La Soirée' at Sydney Opera House before getting dinner at a harbour side restaurant.

La Soirée was not we imagine, described as a 'burlesque circus cabaret'. Perhaps the clue was in the burlesque. The first act was three men painted and dressed to look like Aboriginies. They crept through the audience crouched low with spears to the stage in the centre. They moved around the stage before getting onto it and stamping their feet a little, before the music changed from traditional didgeridoos to Greek music with a dance twist and they began thrusting and gyrating to the music. We were in stitches from start to finish. We had bought cheapo mezzanine seats; however the ringside seats weren't full so we were upgraded and had front row seats. This allowed for a lady in a too tight red PVC dress to wiggle her bum in Chris' face and have him give her a bum push on to the stage.

Another act involved a lady hiding a hankie in her suit and gradually taking each item off so it couldn't hide the hankie anymore. She was soon naked and after a little thrusting and wandering around the audience, she went up on to the stage and hid the hankie one more time before mischievously retrieving it....

There was also a speech made by the Queen, who flashed his Union Jack boxers to finish. Most acts followed this style of entertainment, although there were a couple of proper acrobatic acts performed while suspended from the ceiling. (With a slight twist I suppose.)

I don't think we will be forgetting what we saw at Sydney Opera House anytime soon.

The following morning, we picked up our hire car to begin our adventures down to Melbourne.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 17:27 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney harbour opera bondi ferry Comments (0)

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