Getting to Australia was harder than we thought.
We had long ago decided to fly to Australia from Bangkok…the city has a bigger airport than anything in Cambodia, and Bangkok is an easy place to get to from Cambodia, right? Sitting in Siep Reap, and having become accustomed to southeast Asian pricing, we balked at the idea of flying to Bangkok at a total cost of around $500.
Five hundred dollars is a fortune in Cambodia. We found a self-described “VIP” van that said it could get us to Bangkok in six hours, at a small fraction of the cost of flying. That sounds good. Done and done!
Of course, it was all lies. I think VIP must mean something different in Cambodia. The van turned out to the air-conditioned, which is very good. Beyond that, there wasn’t a whole lot that made me feel very important. Becci and I rode adjacent to all our fellow travelers’ luggage for the entire 10.5 hour journey. That gave us about a seat and a half between the two of us. You may have noticed that we are both full-sized people, so letting us share 1.5 seats made it hard for us to get comfortable. And I kept thinking…”this cramped van ride is taking longer than a flight from North America to Europe.” The trip also featured a special 90 minute visit at the Cambodia / Thailand border to a 90+ degree customs office with a couple hundred of our best friends. We were both drenched with sweat, as were out fellow travelers, when we got back in the van after the border crossing.
Next time, I’m taking the flight from Siem Reap to Bangkok.
Although we arrived far later in the day than we expected to, it was nice to be back in Thailand. It is by far the favorite country that we have visited in southeast Asia. It’s lovely, the people are fantastic, the food is delicious and healthy, and the prices are inexpensive. And it’s full of elephants and monkeys. If you get a chance, visit Thailand. We might move there.
We only had one full day in Bangkok before heading to Australia, and we decided to spend it visiting the mammoth Chatuchak weekend market. This place is insane. Its the largest market in Thailand, and quite possibly the world. Chatuchak has more than 9000 stalls, separated into 27 sections, selling plants, antiques, pets, food and drinks, fresh and dry food, ceramics, furniture and home decoration, clothes, and book. Deals abound; haggling is expected; bulk purchasing is rewarded. If I lived in Bangkok, I would never shop anywhere else.
The next afternoon, we were on an overnight flight to Australia. We were on our way to visit the last city, the last country, and the last continent of our year-long journey. The flight to Sydney took about nine hours, followed by a quick layover and another short flight to Melbourne. We had spent about half of the previous 48 hours traveling.
We began our journey of five continents almost a year ago, traveling first to York, United Kingdom, for a stay with Becci’s sister Louise and her husband Chris. It was a great way to start our trip, and we enjoyed in England many of the same conveniences and familiar customs as the U.S. The United States is basicaly “Europe, Junior” after all. We especially enjoyed that we got to stay with family there. That made the transition to our nomadic year so much easier.
As we arrived in Melbourne, it ocurred to us that this last stop is the perfect complement and a matching bookend to that first part of our trip. We are back in familiar territory, culturally: I would describe Australia as similar to the U.S. but with better-mannered people and more terrifying animals. And best of all, as we had family in the U.K., we have good friends here. Since arriving, we have had a wonderful few days here in Australia visiting, eating, drinking, and laughing with our old friend Patrick and our new friend Carmen.
Melbourne is a great town. There are bars, restaurants, and fancy shops everywhere. You can find anything you want here, especially if you have a taste for trendy, hip, expensive things. Want an expensive, delicious, micro-brewed pint of beer? Melbourne is the town for you; you can’t swing a dead cat without getting his tail wet in a microbrew. Need some moustache wax? Why, I had hardly finished saying so before we unexpectedly walked up on an über-hip men’s grooming store filled with costly hair, beard, and moustache products. My newly-acquired moustache wax is “expedition strength”, by the way, so watch out if you get near my face. Later in the afternoon, while window-shopping, I noticed a hi-fi store with several exotic turntables in the window, including one retailing for $6700. Next door was Carlton Audio Visual, another audiophile stereo shop that was absolutely packed to the rafters with exotic and tempting speakers, amplifiers, preamps, and turntables. Darren Briggs, I’m talking to you. The owner Rab was nice enough to personally demonstrate to us a new Michell Gyrodec that they had just acquired. Price? $2,500. The tonearm is extra.
