NZ: North Island

View NZ North in a full screen map

After we were done touring the South Island, the map above shows the stops we made on the North Island. We got off the ferry in Wellington and met up with our friend Lauren, who we met in India, and then hooked up with again in Vietnam! She gave us the locals tour, and we stopped at a café on Cuba street, walked to the Te Papa museum, and had dinner at a nice little Louisiana Kitchen type place.

We wish we would have had more time in the museum- it was awesome! We got a little more history of the country and its Polynesian inhabitants. It also housed the most incredible museum display that Jeff and I have ever seen. It was an exhibition that explained New Zealand’s role in WWI. Besides being extremely well put together, it also featured huge figures designed by Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings fame). I am not big into any art scene, but I could have stayed and looked at these displays for hours.

The next morning, we were up early and went to the Beehive for a tour of the parliament buildings. Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, and it was interesting to learn more about the country’s government. I wasn’t super impressed with the tour of parliament, but mostly because I was comparing it to our capitol building in Washington D.C. NZ is a much younger and smaller country than the US, therefore the buildings were newer, and smaller.

After our tour, we drove out of town and headed to Lake Taupo. On the way, we stopped and did a short walk in a thermal area. None of the thermal areas we visited smelled very Sulphur-y, but they did remind us a little of Yellowstone. We hit a lot of sparadic rain on the North Island, so rainbows were abundant!

The next day was Easter, so we attended a nice service in Taupo, then went to explore Huka Falls, Craters of the Moon, and Spa Thermal Park. We threw on our swim suits and went to find a place along the small thermal stream that feeds into a larger river. The water was way too hot to even stand in along the stream, so we hopped in the freezing cold river and fought with other tourists for a spot where the stream met the river. There was a small waterfall of hot water coming from the stream and it felt great! And super weird that we were having a hot tub experience in a river. After a nice Easter dinner of lamb and fish, we drove to Waitomo.

Waitomo is a small town of 41 people that is on the map due to the extensive cave systems that are there. This is home to blackwater rafting- sticking your butt in an inter-tube and going rafting through dark caves. It was a little chilly while we were there, so we opted for a drier tour. We checked into the Waitomo Caves Hotel. I am convinced it was straight out of a horror flick. Super creepy by night, and kind of sad looking by day.

After we survived the night (without any ghosts that we were aware of), we went on a tour of two caves in the area to see glow worms. The tour of the glow worm cave ended up being one of the highlights of our entire trip around the world. We had a small group of 13 people, and our tour guide took us into a cave without lights. We sat in the dark to let our eyes adjust and then he took us down the river inside the cave on a small inflatable raft. It was incredible! There were thousands of little glowworms on the roof of the cave (read about our other glow worm experience and why they glow here). Without the glow worms, we would have been in complete darkness, but since there were so many of them, it was bright enough for me to see Jeff’s face when he was sitting right next to me.

From Waitomo, we drove straight to Auckland. We had one full day in Auckland, and it turned out to be one of the nicest days we had in NZ. Warm and all sun! We drove out to the black sand beaches on the west coast and then met up with my parents who had just ended their bus tour in Auckland that day. It was nice to be able to catch up again before we all headed to the airport early the next morning. We found a delicious Vietnamese restaurant for dinner.

Our time in New Zealand was fabulous, and the country had made it to the top of the list of places that we want to go back to someday. I think we left with more things on our to-do list, than we were able to accomplish! I know that 2 weeks is a very short amount of time to see both the North and the South Island, but Jeff and I were extremely happy with everything we were able to do and see, and we think that we got a pretty good glimpse at the whole country!

-Cara

Jeff’s New Zealand Totals:

Modes of transportation: Plane, ferry, boat, bus, rental car, taxi

Total Spent: $3372.80 (Includes flight into Christchurch and the rental car, plus gas is quite expensive in New Zealand)

Average Per Day: $210.80

New Zealand is definitely one of our more expensive stops. Even though the currency exchange works in our favor, everything is imported to the island so costs are driven up. Even though we stayed at budget lodging we spent quite a bit in New Zealand, and we decided not to partake in the most expensive activities such as taking a helicopter onto one of the glaciers.

-Jeff

Black Sand Beaches and Lion Rock (on the right), Piha, NZ

NZ: South Island Part 2

From Wanaka we made multiple stops on our way to Fox Glacier. (Fox Glacier is stop 'F' on the map below. Then we worked our way north on the west side of the island.)

View NZ South in a full screen map

Photos below are from the Blue Pools, a few hikes and waterfalls, and the crazy palms we saw on the way to Fox Glacier.

I know this looks like a picture of random rocks, but it is actually a photo looking straight into the Blue Pools. The water is that clear in New Zealand! You can see straight to the bottom of pools, lakes and rivers!

The random views on the south island were stunning!!!

