Melbourne

The worst thing which can happen while embarking upon the solo leg of my travels had happened on the trip which I have eagerly anticipated for months.

On my 8-hour long Scoot journey Down Under, I began my slow descent down under the weather such that my virgin inhalation of the new air was obstructed by unyielding mucous and a throat as parched as the Australian outback in summer.

Some minor millennial whining… 

It’s a major bummer falling sick at the start of the trip, the inexplicable flu throwing a wet blanket upon my fiery enthusiasm to see the sights that Melbourne has to offer, drastically reducing the health immunity youth affords, which was vital for the nights of poor quality sleep in store upon barely there backpacker hostel mattresses.

 The weather was no help at all, with temperatures reaching as high as 38°C on my day of arrival, where I literally felt myself baked like a dough in the oven. Swarms of flies shrouded my head in a buzzing, grey fog and my arms were in a perpetual swatting motion. The pain was both physical and psychological.

On the following days, temperatures plummeted to 12°C with ferocious winds, determined to pierce my bones. The flies were gone now, mild irritation taken over by paper dry eyes and chapped lips. The chill of the days were considered a surprise, even to the locals and my ill-prepared summer wardrobe provided no defense against the elements.

It’s a wonder how I even began to recover at all, given the circumstances of being alone, sleep deprived, cold and very grumpy. I definitely burrowed my way into a hole and threw myself a pity party for a couple of days, which fortunately isn’t very comfortable. (Think poorly ventilated room filled with Scottish girls chatting in profanities).

Melbourne is a nice place and that played a part in my recovery, the psychological part of it that is.

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The Comfortable City-ness of Melbourne 

The sturdy grip upon my bag was loosened upon the first day when I felt incredibly safe exploring the place, knowing that I won’t get mugged. Walking alone through the cozy little neighborhoods after nightfall (the sun sets at around 8:30PM there) can be done very leisurely, without paranoia.

Aussies are also friendly without being overwhelmingly cordial, just how I like to interact. I bumped into an American tourist in the city and he wouldn’t end the supposedly brief encounter till 4 hours later. It’s nice striking up casual conversations with people on the streets (or on lawns… Aussies love sitting on lawns), knowing that you can comfortably end the conversation when appropriate. Also, Australian men are beautifully adorned with tattoo sleeves and full beards. It was like a walking art museum everyday. Hallelujah.

I was extremely charmed by the tram network, which connects you to the city and other suburbs. It had never gotten too crowded for my timid heart and runs along a straight track with a gentle rumble. Purchase the MYKI card from almost anywhere (got mine from 7-11) and you will be able to get to basically everywhere the network of trams access. And it is a huge network.

One issue I had was with the way fares were calculated and charged. The Melbourne network charges are based upon duration, instead of the distance fares I was familiar with. A Mexican immigrant I bumped into attempted to divulge her secrets of getting the most worth out of the fare system but I failed to grasp the complexities of her strategies. Hence, this dumb tourist was hitting the maximum of  AUS$6 per day.

If you are good with strategies and numbers, I do advise you give your transits a little more thought to save costs.

VIEWS + THE SEA

St Kilda’s has got great beaches. The water remains ice cold regardless of the temperature and the quantity of hot bods on its shores. Sunset and sunrise views are sick. There’s also a myriad of dining options just a stone’s throw away from the beach, which is easily accessible by trams or bikes.

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Morington Pennisula is an hour’s drive away from the city, away from it’s hustle and bustle, its soundtrack replaced by the gentle crash of the ways on the shore. You do need a car to get around the area, which unlike the city, does not have an efficient public transport system.

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We chanced upon a nude beach tucked in a corner of the coast where the pale bodies of middle-aged men glistened in the sun’s rays. It wasn’t the most comfortable experience for me as I felt my guts clench on instinct and I have to turn away from the sight. I reckon my Asian genes had rendered nudity taboo and repulsive.

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Off Dromana Pier, we had amazing $7 fish & chips at a place called Lucky Catch where they serve up large portions of a variety of fishes to you in grease resistant paper wraps. No-frills. Let the chips do the talkin’. The waters were crystal clear, which afforded us a view of large stingrays making their way down south, flapping fast, waves past and they’re home bound.

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Cape Schanck is a MUST-GO if you are into #views. Word of advice to check the weather forecast before you go for we had to battle winds, strong enough to slam us right into the wooden railings on the side of the stairs to get to the beach.

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It was all worth it though to see the swirling sea foams and to hear the roaring waves hit the rocky shores for an equally loud hissing finale, to repeat the cycle all over again.

If you are in the Morington region, I will also like to mention and recommend Spitfire Restaurant with the finest buffalo wings and monster burgers by the bay. I do have to warn you about the spicy buffalo wings because I was wrong to have assumed it was of white people’s spice standards. It is the absolute fires from hell in your mouth.

