Australia – Superstar Sydney

In typical ‘me’ style, I managed to pack quite a lot into a week in Sydney.

I couch surfed for my first few nights in Sydney. I had a lovely host and stayed outside the city in Thornleigh. It was really good to see the suburbs and get a feel for life outside the main city drag.

Whilst in Thornleigh I visited the Koala Park Sanctuary in Pennant Hills. It’s not just a sanctuary for koalas though, there’s plenty of other animals to see.

I really enjoyed the birds which, considering birds normally freak me out, was a surprise. There are birds in enclosures and ones roaming around. I saw plenty of peacocks and bush turkeys wandering through the park.

These sulphur crested cockatoos made for interesting viewing and conversation, they say hello a lot.

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In the same enclosure was a pink cockatoo which seemed much quieter than the sulphur crested ones.

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There’s quite a collection of birds including kookaburras , frog mouthed tawny owls, rainbow lorikeets and tree foxes that look like bats. All sorts for all tastes. I will warn you that cockatoos are noisy so and so’s.

An animal in the park which surprised me were the Dingos. I didn’t expect them to be as majestic and good looking as they are.

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The koalas and kangaroos in the park have all been bred in captivity so they are used to humans and, as a result, very placid. They are not so relaxed in the wild. Koalas have a reputation for being quite fierce and can inflict pretty nasty injuries. With that in mind, here’s three of them all squeezed into one tree.

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Here’s me posing beside one.

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You’re not allowed to hold them in new South Wales but that was ok. You can stroke them and they’re really fuzzy.

You just saunter into the kangaroo enclosure and feed them with special food bought from the shop.  You can stroke them too but I wasn’t brave enough.

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Wallabies are similar looking to kangaroos except they’re smaller and cuter. This swap wallaby wanted to say hello from inside the enclosure.

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There’s possums and wombats at the park too but I only saw their bums. It was cold and rainy so they were sleeping.  They’re nocturnal anyway but they wouldn’t rouse even for food. Oh well.

There’s a sheep shearing and boomerang throwing show twice a day which is fun to go to. Here’s the sheep losing it’s fleece.

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I really enjoyed the park and would recommend it as the $26 enhance fee is worth it.

After my few nights in the suburbs, I stayed in the city at The Palms Backpackers in Potts Point. I really liked the hostel. It was clean, friendly and did exactly what it said on the tin. It’d stay again.

Once I was in the city, I started exploring it.

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney are beautiful. The free guided walk was great and there’s 2 daily. Our guide was a volunteer called Phillip and he was full of facts. We were escorted around some key areas and told about native species of plants/trees and the history of the gardens.

I personally thought this flower was gorgeous.

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Towards the end of the walk, we happened upon some owls sleeping in a tree.

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You can walk right through the gardens to get to the opera house.  The best views of the opera house are from Circular Quay’s side of the harbour in my opinion. The opera house is still impressive from the gardens side but you don’t see the iconic shape everyone associates with it from the garden side.

There’s a big, gothic style, building in the gardens called Government House but you can only go inside on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday so I didn’t get to see it. Here’s a picture of the house in the grounds. It’s fairly imposing.

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Just around the corner from the botanic gardens is Hyde park barracks. This is where convicts were housed when they got off the boats in Sydney.

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It was built by convicts and has a varied and interesting history. It’s now a museum which covers topics such as how the convicts lived, what they’d done wrong, how they’d ended up in Australia, what work they did and how Sydney evolved.

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The museum also has a lot of information on the building itself. It’s served many purposes since it was built. It was a convict barracks, then it was an orphanage for girls left parentless during the Irish potato blight. After that it was an asylum for elderly and infirm women who couldn’t work and didn’t have a home (no welfare back then). It was finally government offices before being made into a museum. Very interesting stuff.

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The free introduction tour was good and the audio guide you receive included with the entrance fee was superbly informative. Entrance for adults is $10 and entirely worth.

Another heritage building in Sydney is the Royal Mint. Entrance is free, which is good, because there’s not a lot to see. It was built as a hospital before being turned into the mint and now the only real part of the main mint building left is the safe. The building is used as offices and meeting rooms now so there’s not a lot you can walk round and see. However, there are still people on the door who will walk you around and tell you the limited facts they know for free.