Jeff had originally booked us 3 nights in Fox Glacier so we would be sure to have 2 full days to choose from to see the glacier in case of bad weather. We only ended up staying there for 2 nights since it rained most of the time. Also, there is nothing to do in Fox Glacier besides a few hikes. We even had to bring all of our groceries with us since they only have a small convenience store. It didn’t rain our first night there, so we did a short walk in the dark to see some glow worms! There are glow worms all over NZ. They are really maggots (‘glow maggots’ just doesn't have a nice ring to it), and they basically have 2 kidneys that produce chemicals that mix to produce their bio-luminescent light. They use the light to attract insects for food. Science! Unfortunately, we didn't get any pictures in the dark of the glow worms!

The next day we walked around Lake Matheson and were able to see a little bit of Fox Glacier and the surrounding area. We also walked as close as we could get to the face of Fox Glacier. In order to walk on the glacier, you need to hire a guide and take a helicopter ride. I’m sure the helicopter ride is amazing in clear weather, but it was overcast or raining while we were in town. We still did all of the tramping (hiking) we could in town!

After our second night in Fox Glacier, we checked out of our hostel a day early and headed up to Franz Josef Glacier. Franz Josef (the town and the glacier) are bigger than Fox, but it was pouring rain, so we didn’t do much there. We did get soaked during our 1.5 hour hike to the face of Franz Josef. We were so wet when we got back to the car that we had to remove most of our clothes and drive north to the town of Greymouth in our underwear.

I found a cute hostel called ‘Noah’s Ark Backpackers’ in Greymouth. It was an old monastery that used to sit right next to a large cathedral. Each room was animal themed- we were in the Zebra room. Greymouth reminded me of a small mining town you would find in the States, and there wasn’t much to do except visit the local establishments. We went for some pre-dinner drinks at Monteith’s Brewery. I got a little carried away when we ordered a sampler. Instead of ordering the recommended 3 or 6, I ordered them all!

Jeff and I don’t drink much beer anymore (our wallet thanks us), but we had a good time and enjoyed trying craft brews again!

It was still raining on and off the next day, and we left Greymouth to head to Nelson. On the way, we stopped at the pancake rocks and blowholes. They were amazing! The Tasman Sea crashing against the coast has created some beautiful rock formations and the mist from the waves comes up from the rock, making it look like a whale’s blow hole.

We continued and made it to Nelson by early evening to see our friend Trudy. We met Trudy through friends last summer when we were in England and she was there visiting her family. She graciously hosted us for our 2 nights in Nelson and we had a blast! Jeff and I checked out Nelson in the rain one day, and Trudy took us to meet all of her friends at a party across town. We had a fabulous time; it is so wonderful to be able to stop and spend a little while in a home, not a hotel room, have a home-cooked meal, and socialize with people besides Jeff. Thank you so much Trudy- stopping in to spend time with you was definitely one of our highlights in NZ!

We left Nelson early in the morning in order to make it to Picton to catch the ferry to the North Island on Good Friday. Trudy sent us on our way with hot cross buns. They are traditionally eaten here on Good Friday (it’s an Easter thing). They were great!

We got to the ferry with plenty of time to spare, but we were a bit worried because the night before was when the North Island was due to get hit by Cyclone Cook. Lucky for us, the cyclone wasn’t as bad as predicted. The day before, when we had been in Nelson, everyone kept reminding us of the storm of ’68, when the last really bad cyclone hit and the ferry capsized during a crossing. The crossing for us ended up being windy, but smooth enough that I didn’t have to take Dramamine- a win for me!

Bow of the ferry- on to Wellington!

We had a fabulous time on the South Island, and were excited to spend a few days exploring the North Island! 

-Cara

Aotearoa

Our next destination was Aotearoa! Aotearoa is the Maori (native) word for New Zealand, meaning 'long, white cloud.' Mom, Dad, Jeff and I all flew from Melbourne into Christchurch New Zealand together. Jeff and I had the afternoon in town before we rented a car and toured NZ for 2 weeks, and Mom and Dad were meeting up with a tour group for the same amount of time. Cyclone Debbie had followed us from Australia, so we had a pretty wet start in Christchurch. We were able to walk around town a little bit, and we were so surprised to see all of the lasting earthquake damage. Most of the city was still in ruin from the 2011 earthquake. Afterwards, we grabbed dinner at an Asian-fusion place called, ‘The King of Snakes’ and said our goodbyes until we would meet up again in Auckland.

