I know, I know, it’s been a long time, well, Oscar was sick for about a month from Anzac Day until his birthday, and we’ve spent the past month recovering from that really. Plus, it’s been really, really cold lately, so getting this post in the darkest, coldest period of Winter, you should consider yourselves very, very lucky. I decided to take a day off and head to this state park northeast of Melbourne, just past the Yarra Ranges National Park, I’d read about it on a bushwalking blog that I occasionally visit, and it looked good, but because this was a “spur of the moment” type deal, I didn’t really check what it was going to be like and just hoped that it was going to be clear and beautiful. Well, it wasn’t, it was misty at the top, and the view was a white-out, when I was up there anyway. It might have cleared up later, but I doubt it. The terrain reminds me a bit of the Grampians, but it’s a bit closer to where I live, but also, the good views here seem probably a bit more challenging to get to.
Driving there takes about two hours from my place, and then it’s ten kilometres (past a lot of curious kangaroos) up to Sugarloaf Saddle Carpark where you can do a number of pretty hairy trails. Considering my lack of experience and preparation, I went with the shortest, yet still quite challenging Canyon Track which is basically from the carpark to the peak of Sugarloaf Peak, 40 minutes one way, and involves some scrambling/climbing (or I just went the wrong way!). I was planning on climbing up to the peak and then walking along the Razorback track for a bit, but the view was completely obscured by cloud/mist so I decided just to head back down and look for a track that might give me some running water shots. Also, the rocks were a bit wet, and considering how dangerous climbing up and down that one little bit seemed, I thought better not risk any more in those conditions.
So I made my way back down to the car and then drove back down to Cooks Mill, where there is a Little River Track, which you would think, would meander along a river side. You can certainly hear the river, as you start the trail, but after only about 50m or so, it veers onto a track that just looks like unsealed road, there is a clearing to the left, and basically a muddy walk for about a kilometre or so before the road joins back to the track. This is a nice track with greenery everywhere and the sound of water running, as well as the occasional kookaburra sighting and constant kookaburra calls.
This track was also meant to be 40 minutes to it’s end point, Ned’s Gully, but after about 50 minutes I didn’t seem to be getting any closer, so I decided to head back, I didn’t have any food or water, it was probably only about five more minutes, as the walk back only took about 35-40 minutes with a brief stop for pictures by the river. I then stopped just past the bridge leading in and out of Cooks Mill to take a couple more pictures of the river before heading home. All in all, it was a worthwhile trip, if for nothing more than scouting, also got to drive through the Yarra Ranges National Park which is a treat in itself (no pictures though unfortunately), but I’m not sure I’ll be taking the little one there for a while, just seems a bit too challenging for him, but maybe I’m being over protective. So maybe I will head back out there in Spring time or something, at least the tracks seem easy to follow, even for me!
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Here’s a bit of a bonus post, which is especially convenient because Oscar’s been sick since Saturday and we haven’t been able to get out of the house pretty much the whole time. So while reviewing my pictures from Vietnam, a couple of panoramas popped up and I had the chance to process them, they’re okay but not the best. Both are panoramas from Da Nang where we probably had the best views the whole trip. First from the hotel, room (Brilliant Hotel) then from the Chessboard Point on Monkey Mountain (Son Tra). The lighting was not perfect in either one, if it was, I guess we’d be looking at a couple of pretty spectacular photos. Let’s hope that I can replicate all of the factors in my most popular flickr photo (Morning Light) soon, cos I haven’t been able to make anything really striking for a while.
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We went to the Dandenongs on the weekend – it’s a part of my new year’s resolution to go on more day trips, you might not have noticed yet, but it is slowly starting to happen – looking to visit an Autumn Garden show. But, apparently emmy got the dates wrong, even though I did mention to her that the Autumn show had a date set for 23rd/24th April and that it was not open on the weekend, she told me that she had some kind of pass, so I accepted that she would definitely not be out of her mind. Anyway, come Saturday and we drove up the mountain to Sassafras for this show, we stopped to have lunch beforehand at Ripe Cafe, which is in the same area as Cafe de Beaumarchais and Miss Marples Tea Room.