The Great Ocean Drive in all honesty, was an okay ocean drive for me, having done Big Sur in California. I suppose what made it great was the history behind it, a road project which provided employment to young men returning from WWI that was constructed by hand and took approximately 19 years to complete.

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The Twelve Apostles were disappointing, for we jostled large tourist crowds and waved off unrelenting flies, to realise that there were only 8 left. The view was really not all that inspiring. Instead, I suggest heading down the Gibson’s Steps to get away from tourists and be more one with nature.

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Brighton Beach of course. There’s nothing much you can do with the bathing boxes, except to enjoy their vibrance and watch tourists standing in front of them in a variety of poses, taking more photos then they will ever need.

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THE CITY

Nothing too remarkable in the city, except for dope phó at Pho Bo Ga Mekong Vietnam restaurant, which tagline is “Bill Clinton had 2 bowls, how many can you have?”. I certainly do not doubt the truth of the statement but I don’t think Bill Clinton appreciate the fact that they do not split bills. Mexican food (THE CORNS!!) at Mamasita is lit AF and you should totally drop by for lunch.

Brunswick is a short tram’s ride from the city and is aptly deemed the soul of Melbourne. The walls of the buildings are crawling with life and expression. It was exciting spotting the corners of graffiti peeking out from the lane ways, rushing over to swoon over the entirety of it, understanding that it might have taken well over a week to coat the entire 4-storey high building in colours.

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Also, if you ever consider exploring the Yarra River Trail, rent a bike. Do not attempt to walk the entire trail like I did, which costed 4 hours and a day of aching soles after. That being said, it was not altogether a futile journey, for it is a peaceful and quiet pocket of nature, a refreshing change from the city.

Why did the snake cross the road? To stop an astonished Australian cyclist in his track and slither his way into the Yarra river with a resounding splash.

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Beneath the freeway, I also chanced upon the free Burnley Bouldering Wall, which had 3 different walls of increasing difficulty level, and is opened 24/7. This place is set up and maintained by the community, for the community and I thought it was a rather commendable thing to do.

The easiest way to get to the wall is via the Yarra Trail, on bike. Trams take you there too but a significant amount of walking will be required. Trains are another transport option, with Burnley Station being the closest.

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I probably will not be back in Melbourne again because it is too familiar and comfortable a place for my taste. I look forward to returning to the continent, armed with my driving license, to visit Tasmania, dive in Queensland and get my skin further charred in the Gold Coast.

travel chapter: 13th to 23rd december 2016 

special thanks to Rachel for lending us your bed, while you take the couch and Nicola for taking one bird shit to the hand for the team

affordable caravan airbnb recommendation (dromana) >>> https://www.airbnb.com.sg/rooms/3499537

My Solo Trip to Brunei

In the sweltering afternoon heat, I felt like a slab of raw meat left out on the kitchen counter, gradually wet with condensation, turning bad by the minute.

That was exactly what happened as I sat my ass down at the perhentian bas (bus stop) for an hour, as cars streamed by, none of them being a public bus. I was getting hangry as lunch time had neared, came and passed.

Resigning to my fate of having to travel an hour on foot under the scorching sun to my next destination, I sighed and got up to walk. After about 20 minutes, I was walking along the highway, against the flow of traffic.

A grey car had stopped by the curb, with its two hazard lights switched on, blinking. I peered into its cool, grey interior as I trudged by.

“Where are you going, Miss?”, the driver of the auto mobile asked as soon as we made eye contact.

“Gadong Mall.”

“Ok. I take you there.”

“Okay!”

And there I have my first hitch-hiking experience ever, afforded by the friendly people of Brunei.

The Beauty is in Her People

One thing which left a lasting impression on me during my 3-day solo trip (16th – 19th April 2016) in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei was how genuinely nice the people there are. Everywhere I went, I was greeted with cordial smiles and casual greetings, none of which felt forced at all. It really does seems as if they haven’t got much to worry about, at least not financially.

Another thing that made my trip really pleasant was the fact that almost everyone spoke and understood English. This took the stress off having to communicate in order to get my basic needs met and also learning more about the place.

The kind guy who gave me a ride to my destination, the joggers who uttered “Good Morning” as I passed them, the lady at the flea market who gave me a discount before I even asked for it, my lovely mangrove tour guides Mark and Wann, my amazingly generous AirBnB hosts Eirene and James.

Brunei, the Abode of Peace, feels immensely safe and I could devote my attention to seeing the beautiful places she has to offer.

Places Worth Visiting

  1. Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque

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I was caught off guard by its majesty in real life. No doubt, this has got to be the most beautiful mosque in South East Asia.

 

You’re allowed to head into the mosque and have a look around when there are no religious activities going on. Ladies will have to don the long black robe they offer at the entrance. There is a small little door to the right indicating perempuan (female) which will lead you up to the second floor of the mosque, overlooking the main prayer hall for males.

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Getting there: Walking distance from the main bus terminal where bus timings are more trustworthy than bus stops.