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Apparently the coin minting building is important as only two remain in the world and the Sydney one is in the best condition. Something new every day!

Very close to both the barracks and the mint is St. Marys Cathedral. I didn’t go inside but it’s a very red, very large thing.

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Another major landmark of Sydney is the Harbour Bridge.

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I don’t really know what to say other than it’s big and made of metal. I walked over it.

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The view back across the harbour is awesome once you’re on the bridge.

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The harbour is just generally beautiful. It really is. I could picture myself enjoying dinner and drinks there. The area was where initial settlers made their homes and original buildings have been preserved and converted well.

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It you want to forget you’re in a big city for a while, you should do the Coogee to Bondi beach walk. It’s around 6km long and all of it stunning. Here’s Coogee beach where we started (we took a bus from the city of to Coogee) but you can start at Bondi.

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You really do just walk up the coast. It’s well signposted and you can’t get lost if you keep following the coastline. There’s heaps of cute coves to stop at with quiet beaches so it’s a very leisurely activity.

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When you get to Bondi, you realise just how busy it is compared to Coogee and why.

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I managed to squeeze in a quick trip to Manly but really didn’t have enough time to draw conclusions so I won’t. I will say that the views of the harbour from the ferry alone is worth the return fare of $14.40.

Sydney is amazing. I think I’m in big trouble as I could definitely see myself living and working there.

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Asian Adventures – An Amalgamation of the ‘Best (and worst) Bits’

This will probably be the trickiest blog I’ll ever write but I’d like to try and summarise the best and worst bits of my travels in Asia (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia and Singapore). I’m going to be as objective as I can. These are still my own personal thoughts and opinions so don’t be offended if I think something was a worst and you think it’s a best. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and you’re allowed to have differing ones so no bees in bonnets please.

There’s some categories where I have winners and runners up because it was too close for me to call a single best or worst.

Here goes:

Best Hostel

WINNER:
Siholme Backpackers, Vientiane, Laos
Although I only stayed a single night I was still very impressed. The dorms were great, the bathrooms were clean and modern, the atmosphere was friendly, there was a movie room, a pool table, a bar, friendly staff and amusing murals/slogans painted around the place. Just a great all round hostel with, honestly, no bad points.

RUNNER UP:
Mojzo Inn, Nha Trang, Vietnam
This place was amazing. The breakfast included in your room price was cooked fresh for you and there was a choice of four things. The dorms were air conditioned all day and there were decent sized lockers in the rooms. The refillable water tap was great. The WiFi was fast and available all over the hostel. The place is a two minute stroll from the beach and the staff are so lovely it’s ridiculous. The only reason Mojzo Inn isn’t the overall winner is because the dorm was a little small for six people and the bathroom did smell a little bit musty.

Best Food

WINNER:
Taiwan
The food in Taiwan is plentiful, cheap, fresh, full of flavour and a great balance of traditional and modern novelty . I was not disappointed with anything from the food markets or restaurants in Taiwan. It was consistently superb. Taiwan has some amazing night markets where you can get some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Do not miss the Taiwanese milk tea. It’s absolutely delicious and you can get it with tapioca pearls or jelly to make it more of a dessert than a drink. Don’t be surprised or concerned if your food/drink is served to you in a bag, that’s normal. Basically, go to Taiwan and eat all the food.

RUNNER UP:
Thailand
Thai food is full of flavour and reasonably cheap. It’s also on the milder side of spicy. Traditional dishes such as pad thai, thai red and green curries and massaman curries are widely available and generally very tasty. Restaurants and food stalls seem to turn out a similar quality of food. My ‘don’t miss’ food in Thailand is sticky rice. It doesn’t matter if you have mango and sticky rice as a dessert or get a savoury sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf from a stall, just make sure you try it!

Best Locals

WINNER:
Cambodia
When it comes to resilience, determination and a forgiving spirit, I don’t think you will find a nation of people who can best the Cambodians. They are simply some of the friendliest, kindest, most welcoming and genuinely happy people I have ever met.

