Bye-bye Asia, hello Oz

Going about her businessAfter the bike tour finished in Hoi An, I stayed there for a week, enjoying the chilled-out atmosphere and small streets of worn-looking French colonial buildings, wandering to the beach, or just reading and grazing. I could have gone to Danang or Hue to the North, even as far as Hanoi if I’d been in a tearing hurry, but Hoi An was a good place to hang out for a while, and I just felt like biding my time until it was time to leave Vietnam for Australia.

Hoi An was easy going enough, except for packs of young kids patrolling the bars and restaurants selling tiger balm, postcards and necklaces for five times the regular price. The kids were persistent, charming and cheeky, but when you’d been asked “where you from?” for the fifteenth time that night and said no you didn’t want any tiger balm for the fiftieth time, it got to be a pain in the neck. Genuine conversation with interested locals in obviously a thrill, but the question “where you from?” in Hoi An is little more than a tactic to delay a tourist walking away until someone can sell you something.

Asia was an amazing, frustrating, hot as hell and often hysterically funny experience, from the baptism of fire that was India, through the stunning landscapes of China, to the friendliness and fun of South East Asia. I was getting to feel pretty comfortable in Asia, and pretty lethargic, so it was definitely a good time to move on. It’s been an entirely memorable experience all of its own, a skewed version of reality where all the normal rules of existence went out of the window, and arriving in Australia to more familiar-feeling and comfortable surroundings it feels almost like the trip’s over already… except that I’m further from home than I’ve ever been, and I’ve crossed the equator. I freaked out last night when I couldn’t recognise the stars.

Sydney Opera HouseSydney, where I started my trip to Australia a few days ago, is beautiful. Even though the days are crisp and cold, the sun is bright and the skies are clear, and everything is lit up like a postcard view. Sydney is very clean, easy-going, the service is incredible (I know I’m not in London as you don’t get grunted at by the food vendors), and compared to Asia at least, the prices are astronomical. The Circular Quay area is a kind of waterfront Leicester Square – a big tourist draw, where ferries zoom in and out all day, performers shout friendly abuse at cooing crowds, and the Opera House and Harbour Bridge sit across the water from each other, twin icons of the city.

There’s a good sense of humour here, that extends to the language – I’ve been cracking up reading the glossary of Aussie terms in Lonely Planet. The best shop name I’ve seen so far, for a homeware store I saw in King Street, is ‘Holy Sheet!’. Fortunately I have the help of Prue and Anna who I’m staying with in deciphering the language and customs of this weird place.

One word of advice to my fellow tourists – don’t bring food in to Sydney airport. I had to wait forty minutes in a customs queue to declare a tin of Pringles, half a packet of Oreo cookies and a few bars of Toblerone. Australia’s borders are guarded zealously against contamination by undesirable substances from outside the country, and all food has to be declared.

I’ve got the rest of this week in Sydney, and next stop is possibly Western Australia, for a safari in the desert. The East Coast tourist trail of beaches and beer with gap-year students is not looking so appealing, but I might stop being an old fart and give it a go.

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