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).

***

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”.

***

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/

Eden’s Gem

The first cruise ship has docked at Eden port since the region’s bushfires catastrophe – an encouraging early sign of tourism recovery.

The Norwegian Jewel brings 2000 passengers for on-shore tours and activities, which will help the local economy. Though the bushfire season is not yet over, the NSW south coast and Victoria’s north-east coast are desperate for tourists to return.

The Jewel’s operator, Norwegian Cruise Line, has donated $250,000 to the Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund.

“It is important to convey the message to the world that Australia is ready to welcome visitors,” NCL Vice President Ben Angell said in a press release.

“NCL is dedicated to supporting the local tourism economy, not just on this first visit to Eden, but across our Australian itineraries throughout 2020 and beyond.”

On her third visit to Australia and New Zealand, Norwegian Jewel is expected to bring 20,000 visitors this season. Cruise itineraries include stops at Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Eden and Burnie.

Pic: Norwegian Jewel docks in Eden. Credit: DoubleTake Photographics.

Fare’s fair: travel smart

#TravelSmart: why give that extra money to Qantas if the flight is Jetstar anyway? If needed, buy a Jetstar fare with extra baggage allowance.
Always check the better offerings from Vietnam Airlines, Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Australia to Bali etc.
Travel smart and travel happy.

 

Virgin Air’s Bali bargain

Anyone for Bali?
Virgin Australia has fares $299 one way and $499 return Melbourne to Bali to mark the launch of the airline’s new route. It includes 23kg of baggage – that’s a great price. The economy fares are on sale until Monday November 25, for when the flights start March 29 next year 2020.
If you’re Bali bound, I’d be checking it out:
Website: virginaustralia.com
Instagram: @virginaustralia

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

Choice: In with the new while keeping the old

A view to the future: Ibis will be a perfect fit for the foreshore at Vung Tau, Vietnam.

The popular weekend escape for Ho Chi Minh City’s populace, Vung Tau is balancing the accomm options with new, proportionate hi-rises while keeping the multitude of traditional nhà nghì “motel” guesthouses. Choice.

This “Ibis Suites” Hotel on the “back beach” is having the finishing touches and will soon open. (The security guard came over and went crook at me for taking this pic – all the while he was smiling, as they do. Haha.)

Vung Tau is so do-able…