Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Land Down Under - Part 2: Melbourne

Final Stop: Melbourne

The Basics
Time there: 9 nights
Where we stayed: With family in Melbourne (specifically in South Morang)
Highlight: Hanging out with my loud and crazy family!

We made it to Melbourne the day before my cousin's wedding. Even though we had never met Julie or Anna (my other cousin) it was easy and effortless! My aunt and uncle from Vancouver were also there as well as my mom, my great-uncle and his wife. They were all in Vietnam for a few weeks prior to coming to Melbourne.

Julie and Dung's big day was beautiful. Julie was the most elegant and gorgeous bride!

Julie and her dad at the tea ceremony

There was a traditional Vietnamese tea ceremony the morning of her wedding day.

Her bridal party made the boys jump through some hoops before they could come inside. They had various games and shots of soy sauce, eggs and other not-so-tasty shots.

Anna and her husband Hai at the tea ceremony
The reception party in Melbourne was great. The family drank a lot of wine and ended the night with cognac, obviously.

Linda said I couldn't wear a jumpsuit to a wedding, I said "what kind of nonsense is that?! I'm wearing my jumpsuit!" BAHAHAHA.

With my sister and my aunt from Vancouver. You might remember her from our Pacific NW trip.

How amazing is this photograph that the couple took? It was taken in New Zealand and they incorporated it into their wedding video. GORGEOUS.

Did I tell you how beautiful it was? Because it was.


Mom, middle, and her two sisters

Congrats to Dung & Julie!! I'm so glad we were able to be there for the big day.

Since Julie's wedding was the first few days of our Melbourne leg, we were able to spend the rest of the week doing some touristy things.

We spent one day driving along the coast to see the 12 Apostles. This is a full day trip on some very winding roads so give yourself plenty of time!

On our way there, we stopped off in the city of Geelong. There's a cute little pier area with apparently some of the best fish and chips in the state of Victoria.

Checking out a lighthouse that is apparently really popular in the area and has been filmed in various shows in Austrailia.

This is the 12 Apostles, but there's never been 12 rock formations. Odd.

It was freezing the day we went but Patricia still managed to eat ice cream. Crazy kids.

When we returned, we took the shorter route which reminded me of Ireland--so lush and tons of sheep!

In between various side trips, we ate and drank and explored various pockets of Melbourne. We visited a few breweries but nothing blew us away, unfortunately.

What is this? It's a smoothie with cotton candy on top. Insane.

Taking the family to Stomping Ground Brewing. Very hipster vibe with good beers. 

Noshing on cheese and wine flights.

The sun is really bright in Austrailia you guys.

Melbourne has some really fun night markets during their springtime. We went to one night market in the downtown area that was mainly a food fair. Tons of yummy eats everywhere!

We also went to the Queen Victoria Night Market, which is mainly focused on eats too!

One of the coolest things we did was the Healesville Sanctuary.

At this sanctuary, you're able to pet wombats, kangaroos and koalas! Oh my!

While it was a great trip, Micah suffered some major allergies while we were at the sanctuary. Come to find out, it was one of the WORST days they've ever seen for hay fever in the Melbourne area. I even had some sniffles and one of my uncle's got some pretty bad allergies as well.

On our last two days of our trip, Micah (who was already suffering from allergies) also came down with some kind of viral infection and I wasn't feeling that great either. So that put us on our asses the last full day on vacay, which was disappointing to say the least. What's so crazy, the day after we left, Melbourne there was a massive allergy/asthma attack that killed several people and sent hundreds more to the hospital! Even though we suffered some of that the few days before, I'm glad we got out of there before that storm came through! Whew.

Sickness aside, Melbourne was a great time spent reconnecting with family! It was so nice and heartwarming to eat homemade family meals with my extended family.

Our first family meal on our first night in Melbourne.

I can't thank my Aussie family enough for their hospitality! They made the trip so memorable and enjoyable. We ate a lot, drank some and laughed a lot. I can't wait to return... just not during the spring.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Land Down Under - Part 1: Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef

While most of my extended family still all live in Vietnam, there are several families that live in other parts of the world. The only family members who were able to get out of Vietnam after the war were my parents, two of my mom's sisters and their husbands and my mom's uncle. They were all "boat people" and ended up in refugee camps in Thailand and other southeast Asian countries. When countries opened up to the refugees, my parents and my mom's uncle decided to come to America, one of my mom's sisters went to Vancouver, B.C. and another one went to Melbourne, Australia.

People always wonder how I have cousins elsewhere, and that's how. While I've met most of my extended family members, I never had the chance to meet my two cousins in Australia... until just recently! (I've met their parents a few times when they visited the U.S.)

When my cousin, Julie, told us about her upcoming nuptials, we all decided it would be a great excuse to finally visit family and Australia. Working around the wedding date, I scheduled our 2-week vacation to the Land Down Under. Since I was trying to make the most of our trip, we decided to hit up three main locations: Sydney, Hamilton Island (Great Barrier Reef) and Melbourne.

Micah, my sister and I went on the 1st leg together (while my mom and several other family members went to Vietnam first). For me, I was debating whether or not to add Hamilton Island to the roster due to timing but I figured it's now or never to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. Humans, stop destroying the world.

1st Stop: Sydney

The Basics
Time there: 2 nights
Where we stayed: Capital Square Hotel (right next to Chinatown)
Highlight: The diversity!

There were moments when I would step into a building in Sydney and thought I was in Tokyo! Kaiten sushi, ramen houses, Japanese cakes, matcha ice cream, the list goes on and on!