When you look at Cambodian history, it really does paint a grim picture, it’s all war, death and strife. The most recent horrors happened when Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge tried to reshape Cambodia as a self sufficient, farming Country. It ended with an incomprehensible genocide leaving around 1 in 5 Cambodians dead or missing. This was all very recent, we’re talking within my parents life time, so there are Cambodians alive today who remember the regime, their dead relatives and everything that went along with it pretty vividly.

Despite their recent and harrowing past, Cambodians are upbeat and optimistic. There’s no wallowing or ‘woe is us’ attitudes, only respectful remembrance and an upbeat attitude towards the future. For me, this is a singularly amazing thing. An entire nation was subjected to immense tragedy and hardship but have emerged the other side determined to right the wrongs and heal their communities.

This, coupled with their enthusiasm, genuine nature and overall loveliness, makes the Cambodians my favourite people in Asia.

RUNNER UP:
Taiwan
Taiwanese are incredibly hospitable and happy go lucky. I don’t have a bad word to say about them. If I needed help and someone didn’t speak English, other locals would pitch in to help and make sure I was ok. They really are fabulous and never got annoyed at any level of incompetence on my part. Simply lovely.

Best Shopping

WINNER:
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Amazing mix of markets and super modern malls. The shopping here really has something for everyone. Want some good fakes? Head to Petaling Street. Want something crafty for a souvenir? Get to the central market. Want to feel more at home with western brands? Any air conditioned mall will sort you out with a good range of budget to luxury brands. I really mean it when I say I think you could buy anything in Kuala Lumpur.

Best Historic Sights

WINNER:
Angkor Historic Park
I did three entries on the Angkor temples so I’m not going to repeat myself. I’ll just say, do not miss.

Best Natural Sights

WINNER:
Sapa, Vietnam
Again, I wrote a while entry dedicated to Sapa so I won’t re-cover old ground. Amazing views across an amazing Country. Make time to go to Sapa.

RUNNER UP:
Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
Truly lovely landscape in the Cameron Highlands. Lots of winding roads and walks to do. It’s the runner up here as the area does feel very much like it’s all for tourists but you can escape that if you walk the right paths. The touristy aspect does spoil the natural beauty of the area a bit for me though.

Best Modern Sights

WINNER:
Singapore
Singapore is a clean, shiny, modern metropolis with stunning high rise buildings. It’s well planned and executed better. Stunning modern city with a stunning modern price tag.

Best Border

WINNER:
Malaysia to Singapore
Overall it was the least worrying and easiest to navigate because the English spoken on both sides was of a good level.

Best Bus

WINNER:
Hanh Cafe Sleeper bus from Ho Chi Minh to Nha Trang, Vietnam
The route has decent roads, the bus was swanky and single seated (so no snoring stranger in your ear hole) and the ticket was a reasonable price.

Best Overall Value Attraction

WINNER:
Huê City, Vietnam
Lots of the heritage sites in Huê don’t have an entry fee so it’s incredibly cheap to see lots of important historic and cultural areas.

Best Overall Value Country

WINNER:
Laos
Accommodation and food in Laos is cheap and generally of good quality. Entry fees to attractions seem to be good value and shared taxis/tuk tuks make travelling short distances reasonable. Longer distances can be covered by boat or bus at, again, a pretty good price. Overall, Laos works out as the best value for me.

Best Overall Town/City

WINNER:
Tokyo
Tokyo might be expensive but it’s worth it. The city is huge, sprawling and complicated but it’s fabulous. There’s still plenty of hidden gems in alleyways nestled between modern high rises to discover. There’s also tonnes of heritage stuff to see and explore. The Japanese definitely put a lot of emphasis on preserving their history and culture. As modern as Tokyo is, if you look around, you will find temples nestled in the centre of busy metropolitan areas.

It’s a unique city that I enjoyed immensely. If you want more details, you can see my blog entry on Tokyo.

Personal favourite thing

WINNER:
SCUBA diving, Koh Tao, Thailand
Learning to dive was the single best experience I had on my trip in Asia. My dive school (Big Blue) was well organised, the instructors (and trainee instructors) were friendly and professional, the island is beautiful and the diving itself was fabulous.

SCUBA diving is the overall winner because it’s something I can do for the rest of my life and will be doing again on the rest of my trip.

