Lost in Translation

If you’ve been following my Facebook posts, you know I collect Hard Rock Cafe pins. I have pins from 33 Hard Rock Cafes from around the world that I have personally visited. The last one was at Hard Rock Angkor in Cambodia which I wasn’t even aware of its existence. It isn’t a criteria for visiting a place, but if there’s one where I’m going, I try to get to it and pick up a couple of pins.

I usually have internet access available on my phone, but Vietnam is one of the place that my cellular plan doesn’t include in their coverage. Since we’re on a budget, I don’t feel the need to pay extra just to have that connectivity. I just use the WiFi in the hotel. Normally, I would look up the Hard Rock when I have internet access, but somehow it slipped my mind (old age) and I didn’t think of it until we saw a Starbucks in the expensive part of town. I couldn’t get a Hanoi coffee mug (too difficult to pack or ship), but it reminded Sheri that we should see if there’s a Hard Rock in Hanoi. Continue reading

Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor

Cambodia was our first destination in Southeast Asia. At the time, when I made the flight arrangements, I didn’t see any compelling reason to go to Phnom Penh. I figured we would see more than enough temples throughout Asia and the experience would be similar to Siem Reap, the town closest to the Angkor complex of temples. We only scheduled two nights and three days for Cambodia, and in hindsight, we could easily have afforded to stay longer. Cambodia was probably the least expensive place we have visited so far in Southeast Asia. DSC_4328Tourist who used to flock to Thailand for the travel bargains are now going to Cambodia instead. For me, it seems to offer more of the underdeveloped rural experience than some of the more modern Asian countries.

After reading horror stories about people crossing the border from Thailand, we decided to fly directly to Siem Reap. And although flying into the major airports allows you the convenience of getting a visa upon arrival, we opted to get our visa online while we were in Australia. We waited until just 4 days before our scheduled arrival to get our visa, but they were very fast processing it, so I had it within 2 days of applying for it. Although they are fast, I don’t recommend waiting until the last minute. We printed two copies as instructed and when we arrived, having our visas beforehand saved us from waiting in a long queue to get one on arrival. Continue reading

Ona, Winky, Grub and Sheep Shearing

Continued from Outback Adventure: State Route 19

DSC_3581Our new friends at the local hotel (we discovered that hotels are actually taverns and motels are places to sleep) eagerly welcomed us like long lost cousins to the family. Pretty soon, Shona, behind the bar, and her daughter, Kalani, were trying to get us to sing karaoke and everyone was telling us off-color jokes. It was all good-natured fun and felt like we had stepped onto the set of a Crocodile Dundee movie. DSC_3626Some people went by a nickname and they’ve had the nickname so long, people don’t even remember their real name. There was Shakespeare, Winky (Peter), and Grub (Grub). Sheri became besties with Ona (Fiona), who owned the store and petrol station next door. Soon she was joking with Sheri and urging us to go see a sheep shearing, because that’s where Grub was working tomorrow. Everyone was fairly drunk, so we took it all as pleasant banter brought about by alcohol. Continue reading

Outback Adventure: State Route 19

When we left the coast of Queensland, I had no idea that we would be going on the most memorable part of our road trip in Australia. You might want to read about the driving challenges we faced, as that would be a good preface to this story. Our road trip was fairly uneventful until we left Townsville after returning from Magnetic Island. Google maps had been taking us on scenic routes, often taking us on circuitous secondary or residential streets when a more direct route existed. More often than not, this resulted in more traffic congestion and longer travel times. Sometimes, it would be costly when Google would direct me onto a tollway. Continue reading

Driving in Oz: From Six Lanes to a Dirt Road

Driving a camper van around Australia is a great way to see more of the country, meet new friends and have a great road trip adventure. Once you choose the right camper van rental company, half the battle is done. Sheri did it before and really loved it. Of course, she wasn’t doing the driving and has a very different perspective. As a driver, I also thought it would be lots of fun, but I wasn’t fully prepared for all the challenges that I faced. Continue reading

Choose Your Camper Van Rental Carefully

Traveling around the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand by camper van is becoming increasingly popular. We just spent three weeks driving 8,164 kilometers around Australia by camper van. I found that the company you select for your vehicle can really make or break your self-driving adventure. There are lots of companies in Australia that rent camper vans and what I failed to do was read some reviews on the company I selected. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have used the place we did. We rented from Hippie and received an Apollo camper van. Apollo is just one of several brands from the same company, including, Star, Cheapa Cheapa, Hippie and their manufacturing and sales brand Talvor. All of these companies have received more complaints than good reviews on web various sites except their own. It began with the whole process of picking up the camper. Continue reading

Of Kiwis and other such New Zealand oddities

I’m sorry to report that Sheri and I didn’t see any kiwis in the wild…at least not of the bird variety. What we did see was gorgeous landscapes, much of which is quite unique to this part of the world. Throw in some movie sets, a few good hikes, a great road trip, and it’s easy to see why people want to live here. In retrospect, we should have spent more time here, but New Zealand is expensive and more time meant higher overall costs. The time we did spend here was already budget busting, but I think we saw and did quite a lot for what it cost us. I foresee another trip in the future to see all that we missed this time around.

Our New Zealand adventure was only 7 full days when you factor in the travel days. We only spent 2 full days on the North Island and 5 full days on the South Island. To see and do as much as possible, we decided to rent a car instead of relying on public transportation; more about driving later. Here’s what we did with the limited time we had. Continue reading

We are finally on the road

We have been so extremely busy with preparations that I haven’t even had time to post that we’ve started. But we’ve more than just started, we’re already in New Zealand, our third country on our itinerary and we are lovin’ the scenery and weather. What hasn’t been easy is the rigorous schedule I’ve managed to put us on with only nine days to take in all the splendor of New Zealand.

But let’s go back a week to when it all began. With all our belongings safely in storage, we stayed with Sheri’s closest friend, Carol, on our final night in the U.S. We arrived late because of all the last minute packing we were finishing, but were treated to a wonderful home-cooked dinner. The next morning, we took the Amtrak train from the station in our hometown up to Vancouver, BC. We added an extra day before our flight to Sydney because, in the wintertime, you can never be sure that the train will actually make it. Track closures due to mudslides are quite common, so we didn’t want to be scrabbling on our first day. Continue reading