Sydney – beer, bats and beaches

Week two of our stay in Sydney is at the Jolly Swagman hostel.

Jolly Swagman

We check in on a Saturday morning – that night while eating our dinner and sharing a bottle of Aussie wine – we find out that Saturday nights at the hostel are Centurion night. Which means we get to watch a bunch of twenty-something’s drink a shot of beer every minute for 100 minutes.

Centurian contest

It’s not too long before the first contestant is puking in the bushes, but his competitive spirit has him back in the game in time for the next shot. This guy projectile vomits twice more before the other contestants make a new rule that if you throw up 3 times, you’re out. I’ve never been so thankful for my 30-something wisdom before. A few years ago, that coulda been me.


With 6 Centurions left standing at the end of 100 minutes, everyone decides it’s time to hit a nightclub and we go along, wrapped up in the spirit of hostel living.

We’ve got our own room at the Swagman with a sink, fridge, desk and small TV. The shared bathrooms down the hall and are kept nice and clean. We make our meals in the huge kitchen and eat in the noisy dining area, which also sports an X-box. We are located in Kings Cross; a short walk to the grocery store and to the waterfront where we go for our runs along the seawall, turning around once we hit the Opera House. We spend a lot of time in the Botanical Gardens, strolling, drinking coffee, people watching. We discover a new bird or plant or statue on every visit. The birds here are so loud. And we aren’t the only ones who have noticed it – we were talking to an American at the hostel who had noticed it too. The birds here don’t sing – they scream.

Aussie bird

On one afternoon stroll we realized how many bats there are. Hundreds and hundreds of them hanging upside down, wings wrapped around their batty bodies, for their afternoon nap while a few glide effortlessly through the sky. They are creepy and amazing.


Lots of bats

We discover a store called Dan Murphy’s. It’s sells alcohol at the lowest prices you have ever seen. Rows and rows of delicious wine (sorted by grape variety, not country). Because they are all Australian (with a few from New Zealand and France) all at amazingly low prices. Same wines at half the cost as they are in Canada – with bigger discounts when you buy 6 bottles. I have died and gone to wine heaven. We leave with 10 bottles – seriously restraining ourselves from buying more. I am giddy.

On the Bondi to Coogee walk

We celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary while we’re staying at the hostel. Not the most romantic place for it but we pack a picnic and stroll through the gardens, eating our lunch on a sunny patch of lawn overlooking the Opera House. Then we go for a drink at the Opera Bar – enjoying the view of the Harbour Bridge on their fabulous patio.

Harbour Bridge

Wanting to go out for a romantic dinner – we search for a one online only to discover that all of Sydney’s “great romantic” restaurants are so overpriced that I know I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my meal. We opt for a funky dimly lit Thai place called The Opium Den instead. It’s not licensed but only charges a $4 corkage fee for BYO so we’ve brought our own sparkling Australian wine with us and have the most delicious dinner with unbelievable service for a very reasonable price. It’s romance on a budget.

Us in Sydney

For the next three weeks of our stay, we’ve got a furnished apartment rented in Darlinghurst. We’ve rented it from a girl who has gone to England for three weeks. It’s a great pad in a convenient location. The only thing is, she’s dirty. On day two while I’m curled up with a book and a cup of tea on the couch, Curtis emerges from the bathroom in just his jeans and pink rubber gloves exclaiming, “I’ve lived in dorms, I’ve lived in the bush, and that is the most disgusting bathroom I have ever cleaned.”

A few hours later, we’ve done some rearranging and serious cleaning and made it ours. Our nest for the next three weeks.

Some of the highlights include the Bondi to Coogee walk, attending the opera of Don Giovanni (excellent!), having fish and chips in Manly and visiting the Toronga zoo.

Bondi beach

Me before the opera

Curtis before the opera

We’ve got one week left here before we hit the road in our camper van. Stay tuned….

Sydney, Australia

Two flights and a 4 hour stop-over in Singapore later, we arrive in Sydney. It’s 7:00 am local time (4:00 am Bangkok time) and we haven’t slept a wink.

Opera House

We wait for our luggage at carousel 4, watching other people’s luggage pass us by. As the heaps of baggage diminish, our apprehension grows. My biggest fear at every airport carousel is that my bag will be the one that doesn’t appear. But alas, there it is, the very last bag to make it’s way down the shoot and around to where we stand. Curtis’s bag is nowhere to be found.

