30.11.14

Ta-Ta-Tasmania



Better late than never, I’m going to update you all on the road trip to remember in our very own, Executive Beast Ron.

Back in January, when I was chilling atop a hill in sunny Tasmania a friend and I decided it was high time we explored this wilderness. Tassie is off the regular backpacker trail – some go for their regional work; others for a week. Many ask me whereabouts it is, and look shocked when I tell them it’s the island at the bottom. I went to visit my family, have a real Tassie Christmas and attempt to finish my regional work. (5 days on a blueberry packing line with an 18km round walk and that was that.)

First step: buy a car.
I can’t drive remember so this was a feat. But after scouring gumtree we called a woman and arranged to meet her at 4 that afternoon.  The taxi dropped us off in Ravenswood at a decrepit house with bars across the windows, litter scattered EVERYWHERE and two screaming children. In we went. Within minutes the 4-year-old boy had snuck his hand into Toms pocket, tried to snatch his phone and the $600 cash we had to purchase said car. Little brat. His parents just sat on the sofa laughed, and vaguely told him, give it back.


The woman who was selling us the car had the face of a 70 year old, but we think she was more likely 40 from the way she moved. Cigarette hanging between the gaps in her teeth, she showed us our new best friend: A burgundy, Holden Executive Wagon. In decent condition for the price we took him. Named him Ron (because of Anchorman of course), and off we drove having had our first contact with real Tasmanian Bogans.

Next stop was K-mart, to deck ourselves out with the required blow up mattress, eski and cooking gear.

Off we sailed into the sunset as 40 degree heat started lifting the tarmac on the roads. Luckily, where we were headed was more dirt track than anything else. Nothing to lift there except dust.


Our first night started at Great Mussleroe Bay – we didn’t arrive till five but the sunset was beautiful. Idiots that we are, we forgot cutlery, so our sausages were barbequed on sticks we found on the ground – tasty, but longwinded.

All evening wallabies and kangaroos hopped around the car, through the bushes and across the beach. This was the morning when I woke up, looked out of the window and found a Roo watching me sleep. We watched each other for a few minutes and then he hopped away, off to find more breakfast.

From there we headed to Ansel point which was breathtaking. Seriously, never before have I seen such pristine white sands against a turquoise sea and a stormy cloud. Plus, the puppy that decided it would join us made me smile the whole time.




Making our way further south we found the Bay of Fires, a stretch of beaches that are more touristy than our earlier stops, but equally as beautiful. And helpful, as we were hungry and needed fuel. Camping under a tree with possums running around, watching the sun set – it doesn’t get better than that.

Bay of Fires


One of the places that you absolutely “must see” in Tasmania is Freycinet National Park, and Wineglass Bay. It’s a national park, so you have to pay to get in but you can actually camp nearby (as we did) or inside the park for an extra fee. There are a few different activities such as a walk around the lighthouse, or a climb (and I mean climb) to the top of one of the hills to look over picturesque wineglass bay. That’s what we chose. Of course, I was not prepared in converse and denim shorts. But that’s a given really – have you met me? I stumbled, climbed, sweated and fell (a few times), but damn was it worth that view.



Often people say Tasmania isn’t worth the visit. It’s “off the beaten track” and not built for travellers. But anyone who truly wants to see another side of Australia (because Tasmania is a STATE in Australia, not a whole other country on its own as so many people have asked me), GO.  Spend a week, spend a month, but make sure you explore this wonderfully exotic and diverse world. You will never see anything like it.


The places we stayed and the sights we saw were perfect – how could they not be in a place like this? But one single moment made it for me: when you’re driving in a car, and all of a sudden, as if a knife had cut through the mountain and changed the terrain completely, it is different. From coniferous, burnt bark and flowers to a rainforest. Clouds claim you. Look in your back window, and it’s a completely different life to what you see in front.












