Asian Travels - 2010
March/April always seem a good time to travel; its between seasons, the angst often associated with the Festive Season is forgotten, the onset of the Dry Season or Winter (depending on where you live) is still a little way off. Our decision to resume our exploration of SE Asia this year was, in part, prompted by an 'off the cuff' emailed invitation from Jimmy Roberts (an ex Darwin mate) in September 2009 to attend his wedding in Can Tho, Vietnam on Easter Sunday 2010 . That provided the catalyst to contact daughter Amy (now living and teaching in the Philippines) to see whether a visit from us just prior to Easter would be OK. As Amy conveniently commenced school holidays the week prior to Easter, she said go for it and so we began the planning.
Where to go?......How long should we go for?.........How much can we afford to spend?.....talk about 'chicken and the egg'......After some preliminary enquiries we gathered that it was possible to fly pretty well direct to the Philippines from Brisbane and then fly across to mainland Asia (Vietnam) and for us then to make our own way by a combination of bus, ferry and train down to Singapore to catch a flight back to Brisbane and home. We committed ourselves in November 2009 by booking these basic flights for our holiday and spent the remaining four months researching the itinerary options within that skeletal framework. Easy really, just plunder the Asian travel section of the local library and then wade through countless travel blogs on the internet and finally check with those friends we knew who had recently been to the region.
I also kept a watchful eye on the Travel & Indulgence supplement in the Weekend Australian for any relevant travel snippets. This latter exercise did lead me into some rather testy correspondence with the editor of that supplement - hence the odd acidic reference later in this webpage to the 'AB Demographic' which she championed in her reply to me.
This was our first overseas trip we had undertaken since our last visit to Vietnam in 2000. I must say the planning this time round included a few additional and unwelcome considerations such as extra prescriptions drugs, spare pairs of glasses and prescriptions for same. However, our most dramatic preparation was to embark on a rigorous diet and exercise program so as to enable us both to tackle any unexpected physical demands of the trip. We bicycled and walked all over Yeppoon and together with a reasonable adherence to a diet, made substantial reductions to our surplus body mass.
A bonus was the good exchange rate at date of departure viz: US$1 : A$0.92.
We planned on staying in two-three star accommodation providing it came with own bathroom, airconditioning, fridge, window and hopefully a desk. By saving on accommodation, we hope to have more money to spend on side trips/tours, food and drinks as well as the odd souvenir.
As the day of departure neared, the subject of luggage selection arose with the debate centered about backpacks vs wheeled luggage. I argued that the former gave you more flexibility if the terrain was rough and where one was required to jump nimbly from ferries, buses or trains. Maria preferred wheeled luggage because it was easier for her to manoeuvre. While my views initially prevailed, I was to regret it quite early into the trip as the weight of purchases in the backpack began to cripple me. Our principal pack ended up weighing close to 30kg in Penang before I agreed to purchase some relief in the form of a wheeled soft bag of similar capacity. Heavy packs are fine for the fit and young, but not for the more mature decrepit traveller; unless they can be entrusted to travel very light and resist the purchase of bulky and or heavy travel guides, souvenirs etc.
We eventually flew out of Rockhampton at 1000 hours on 25 March, parked our backpacks in a storage locker at Brisbane's Roma Street railway station and went off in search of a light compact digital camera for our travel snaps. I wanted a camera which could safely be stored in one's pocket. I had already identified a new Nikon with 12 Megapixels and 5 x optical zoom for our travels and the best deal lay in a discount camera shop in Annerley. Having spent over $300 we were eligible to receive a rebate at the international airport of the GST involved. We then went shopping for some sturdy walking shoes for Maria which we found in one of those Kathmandu stores. We retired back to the international airport to await the departure of our Singapore Airlines flight to Singapore and Manila which left at 2330hours.
By god airports can be soulless places nowadays, with their enhanced security provisions and rip-off food and beverage prices - gone are the impromptu parties of well-wishers around smoky bars - now its all eyes down at the free internet cubicles, loud blatherings to loved ones vide mobiles and or staring mindlessly at the Sky News monitors whilst nervously and furtively re-checking ones travel documents. However, at least the toilets are safe and clean - the last of their type your likely to encounter until your return.
The rest of this tale has been broken up into small segments to make it easier to download and read; viz:
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