In the pouring rain, Jeff and I hopped in our rental car and drove from Christchurch to Queenstown. The roads in New Zealand are pretty decent, and way bigger than the roads in England, so we were pretty comfortable driving. We’ve gotten really good at this whole driving on the left thing! It just takes forever to get anywhere in this country because the roads are so windy and you are constantly going over mountains or through valleys. We had reserved our rental car and reserved all of our hostel accommodation a few months ago. I found it surprising that we saw a ton of backpackers hitchhiking all over the country. There were a lot of campervans. I had originally looked into booking a campervan to drive for two weeks, but the nicer ones ended up being pretty pricey. In retrospect, I’m really glad we just booked hostels (private room, shared bath for around $55 each night). All of the hostels in NZ were way better than any we stayed at in Europe. We stopped in many ‘campsites’ while driving around, and they were pretty much all backcountry camping. Many didn’t even have toilets. Especially with how wet our weather was, we definitely made the right decision.

We made it to Queenstown in time for dinner, so we walked a few blocks to Fergburger. I’m undecided if it lived up to the hype. Was it good? Yes- it was delicious! The quality of meat in New Zealand is incredible, you can taste the difference. We ordered one burger with the works- avocado, hashbrown, tomato, bacon, onion. The other was full of giant slices of pork belly and a delicious mustard sauce. Definitely mouthwatering, but it would be a close call if this burger had to go up against a 50/50 burger (half ground bacon, half ground beef) from home.

The next morning, we were up early and in the car again. We left our hostel before 7am to make the 5-6 hour drive to Milford Sound. We weren’t too optimistic about the weather since it was cloudy and rained a lot during our drive. We made multiple stops during the drive.

On the road, on the way to Milford Sound

We were incredibly lucky because by the time we arrived to Milford sound around 12:30pm the weather was gorgeous! It was easily the best picnic spot we have found on the planet.

Unless you are doing the Milford Trek (multiple day backpacking hike), there isn’t really anything to do at Milford Sound besides take a cruise or helicopter ride. Unfortunately, helicopter rides aren’t in our budget. We took a 3-hour boat cruise through the Sound- which is actually misnamed since it is a fjord. (Geology lesson: a fjord is formed by glacial carving, where a sound is formed due to river carving.) Our captain kept telling us how lucky we were with the weather and that it is usually rainy in the Sound. We just laughed it off, but realized this is true when we got foggy photos from my parents who visited just a few days behind us. I don’t really think that you can capture it in photos- but this is high on my list of the most beautiful places on Earth.

By the time we made the long drive back to Queenstown, it was about 10pm. Totally worth the long day in the car! The next morning Jeff and I split up to explore different cafes. I ended up having the most amazing breakfast at a Bespoke Kitchen, right at the bottom of the Queenstown gondola.

Best breakfast of the entire trip!

We met back up to ride the gondola and do a few luge rides before leaving Queenstown.

We had a ton of fun racing down the luge tracks!

The view from the top of the Queenstown Gondola

Our next city was Wanaka, and on the way we stopped at Wooing Tree Winery, recommended to us by a bartender in Melbourne. That area of NZ is known for Pinot Nior grapes. As I am not a fan of red, I really liked their rose, but Jeff really liked the pinot nior. It was a great pit stop on our short 2 hour ride.

We arrived to Wanaka in the early evening, and Jeff took me on a hot date! We went to see Beauty and the Beast at a really cute theatre in town. It looked like you were walking into someone’s house. We ordered lamb nachos to share at the intermission. They stopped the movie in the middle, and you went out to your assigned table to find hot food! The theatre was small and cozy- they had a bunch of random chairs and couches to sit in. A great movie experience!

The next day we hiked up to Roy’s Peak. Well, we walked almost to the top. After a few hours, we made it to the famous scenic lookout.

We liked Wanaka much more than we liked Queenstown. We found Queenstown much more touristy, and it had a ski-resort feel. Wanaka was extremely laid back and just as beautiful. New Zealand is quickly moving to the top of our favorites list!

-Cara

Map of our stops on the south island:

View NZ South in a full screen map

The Great Ocean Road

One of the things that has been on my Australia bucket list was to see the Twelve Apostles; a unique rock formation along the Southern Australian Coast. We rented a car for the week we spent in Melbourne in order to drive the Great Ocean Road. Budget Travel Tip: It ended up being cheaper to rent a car for the entire week instead of paying for a taxi to/from the airport plus paying for a tour of the Great Ocean Road.

So, we woke up early one morning, and headed West from St. Kilda. It took us almost 4 hours to reach the Twelve Apostles. Once we were there, we were able to do a few short hikes to different outlooks.

We made a few more stops along the Great Ocean road on the way back to Melbourne. At one clearing, we even saw wild kangaroos!

Around dinner time, we had reached Geelong, a city right outside of Melbourne. Our quest for Mexican food around the world has been on-going, so we chose a Mexican restaurant for dinner. It was pretty good Aussie-Mexican fusion! Jeff drove us back to St. Kilda, and we stopped near our Airbnb at the St. Kilda pier. A popular tourist activity in Melbourne is going to see the ‘Penguin Parade’ on St. Phillip Island. Budget Travel Tip #2: there is no need to go all the way to Phillip Island! The penguins return to the St. Kilda pier from the sea every evening to nest, and you can get up close to them! ( I know it's a dark picture, but I swear there are penguins behind me.)