22.11.14

TRAVELLERS TIPS Vietnam #1: Vietnamese Visa Comprehensive

Getting a Vietnamese visa can be a long, complicated and expensive process, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. When I was researching the topic I couldn’t for the life of me find a step-by-step article of how it works, how much it costs and how to get one.

Vietnamese immigration make it tough. There are two types of entry into the country: by land and by air. But to get a visa for one is a completely different ball park than the other.

BY AIR

This is by far easiest way: you won’t have to deal with dodgy border security guards scamming you out of money and the application can be done online in about 5-10 minutes. It is also far cheaper than actually heading to your local embassy to get a stamp – some embassies have been reported for charging up to $120.  This way, is called Visa on Arrival (VOA)

The online service applies for a VOA letter of approval – essentially you are employing an agency to obtain this. Without it, you could be running into a lot of trouble in the airport – you may not be let in. This ‘agency fee’ can cost somewhere between $15 and $30 – it is not the only payment you will make. When arriving in Vietnam you will also have to pay the actual visa fee at the desk. The downside to this process is that, when arriving in Vietnam, you could be waiting a very long time in immigration. The upside? It’s still easier than the alternative.

Prices at the airport (as of November 2014):

1 month Single Entry                                   $45
1 month Multiple Entry                               $65
3 month Single Entry                                   $45
3 month Multiple Entry                                $95

Step 1: Choose and research a reputable online service
Step 2: Fill in the online form
Step 3: Wait 2-3 days for an approval letter to be sent to you (via your preferred and stated method – usually email)
Step 4: GO TO VIETNAM
Step 5: Take your passport, approval letter and money to the VOA desk in immigration at your Vietnamese airport
Step 6: Get your stamp and go have fun

NOTE: Make sure you have your money with you before arriving – there are no ATM’s in the arrival halls and you cannot pay by card (sometimes this is offered but again, the waiting times will be horrific). Preferred currency is US Dollar or Vietnamese Dong.

BY LAND

This is the way I did it – but it took a lot of research and asking around to get an explanation. I emailed the UK and Cambodian embassies and almost messed it up by applying for the online visa.

However, I did make it. And it went smoothly. So you see, it’s not all bad after all.

Step 1: work out where the easiest place will be for you to get your Vietnamese visa. In Cambodia there are two embassies – one in Phnom Penh and another in Sihanoukville. After reading elsewhere that the Phnom Penh embassy took longer and was more expensive, I opted for Sihanoukville, as I was heading there anyway.

Step 2: Go to the embassy. In Sihanoukville it’s about a 10 minute moto ride out of the town centre – a journey should cost you $4 return max. When you arrive, ask for a form. Fill it in with all of your details (see below for the basics) and leave the form, a passport photograph and your current passport with the lady behind the desk. I know its scary leaving your passport anywhere, but it must be done and they are very helpful. You will be given a receipt and a time to come and collect the next day.

AS OF NOVEMBER 2015 THE PRICE FOR A VISA WAS $60 AT THE SIHANOUKVILLE EMBASSY. Prices at other embassies may differ. 

Step 3: Go collect! You may have to wait 10 minutes or so – they say return at 4pm so there may be a few other travellers hanging around but it wont take too long. After that – you are free to explore the Vietnamese wilderness!

Opening times Sihanoukville Vietnamese Embassy:

Monday to Friday                             8am-12pm
                                                          2pm-4pm
Saturday                                            8am-12pm

You can apply for this land crossing visa at any Vietnamese embassy - it may however vary in price and time.

When applying for a visa you will be asked:
  •       Your full name as appears on your passport
  •       Present nationality
  •       Date of Birth
  •       Occupation
  •       Passport number
  •       Passport Date of Issue
  •       Passport expiry
  •       Proposed date of arrival – the fate you want the visa to start from. The visa wont actually start until you arrive and you can enter on it until the ‘exit date’ a month or so later – but not before. Make sure you check this before arriving, time differences can be confusing
  •       Purpose of Visit
  •       For a recent passport photograph of yourself.



Please Note: If you have children with you and they have their own passports you must apply and pay the same fees as if they were travelling as adults.

