03
Mar

The Cycling Commences

By: muttler

 

 

21/01/2019 – Ho Chi Minh City to Ben Tre (32km riding)

Today the trip started in earnest. We met our two remaining group mates and left the city by bus at 7am. Traffic was insane! SO many motorbikes. EVERYWHERE!

 

 

 

Once we were a bit out of Saigon, we were introduced to our bikes for the Vietnamese portion of the trip. They were some very solid mountain bikes and so it looked like some off road riding would be arriving sooner rather than later. The bike already was perfectly sized which was some nice comfort to start. Looking at the whole group it looked as though we had an ace squad… everyone was a pretty experienced cyclist and all looked to have some good fitness. Looked like it might even be me letting the team down!

Off we went, starting with an initial leg of 15km or so. Rode through countryside, some woods (with rubber trees), some rice and other things. It was a combination of some paved roads, but then into the woods it was on some dirt trails which was great.

In not too long we got to Chu Chi tunnels. We were actually at a set of lesser known and quieter ones. Apparently most tourists visit a different set of tunnels a bit easier to get to, but we were fortunate to have the bikes and advice to head to the different set. We had a local guide there to tell us all about them. What still existed was a series of tunnels, at a number of different depths below the ground, that were used during the war. Some we were permitted to go through so off to explore!

 

 

 

They were quite squeezy, but in many respects there was more space than I thought. Once you were in, some crouching was all that was really needed to make your way through. The entrance to one tunnel was VERY tight. Only two of us ventured down! Once in, it was actually not really any different to the others, but I could see how the tiny hole to get in would give people second thoughts about dropping in. Also in the tunnel area was examples of all the other aspects, including the traps that were used to catch people unawares that should not have been in there. For example, step in the wrong spot and you may fall into a pit of spikes. Ouch.

After the tunnels it was off for lunch. I elected to have a pork dish that had morning glory in it. This seemed to be like a water spinach of some kind, and as we would find out was everywhere. Quite tasty.

 

 

It was then more riding for the afternoon before joining our bus and taking it to our first stop, Ben Tre, nicely placed in the Mekong delta. Was quite a nice hotel and the town seemed quite fun too. Right on the water, and with local markets setting themselves up as the sun started to go down, it had a nice vibe to it. At dinner time, Cham took us to a local place where we plonked down on the outside tables and settled in for my first bowl of Pho. Delicious!

 

 

 

Some of us then spent some of the evening wandering the markets, before I settled in to watch Australia play in their Asian cup match. While it was a win, sadly it was a pretty lacklustre performance. Oh well, a win is a win. Then off to sleep for another 7am start.

03
Mar

*Insert Good Morning Vietnam Cliche Here*

By: muttler

 

20/01/2019 – Ho Chi Minh City

Xin chào! I’m in Vietnam!

Well, I *was* in Vietnam. Here is the first in a series of month-late catch up posts about my recent trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. I really had very little time to do this while I was away (and in all actuality I didn’t really take the technology to be able to do it anyway) as it was wall-to-wall cycling and exploring and eating and drinking. So these posts will be a little light on the detail, but hopefully you will get the idea!

After a brief stopover in Kuala Lumpur airport, I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) around 10am. Typical South East Asian craziness greeted me at the airport, as did bedlam on the roads as I got my cab to the hotel in the centre of the city. I would be meeting with a group that evening, but the day was mine to explore.

I only had a rough plan… a couple of historical places to see along with markets and some French architecture. Otherwise the idea was to just get out there and explore.

 

 

First stop was the Ben Thanh market. To be honest it wasn’t super interesting given I wasn’t looking for cheap t-shirts or knock off goods. The food did look good though, and I had my first of what would be several Banh Mi through the day. Mmmm… fresh baguette. The meat was typical luncheon meat and I was maybe expecting something a little different there (I am used to my roast pork at home) but the rest of the ingredients were nice and fresh. Just what I wanted after the airline food.

 

 

I found myself at the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon. If the French history of the city was not obvious before, it was now. The renovations made things a little difficult, but it was quite impressive, especially given it was somewhat at odds with the rest of the city.

 

 

 

Keeping the French theme, right across the road was the Gustav Eiffel designed Post Office. It was quite cool, although smaller than I thought it would be. Inside now it is really just home to some souvenir stalls…although you can still post a postcard there!