 

2. Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque

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My AirBnB host took me there at night. It was illuminated in a really magical way, which had my jaws hanging as we pulled into the deserted parking lot. It was really quiet, past visitors hours. I ventured into the mosque, listening to my breaths echo against the beautiful marbled interiors, before being chased out by several guards. :p

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The middle lane is the Sultan’s personal escalator.

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Getting there: With the unreliable public bus system, it seems like you have no choice but to get a taxi ride over to the second largest mosque in Brunei.

 

3. Tasek Lama Recreational Park

“It’s like a bigger MacRitchie Reservoir,” cautioned my host as I shared with her my plans to spend a morning there. “There’s nothing much to see, really.”

The taman (park) is a stone’s throw away from my AirBnB residence, a 15 minutes walk away. It is a green space filled with healthy joggers during the weekends, with basic exercise facilities and shelters to keep the people happy. There are many trails to explore. Walking on flat land is boring. The ascent to slight hills make the entire experience challenging and hence rewarding.

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You know shit is real when they installed rope railings on the side.

The main attraction of the park was supposed to be a waterfall, white foams plunging into depths below. However, due to the dry spell Asia has been suffering from, the flow has unfortunately been reduced to a mere trickle.

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Hydroelectric dam

Getting there: Buses 36 and 38 will get you to a nearby bus stop. Or you can walk if you ain’t feeling lazy. It’s a short distance away from Terrace Hotel.

 

4. Pasar Malam Gadong (Night Market)

If you’re looking for good and cheap food, here’s the place to eat yourself silly. I love the atmosphere of the venue too. It was crowded with families on a Friday night, little children munching on colourful sweets or greasy bbq drumsticks. Smoke in the air mingled with the joyous shouts of vendors. Smiles on everyone’s faces.

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It HURTS so much being a vegetarian, looking at this sight and walking away empty-handed, stomach growling in protest.

Getting there: Take bus 01C. It is a bridge away from the Gadong Mall district.

 

5. Gadong Mall

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Unfortunately, the shopping here isn’t fantastic, if you’ve been born and raised in shopping paradise, Singapore.

 

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However, there is a cineplex at the top most level which offers up-to-date movies at just SGD$4 before 6:30PM on weekdays. I watched Batman vs Superman in an almost empty theatre and allowed myself to bawl my eyes out when the man of steel got punctured by the hideous lump of a creature.

Getting there: Take bus 01C. Or hitch a ride from a local if it’s your lucky day.

 

6. Kampung Ayer (Water Village)

I didn’t expect much going into this place because I know it’s a renowned tourist attraction of Brunei. I was anticipating loud crowds, jostling tourists and annoyed locals. But I experienced none of that when I took a $1 speedboat over to the other side from the mainland waterfront.

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What greeted me was serenity and the local’s relaxed way of living. Visiting the museum enlightened me about the significance of the kampung, of its importance in the development of Brunei itself. It’s also interesting to observe that there is almost everything there, a school, shops, motor boats parked beneath the stilts, prayer rooms, full houses. It is pretty much self-sustaining.

Once again, the locals were really friendly. I’ve always feel a sense of pressure to purchase something when I browse in shops overseas. The shop owners tend to hover around you like a hawk stalking its prey. Yet, I was completely at ease doing that over here.

Getting there: Take a speedboat over from the mainland. Just walk towards the water and you will have a handful of speedboat operator coming over for you, quoting their prices. A one-way trip over to the Kampung should only cost you $1.

 

7. Mangrove tour

YOU HAVE TO VISIT THE MANGROVES. You have to.

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When my AirBnB host suggested going on this tour, I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about the idea. I had thought I would be floating on the boat, a quick hour will pass without me spotting anything interesting. I was dead wrong.

I took a tour with Mark and Wann, who were both extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife within the mangroves. They carried encyclopaedias and guide books with them, pointing them out to us whenever we changed upon something. It really did pique my interest midway through the tour and I was asking more questions than I’ve ever did in all my science lessons combined.

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We spotted the famous proboscis monkeys, ordinary monkeys (I recalled the names being “meccah” but Google search produced no related results), straited herons, egrets, monitor lizards and even the eyes of a crocodile. It was very invigorating, getting to know a side of nature I wasn’t used to.

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The trip back to mainland coincided with sunset. My, it was beyond breath taking, a piece of memory which I will take to my grave.

I definitely do recommend booking a tour with them! I did the tour with an exchange student from Estonia who was putting up at the same AirBnB as I was and it costed us only SGD$20 each.

Future Destinations

Next time I return to Brunei, I will make sure that I’m not alone, that I will have my driving license and have a longer period of time there. These are some of the places which I haven’t been able to explore on this trip:

  1. Jerudong Park
  2. Muara Beach
  3. Ulu Temburong National Park
  4. Underground bar (rumors or truth?)

If you are planning a trip to Brunei, I’ll say go for it! Feel free to ask me more about the culture and stuff if interested!