RUNNER UP:
Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Walking around with, washing and feeding elephants is something I probably won’t ever get the opportunity to do again and it was incredible. If you want more details on the park, please see my blog post on it.

Worst Hostel

WINNER:
Rainbow guesthouse, Khao San Road, Thailand
Hideous! Awful mattresses, dirty dorms, terrible security (the door to the room didn’t lock and the provided lockers in the restaurant are less than ok), disgusting bathrooms, air conditioning was inadequate and got turned off at 8am, sheets were stained and the whole place was just worn down and broken.

Worst Food

WINNER:
Hong Kong
The food in Hong Kong is questionable unless you are paying top dollar for it. I was never really sure what went into any of the food I ate and a lot of it was flavourless mush. There’s a few hidden gems but, on the whole, food in Hong Kong is dodgy.

Worst Locals

WINNER:
Vietnam
I found the people of Vietnam to be consistently rude and biased against foreigners or to be the nicest people in the world. There seemed not to be a middle ground. I found the prejudice really hard to deal with and the attitude of locals intent on not accepting tourists onto buses or into food places really tainted Vietnam for me. It’s a real shame because the lovely locals really were very helpful and sweet but they didn’t quite off set the venom I felt from everyone else.

Worst Shopping

WINNER:
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh didn’t seem to have much in the way of shopping. Even in the markets it was mostly food, household items or technology. Even though there would be many different stalls, they seemed to all sell the same items. Just not very varied or accessible for most people.

Worst Historic Sights

WINNER:
Singapore
Singapore is very shiny and new so it doesn’t really have much in the way of historic buildings or culture to experience. If you want new and modern, Singapore is for you. If you’re into history, maybe think carefully as it how much time you need in Singapore.

Worst Natural Sights

WINNER:
Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok really doesn’t have parks or walks you can enjoy. It’s all incredibly built up and concreted over.

Worst Modern Sights

WINNER:
Cambodia
Cambodia had a distinct lack of modern buildings and very few high rise buildings. Most Sights in Cambodia are old and for history buffs. There’s no shining buildings beautifully lit at night to stroll around in Cambodia, it all has a rustic feel.

Worst Border

WINNER:
Thailand to Cambodia
This border was the worst because it was the only one I could not get an international bus for. Having to work out onward transport from the border further into Cambodia was pretty slap dash. It’s a stressful feeling when you’re doing it alone, for the first time so I guess that’s why it was the worst.

Worst Bus

WINNER:
Luang Prabang, Laos to Chiang Mai, Thailand
This was an overnight bus along scary, winding mountain roads. The turns were so sharp that my head hit the widow on several occasions. It was a sitting bus so sleeping was an unlikely prospect anyway but the turns made it completely impossible. Just a long, scary journey.

Worst Overall Value attraction

WINNER:
Royal Palace, Bangkok, Thailand
600 baht is too expensive. Full stop.

Worst Overall Value Country

WINNER:
Singapore
Singapore is just heinously expensive for everything. Considering labour is still relatively cheap in Singapore, there’s no real justification for it.

Worst Overall Town/City

Bangkok, Thailand
I just didn’t like Bangkok. It wasn’t for me. I felt like everyone was out to fleece me for all the money they could and that the locals were insincere. It smells funny too.

Personal least favourite thing

WINNER:
The Climate
Asia is too hot and humid for me.

Swanky Singapore

Once in Singapore it was time for me to venture into another unknown. I was to be a ‘couch surfer’ for the very first time. I found my host on the couch surfing website and was, understandably, nervous about couch surfing as a solo female traveller. My host had numerous positive references on his profile so I felt like I was in safe hands. He lived nearer to Malaysia than Singapore but that suited me down to the ground as I only had one day in Singapore anyway. I found his place (far later than I had expected to) and met my host, Yesky. I shouldn’t have been worried. Yesky was genuine and a perfect host. He pointed me in the direction of what I wanted to do and looked after me wonderfully. I think couch surfing is an excellent thing to do but, like everything else in life, there is bound to be good and bad. Yesky was all good.