 

 

Next it was a casual wander through the streets. There was quite a great laneway housing many bookstores, just near the post office which was a delight. It also gave me time for a second banh mi! I my travels I also got to see some of the set up happening for upcoming lunar new year. This pig looked suspiciously like Pikachu I thought 🙂

In a little bit I arrived at my destination, the Independence Palace. This was the home of the South Vietnamese president during the war, as well as his place of work. I wasn’t sure what to expect really, but I LOVED this place. It was the most perfect 70’s time capsule. All the rooms, both those for work and those for living, were immaculate with 70’s furniture and decor. Symmetry at its finest! It was great to head deep into the basement to see all the tiny workrooms, and then up to the roof to see the helipad, in case he had to make a fast getaway. My highlight of the city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A visit to the War Remnants museum was next. Outside was a collection of vehicles which was quite cool, but also there was the evidence of the tiger cages and various torture devices. Some of that part was a little confronting, especially the accompanying photography. Indoors upped the ante though. Comprising mostly of photography, it was quite a horrific journey through the war and its impact. I can’t say it’s a great idea when you are a bit tired and jetlagged. The importance was without question, but not sure I really wanted to see quite a bit of it.

 

 

 

It was now late in the afternoon and so back to the hotel for an hour rest before meeting the group. On the way I had to contend with the Saigon traffic. As it turns out, the sidewalks are really for motorbikes, not pedestrians!

After some rest at the hotel it was time to meet up with the G Adventures tour group. Turned out to be a group of 7 on our Indochina Cycling adventure, although only 5 of us could make the initial meetup. An eclectic group of myself, 2 American gents, a Dane, a German, and then 2 British gals yet to join us. Chamnan was our Cambodian guide and as I expect from G Adventures, a delight to meet.

Dinner was casual, off to the nearby food market. TOO MANY OPTIONS!!! Had a Hanoi dish, Bun Cha, which was pork and noodles. Yuuuummm.

The rest of the evening was great fun, as we watched Vietnam in the football Asian Cup. They got a win in penalties. Exciting!

21
Sep

This Is Halloween

By: muttler

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Probably the main reason for coming back to Disneyland was to experience Halloween in the parks. And not just Halloween in general, but to come to one of the special Halloween parties that they throw in the park. Sure, it is an excuse to sell more tickets. But they also do know how to put on a show. So we spent the first part of the day in the parks, and then got into costume for the nighttime…

 

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19
Sep

Back In The Mousecage

By: muttler

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So one of the main reasons to come to LA this time of year was to visit Disneyland. In particular it was to visit during Halloween. The park is done up in a spooky manner here and there and many of the rides have a bit of a spooky theme to them. Importantly there is also Halloween parties, but more on them later in the week.

Rather than go into the detail of all our running around Disneyland and California Adventures, which you have read before on this blog, I’ll just post some random photos each day. Enjoy!

 

haunted mansion, halloween style

haunted mansion, halloween style

 

haunted mansion, halloween style

haunted mansion, halloween style

 

matt beats kate at astro blasters

matt beats kate at astro blasters

 

folk you find in critter country part one

folk you find in critter country part one

 

folk you find in critter country part two

folk you find in critter country part two

 

splashdown!

splashdown!

 

the almighty dole whip float

the almighty dole whip float

 

parade anticipation

parade anticipation

 

parade time

parade time

 

parade time

parade time

 

parade time

parade time

 

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bug’s land getting a facelift from stark industries

 

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tower of terror is now guardians of the galaxy: breakout!

 

parade time 2

parade time 2

 

parade time 2

parade time 2

 

parade time 2

parade time 2

 

19
Sep

Hasslehoff Territory

By: muttler

 

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Sunday in glorious Santa Monica. Well, glorious in that the weather could not have been more perfect. High 20’s, sunshine, no clouds… perfect! But in terms of being a great place to hang, it is pretty sweet but not somewhere I feel the need to come back to just to hang out.

 

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To be fair we hadn’t spent too much time exploring, really just wandering around the main shopping and bar area. So today, before we departed for Anaheim, we decided to wander the beach in true Cali style. And what better place to start than on the world famous Santa Monica pier.

