Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road

19 06 2010

We spent a few days in Melbourne, catching up with old friends, eating at familiar vegan restaurants like the VegieBar and Lord of the Fries, shopping for veganwares shoes and walking through the Fitzroy gardens.

Then we slowly heading home to Adelaide along the Great Ocean Road. We visited waterfalls along puddle-ridden slippery steps, ate lunch at picnic grounds surrounded by tiny native birds, went on a tree top walk at Ottway Fly and stayed at night at Apollo Bay where the pub came up with 4 special vegan dishes for us.

The next day we drove along, stopping every few km for lookouts, followed by the rain and then a rainbow the stretched from the ocean in a perfect semi circle back to the ocean. Benno commented that he didn’t realise leprecauns were amphibious. While the weather was overcast and rainy we still enjoyed the 12 apostles, london bridge, a blowhole where 11 bodies were found after a shipwreck and the graveyard of the shipwreck. Unfortunately, despite social pressure, the two surivors of the shipwreck did not get married- she got on a boat straight back to Ireland and never saw Tom again.

We spent the night in Penola, getting up early for the drive home to Adelaide. We made it back in time to have lunch at Bliss and do some shopping at the markets before returning to our house for the first time in 15 months.

And that ends our adventure of living in Japan and travelling through Asia back home. 🙂

Melacca and the Riverview Guesthouse

13 06 2010

We spent a day on the bus. We were picked up at 7.30am from Old Penang Guesthouse. The van took us to the bus station where we got on a super luxury bus to KL. At KL we fought our way around the crazy ticket stalls, with each company hawking it’s routes in a most confusing way. Without a lunch break we got on a bus to Melacca and ended up reaching Melacca faster than if we had gone from Penang to Melacca directly (however that bus was already booked out). From the bus terminal we found the local buses and took it about 5 stops to the red square, walked across the river and to the Riverview Guesthouse. The staff were so amazing – a complementary iced lychee juice awaited us while we checked in, the free library entertained us while we relaxed on the deck watching the river flow past, and free cake and fruit were provided along with use of the kitchen.

Melacca was our favourite city – there was lots to look at and all within walking distance. We checked out the Jonker Street night markets, the historical buildings, the river cruise, the river at night, the Chinese and Indian food, the vegan food at the supermarket (v drumsticks and more steam buns anyone?), the sales at the department store, the old dutch buildings, churches, cemetery, cannons, museums on architecture and enduring beauty across cultures, the “harmony street” with Indian, Chinese and Muslim temples/mosques, listened to the call to prayer, read about the port and trading and the mingle of cultures that resulted, ate malaysia coconut desserts (kueh lapis etc) and could have done more if we didn’t have to fly home.

We spent another mammoth day of travel returning home. We took a bus from Melacca to KL (2 hours). From the bus station we took a train to KL Sentral, then another bus from KL Sentral to LCCT. From LCCT we took a 1am plane with non-reclining seats to Melbourne where mum and dad met us at the airport and drove us home along the Great Ocean Road.

Pulau Penang and Langkawi

8 06 2010

Our train arrived in Butterworth at 7am. We stumbled out and followed the signs to the ferry where for 1.60RM (about 30c) we hopped on the ferry to Penang island. From the ferry terminal we took a public bus a few stops to Chinatown where we checked into a hotel. Our first choice, Old Penang Guesthouse, was full so we booked one night at the less nice Love lane Inn and then transferred to the very atmospheric Old Penang Guesthouse the next day. While both had shared bathrooms due to building restrictions in the historic area, Old Penang had a lovely feel, air con, free breakfast, a kitchen, rennovated bathrooms, old wooden floors, a sunny eating area and friendly staff.

We had lunch at a Chinese buffet- another pay by the plate. We totally stuffed ourselves for about 11RM, or $2 each. We wandered around old buildings, the port, temples and mansions but the sun was a little warm.

We ate dinner at one of the many Indian restaurants where for 14RM we could eat our old-time favourites of aloo gobi, chana masala, nimbu pani and an interesting eggplant bahji.