Since there is such great Asian food in Sydney, we did eat a lot of Asian food while we were there.

We landed at Syndey airport around 7 a.m. and made our way to the hotel. After freshening up, we decided to head over to Marigold Dim Sum, which was right around the corner from our hotel, to get some food. Marigold was probably some of the freshest and tastiest dim sum I've had.

After getting food into our belly and perusing our map (I love using real maps when I travel to a new place. It allows you to get a lay of the land without depending on a cellphone) we took the subway up to The Rocks area where the ferry terminals.

My favorite area was The Rocks neighborhood of Sydney. The old stone streets are so quaint and cute!

We made a pit stop at a bar right at the bottom of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. They had a great cider on tap!

The area is also going through development woes as well. 

We also made our way to the oldest brewpub in Sydney: Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel.

Their beers were indicative of English brews and all were solid, nothing amazing, but good.

We then made our way down to King Street Wharf where we stopped off at another brewpub. We took a breather, ate some fish and chips and took in the Sydney sun from the wharf.

Instead of taking a train back to our hotel, since we were already half-way back, we just walked back to the hotel.

Since we were all jetlagged we ended up crashing that night after Micah I couldn't get into a club because I had sandals on.

On our second full day, Linda and I started our day off with breakfast at Single Origin in Surry Hills. This place had great reviews on Yelp and I wanted to see what all the fuss with flat whites were.

The place, while small, is efficient and nicely decorated.

I got the beet hummus and Linda got their famous banana bread with cappuccino butter (or something like that).

My beet hummus on toast was art on plate and it was perfection. This beet hummus was creamy and earthy and once paired with the avocado and fresh ricotta, it was scrumptious. I want to recreate this beet hummus at home! Give me the recipe if you have it.

And about these flat whites. Why don't we drink those here? It's more coffee than a latte and frothier. I fell in love with flat whites after drinking this one.

After breakfast, we made it up to Manly Beach with the help of Tiffany (friend from Houston who was also in Sydney at the time) and her friend. While it was a COLD and cloudy day, we still jumped into the ocean because the waves were so enticing. 

After a few hours at the beach, Tiffany and Linda broke off to try to get to the sand dunes (which they didn't make it to) and we ventured to the nearest brewpub in the Manly Beach area. We ended up at 4 Pines Brewing.

The brewery is situated right across the street from the ferry landing that takes you back to Sydney.

After enjoying the little bit of sun and brews, we took the ferry from Manly Beach back to the main city—we even lucked out and got a free ride back because the ticket machines were broken!

The ferry is great way to see the Sydney Opera House, which in my opinion isn't that interesting.

To make our way back to the hotel, Micah and I went through the Botanical Gardens.

It ended up being kind of dreary the second night, so we had dinner at a nearby Thai place and called it night before out next city!

2nd Stop: Hamilton Island

The Basics 
Time there: 2 nights
Where we stayed: Air bnb condo - Poinciana 106
Highlight: Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef (obviously!)
Tip: There aren't really any hotels here, just apartments/units for rent.

So this is what you need to know about Hamilton Island. It's the largest island to anchor the Whitsunday Islands—the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.

Hamilton Island is an interesting place because it's a privately owned and developed island. There is NO FREE wifi on this island. Really. And there are only a handful of actual vehicles on the island, the rest of the transportation is done by golf carts/buggys. I love this island life!

The condo we rented was a great 2br/2ba unit in an older complex but it still had a great view of Catseye Beach. This was our view:

The unit also came with a brand new buggy! Everywhere on the island you'll see plenty of white cockatoos and wallabys. There's a harbor area where the main market, bars and restaurants are located.

On our first day there, we hung out on the beach, played some beach volleyball and we did get to do some hiking up Passage Peak (about 740 feet above sea level). The hike is a good 45-minute hike to the peak, with the last section that is quite steep.

Catseye Beach looking towards Passage Peak to the right

Once you're at the peak, you get rewarded with this beautiful view. We made it right as the sun was setting.

We were all sweaty and exhausted after tackling the hill. Whew.

We actually did this hike as the 2016 U.S. election was being called. By the time we came down and got back to the condo and turned on our TV, Donald Trump had won the presidency. That happened and we didn't even know it for hours. That's how disconnected we were!

Our second day on the island was Great Barrier Reef Day! I chose Hamilton Island because we really wanted to visit the Great Barrier Reef and this is where most of the tours depart from. We booked our trip through the Explore Group for the full day snorkel/dive tour.

My sister opted for the diving and Micah and I chose to just snorkel. If you've never dived before, have no fear, they'll train you for a few hours the day before your trip.

This was Linda dive training (with ze Geramsn) the day before our boat trip. That background though.

I can't recommend this excursion group enough! The trip was amazing and the service was top notch! You get fed and they'll answer any questions you have about the fish and corals.

I had an underwater camera on my head but my hair kept getting in the way so in a lot of my video clips, you see some fish, some coral and a whole lot of hair.

The chance to swim among beautiful fish and corals was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and I enjoyed ever bit of it!

We also made some friends with some nice German guys who were also on the reef tour with us. It was just fun playing sand volleyball with them as well as doing the tour with them.

Having an adult beverage at One Tree Hill
Catseye Beach at sunrise.

Stingrays in a little cove at Catseye Beach early in the morning.

We also got a big ass plate of seafood for one of our meals. It was glorious. Do you know what baybugs are? They're like mini lobsters!

If I had more time, I would've booked at least 3-4 nights on the island. It's that relaxing and beautiful. I will see you again Hamilton Island...