 

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The pier is your typically touristy carnival type affair. Sideshows, rollercoaster, games of skill and chance, people trying to hawk off all kinds of wares. Being Sunday it was nice and busy, and so were rubbing shoulders with tourists and some locals I imagine as we made our way down. On the way, I mentioned “skeeball” to Kate who had no idea what I was talking about, so when we came across it of course I had to show of my prowess in the classic ball tossing game. Prowess? OK, I really don’t have any. I earned a measly 4 tickets for my efforts.

 

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On the way out Kate came across Zoltar, but we really couldn’t be bothered finding out fortunes… things were pretty good as far as we were concerned. So we made our way down to the end and made our way back. Feeling a bit peckish, we stopped off for some tacos. Even likely dodgy pier tacos were pretty tasty… California Mexican food is pretty good.

Venice Beach was only a couple of miles away so we decided to walk along the beachfront down to there. I had visited 20 years ago, and had distinct memories of it being slightly dodgy and full of t-shirt vendors. We would see. The walk was nice and it was interesting to see how in just a couple of miles the vibe changed a little. Santa Monica is reasonably upmarket, and Venice is a bit more hippyish and you could definitely tell along the walk… there was a clear point at which we felt we had arrived at Venice Beach. While plenty of it is probably faux-hippy and skater, it had a more interesting vibe to it.

Oh, and A LOT of t-shirt stores still exist! Nothing much there had changed. In fact it still did feel quite similar to what I remembered.

 

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With an ice cream under our belt, we thought it best to actually go and drip our toes in the water. The beaches were MASSIVE! I can’t recall seeing so much sand before. The water itself… it was quite nice but it wasn’t exactly the warmest! Not really too tempted to have a dip. What I was tempted to do was run along the beach Hasslehoff style. Seeing the lifeguard shacks on the beach was kinda cool. We even saw some lifeguards spring into action right in front of us! Thankfully no one seemed in real peril.

It was getting time to make the walk back, getting nice and roasted by the sun. But it was pretty great to just be walking along the beach and soaking up the California sunshine. Back to the hotel it was to grab our bags, then to catch a shuttle down to Anaheim, our home for the next 6 days. Yep, Disneyland awaited.

16
Sep

LA LA Land

By: muttler

griffith observatory

 

Hello everyone! Yep, Kate and I are in LA!

Now I haven’t been to LA proper in something like 20 years. I have been through LAX a bazillion times, but after my first trip never really felt compelled to spend anymore time. Well, this time I decided to when Kate and I decided to do a relatively quick jaunt to LA, I thought it would be good to dip my toe back in. I *really* wanted to visit Griffith Observatory, so why not spend a few days chillin’?

 

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Kate and I arrived midday on the Friday after a fairly non-eventful flight and then headed to our digs in Santa Monica. It is hard to know exactly where to base yourself in LA, but Santa Monica was one area I remember liking when I visited, so decided that was the place. Plus, who could resist a gorgeous art deco hotel on the water? The arvo was spent wandering about, only keeping ourselves busy until we finally collapsed from the travel.

Next morning, we started our heading out in to LA day. We didn’t have heaps planned, but did have a few things on the hit list. Into an Uber we jumped and headed toward Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. I remember last time it felt impossible to get around, and I have no idea how we would have done today without being able to call an Uber at basically any corner.

 

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It was breakfast time, and where else would you visit than a dedicated egg eatery called “Eggslut”? Yep, that is it’s name. And basically everything on the limited menu had eggs. But hey, it sounded OK to me. I smashed down an egg brioche with bacon, caramelised onion, sriracha and it was delicious! No wonder quite a queue had formed by the time we left.

 

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From there is was to our first main destination, the Shag Store. Those of you who know us know that we have A LOT of work by Josh Agle (aka Shag) in our house. So of course we had to visit the store! It was so great to see a bunch of his works framed up gorgeously. We didn’t over indulge, but of course we picked up a thing or two to bring home.

 

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Back into an uber, and up the road to a bit of a mecca for someone like me, the world famous Amoeba Music store. I had visited the one in San Francisco many years ago, but had never visited the Hollywood version, so with Kate egging me on, she watched as I indulged in a bunch of records. Nothing that wouldn’t have been too difficult to get at home somehow, but a whole lot more convenient (and a bit cheaper) to buy them there. And of course I had to visit the King Gizzard section of the store!