Mom and Jeff also saw what they thought was a giant rat on the pier, but it ended up being a protected species of water rat. You can see nature in Australia, even in the big city!

We spent the rests of our week in Melbourne checking out cute café alleyways, street art, shops, markets and restaurants!

We also spent some time at the library- it was beautiful. After church on Sunday, we went out to eat at a Greek restaurant. Melbourne supposedly has the one of the largest Greek speaking populations in the world outside of Greece. The food was great!

We also spent an evening catching up with our friend Jess, who we met last summer on our tour of Scottland! We met her and her roommate Emma at a really quaint little bar in St. Kilda. It was great to see a familiar face and catch up. Thanks for meeting up with us girls!

 Our friendly bartender kept playing with the lights to take a photo- this is the result. Kind of spooky looking!

Our friendly bartender kept playing with the lights to take a photo- this is the result. Kind of spooky looking!

-Cara

Jeff’s money recap for Australia:

Modes of transportation: Plane, ferry, boat, bus, rental car, train, trolley

Total Spent: $2570.23 (Includes flight into Gold Coast and 2 flights in Australia plus a day on the Great Barrier Reef, but Cara’s parents paid for a lot of the food and lodging)

Average Per Day: $102.81

Australia is definitely more expensive, especially Sydney. Even though the currency exchange works in our favor, it is a relatively expensive place, especially if you eat out for most of your meals. We learned that there is a 10% surcharge at meals on the weekends in Sydney. Airbnb’s were pretty inexpensive around the country (except for Sydney) and once again we really enjoyed our stays.

 A few of the Apostles... 

A few of the Apostles... 

The Dive of a Lifetime

The reason we chose to go to Port Douglas is because of its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef! Jeff and I got PADI certified recently in Cambodia (link post), specifically so we could go diving in Australia. Dad even audited a diving course in Michigan before the trip, so he could have a diving refresher.

I booked us a full-day trip on the Poseidon out of the Port Douglas Marina- Jeff, Dad and I did 3 different dives, and Mom snorkeled. I had made the reservation a few months ago, and we got super lucky with the weather! The seas were incredibly calm, it was warm and sunny and the water temperature was comfortable. The crew on board took good care of us; lunch was great! The water was warm enough to not wear wetsuits, but we did all wear stinger suits to avoid the jellyfish. Visibility was insane (at least 15 meters, and the boat crew said that it wasn’t good)- I’m pretty sure that diving is now wrecked for us. We rented an underwater camera for the day so we were able to capture these:

This was definitely an experience of a lifetime. Even if we go back in a few years to dive the Great Barrier Reef, it won’t be the same. Jeff and I were both surprised that we didn’t see much vibrant coral. Coral bleaching is extreme and the reef is dying due to global warming.

We found Nemo!

-Cara

Port Douglas and Beyond

We flew from Sydney to Cairns (put your Aussie accent on: it’s pronounced ‘Cans’). After a delicious lunch in town, and an afternoon rain shower, we drove 1 hour north to Port Douglas where we would spend the next week! Below are some of the areas we visited through the week:

View Port Douglas in a full screen map

Port Douglas was a fascinating place. It is the only place on the planet where two UNESCO sites meet- the Daintree Rainforest comes down to the coast and meets the Great Barrier Reef. We stayed at a nice Airbnb that was a few blocks from the beach. Unfortunately, we couldn’t swim because it is the end of stinger season- we weren’t willing to risk getting stung!

One day, we loaded up the car with a picnic lunch and drive north to the Daintree. It was beautiful! Everything was extremely green, and we saw lizards, tarantulas, crabs and giant fruit bats. They don’t call it the rainforest for nothing, it was extremely hot and humid, and rained in the afternoon.

I wanted to see a crocodile, but we settled for a cassowary while getting ice cream. We also stopped at a random driveway that advertised vanilla beans for sale, and Dad bought some from a Crocodile Dundee looking character. We definitely got the local experience!

We dedicated another afternoon to visiting the Mossman River Gorge. The aboriginal community in Mossman runs the park, so we paid a small fee to ride the bus up to the Gorge. We went on a nice hike (complete with rainforest rain shower), and then Mom and I jumped in the river (fully clothes) for an afternoon swim!

During our week in Queensland, we also went to church, walked through the Sunday Market, bought some Aussie pies and Mom and Dad went to wildlife park to pet the kangaroos.

 Leaving Cairns, we escaped tropical cyclone Debbie. We got really lucky that she tracked way south of where we were. There was extreme flooding in Queensland after the storm hit the coast as a category 4 cyclone. A cyclone is the same thing as a hurricane, they just have different names depending on where in the world the storm event occurs. 