Looking at the ridiculous queue for Miss Marples, I definitely did not want to go there, and emmy didn’t want to visit Cafe de Beaumarchais again, so we went with Ripe Cafe. I ordered eggs benedict this time, while emmy went with chilli tomatoes on toast, I also had a hot chocolate. To be honest, the eggs benedict were a bit underwhelming, served with ham for starters (I much prefer salmon), and one of the poached eggs was overcooked (not runny at all!), the muffins underneath also seemed to be a little under toasted, lacking crunch. It’s quite a nice place, too bad that the kitchen didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.
After lunch, we had a quick look through a couple shops before heading on our way to the Autumn Garden show, which of course was closed, due to it being the 16th of April, and not the 23rd or 24th when the garden was meant to be open. So emmy, in all of her wisdom managed to persuade me to take us up to the Sky High Mount Dandenong Observatory to save a wasted day (it was just close enough that our low petrol tank would not drain away before we found a petrol station). Turned out that even despite cloud and mist blowing over the view, we did manage to have a good time up there (also the Secret Garden was closed as well) visiting the maze and the other small garden in the area.
The maze is quite nice for young families, as long as you’re not after a real challenge as it’s not very difficult and you can pretty much see over the top of the maze to find the stamp points that you’re looking for, and then there aren’t that many dead-ends to complete it. Some good fun had by all, and weather permitting, we’ll be back this weekend to visit the Autumn garden show, while it’s open.
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Just a quick restaurant review from our trip down to Sorrento a couple weekends ago, with a slight focus on the beach side town as well. We went down there (mainly for emmy to go shopping) but also to see what else was interesting, I knew it was down Mornington Peninsula way but didn’t realise exactly where it was, quite close to a couple of very nice places, Point Nepean to the west, and Cape Schanck to the southeast.
But as a day trip, we didn’t really have time to visit any other place since we left quite late in the morning, we had some lunch, emmy did some shopping, we wandered along the beach for a bit, and then went home. So, about lunch, we went to Buckley’s Chance which seems to be the go-to cafe in the area, as emmy went there a few weeks ago and didn’t remember that it was the same place until we got there.
Let’s start with the food, I ordered a pulled pork burger (has a pickled cabbage salad and chips on the side), emmy got fish and chips (so boring!), and we got some fried eggs on toast for Oscar. Well, it turns out that we didn’t need the eggs since Oscar just needed chips. My burger was great, the pickled cabbage was a perfect complement to the pork which was very nice and tender. I didn’t try the fish, but the chips were okay, not Grill’d but acceptable I also got an orange juice which was quite substantial, emmy went with a hot choc, nothing special about the beverages but they were reasonable.
One thing that we did notice was the lack of water, we weren’t offered water at any point and it seems like a bit of an oversight, not sure if that is normal for them, but some water would definitely have been good, especially at the end of the meal. Overall, good meal, a bit pricey but that’s pretty normal considering it’s a tourist town.
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The final leg of our journey through Vietnam, well, it was broken into two legs as we hit Saigon first, then Phu Quoc, then went back to Saigon, but for the purposes of this recap here we are. To be honest, I didn’t take many pictures in Saigon, but that doesn’t mean that we were super lazy, just a little bit. We did venture out to eat some good things, as well as do some shopping (or at least I stood around while emmy perused the shops). I did manage to drive emmy’s uncle’s BMW through a few blocks of District 2, which was quite funny. But mostly, for me, I got to eat a bunch of nice dishes, we ventured out to District 1 most of the time, and wandered up some pretty old buildings, where all the cool, trendy fashion stores (and coffee shops) seem to be nowadays.