The next day we took a bus to the beach, batu ferringi. 40 minutes later we, along with some other families including malaysian women in full muslim cover-up, got off to go to the beach. We were disappointed and ended up not swimming due to the rubbish on the beach. Bottles, coconut shells, lights, polystyrene – all off it was found on the beach or in the water. On top of that, every stretch of sand was privatised and owned by a hotel, making it impossible to find anywhere to sit.

We took a ferry the next day to Pulau Langkawi and hoped that the beach would be better there. Again, we shared the 3 hour ferry journey to beach resort paradise with devout muslims that didn’t look like they were able to go swimming due to their modest attire. Lacking public transport, the only way to travel from Kuah (the main port town with a giant Eagle to welcome you) to the beach resort areas is by taxi – 30 minutes later we were in Pantai Centang and at Sweet Inn, our hotel for our stay.

We were not disappointed- the beach was the best of the trip so far with NO RUBBISH! There were palm trees and not many people, although being sunburn-cautious since Nha Trang we didn’t go to the swimming in the hottest parts of the day and when we did, covered up with t-shirts and hats as we suspected that our sunscreen was past its expiry date.

We even managed to eat vegan pizza twice which was a nice western change to the asian food. We also ate Indian curries and Middle eastern felafels and malaysia sago pudding for dessert.

On the ferry back we watched a funny movie about an Aussie bogan who goes to Pattaya, Thailand and gets his passport and clothes stolen by a chic. He then ends up working a giant mortar and pestle making green mango salad, going crazy whenever he is fed chili.

KL and the return of public transport

6 06 2010

We flew from Chiang Mai to KL as the southern border of Thailand was a continuous no-go zone for overland travel. We had to wait in line to go through immigration for the longest time, just for a stamp in our passports. For 8 RM we got on a bus from the LCCT to KL Sentral station. The bus didn’t seem to have a time schedule, it just waited until it was full and then left. My Bahasa Indonesia slowly came back as we read street signs on the way into KL city. From KL Sentral we were grateful for the return of efficient public transport and boarded a train to Pasar Seni (China town central markets) where we walked to our hotel on Petaling Street, Chinatown.

We had a late lunch at a Chinese vegetarian hole-in-the-wall restaurant around the corner from Petaling Street called 31 Street Food. We ate spring rolls and drank fresh watermelon juice. All for such a low price we don’t know how they made any profit. Most dishes were about $1 (3RM).

We ate dinner at another Chinese restaurant that was featured in the LP. A word of warning: don’t trust any LP map as they are bound to be wrong when you are hungry. We wandered for ages, then gave up and went back to the hotel to look up the address online before walking all the way again to find this restaurant. The lady seemed grumpy but cheered up when we thanked her in Chinese for the meal.

The next day we took the train and a long walk out to the KL Bird Park. It’s meant to have one of the largest avairies in the world- their Free-flight Walk-in Aviary is about 20 acres big right in the middle of the city. We saw lots of birds including flamingoes, lorikeets, hornbills, owls and eagles. Did you know they have a pre-wedding photography package where you can have your photo taken with the birds?

After the birds we wandered through the Orchid garden before returning to 31 Street Food for a late lunch. We were excited by the vegan-friendly pandan lotus steam buns at the supermarket so ate in for dinner. Yum! Steam Buns!

Our last day in KL we took a public bus to the Batu Caves. We had no idea where to get off and just had to follow the crowds when we thought we were close enough. The Batu Caves have a huge kannon statue out the front and the cave seems to fill the entire mountain. There was an old woman caring for one of the statues inside the cave-temple and she looked like she had never cut her hair- it was bound up over itself into a thick, stiff mass of hair down her back. We saw a monkey and tried not to get wet as the caves were very moist. Exercise was not permitted at the top of the steps (perhaps people like to run up and down the 200+ steps?)