The first thing I wanted to do in Singapore was go to the zoo. I’ve only ever been to one zoo before (London zoo) and I’d been in told by a friend not to miss Singapore zoo so I didn’t. Entry was S$22 and worth every penny.

Singapore zoo is a rainforest zoo meaning that you’re walking past thick vegetation as you travel between animal enclosures rather than walking by concrete or bricks. It’s an excellent concept and Singapore zoo really pulls it off.

There’s a huge variety of animals at the zoo to see not only in their enclosures but also in performance shows. I saw the sea lion ‘Splash’ show, the elephant show and the rainforest show. For kids, and people who have never grown up, there’s a petting zoo you can go to. These shows and petting activities are all included in your entrance fee but there are paid extras on offer. You can ride an elephant, feed a giant tortoise, have your photo with a sea lion/snake (and then buy the print) or take a boat/bus ride for extra dollars. I didn’t pay anything over my entrance fee and walked around the park rather than using the bus/boats. It’s entirely possible to do this if you don’t have children (I think it’s too far for kids to walk all day) as I did the whole zoo in 5 hours.

Anyway, enough waffle. Here’s my favourite animals.

This is a gibbon who hung around like this for ages whilst visitors gleefully snapped many pictures.

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Next, we see a hamadryas baboon Mum taking advantage of the primary function of the tail on her youngster.

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The rest of the hamadryas baboons just enjoy the view of hairless weirdos staring at them.

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You should recognise the next fella, it’s a cute otter who swam and jumped around at the speed of light. I’m amazed I got a picture.

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These meerkats were on the look out for people buying overpriced insurance.

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Here’s some people indulging in an extra I was too cheap to pay for, feeding a giant tortoise.

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I think Gonzo (of Muppets fame) must have been modelled on these proboscis monkeys.

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I cannot remember the name of this snake but I think you’ll agree the colour is stunning (if you know what it is, please let me know).

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I think this is a python. It was HUGE. If it’s not a python and you know what snake it is, please let me know.

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I believe this fella is an estuarine crocodile but I’m happy to be corrected on that if I’m wrong.

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The size of these white rhinoceroses isn’t really represented because there’s nothing close by for scale but, trust me, they were big and you would not want to be anywhere near them if they took a dislike to you.

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This pygmy hippo Mum and baby were just snuggling up at home.

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As were the cheetahs.

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The white tiger was taking everything at a distinctly more relaxed pace.

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And the polar bear was Kung Fu fighting.

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I LOVED the zoo. I’d go back again. I cannot express just how many animals are there and how many lovely places you can find to sit and relax if you want to. I had a fantastic time. Tips if you go through: Take your own food and drink because it’s expensive as hell inside the zoo. Do not buy the professional photos of you with animals taken after shows (the basic price was $35!), get someone to stand at the front of the stage and take one with your camera instead. Rest often and drink plenty of water, it’s boiling hot there. Go along for the free feeding times, you get to see the animals really close up.

Once I was done with the zoo, I headed into the city proper for a good walk around. There’s tonnes of impressive, modern buildings to look at but none so much as the Marina Bay Sands building. Simply stunning on it’s three ‘legs’.

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There’s also some older buildings in Singapore. One of them is St. Andrews cathedral. There was building work going on all around it when I visited so I didn’t get very close to explore properly. It’s a stark contrast to the rest of the city’s skyline. It is possible to go inside and have a free tour but the hours each day are very limited. I suggest you check the St. Andrews website before you visit.

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The last building I couldn’t stop looking at was the Fullerton Hotel. Set right on the water, and next to a very awesome bridge, the hotel is a massive building that used to be the post office. I would think a room there is more than a pretty penny or two.

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Unfortunately I did not have time to visit any other sights in Singapore but I am assured there’s tonnes to do. I certainly got the impression there was as I passed a few museums and parks on my wanderings.

I definitely enjoyed Singapore. It’s a super clean, super modern city with super high prices for food and drink but I’d go back any day not the week without hesitation.

Border Bureaucracy – Malaysia to Singapore

In order to get from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, I paid 50 ringitt to my hostel and collected my ticket and caught my bus from Puduraya station. The station is pretty big and I would recommend checking out the specifics of your bus counter the day before or leave yourself plenty of time for walking around looking confused on the day of your bus.