I got to enjoy a bunch of new dishes like Bun Cha Ca (fish cake noodle soup) which was awesome! As well as all the regular favourites, so good, no complaints from me that’s for sure, as you can see from the number of food pictures compared to the number of tourist shots. Saigon is definitely a foodie paradise, just so much variety, and very good quality, and the prices, so, so cheap. Popeyes Chicken is basically everywhere and like what KFC should be, spicy deep fried chicken (the chickens must be quite big, cos the pieces weren’t small like KFC). A lot of trendy coffee shops selling all sorts of cakes and desserts, as well as restaurants with foreign themes like the American BBQ place we went to. I love Vietnamese food so the fact that around every corner there is something good and cheap to eat is definitely my idea of paradise.
You probably couldn’t tell but my last picture is from Boxing Day, which is five days before we were supposed to leave for Singapore. Turned out that I had contracted Dengue Fever (probably in Phu Quoc) and was incapacitated for a week or so. So I can comment on the medical system of a foreign country for the first time! I stayed at an international clinic (spent a total of three nights over the course of five days in the clinic) on a drip, taking painkillers to keep my temperature at a manageable level. That wasn’t fun, but at least I had a private room and my insurance (eventually) covered the costs, and once I started feeling better and got some appetite, I got a skin rash which was really irritating! At least I got to eat pho ga the last couple days as that was pretty much all I wanted (could) to eat :D.
We were staying with family so nothing to report on accommodation, but in terms of transport, I can safely say that the way to go (if you can speak Vietnamese) is uber, it’s much cheaper than taxis and seems to be pretty available and on time in most places. Probably the only time it might be an issue is late at night and if you’re not in the central city area. The cars we rode in were all quite new and in good condition (and clean), at least as good as taxis, usually better.
So we ended up staying a few nights extra in Vietnam, didn’t go to SIngapore, and went straight back to Australia where I had a few more days to recover before heading back to work, and settling our new house! Very hectic period for us, but it’s mostly settled down now, and I can (hopefully) get back to posting some more stuff on here, and not just foodie posts too, although I hope to be able to keep that up to some degree. We went to Sorrento last week, but I don’t have much to report (I might do a short restaurant review), this week we’ve gone up to Mount Dandenong (Sky High Observatory) for a bit, so I will post some pictures (and laughs) from that later this week.
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All right, on to the next part of our journey, after about a week in Saigon (I’ll get to that in the next post), we flew out to Phu Quoc, an island paradise to the southwest of Vietnams mainland, it’s actually closer to Cambodia than Vietnam, but I guess the poor Cambodians lost that one too. It’s a short flight, probably less than an hour, and from the airport we got a taxi to our hotel, four star Famiana Beach Resort, which is next door to five star Salinda Resort (where I wanted to stay). We decided to stay in this area as it was not too far from the city centre of Duong Dong which is the main city on the island, we just didn’t want to be anywhere too remote. The plan was basically to relax, and not do too much, maybe do one day of touring, and two days of chilling by the beach, we had three nights there in total.
The private hotel beach was very nice, and was probably the highlight of the trip, especially since taking little Oscar around makes things a little difficult, he also decided that he was in a tantrum throwing mood most of the time there, so that was fun. The sea waters were quite calm and the beach clean, the sand nice and soft under foot, and if the waves were too powerful (lol), then the hotel had a nice swimming pool to relax in as well. I thought that the hotel was good, breakfast buffet was solid and well rounded, and service quite diligent, emmy didn’t think that the “Resort” title was justified though.
For our day trip, we just jumped on a stock standard south island tour, which visited a pearl farm (boring), a buddhist temple of some description, Sao Beach (whether it was any better than our hotel beach, I’m not sure), a Prisoner of War camp (called Coconut Tree Prison), and a fish sauce factory – where you can buy fish sauce but apparently you can’t fly with it, so I’m not sure what the point of buying it is – before heading home a bit after lunch time. That was it for visiting stuff, I didn’t even get a tropical sunset picture, I left the room too late the one chance I had to get a tropical sunrise picture and had to settle for some boats on the horizon shots.
