Day Tripping to Epping

These hills that greet visitors on Melbourne’s northern approaches once were dotted with sheep and rocks. Now they are blanketed with houses and huge shopping centres.

For lunch, a taste of Japanese tonkatsu at Plenty Valley.

Not fancy, just crumbed pork with udon noodles, vege and egg in a curry, heated by a cute, gimmicky blue gel tealight.

A filling lunch for $16.80 at Fukutontei.

Smart air travel

What is a night’s sleep worth? Even just a fitfull, semi-snooze during an international flight? As economy class travellers (which, let’s face it, is the vast majority), is a more expensive airfare worth the “investment” to arrive relatively refreshed ready for action, rather than save money on a budget option and waste two or more days recovering?

Believe me, jetlag recovery takes longer as each year passes. Myself being of a somewhat “compact physique”, air travel is the one time I can get revenge on the “longer legged” passengers … but seriously, I do feel for them. However, I’ve copped early-onset osteoarthritis in the lower back, making flying (read: sitting for extented periods) a painful challenge. I will pop a heavy duty painkiller or a knockout tablet (both of which I avoid at any other time) to make the trip bearable and I won’t sleep – and I’ll feel lousy for two to three days.

The cheaper/good value airfares for Melbourne/Sydney/Brisbane to Asia are predominantly overnight flights, such as Scoot via Singapore (generous carry-on weight limits but expect up to 24 hours’ travel time, and Singapore accommodation prices can be eye watering), the dreaded Jetstar Asia (once fabulous, but these days with a reputation for cancelling flights and gouging money eg: weighing the jewellery worn by women at boarding etc), Thai Airways via Bangkok, and Malaysian Airlines via Kuala Lumpur.

AirAsia X and smaller Chinese airlines can be cheap but expect a lenghty tour of the transit lounges of Asian airports – and really not a viable option when taking check-in luggage because of the self transfer stress and the frequency of late or cancelled flights.

Alternatively, pay twice the fare for a daytime flight, such as Qantas via Singapore, Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong, and China Southern is starting to offer some good value, daytime flights via Guangzhou. At present, I’m favoring Vietnam Airlines which has a day flight direct between Melbourne and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

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Two EXTRA seats for just USD27. Yes, just USD27/AUD40 to have two vacant seats next to mine in Economy, on the Vietnam Airlines overnight flight direct from Ho Chi Minh City to Melbourne. Stretching out and sleeping is a huge plus (but, of course, expect to sensibly sit upright and buckle up tight during severe air turbulance, for your own safety).

The meal is hot, too (*hint hint* Qantas) and the cabin crew service is superb. The Economy fare is about AUD150 cheaper than Qantas. The extra seats are available only if not sold – so check with Vietnam Airlines and OptionTown, https://vietnamairlines.optiontown.com/

My motto: “travel smart, travel happy”.

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Boarding a flight from Bangkok to Hanoi and in “autopilot mode” having had zero sleep on the preceding overnight flight from Melbourne, I place my bag in the overhead compartment at seat 34K and then notice someone’s in the seat. Recheck my boarding pass: it’s my error, mine’s seat 36K and I’m two seats too early. I apologise, mumbling: “Oops, I’ve jumped the gun” – GUN! A dozen alarmed faces swing around to stare at me! South-East Asians may not be familiar with Aussie vernacular, but they sure know the dreaded “G word”. In these days of heightened security, one must carefully choose one’s words … even if half asleep.

https://asianjourneys.com.sg/eMagazine/singapore/2020-02-01/page-1#book/

Open letter to UK travellers

Dear UK travellers,

Please visit Australia. We are a friendly bunch, with a continent full of unique wonders, and you get an embarrassingly fabulous exchange rate on your money.
Contrary to our Govt’s silly marketing, most Australians do not have “plastic” faces with collagen lips and botox smiles, but do expect a laugh and a cheeky grin under a layer of sunscreen.
Please also bring any mates who don’t speak English – modern Australia was made by millions of migrants from across the world, and an ancient Indigenous culture. Besides, interpreters can be handy as many of the most popular dishes in our world array of eateries have foreign names.
You won’t miss out on your favorite British breakfast tea but be prepared for arguably the best barista coffee outside of the Mediterranean.
Oh, do you like good wine and cold beer?

Yours sincerely,

Australia

Why does ‘good’ often taste so bad?

The lovely ladies here reckon I need something healthier than iced coffee, BBQ scallops and Tiger beer.

Hence: rau má, AKA pennywort or Centella asiatica.

I gave it a go: ever imagined what the water would taste like after you’ve hosed underneath the lawn mower?

I doubt even vodka could save this stuff.

I’m now viewing Australia’s V8 juice in a whole new light …

– Vung Tau, Vietnam 2019

Sold on the performance

Olivier, Gielgud, Jacobi, This Old Duck: the great performances of our time. The weathered, forlorn face and the old, crooked body … irresistible to the successful young couples in Vung Tau on their weekend break from HCMC – they just have to stop and buy a bag of peanuts or fruit. And insist she keep the change. After they leave, Old Duck cracks a knowing smile and has a little giggle to herself, strategically rearranges her basket of goods, and then returns to pose: forlorn face, crooked body … When she has only a few bags left, a couple will do her a favor and buy the lot. Old Duck then collects her baskets, hobbles around the corner with surprising speed, and returns fully reloaded with peanuts and fruit. The show goes on. Hahaha Bless her soul!

The taste test: pass with distinction

Does this look good to you? It sure tastes good to me.

See the bowl of sweet chilli dipping sauce? It packs a tickle more than a punch, but the red/orange chilli bits can be little “Smokin’ Joe Fraziers”, and best treated with respect.

The pork chops are thin, juicy, almost boneless and grilled with a salty/sweet marinade (brown sugar and fish sauce?).

The SE Asian egg is full of taste (think of Australian fresh farm eggs pre-1980s) and, mixed with the steamed rice, is a meal in itself.

Cucumber and tomato (yes, again with flavor) are the healthy bits.

Good lunch for USD2.15/AUD3.15.
– Vung Tau, Vietnam, 2019

Sea Mantis Shrimp if it’s still kicking, it’s fresh

Mantis shrimp/sea mantis are a popular Vietnamese seafood.

Locals call them tôm tít.

There’s not a lot of meat in them but they are a cheap-ish treat, and usually barbecued, steamed, or pan fried in coconut oil.

I don’t recomment the fried version as I find the oil too sweet, and extracting the meat is a hot, messy, oily affair.

But don’t let me stop you – give them a crack …