My bus was due to leave at 9:00 so I was at counter 41 to collect my ticket at 8:30. I was told what platform I needed to go to and headed on down. The bus was running behind and we didn’t leave until after 9:30 but we also didn’t leave from our designated platform. We got rounded up by a member of staff and walked outside the station for our bus. Pay attention to the people with walkie talkies yelling stuff, they could be yelling for you. We all got on eventually and were underway.

The drive was fine. Roads in Malaysia are well done, no humps and bumps here guv. We got to the border after stopping at a few outlying bus stations on the way. Stamping out of Malaysia is easy. You walk up and they stamp you out. Getting into Singapore takes longer.

Singapore is strict with regard to their customs laws. They really do check your bags thoroughly and you won’t get waved through if they see something even a little suspicious. I got stopped at customs because a substance similar to cigarette filters was detected in my bag. Being a non smoker, I was baffled. After a rummage, the customs officer found a box of sticking plasters. That’s what had been detected and I was waved through. That’s right folks, my anti blister precautions had got me a customs search! Basically, check you’re not bringing anything into Singapore that they say you shouldn’t. They will find it and they will punish you accordingly.

Once you’re stamped in, you’re good to explore this incredibly clean and organised metropolis. My bus dropped me off on Beach road but transport in Singapore is good so don’t panic about how you’ll get around. An MRT station is never far away.

Note: This was my last land border crossing in SE Asia. I’d travelled through 6 (7 if you count the border run to Burma) countries without taking a flight. I wasn’t robbed, conned or imprisoned. How did I do it? I applied common sense, knew the rules before I got to the border and then followed them when I got to the border. I also only booked through my hostels for border crossing trips so that I had some come back if it all went wrong. Hostels want good reviews so it’s not in their interests to pack you off with a crap company. Just be sensible and you can do it.

My Oh My, Malaysia

My first stop in Malaysia was Penang and it was hot (around 37 degrees every day).

Some of the city is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site so there are plenty of really interesting buildings to see. Unfortunately, I was still suffering the after effects of dengue fever in Penang so, I didn’t get out and about as much as I would have liked.

I stayed at the Old Penang Guesthouse on Love Lane. The hostel itself is fine but, there was a live music stage in the car park next door which blared music until midnight every night. That spoiled the overall stay for me.

I did go to visit the Khoo Kongsi clan house. It is celebrated as the glory of Penang heritage and you can visit between 9am and 5pm for 10 ringitts. It’s set back in a courtyard just off Cannon Street.

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The decoration on every part of the clan house is intricate and ornate. The pillars are heavily carved here with dragons.

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And here, carved flowers are gilded with gold.

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I’m sure that the attached museum is interesting to walk around if you like that kind of thing but I wasn’t feeling up to learning much so I gave it a cursory glance at best.

Apart from heat that will melt you and good architecture, Penang is famed for it’s food. As I was still feeling delicate, I really didn’t get to eat much of it. Malaysia is a bit of a mixing pot as far as cuisine goes. There’s Malay food, Indian food and Chinese food to choose from which are all, reportedly, of a very good standard. There’s lots of hawker food places around Penang which trade in the evenings but I can’t tell you about any of them cause I didn’t go! Sorry.

After Penang, I headed to the Cameron a highlands in a minibus. It cost me 50 ringitts to get there. I hadn’t pre booked any accommodation because the variety advertised on line was woeful. I needn’t have worried because there are tonnes of guest houses in the town of Tanah Rata (which is where I stayed). I ended up at the Cameronian Inn for a very reasonable 15 ringitts a night and I would highly recommend it as a place to stay.

The Cameron Highlands is much cooler than the rest of Malaysia. It was between 18 and 22 degrees when I was there. Absolutely beautiful weather!

There’s plenty of walking trails you can do in the highlands and they were very highly reviewed by other travellers I met but my main visit reason was tea. There’s a big Boh tea company plantation in the highlands and I jolly well wanted to go and see it. You can either book yourself onto an organised tour or your can brave public transport for a fraction of the cost. I’m cheap so I took the public transport. You get the bus from the station in Tanah Rata and you get off it has soon as you see the big sign for Boh Tea Plantation attached to a turning going left up a hill. You have to walk from the main road for a few kilometres to get to the plantation but the views are spectacular as you go.