We were so ridiculously lazy that we ate at the hotel one lunch time, and probably across the road at the local restaurants every other time except twice where we ventured to the city centre and had crab at the crab restaurant, and another time we had dinner at a seafood restaurant (with rats running around nearby!). The food was actually quite nice generally, expensive (relatively speaking), but there’s a good variety of Vietnamese island food and regular Vietnamese food.
The Crab Restaurant was pretty hipster-y but good quality nonetheless, and one of the restaurants across the road from the hotel we ordered Canh Chua Ca (sour fish soup) and it was very nice, just like home made (which is a good thing). I didn’t really rate Phu Quoc the island that highly for things to do (although having a toddler can alter your perception), but I certainly wouldn’t complain about the food. There are probably a lot of fun things to do there if you’re not looking after a 20-month old little monster, and/or you’re not super lazy, good place to chill at least. Next up, back to Saigon to finish off our trip, our stay there was interesting to say the least.
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We had a short stop in Da Nang, just one night before heading down to Saigon, it’s really close to Hoi An, only thirty minutes drive, basically along the coast. If we had more time it would definitely have been worth paying a visit to the beach, looked like quite a nice coast line and some nice beaches as we drove past the myriad resorts. We however, were staying on the riverside so no beach for us, and we were too lazy to go to the beach anyway. We did manage to visit a big open air seafood restaurant, for lots of yummy fresh seafood, and also hired a taxi for a ride up Chessboard Point, which is a hill/mountain that provides a really nice view of the city and sea. There are also some rare endangered monkeys (pretty sure they are just macaques but who knows) that live in the mountain forests but you can only see them in the early morning apparently (we were there mid-morning). On the way back down to Da Nang, we also went past the very fancy Intercontinental Hotel (six stars!) and also visited a big Buddhist temple that has a big statue of the Guanyin, but that place wasn’t particularly great.
We stayed at Brilliant Hotel which was quite central and right next to the river, our room had a very good view of the river and several of the bridges that span the river, which light up at night and provide spectacular nightly light shows. There was a bit of a safety concern with the room as the windows could be opened (with the handles also being within reach of small children) and no real protection against such things happening. The hotel has a rooftop bar which has a pretty spectacular view of the city and is open at night for anyone to go up and snap some pictures (without the need to purchase anything). There is also a swimming pool and small gym, the pool is nice (very stuffy though) and the breakfast buffet had a pretty big selection of local and foreign dishes, pretty good all around.
We had some great food at the seafood restaurant, really fresh and tasty, loud and busy place, great atmosphere. I think if we could spend a bit more time in Da Nang we wouldn’t be disappointed. Good food, beaches, and some other touristy things nearby, I think that there were more places nearby that had nice views of the surrounds. There are a lot of pretty spectacular bridges that span the river that flows through Da Nang, and more night views of them would definitely be worth it. That’s it for this time, I won’t do two separate posts for Saigon, so next stop will be Phu Quoc, then I’ll lump all of the Saigon stuff in one post after that.
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Moving on to central Vietnam, we flew down to Da Nang before driving to Hoi An to stay for a couple nights. We were pretty lame, didn’t really have a plan of what we were going to do apart from visit the old town. Apparently there is a beach near Hoi An but we wouldn’t know, it was hot, really hot, coming from Hanoi and quite draining of our collective energies :D. We managed to stroll through the old town on one afternoon/evening catching most of the tourist sites around there, the bridge, the Cantonese assembly hall (but not the Fukien one I think, I don’t remember). We saw enough lanterns to last a lifetime, and even bought a couple that are sitting in boxes in the garage catching dust. It’s quite a nice town, picturesque and calm.