Leaving Cairns, we escaped tropical cyclone Debbie. We got really lucky that she tracked way south of where we were. There was extreme flooding in Queensland after the storm hit the coast as a category 4 cyclone. A cyclone is the same thing as a hurricane, they just have different names depending on where in the world the storm event occurs. 

-Cara

Sunless Sydney

Unfortunately, we were not able to bring the sunny Gold Coast beach weather with us to Sydney. We were wet for most of the week we spent there, but the rain didn’t stop us from exploring!

Our friend Spencer met us in Sydney for the week and we had an awesome time catching up with him! You can read his blog here. (This blog may not be appropriate for young children or people who care about what pops up on their work computer screen. You've been warned.) On our first full day in the city, we went on a free walking tour. It was a great introduction to the city and gave us some ideas about what we wanted to do during the week. Sydney began as a penal colony (same story as Brisbane- the British sure did have a lot of criminals back in the day…), and many of the historic buildings downtown have been preserved. The oldest historic district in Sydney is called ‘The Rocks,’ where settlers first started to live. It’s a really quaint district, with many small paths and streets filled with cute shops and restaurants. They also have a free museum called The Rocks Discovery Museum that is worth checking out.

We decided to do a tour of the Opera House early in the week since it was an indoor activity and it kept raining! I was skeptical at first about paying $25 to take a tour of the Opera House- but it was worth it. They explain about the history of the building and take you into most of the performance halls. There are 5 performing spaces in total, and the largest concert hall can hold 2,700 people!

The next day we went to the zoo. Spencer could barely contain his excitement at the prospect of hugging a koala. While we didn’t get to pet one, we did have a private session with a zookeeper and a koala named ‘Darwin.’ It was his 10th birthday! He seemed pretty content to let us take our photos while he ate.

The Taronga Zoo is well worth your time if you end up in Sydney. Since the weather forecast was so poor, we didn’t have to fight any crowds and were able to see many Australian animals and a few of the shows that they put on at the zoo. One of the best parts is that you have to take a ferry over to the zoo, and then they get to the entrance via cable car- so you get great views of Sydney Harbor!

We randomly explored a few other areas of the city including Luna Park, Olympic Park, the Harbor Bridge, Darling Harbour and the Queen Victoria Building.

On Thursday night, my parents arrived safely after their 3-day pit stop in Hawaii (rough life, we know). The next day all 5 of us took the bus out to Bondi Beach. The wind was pretty intense and it was raining off and on, so we didn’t get in the water, but we did brave the coastal walk. We only made it to Bronte Beach before we got sick of the saltwater pelting us in the face.

We hopped on another bus back into town and explored Paddy’s Market and then went to the Fish Market for lunch. The seafood was great!!!

From the fish market, we took a long walk up to the Observatory, and then headed for St. Patty’s Day drinks at a local pub! Over the next few days we visited the Botanic Gardens, ate a lot of gelato, visited Manly Beach and (ab)used Spencer’s Marriott lounge privileges! (Below: random sights around town)

Sydney seemed extremely expensive to us. We ate out for most of our meals here, and the nicer meals didn’t come cheap- but everything was delicious! We had to try some local delicacies. One night we ordered 2 pizzas, one topped with kangaroo, and the other topped with crocodile.

Kangaroo is a lean meat- similar to venison. Jeff and Spencer thought that the crocodile tasted like chicken with a fish texture. I thought it tasted a little fishy. Spencer and I ordered kangaroo steaks another night- it was cooked perfectly and tasted like steak. (Below: Kangaroo steak, Spencer ordering his millionth gelato, and family dinners!) 

-Cara

 Sydney Harbor was a dream to photograph - and looks even better in person!

Sydney Harbor was a dream to photograph - and looks even better in person!

State of the Bank Account Address 2.0

It has been over ten months since we left Virginia (time flies when you’re having fun) and we are rapidly approaching the end of the trip, but we’re not done yet! Amazingly, we haven’t spent all of our savings yet, and if we continue our good luck, we won’t be skipping meals because we can’t afford food at the end either. Amazingly, we have been able to continue under budget, mostly thanks to friends and family around the world that have helped us out, letting us stay a night or two (or more!) with them or sharing expenses as we travel together. I am having a harder and harder time looking at our accounts when I pay bills as the bank account is MUCH lower than when we started, and I have always been conservative when it comes to savings and having a cushion in the bank. We are still doing great in sticking to our plan though, so I just have to remember that it is okay!