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At the plantation, there is a free factory walk through where you can see tea leaf grinding, drying and tasting. You can pay for an organised tour but I didn’t because, again, I’m cheap. There’s a tea shop so you can buy as much tea as you like and a cafe so that you can drink tea looking out over the tea fields. Very lovely indeed!

On the way down, I stopped at a rose garden in order to enjoy the kind of plants I can never grow (they always die on me). It was free to look around and I really did enjoy the flora on show.

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These little beauties were actually very little. That’s my index finger behind them for some scale.

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After the very leisurely stroll up to and around the plantation and rose garden, the day was pretty much over and so was my time in the highlands. I left for Kuala Lumpur the next morning.

It cost me 30 ringitts for my space on a swanky coach to KL. I was dropped off at the Puduraya bus station which was handy because my hostel, Fern Loft, was a 10 minute walk from the station.

Kuala Lumpur is a big, hot, Asian city. I’d seen a lot of them by now and was sorely hankering for something different. Saying that, I enjoyed KL immensely even though I felt like I was melting again. In contrast to other SE Asian cities, KL felt organised and functional. I’ll be honest and say that I’d given in on sightseeing by now. Instead I went to the cinema and saw Monsters University and Star Trek: Into Darkness. I also went shopping and bought things from cotton on in the sale.

I didn’t fail entirely at sightseeing. I trekked around the city one day and took in a few sights. There are free shuttle busses that get you around parts of the city but I chose to walk as I wanted to take positive steps towards fighting the lethargy dengue had left me with. Anyway, I saw the iconic Petronas Towers as twilight.

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I’m told you can go up the towers to the skybridge but that there is a quota each day for the visit. That means you need a very early morning getting to and sitting in a queue for a ticket. I didn’t bother.

I also saw the Kuala Lumpur tower at night.

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Both very impressive structures.

The other thing you can do in KL is shop. There are plenty of air conditioned malls and shops with heaps of western brands to browse. If you want something a little more bargain hunter style, go barter with the stall holders at Petaling Street in Chinatown. There’s fake everything on sale there from perfume to pants (it reminded me of the ladies market in Hong Kong i.e. start bargaining at less than a quarter of the asking price then bargain hard until you pay absolutely no more than half the first price). There’s some food places too so you can graze whilst you purchase the finest fakes ringitt can buy.

If you want something a bit ‘nicer’ for souvenirs, I would say you need you need to head to the central market. This big old building holds lots of stalls selling wooden goods, woven goods, fabric, tat and just really interesting bits and pieces. I enjoyed central market much more than Petaling street. They’re pretty close to one another geographically so you can easily do both in an evening.

I had a great time in Kuala Lumpur. My hostel was the only let down. I was in a 24 bed dorm and the air conditioner was not up to the job. If you were too far away from it, you boiled. If you were too close to it, you were deafened. The bathrooms flooded one day and there was constant work happening in the bathrooms making showering tricky. We also had a man in our dorm whose snoring sounded like a farm animal in heat. If he was a sleep apnoea sufferer, no one in the dorm would have nudged him awake. If you know you snore, don’t stay in a dorm, people will think about stabbing you more regularly than you’d like. All in all, an uncomfortable stay at Fern Loft. They bribed me with a free nights stay if I promised to review them well on Hostelworld. I took the bribe but I’m telling the truth here instead.

Overall, I would definitely go back to Malaysia. I had a great time. The food was good and the people were friendly, just a shame it was so blooming hot!

Border Beauracracy – Thailand to Malaysia

After Koh Tao I had planned to go straight into Malaysia to a place called Penang. I had a look around a few travel agents in Sairee and secured myself a ticket for 1500 baht. This ticket got me a ferry and a minibus. The ferry was from Koh Tao to Surat Thani. The minibus was Surat Thani to the border at Hat Yai then on from there to Penang.

After my previous, and favourable, night ferry experience, I was not concerned to be getting another one until I saw the boat. It was not a boat really, more a floating shed which looked as though it had been broken into a few too many times and needed some serious TLC in order to continue performing it’s function.