TIP: When travelling to Vietnam by land try and go with a reputable company. Border guards are known for trying to scam travellers into paying extra at the desk by saying you have to pay a VOA fee - if you have the stamp you can enter. You have already paid your fee. 


21.11.14

HOSTEL: Angkor Wonder, Siem Reap





A quick review about a cute little hostel in Siem Reap that has stuck in my memory: Angkor Wonder.

A family run hostel, the owner is a happy smiling man who goes by the name, Mr Why Not. His email address starts ‘whynotbeyourfriend’. Before I’d even arrived I was in love.

Accommodating, welcoming and kind, Mr Why Not picked me up at 6am from the bus station on the back of his motorbike and drove me around Siem Reap, pointing out the main areas as we made our way into the city. He spent an entire hour the day before I left trying to book a bus for me, in-between telling me stories about his life as a moto-driver and how he learnt English from speaking to backpackers like myself, riding around the city on the back of his bike.

The hostel itself is basic, but so charming. The dorm rooms consist of 5 double beds and a bathroom. Comfortable, easy and clean.

Food is available downstairs, but I never actually tried any as I was still recovering from my week-long Bali-belly.

It isn’t the most high-end of hostels, but at $3 a night for a dorm room no one has any right to complain. And this review isn’t about the state of the hostel or the number of beds to a dorm.


When I find a cute, family run hostel in which the owners truly do everything they can to make you feel welcome, I want to do my part and try and help them get customers. If even a single person reads this post and chooses to have a look, then I will know I’ve done something right. Travelling isn’t about the plush places and the comfortable beds – it’s about the people you meet and the stories they tell. It’s about the people and places that stick in your memory, that help you see life in a slightly different light.

20.11.14

Sihanoukville



Welcome to the shagaluf of Cambodia. Sihanoukville is fantastic if all you want to show from it is a hangover and a Vietnamese visa. That’s not to say it isn’t beautiful, but it is completely centred around a strip of bars along the beach front, lit up at night by fireworks and paper lanterns (set them off yourself for a dollar).

Be warned, the locals will take advantage of you. I met not one, but two guys who had lost all of their clothes after taking an early hours skinny dip in the ocean, including wallets, phones, identification and other valuables. The next day left the two of them in Western Union and walking along looking for work.

Luckily, the people who run the bars expect this on a daily basis, and most are constantly looking for western travellers to work for food and accommodation. In return they get a dorm room, food, and alcohol for the whole time they are in town. So you see, if you do go for a naked swim it isn’t the end of the world when a little Cambodian child sneaks up and steals your lifeline.

The way I saw the town was that it was a port to the more beautiful idealistic islands just off the coast.  Bamboo Island (Koh Russei), Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samolem are the most popular destinations. You can easily catch a ferry to the islands. Most hostels can book this for you and will also recommend accommodation on the island for all budgets.

I never went to Koh Rong purely because I had heard it was very similar to Sihanoukville in the wild-party-touristy sense. I was looking for something more authentic and rustic, but more on that later.  I may however have been wrong, as I never met a single backpacker that didn’t have a fantastic time there. Perfection, beauty and paradise are the words I’ve heard. But as I said, I didn’t make it. I did however make a visit to smaller and far less populated Koh Ta Kiev. That however, deserves a whole post of it’s own.

Sihanoukville itself is proud of its beaches.  Starting off with Serendipity, this one is where the main town centres itself as well as the long strip of bars that don’t close down till dawn. Otres is further down the coast – it is also far more beautiful and has a distinctly chilled out vibe in comparison. These are the main two – there are others around the area such as Victory, Sokha or Independence; some private, some deserted. It’s up to you how you get there and which one you choose. But as a backpacker on a budget in search of a hostel, I recommend those – accommodation further out is far more sparse and significantly inflated.


Overall? I enjoyed Sihanoukville. But next time it will simply be a step onto the longboats that take me to paradise, rather than a destination.