 

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We were close to Hollywood Boulevard, so thought we may as well wander up that way. This is the part of LA I remembered, and remembered being very underwhelmed. In some respects it was still the case. However it was fun to just wander along the sidewalk, checking out the stars of those A through Z grade celebrities that we found. I will let you rate the stars above as you see fit.

 

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After a bit of a rest and lat lunch, it was off up into the hills. Yes! The Griffith Observatory! I had wanted to visit for quite a while, so it was great to finally visit. It was our up close of the classic (and pretty underwhelming) Hollywood sign too. But you know. When in LA…

 

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Sitting up in the Hollywood Hills the gorgeous old building overlooks sprawling LA. It is quite an incredible city when you see it like that. It is just so… big and flat. Quite remarkable that there are only a small of handful of pockets that could have anything resembling high rise buildings. That’s what makes it so unique.

 

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So off it was to explore. The observatory itself is not huge. It actually doesn’t take too long to visit all the exhibits and things. But that building is beautiful and views are great. Best was to just be on the room, looking out over the valley.

 

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But a visit wouldn’t be complete without catching a show in the planetarium. I have such fond memories of the old Melbourne planetarium, and this also had the added bonus of being truly iconic. So we got in and laid back and enjoyed the (fairly standard) show about the planets and stars. It was OK, but I will never grow tired of seeing that projection in a space like that.

 

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As we emerged the sun had just gone down, so the view had transformed from sunny and hazy to glowing orange and glowing street lights. LA looked even bigger like this.

 

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We soaked up the view and then decided it was time to head back to Santa Monica. After battling a bit of traffic we got in, dumped our goodies, and headed straight to the bar for a nightcap. I got the bartender to whip me up a gin cocktail (with lemon, honey and mint) and it was mmmmm. Hit the spot after a nice long day in the sunshine. A brief bit of a walk outside and it was time for bed.

24
Feb

Everest Base Camp Adventures (Summary Post with Links)

By: muttler

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Namaste! Here it is, my epic adventure to Everest Base Camp. Be amazed at the beauty of the Himalayas and stories of me eating my weight in momos 🙂

Day One: The First of Many Momos (Melbourne to Kathmandu)

Day Two: Exploring Kathmandu

Day Three: It Begins! (Kathmandu to Phakding 2660m)

Day Four: How Bazaar (Phakding 2600m to Namche Bazaar 3440m)

Day Five: Hanging Out In Namche (Acclimatisation in Namche Bazaar 3440m)

Day Six: Om Mani Padme Hum (Namche Bazaar 3440m to Tengboche 3880m)

Day Seven: Above The Treeline (Tengboche 3880m to Dingboche 4350m)

Day Eight: The Air Gets Thin (Acclimatisation in Dingboche 4350m)

Day Nine: Getting Closer (Dingboche 4350m to Lobuche 4930m)

Day Ten: Base Camp! (Lobuche 4930m to Gorakshep 5180m with a trip to Everest Base Camp 5364m)

Day Eleven: Conquring Kala Patthar (Gorakshep 5180m to Pheriche 4200m with a visit to Kala Patthar 5600m)

Day Twelve: Snow Day (Pheriche 4200m to Kenjuma 3570m)

Day Thirteen: Football Training (Kenjuma 3570m to Chumoa 2750m)

Day Fourteen: Back to Lukla (Chumoa 2750m to Lukla 2830m)

Day Fifteen: Anti-Climax (Stranded in Lukla 2830m)

Day Sixteen: Random Sax (Lukla 2830m to Kathmandu)

Day Seventeen: Farewell Nepal

 

24
Feb

Farewell Nepal (Coming Down)

By: muttler

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29/01/2018 – Kathmandu to Melbourne

And that’s it! That is my Nepal and Everest adventure. My trip home all went to plan… out of Kathmandu on time, a stop over in Bangkok airport, and then back in Melbourne, all without issue.

It was such an amazing trip that the next day back at work (yep, back at work) I had that moment, when going through (somewhat) pointless emails that it dawned on me… only a few days earlier I was looking at Mount Everest in the Himalayas. Sigh.