On our second day we decided to to go and check out some tailors as Hoi An is quite famous for it, we went to a couple of recommended places, and ended up at Bebe 3. I ended up getting a slim fit suit (which is hanging in the wardrobe as clean as the day I bought it lol), I think I had three fittings and the suit was delivered to our hotel before we checked out the next morning. I squeezed in a shirt and got a tie for free as part of a discount offer provided by the hotel all for 250$ USD.
Emmy got a dress from the same place, a very nice dress that she also hasn’t worn yet (we’re waiting for a special occasion). On top of that emmy wanted to check out another tailor (across the road from Bebe) to spread the wealth and make sure that we weren’t pigeon-holing ourselves into one store (Bebe was definitely better though) and picked up a blazer for about 100$ USD. All of these shops are quite pushy and trying to sell you stuff, but I personally preferred Bebe as they were asking in a nice way, and the customer service was friendlier. The girls (they’re all girls that work at these places) at the other place just don’t seem to have any training in hospitality or something, not cheaper and service not as good.
Really though, the most important part of any trip is the food, amirite? Hoi An is also quite famous for its cuisine, which we very happily indulged in. A couple of famous dishes, Mi Quang and Cao Lau, both noodle dishes, one from the country and one from the city (I forget which), and both were delicious, even though the places we visited were quite random and we wouldn’t know how to get back to the same ones if we went back. The two places we went to, I don’t think you’d find them in a guide book or anything, we pretty much just walked along some street a bit down from where the tailors shops are and found the first place that was open for Cao Lau. The Mi Quang place we asked the hotel for a recommendation and they sent us on a taxi ride to the outskirts of town it seemed, some restaurant along the highway or something.
Other than that, we also went to the recommended place for Hoianese chicken rice which is quite similar to Hainanese chicken rice :D, it was quite good too. A couple of random-ish places we tried, the vegetarian restaurant that was the only restaurant open apparently the day we arrived, somewhere further from town, certainly nothing special unless you wanted the really local feel, and the Banh Mi “restaurant” where we got some local Hoi An bread rolls, they were okay but I much prefer the Saigon style ones that you get at Nhu Lan in Footscray :D.
Finally, the accommodation, we stayed at Little Boutique Hotel which is quite central, right on the canal, and about a ten minute walk from the old town. This was a very nice hotel, first class service, a nice little swimming pool, and a very nice room, luxurious even. Apparently there was a free beach shuttle, but we never bothered going to the beach, too much shopping to do :D.
They gave us a lot of great helpful advice and the buffet breakfast was very well stocked with a great variety of Vietnamese and western regulars. They arranged for a shuttle service to take us to our hotel in Da Nang which was convenient, I mean we had to pay for it, but still, door to door, can’t argue with that. Very highly recommended, we’ll stay there next time we need some fancy clothes ;). And with that we’ll be moving on to Da Nang, I was going to include both central cities in this post, but Hoi An really took over.
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Man, it’s been desolate here, and is this long overdue, like three months, I am so lazy, but here I am now, ready to kick start a new year of dtraCorp madness. We started our trip to Vietnam by heading to the north, emmy’s home town and birth place, Hanoi (the capital). We never planned to do much there (I think we had three days there including a night in Vinh to take care of some family business), other than eat some good food. So this post is going to pretty much be food, and some reviews of our accommodation and transport.
We stayed at a hotel called Lucky Hotel in Hanoi, which wasn’t great, and I certainly wouldn’t have picked it if it was my choice, but it wasn’t the worst place I’ve stayed in, that’s for sure. Dark and not particularly clean (not dirty, just not sparkling or anything) with pretty basic amenities, the positive is that it is quite centrally located (near Hoan Kiem Lake). We travelled by train (the north-south train from Hanoi to Saigon) down to Vinh, the train is on time when leaving Hanoi and we also got quite a clean one heading south for the six hour train journey. It went quite smoothly and arrived at a reasonable time I think.