So on to the cold hard numbers:

Total Spent: $41,932.03 (as of April 1, 2017)

Average per day: $119.33 (this is our spending as of April 1, 2017, we have some pre-booked things like plane tickets that are included in the amount spent above, but those will get rolled into the daily average as they are actually used)

Days since we left the USA: 287

Difference in 'Budgeted' vs. 'Actual Expenses": $2,161.80 (we have spent less than budgeted for)

In order to finish the trip within our planned spending we have to average less than $133 a day, so we are doing really well. New Zealand will raise this average some, but we should bring it back down a little while in Peru. We don’t have too many stops left, and provided we don’t go crazy and we manage to avoid any major expenses, the total trip will cost right about what we thought when we left the States. Pretty cool considering we didn’t really know how much things would be when we left and we only had the first few months of travel planned.

So what is left? New Zealand, Hawaii (more time with Chip and Marie (of Swedish, Italian, and Vietnamese fame)), Peru, Atlanta, Pensacola, and the Bahamas, maybe with a little more time somewhere between Peru and Atlanta, depending on flight prices as those will dictate when we leave Peru.

The end of the trip is still scheduled as the first of July, as we will be returning from the Bahamas after spending some time with friends there as the close of the adventure. We will be back in the USA for a little while before that, visiting my sister in Atlanta and some friends in Florida in June, but that is still a part of the trip as we won’t be settled anywhere.

So what’s next? We don’t know where exactly we’re headed when we come back from the Bahamas, and I guess Cara and I will have to find jobs and replenish some of the money we have spent in the last year… Know anyone that is looking to hire a couple engineers?

 Flashback to May 2016- when we had money (and muscles)!

Flashback to May 2016- when we had money (and muscles)!

-Jeff

Nothing comes close to the Gold Coast!

From Tokyo, we headed Down Under. Our red-eye from Narita landed in Gold Coast early morning, and we hopped on a bus and a train to get to Brisbane. We had excellent hosts in Brisbane- our friends Heidi and Shari that we met in Scotland!

On Friday afternoon, Shari dropped us in South Bank (across the river from Brisbane City), and Jeff and I wandered around for a few hours. We walked through an amazing city park called the Parklands. They have a man-made beach right in the middle of the city! They also had a cute rainforest walk and a random Nepalese temple. Jeff and I were fascinated by the different birds in the park since they all looked so exotic to us.

We walked across the river to see downtown Brisbane and wandered through the Museum of Brisbane. It is in the City Hall building, and was just the right price- free! The building was beautiful, and we got a free tour of the clock tower. If you are ever in Brisbane, I suggest checking it out. I thought it was pretty cool for a free museum. We learned about Brisbane’s origins as a penal colony, and how it progressed to what it is today. Same old story- white Europeans come and take over the native’s land. Speaking of white Europeans- the girls took us to the German Club on Friday night, and we had excellent beer and bratwurst. However, the best part of the night was Andrew- the one-man band who kept us entertained!

On Saturday morning, we were up bright and early, and on our way to the beach we stopped at the chiropractor so I could get adjusted. It sounds like a weird thing to mention in a blogpost, but when you haven’t seen any health care professional in 10 months, it’s a big deal!!!!! Dr. Laura was awesome, and after countless flights, all of our random adventures, and 10 months of being out of alignment- I feel so much better!

After the pit stop at the chiro, we headed to Gold Coast to soak up some sun!

Then we grabbed a picnic lunch from the grocery store and headed to Lamington National Park. The girls took us on a great bushwalk after lunch- we went about 12k! You know how they say that everything in Australia is trying to kill you? As in, all of the animals are poisonous and scary? Well…it’s true. We knew this going in, but didn’t actually expect to see nature on our first bushwalk. We definitely got more than we bargained for!

We couldn’t quite get pictures of the 2 wallabies we saw (they look like miniature kangaroos). They were pretty cute! We also didn’t have any koala sightings, despite all of the ‘koala crossing’ signs we saw. It was an awesome Saturday hike through the rainforest:

On the way back into Brisbane, we stopped and picked up some Aussie pies for dinner!

 The next day, we packed up our swimsuits again and caught a ferry to Coochimudlo island just off the coast. We walked around the small island, got in the water at a few beaches, and had some fish and chips before heading back to the mainland. That night we had tacos- hello chips and salsa! And relaxed before getting on our flight to Sydney the next day.

To Heidi and Shari- thank you both so much for spending the weekend showing us around! We had an absolute blast!

-Cara

P.S.: Thanks for introducing us to Vegemite! 

These are the places we are going to explore over the next few weeks:

View Australia in a full screen map

Southeast Asia in Summary

In order to understand comparisons in this blog, the following language tip may help: ‘same-same’ = ‘same’ and ‘same-same but different’ = ‘similar.’ We have not heard anyone in SE Asia say the word ‘similar,’ things are always described as ‘same-same’ or ‘same-same, but different.’ In SE Asia, we visited Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia (in that order). Singapore is extremely developed, and we only spent 1 day in Malaysia, so this is strictly a comparison between Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. Regardless of which country you travel to, there was not a language barrier, so you don’t need to be worried about not speaking the local language. It’s amazing at how many people speak English!