I’d have to say that Melbourne is pound-for-pound the most expensive city that I’ve ever been in. It beats New York; it tops Miami. Miami and New York probably have some more expensive things than Melbourne, but they also have a lot of inexpensive things. Everything is expensive in Melbourne. The great deals are expensive.
Despite the sticker shock, we have had an amazing time here. Patrick and Carmen have wined and dined us, and shown us around the town in true VIP fashion. This morning we had Tennessee hot chicken and $10 PBR’s at Belle’s, a chicken joint started by one of the former chefs at Nashville’s own Husk. We haven’t had a bad meal yet in Melbourne. The eating and drinking opportunities in this town are phenomenal.
Patrick and Carmen generally travel the city on foot or bicycle, but yesterday the four of us rented a car and set out for the Great Ocean Road. The Great Ocean Road is a stretch of highway built by returned Australian soldiers between 1919 and 1932, and dedicated to soldiers killed during World War I. This road is the world’s largest war memorial, stretching 243 kilometers in length.
In an odd case of coincidence, the Great Ocean Road goes by a great ocean, and our ultimate destination on this road trip was the Twelve Apostles natural landmark, a collection of limestone stacks off the shore of the Port Campbell National Park. We would see those, and we saw also a few of Australia’s indigenous, adorable animals along the way.
After driving and animal watching for a couple of hours, we stopped at Apollo Bay and took in the beach and some fresh fish ‘n’ chips. We poked around for a bit on the beach before easing on down the road toward the Twelve Apostles.
After another hour or two on the road (I couldn’t say exactly how long, as I was asleep), the sun came out and we had reached the Twelve Apostles. The Twelve Apostles is a set of limestone rock formations created by erosion and sitting in the Southern Ocean, directly off of the beach. Orignally named the Sow and Piglets, it was renamed after the apostles for marketing purposes. Although the Twelve Apostles does sound much better than Sow and Piglets, there were never more than nine of these things. And one of them fell down in 2005, leaving only eight. That’s going in my TripAdvisor review, by the way: there are only eight rocks at the Twelve Apostles!
As you can see, the view’s not too bad, for a bunch of old rocks.
After our beach visit, we headed back to town, taking a shortcut. I am told that I slept some more during our journey back to Melbourne. Luckily, I was not driving.
We had big plans for the next day, which included the previously mentioned Belle’s Hot Chicken, plus a trip to see the skating and hitting prowess of the women of the Victorian Roller Derby League.
We have been trying to catch some roller derby action for the entire duration of our year-long journey, and we did in fact see some great skating in October, when we happened to be back in Nashville as the city hosted the 2014 Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) championships. We even saw the Victoria (Melbourne) all-star team skate then in Nashville, losing a tough bout to London in the quarterfinals. But until today, we had not been able to catch a derby match on foreign soil.
The Victorian League actually fields four teams, and today we saw them face one another in a double-header. In today’s action, the Dead Ringer Rosies beat the Rock Mobsters, while the Dolls of Hazzard edged the Toxic Avengers. A Dolls of Hazzard t-shirt was acquired, and Patrick and Carmen can now add roller derby to the list of sports that they have witnessed.
Becci and I will be home soon…maybe before the next blog post is available. We will be picked up by our great friend Burton, whose care for Lincoln and Penny has made this trip possible. We will greeted by Lincoln and Penny who we miss very, very much. I will see my boys, at least the two that live in Tennessee. We will see our parents, who we have missed. We will see many of you.
I want to thank you all for sticking with us for all this time. It’s been a long, great year. We are ready to come home. We can’t wait to see you.
In other news…winter is coming…for Oathkeeper.