We had Indian for lunch at one of the many veg restaurants outside the batu caves. We ate banana leaf style – a banana leaf is placed on your table then spoons of rice and different curries put onto it which you eat with your hands.

We took the public bus back again and then caught the train to KLCC where we viewed the Patronas towers from the surrounding KLCC gardens. We went shopping and found Japanese DVDs for bargain malaysian prices.

Petanling Street, Chinatown, was again filled with stalls at night and made it difficult to move anywhere fast. We also found that being a Sunday night very few restaurants were open. We almost gave up on dinner before Benno remembered seeing a vegetarian stall tucked away on a side street off of Petanling. We found it and helped ourselves to a Chinese vegan buffet. You fill up a plate with whatever you want to eat, then pay “by eye”- which works out to be very cheap considering how much we ate!

We caught an overnight train to Butterworth. Only 2nd class seats were available, departing from KL Sentral at 11.30pm. There was no sleeper class which unfortunately meant an extremely uncomfortable night. Lights stayed on, the TV was on, seats barely reclined and we slept very little on our journey north.

Lots to do in Chiang Mai

2 06 2010

We arrived around 8am on the sleeper train. We hadn’t slept much but were able to get a tuk tuk to some accommodation. We ventured out for breakfast and found mango with sticky rice from Sailom Joy. This was to be our breakfast for every morning in Chiang Mai. We booked some activities for the rest of our time, went to AUM Vegetarian Restaurant for lunch and had ice lemon tea, pineapple juice, brown rice with tofy, spicy thai coconut curry and veg tempura with tamarind dipping sauce. We were stuffed to the brim so had a rest in the afternoon before having dinner at Taste from Heaven. We ate Thai papaya salad, spicy tofu and benas followed by taro in coconut milk for dessert. In the evening we went to the night markets and Sunday markets and bargained for some souvenirs.

Day 2 we again ate way too much food. We had mango and sticky rice (khao nieo mamuang) for breakfast then did a Thai Cooking Course through GAP. They were able to change the recipes to suit our dietary needs and with only 4 people in the group, it meant we were well looked after. Joe was our very funny teacher who would say things like “Oh no, I no like it spicy, tell me Joe, what should I do?” “It’s ok, I add only a little chilli”.

First stop was the markets where we were shown fresh produce and the food was purchased for our cooking. We got some wax apple – one tropical fruit we hadn’t eaten yet.

There were so many dishes that we got to make. First up, we learnt to make green curry paste. Then we made green curry with eggplant and sweet basil, followed by cashew nut stirfry, then tofy souffle, thai style tofu cakes with cucumber sauce and tom yum soup with mushrooms and tomatoes. After we had cooked all that it was time for lunch where we ate it all. Then we were taught how to make tomato roses and onion lotus flowers to decorate a plate. Then we made mango sticky rice, thai spring rolls with plum sauce and pad thai with peanuts and lime. All these dishes were put into take away containers so we could enjoy them for dinner that night. It was so much food! And they made it very easy to adjust the taste – if too salty add sugar, if too sweet add soy sauce, if too creamy add stock and if too bland add chilli.

The next day we were picked up and taken to the Elephant Nature Park. This was by far the highlight of our trip. We were able to feed, wash, give mud spas, get kissed by and look after Asian elephants. The photos tell all. We stayed overnight and the next morning went on a guided walk of the park, being told the individual stories of the elephants. One elephant was blind as both her eyes had been stabbed out by her former trainer. She had also lost her baby as she was forced to work during her labour and was climbing up a hill when her baby came out and tumbled down. While we were sitting down in the shade an elephant came right up to us and let us scratch her behind the ears and in the cheek. She was beautiful and very placcid. If you ever have a chance, go to the Elephant Nature Park run by Lek. It is most worthwhile.

Our last day in Chiang Mai was a work day for Benno – he stayed at the guesthouse and played internet while Lara went on a tour to the highest spot in Thailand (cold compared to town), huge momuments built for the King and Queen, two waterfalls, a karen village and a government project to get people to grow flowers and vegetables instead of opium.