Haircuts

I think we will let the pictures talk for themselves. The first two are Jeff's street buzz in Vietnam, then Jeff and Cara in Thailand, and finally Jeff in the middle of a market in Cambodia:

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Shopping

I’m basing the shopping in each country on the amount and quality of knock-off/possibly real name brand goods each place had available. If you look at the labels on the clothes in your closet, most things are probably made in Vietnam, Thailand, or Cambodia. (All pics below are from Vietnam- in the first picture Bri is admiring Marie's new 100% tailored leather boots, or her butt..not sure.)

When we landed in Vietnam, we immediately saw ‘Made in Vietnam’ stores. They sold all different versions of NorthFace and Columbia gear. Some looked better than others. You could tell the quality by how low you could bargain for. A raincoat for $5 was probably a cheap fake, but if they would only sell for minimum $10-15, you may have found a gem! Ray Ban, Louis Vuitton, Christian Louboutin, Prada, and all the other high-end bag companies for that matter, were available there. You could pick up a good looking Fjallraven Kanken backpack for less than $15.

We had a much harder time finding brand-name goods in Thailand. Thailand was all about it’s night markets though! Every night there seemed to be a different option for a night market. Some local crafts were available, but mostly they sold cute-sy tourist souvenirs.

I was holding out hope that Cambodia would have more shopping similar to Vietnam since they are geographically closer. Gap products are made in Cambodia, and we found some Gap t-shirts in the markets. Judging by the Hollister and Abercrombie and Fitch clothes we found, I think those companies make things in Cambodia as well. Here, we found some decent knock off bags, but not as many as were in Vietnam. I did buy an Anello backpack; it is a Japanese brand that is more popular in Asia than Fjallraven Kanken:

 Above: my $12 Anello bag from Cambodia, and my $5 polarized Ray Bans from Vietnam

Above: my $12 Anello bag from Cambodia, and my $5 polarized Ray Bans from Vietnam

Winner: Hanoi, Vietnam. Hanoi in Northern Vietnam had many more quality knock-offs (I could be convinced that many were actually the real deal), than we found in Ho Chi Minh City (South Vietnam).

Massage

Spa culture seemed to be a big part of life in SE Asia. Lucky for us, massages were extremely inexpensive and I got a full body massage in each country! You have to get over the fact that you might not get any relaxing spa music- more likely your masseuse will be playing with their phone, and answer calls, in the middle of your massage. In Vietnam, we paid $6 for an hour. It was very similar to any massage you would get in the States if you went to a large chain massage place. Except for the fact that you got naked on a table with 4 other people in the room at the same time… They used oil for massaging in Vietnam. It was pretty relaxing. Right as you were about to fall asleep at the end of your 60 minutes, the masseuse lathers her hands in Tiger Balm, and then covers your face with them. (Tiger Balm is like a more intense version of Icy-Hot). Needless to say, at the end of a Vietnamese massage, you are wide awake and your sinus are clear.

Thai massage was very different to anything I had experienced before. Again, we were in a communal space (no private rooms!), but they had us change into hospital scrubs first. Since they don’t use oil, they just massage you through the scrubs. Jeff and I were laying on the same table- it was more like a large raised platform- and the masseuse was right on the table with you. A lot of feet and elbows were used, and they used a lot of pressure to relieve knots in the muscle. They also did a bit of back cracking and a lot of intense stretching.

Khmer (Cambodian) massage is same-same, but different to Thai massage. I got a full body massage for 90-minutes for $8. It was pretty relaxing, and the lady more of a pressure point technique than an all-over rubbing. Even though I changed into scrubs (no oil used), I was glad that no one else was in the room with us. I spent a lot of time trying not to giggle because this Cambodian woman definitely climbed all over me. This was not for the faint of heart; her hands and feet were all up in my lady business most of the time, and I’m pretty sure that at one point my hands were also in her crotch. Similar to Thai massage, more time was spent massaging the legs than anything else, and a lot of stretching was involved. You definitely have to participate instead of lying there like a lunk. I didn’t really know how flexible I was until she folded me up into a pretzel!

 My get-up for the Thai massage. I wore similar scrubs during my massage in Cambodia

My get-up for the Thai massage. I wore similar scrubs during my massage in Cambodia

 

Best massage: 60-min Thai massage for just under $6. Definitely not as good as the massages I have had in the States, but for $6, I don’t care if someone just touches my back for an hour.