The Singapore Airlines staff are more than helpful – turns out his bag is still in Bangkok and will arrive tomorrow. They give us $100 and a men’s toiletry kit for our temporary loss. His bag shows up the next day.

We exit the airport into the Sydney sunshine and freeze! It feels so cold here after Asia even though it’s probably about 15 degrees. We get used to it after a couple of days and the temperature rises to a nice mild 20 degrees (we’re in jacket and sweater weather now though after acclimatizing to Asia’s 33 degree heat).

Curtis and the Harbour Bridge

We discovered a great website called Couchsurfing which is a brilliant way to travel. People host travelers, giving them a free place to stay and allowing both parties to have a cultural exchange. When said travelers are back home, they become hosts themselves.

Our first couchsurfing experience is with Jessica. She works at the airport so we wait a couple of hours for her shift to end and drive back with her to her house in North Sydney. After a little breakfast, it’s time for a long nap. We wake up at dinner time and Jess has made homemade pizza dough so we make our own pizzas and settle in for a long chat. Our weekend couchsurf with her turns into a week when she asks us to stay on because we get along so well.

She lives beside a National Park so we go bushwalking and start back onto a regular fitness routine of running every other day. Our excuse in Asia was that it was too hot – but I fear our lazy ways might be more of our true nature.

Kookaburra in the gum tree!

Sydney makes me homesick for the first few days. Everything about it feels so much like Vancouver – the air, the smells, the neighborhoods. It’s my first serious bout of feeling homesick but luckily it passes soon enough. My parents were supposed to come meet us for a few weeks in Australia but their plans changed so I feel the loss of not seeing them for another 8 months.

We settle in comfortably at Jess’s though and have lots of fun making dinners for each other and staying up late watching movies and chatting. We all go whale watching on Canada Day and spot 5 humpbacks, which is an incredible site. They aren’t shy and seem very playful, splashing around not far from our boat – waving at us and everything!

whale waving

whale tail

You can tell when the whale is about to surface because you can see a turquoise glow in the water.

Whales surfacing

whale tail

It’s very exciting waiting for them to blow and rise out of the water.On our way back to the harbour we also see a pod of dolphins.

We go for dinner and find out that there is a Canada Day celebration on at one of the pubs so decide we must finish our night off there. There are lots of fellow Canadians, the DJ plays only Canadian artists for a few hours, bottles of Kokanee are on special (and get sold out) and they have a contest where people try to shoot a stuffed beaver into a hockey net.

Beaver hockey

The best quote of the night goes to Jess when she said, “I accidentally touched tongues with the guy while we were kissing the beaver and I had to apologize for my poutine breath.”

Jess and the Beaver

A good time was had by all….

Our last weeks in Asia – including Phnom Pehn and Bangkok

“There’s nothing else to do – let’s get drunk.” This became my motto (as well as everyone else’s at Cloud 9) for the week we got nothing but stormy weather.

Our days were spent reading, making travel plans for Australia and Europe and storm watching. Our nights were spent drinking and socializing with the other guests (usually after a delicious dinner of fish or prawn amok).

prawn amok

We met some great people from Australia (Mike and Belinda) and from the UK (Sam and Helena) to name a few. We played scrabble, traded stories and of course, drank. It was a lot of fun.

One day when the waves were huge but the thunder, lightening and rain were taking a break, we went to the beach to play in the surf. Curtis was having fun diving under the really big waves while I played it safe with the smaller ones closer to shore. Even the small ones were powerful as my bikini top found out…

We were with Sam and Helena with our borrowed boogie boards and the four of us were having a great time along with many other foreigners. It wasn’t long before we had drifted quite a ways down the beach though, on the strong current. When I got out of the water to put my boogie board away, a woman who had been watching us suggested we make our way back as a child had drowned recently in the area we were heading towards. We obliged and there were no incidents.

Twice while swimming in the ocean I got stung by jellyfish but the stinging sensation only lasted about 20 minutes and it wasn’t as painful as one would imagine. Walking along the shore one afternoon we found it covered with dozens of washed up jellyfish.


The temperature of the ocean was actually warmer than it was outside. This was the case another day when Curtis and I decided to walk to the very end of the beach. There was a break in the rain which didn’t last long and we soon found ourselves soaked but were determined to make it to the end. We had to go swimming just to warm up after getting completely drenched.