There were no individual beds, just 2 rows of foam covered in sheets, questionable ‘pillows’ and a horrible toilet. I was, at this point, still suffering the tail end of dengue fever and feeling delicate so I cried.

The water was pretty choppy when we got going. It got progressively worse as the captain did not seem to be interested in reducing speed to compensate for the large waves. Every wave that struck the boat made a sound like a thunder clap followed by deep and unsettling groaning of the boat’s structure. I counted the life jackets. There were 12. I counted the passengers. There were 52. I decided I would die if the boat sank. I highly suspected the boat would sink. I laid awake willing the wind to die down so that the waves got smaller. At about 1am, the waves did start to subside and the ride got less life threatening. I fell asleep at 3am. We docked at 6am. I was delighted to be alive.

I found the correct man for my ticket and was ushered into a tuk tuk for the transfer to the mini bus.

Once on the minibus, it was a pain free experience. We got to the border at Hat Yai and went through the normal rigmarole. Stamp out, back on bus. Drive to Malaysia border, get luggage, get stamped in. Back on minibus, off to Penang. There’s no charge for a 90 day tourist visa in Malaysia and you can get it at the border with a UK passport.

The roads in Malaysia are good so the drive was smooth. In Penang we were dropped off at the top of Love Lane. My accommodation was located on Love Lane. I was delighted to make a 40 yard walk, check in and collapse into bed.

Apart from being genuinely convinced I would die if the ferry sank, the actual border process was absolutely no hassle yet again. My advice is, if you do this trip, ask what ferry you are getting to Surat Thani. If it’s not the nice vehicle and person ferry, do not book with that company, go to someone different.

Border Beauracracy – Thailand to Burma and Back Again a.k.a Visa Run Fun.

When you cross into Thailand via a land border, you are only granted 15 days to stay on your UK passport. If you want to stay longer, you have a few options. You can pre arrange a 60 day tourist visa at a Thai embassy before you arrive, you can apply for a 7 day visa extension once you’re in Thailand or you can do a ‘visa run’.

I wasn’t sure if I would want to stay in Thailand longer than my 15 days until I started diving. If I loved diving, I would need longer but if I didn’t, 15 days was enough. Therefore, I didn’t want to pay $60 USD for a 60 day visa when I might not use it. A visa extension can only be done in Chiang Mai or Bangkok and costs 1900 baht so that was also not really an option. My only viable way to stay in Thailand, if I loved diving, was to do a visa run from Koh Tao which is exactly what I ended up doing.

I booked the visa run through one of the travel agents found in Sairee village. It cost me 1650 baht to travel by night ferry, minibus, long tail boat and catamaran. There were cheaper options but they took longer. My trip started at 8pm at night and was over by 3pm the next afternoon.

I was collected from Sairee at 8pm and taken to the ferry. It was a vehicle carrying, overnight affair to Chumphon. When I got on it I was very pleasantly surprised. You got an actual bed to yourself in a bunk bed style with a blanket. There was an electric socket, the toilets were western style and everything was clean. Hoorah! The ferry departed Koh Tao at 11pm and arrived into Chumphon at 6am.

In Chumphon, I hunted down the correct mini van and handed over my ticket and $10 USD to the driver. It was actually just over the road from the ferry port outside a restaurant. We got loaded on and off we drive to Ranong. The drive was uneventful. I read my book.

Once we got to Ranong we queued to be stamped out of Thailand. Make sure your exit card is filled in before you get to the desk or you’ll be sent away. Once we were all stamped out a long tail boat sailed us to Burma. During the ride we were given another Thai entry/exit card to compete and had our passports taken. It was about 15 minutes to Burma. When we arrived and disembarked my $10 USD bought me a stamp in my passport saying I’d been to, and exited, Burma that day. We simply waited for our name to be called by the immigration people then collected our passport. Then, it was back to the long tail boat for the 15 minute sail back to Thailand.

We were back in Thailand by 10am, back on the minibus by 11 and at the Lompraya catamaran jetty waiting for the boat by 1. By 3pm, I was back on Koh Tao with 15 more days to spend in Thailand.

Pain free and, for a change, well organised.