In Vinh, we stayed at the Saigon Kiem Lien Hotel which is actually a four star hotel, so was a reasonable quality, but I don’t think that it’s had any work done since it was opened as it was starting to show it’s age a bit. Still, better than the Lucky Hotel in Hanoi, and very reasonably priced too (not that I paid for anything), we didn’t do anything in Vinh other than drive out to the ancestral cemetery and do some of that stuff, before getting the train (this train was old and creaky and ran late) back to Hanoi the next day.
I don’t have a picture of the wonton noodles that emmy’s cousin took out to eat, but not a big deal, they were yummy, we were out and about a lot, so other than home cooking at emmy’s aunties’ place, we ate a lot of sticky rice (quite good) wrapped in paper while travelling around. And so that’s it for the first of this series, I’ll be back tomorrow (or more probably the day after) with the next in this series, Hoi An and Da Nang.
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Well, this is a very late post because we tried this place out for emmy’s birthday (her birthday tradition is to try a new authentic Japanese restaurant) which was in November, so apologies for holding out so long on this delicious (but expensive) sushi restaurant. The head chef at Minamishima used to work at Kenzan, so the quality had to be pretty high. This post will be easy but also a little boring, we took pictures (thanks to my photographer, emmy :)) of every one of the fifteen dishes as well as the extra dessert that we ordered (which we totally shouldn’t have but we did because we’re gluttons), and I took notes on all of them especially so that I could post them here. So without further ado, the pictures (I’ll number them so that you can easily match the picture to the description):
- Tempura asparagus – it’s asparagus with some tempura batter, nothing special.
- Australian King dory, nothing noted so I’m guessing it was nothing special, which by these standards must mean quality sushi but not outstanding.
- Garfish, the only comment is that emmy thought that the ginger was overpowering.
- Sea perch with white radish, this must be one of the favourites because the description is: explosion of flavours with something sour (presumably the sour was something very nice).
- Calamari, has sour lemon-y zest and was cut amazingly, like noodles.
- NZ Scampi, which looks like a prawn but was in fact like jelly, not sure what that means but sounds delicious.
- Japanese scallop with soy sauce, tender, that is all, must be good.
- Akagai shellfish from Japan, like clam, so must’ve been a bit chewy.
- Japanese flounder cut from the fin, had a very rich sauce, which was very yummy.
- Bluefin tuna belly from Japan, this was the absolute most amazing thing ever.
- Seared bluefin tuna belly, not as good as the raw cut, but still, amazing.
- Hokkaido sea urchin, very mushy, which means, the texture was like a perfect custard.
- Japanese cured mackerel with vinegar rice, too bad it came after the tuna belly.
- Japanese saltwater eel, very sweet.
- Egg sushi (not pictured) but tasted like chiffon cake (which makes sense).
- Clam soup, nothing much here, the stock didn’t have much flavour.
- Red bean yoghurt with cherry blossom ice cream, this was okay but nothing was going to top that tuna belly.
- We ordered the special dessert because we’ll probably never go back there, we were totally going to explode at this point, but we had to finish it off. The description of the dessert being a zen garden actually was better than the dessert itself, it was all right but nothing special, this place is a sushi restaurant after all, it would be hard for the dessert to stand up to the level of the sushi.
I don’t know how we ended up with 18 dishes, it was only meant to be 15, but any way, super expensive but it probably was the best sushi that we’ve ever had, maybe we can try something similar in Japan next time, if we sell our functional and healthy organs. That’s it for now, we just went to Shoya for Valentines Day, so expect another post about that soon (hopefully a little more fun).
Note: I forgot to mention that Minamishima came over and had a chat with us (can’t remember when during the meal), told us that he was from the central region near where we visited in July, seemed like a nice bloke, emmy tried to impress him by speaking some Japanese :D, maybe he gave us some extra tuna belly for that (we got three pieces if I remember correctly).
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