We had lunch at the Snake House at a glass topped table with a big snake inside after wandering around looking at all the snakes, crocodiles, birds and reptiles. This croc was asleep with his mouth open. Crikey!

Sleeping Croc

Snake House

After Sihanoukville, we headed to Phnom Penh for a few days before returning to Bangkok. Curtis wanted to see the Killing Fields and hit a few museums before leaving Cambodia. I wanted to avoid any more sad sights but agreed to go.

Landmine victim begging on the beach

The Killing Fields are the saddest place I have ever been and imagine that they are one of the saddest places on Earth.

skulls at the Killing Fields

In 1975, Phnom Penh fell under control of the Khmer Rouge, the communist guerilla group led by Pol Pot. They forced all city residents into the countryside and to labour camps. Educated people, people who wore glasses, anyone who spoke a foreign language and anyone who opposed the regime were tortured and killed. Families were separated and estimated 2 million Cambodians died by starvation, torture or execution.


The Killing Fields are where they were taken to be killed and buried in mass graves.

While we were there, reading the history and standing in the very spots where these poor people suffered, I felt sick to my stomach and couldn’t stop the tears. The horror of what happened to them in unbelievable. S21 (the school that turned into a prison) was just as sad to visit. The pictures of all the victims was haunting.

Curtis at S21

Victim at S21

When we returned from our visit to these sad sites, we went to see the Royal Palace to finish the day on a “cheerier” note. It was quite a contrast to see such riches in the middle of a country that is surrounded by so much poverty. We weren’t allowed to photographic the huge diamond encrusted Buddha’s or any of the other treasures inside of these majestic buildings.

The Royal Palace

Phnom Penh is a city built on the river made up of many beautiful old colonial buildings. There are tons of restaurants and bars to choose from. We had pizza one night at Happy Herbs Pizza, a place we had read about in the Lonely Planet. The “happy” pizza was only $1 extra and when our server asked how happy we would like it, I replied, “just a little happy.” Which was more than enough – we were giggling and looking for ice cream in no time.

We spent our last 5 days in Asia back in Bangkok. It was bittersweet being back there because Bangkok is the city where our one year adventure began. The first 4 months of our journey were almost over.

We spent most of our time in Bangkok trying to shop for winter clothes. Not an easy task in a city that has no concept of cold weather (all of the sweaters I found were short sleeved). We spent one afternoon at the outdoor weekend market, which was filled with everything you could possibly imagine. Clothing, jewelry, toys, silk products, leather goods, food and gadgets.

Curtis at the market

Guy at the market

We went to a tailor where Curtis had a suit and two dress shirts made and I had a black silk dress made. The tailored clothing in Bangkok is much cheaper than off the rack in Canada. Plus it’s so much easier to just pick your fabric and style and tell them exactly what you want than to try on dozens of different dresses looking for the perfect one. You’ll get to see us in our new duds when we go to the opera in Sydney.

One evening as we were walking down the street, I smelled a very strong animal smell – turns out it was a baby elephant walking down the sidewalk. Some guys were selling fruit for people to feed it. Only in Asia….

We also spent a fair amount of time in Little Arabia where we discovered some delicious Indian food and Curtis enjoyed smoking a hookah (or Shisha as they called it there), which is tobacco flavored with fruit.

Curtis with the hookah

We went to see the Sex and the City movie (which was an excellent follow up to my favorite show!) but went to a swankier restaurant inside the mall for a cocktail first. I thought it would be fun to have a Cosmopolitan before the movie (which is the girls signature drink if you aren’t familiar with the show). The cocktail menu was extensive but didn’t have a Cosmo on it. Curtis asked the bartender if he could make one and he said sure. While we were sitting on our leather couch waiting for our drinks, the manager came over to us and bowed, apologizing profusely that even though they had the ingredients and knew how to make a Cosmo, that they simply couldn’t because it wasn’t on the menu. His apology lasted for over 5 minutes and even after I explained the whole Sex and the City thing, he still couldn’t budge. I was able to order a vodka and cranberry juice instead (which arrived with more apologizes and bowing) – but it wasn’t quite the same. I would have thought it would have been easier to just make the drink and save the bowing but what do I know?

The Asia portion of our trip being up – we board a plane for Sydney, Australia (with a stop over in Singapore) and head towards winter Down Under.