Food

Vietnam was the land of fresh herbs. We seemed to be served an entire plate of fresh cilantro, basil and mint with every meal, no matter what we were eating. Bowl of soup? Vietnamese pancake? Here is your daily dose of fresh greens! It was delicious! Our favorite meal in Vietnam was in Hanoi at ‘Bun bo Nam Bo,’ and we tell everyone about it if they mention they are traveling there! Jeff enjoyed the food in Vietnam more than I did, because restaurants normally had very few choices on a menu and it didn’t take long to decide what we wanted (Jeff’s note: I also think that most restaurants that only have a couple options are really good at those options. I also really enjoy just sitting down and getting food sometimes, without worrying if that place makes that dish well or what their best option is). It’s also worth mentioning that the coffee culture in Vietnam is the best in SE Asia!

One of our favorite things in Thailand was doing a cooking class with my brother Phil. We ate as much green curry, pad thai, and mango sticky rice as we could handle while in Thailand. I enjoyed the food more in Thailand than I did in Vietnam because there always seemed to be more options. The street food was extremely plentiful and the variety was awesome. Thailand was more into tea, specifically milk tea (tea with sweet and condensed milk), than they were into coffee - but due to western tourists, you can get a decent cup of coffee anywhere.

Cambodia continued to be the land of curry, which was fine by me! Jeff is not a huge fan and seemed to have flashbacks to India every time I ordered curry, so he tried to stick to BBQ and other meat dishes. We didn’t find anything particularly amazing or unique about Cambodian food, and any sort of coffee or tea culture doesn’t really exist outside of western coffee shops. The amount of street food available fell right in between Thailand (most street food) and Vietnam (a few sandwiches available on the street).

Cara’s winner: Thailand, favorite dish: green curry and mango fruitshake

Jeff’s winner: Vietnam, favorite dish: any sort of Bun (cha (pork), bo (beef), or whatever meat they serve. Noodles, a little broth, some sprouts, a few herbs, the perfect dish!), favorite drink: egg coffee

Sightseeing

Vietnam was a perfect place for people who love being outdoors. Ha Long Bay was amazing and we had a great time exploring caves in Phong Nha. The jungle is easily accessible throughout the country. We didn’t get to explore the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam, but have heard good things. Below: Ha Long Bay, Caving in Phong Nha, and exploring the ancient temples of My Son.

Thailand has some beautiful temples, beaches and jungle that are all easily accessible. If you are looking for a trip that includes a lot of partying and beach-going, then Thailand is the place for you! Jeff and I weren’t really looking for those things during our time there, so while we did some sightseeing, we spent a lot of our time living like locals and planning our future travels. Below: Rainforest, Sactuary of Truth, and giant Buhdda in Thailand:

Angkor Wat. It’s the reason that most people go to Cambodia. And it did not disappoint!!!! Every temple we saw seemed even better than the last one - and they were all different!

Winner: Vietnam, followed by Cambodia. There is still a lot we want to explore in Vietnam, but we feel like visiting Angkor Wat once in your lifetime is completely worth it, but sufficient. We felt that Thailand was overrun by tourists and we were not able to get as much of an authentic cultural experience there as we were in the other two countries. 

Ease of transportation

It is really easy, and inexpensive to travel around SE Asia. The budget airline, Air Asia, normally has flights well under $100 anywhere you want to go (once you get to the continent)!

In Vietnam, there were travel agencies on every corner in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. All you had to do was walk in and book a bus for the same or next day. It really couldn’t have been any easier! Scooters ruled the road, and we felt safe enough to rent them in multiple cities. Uber is also available here, and made getting to and from the airport a breeze.

Thailand didn’t seem to have as many travel agencies, but there was much more information online about where to buy bus tickets or book tours if you needed to. There were less scooters in Thailand than in Vietnam, but we still felt safe renting them in Chiang Mai. Uber is available here also, so that’s a plus!

Cambodia had the best tuk-tuks. They were big, the ones in Phnom Penh had ghetto-rigged gas tanks, some were obviously paid off by advertisers (see above), and I even saw one that was covered (even the outside) in astro turf. Points for character!

Cambodia had a few more scooters on the road than Thailand, but there were more cars than in Vietnam. We did not rent scooters here, but we did take tuk-tuks everywhere. No Uber in Cambodia, and taxis were few and far between. The tuk-tuks were reasonably priced, and can get you anywhere! There were quite a few travel agencies in the bigger cities, and we opted to take the nicer buses for transport around the country. The buses in Cambodia were the nicest we found in SE Asia, and the rest stops were the cleanest!

Winner: Vietnam for ease of booking, Thailand and Cambodia for cleanliness!

Cara and Jeff’s favorite country in SE Asia…DRUMROLL PLEASE… is Vietnam!

This country surprised us the most, in the best way. We already plan on returning someday. The shopping, food, and beautiful countryside are reason enough, but when you add in how inexpensive it is to visit Vietnam, it’s a no-brainer. Who wants to go back with us???

 Final award: Best Pool goes to our hotel in Chiang Mai!

Final award: Best Pool goes to our hotel in Chiang Mai!