Don't let me miss the boomerang exhibition!
March 28, 2007 3:02 AM   Subscribe

Help me not miss anything on my "once in a lifetime" trip through southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand!

Ok... in just under a month, my new fiancee and I are leaving for a 6 week trip - we're moving back to Canada from Ireland and decided to take the long way home. Here's my itinerary:

Shanghai: 04/24-04/28
Siem Reap/Angkor Wat: 04/29-05/01 (Taking the bus there from Phnom Penh, and flying back)
Phnom Penh: 05/01 noon-05/03 noon
Phuket area: 05/03-05/11 (with roughly 4-5 days on Ko Phi Phi, and the rest travelling around the area)
Singapore: 05/11 noon-05/12 evening
Melbourne: 05/13 v.early-05/18 mid-morning
Sydney: 05/18-05/22 mid-morning
Townsville up to Cairns: 05/22-05/27(midnight) (Cairns because we are flying Cairns->Auckland->Queenstown)
Queenstown: 05/28-06/02 afternoon
Wellington: 06/02-06/05 evening
Los Angeles: 06/05 2pm-10pm

Now, here's my question. Given my itinerary, is there anything in my given destinations that is ABSOLUTELY not to be missed? We've already got some set things planned... obviously Angkor Wat, visiting the beach from The Beach when we're on Ko Phi Phi, Phillip Island when we're in Melbourne, some sort of boat tour on the barrier reef, the Franz Josef Glacier when we're in Queenstown, but I want to make sure I don't get home from this amazing trip, only to have somebody say "OMG, you didn't visit the flying trapeze museum in Shanghai? It is AMAZING!"

Some background for the types of things we're looking for: amazing museums, architecture, interaction with locals (moreso in Asia than Aus/NZ), beautiful natural areas with interesting wildlife (more like zoos than jungle hikes, though)

Things we're not interested in: jungle hikes (fiancee is afraid of snakes... deathly afraid... so much so that we're not allowed to go to Fraser Island)

I know that this is going to be a jam packed trip (we tried to arrange travel to give as much time in the places we're most interested in), but I'd hate to miss something absolutely amazing just because we were rushing, ya know?

Also, any tips for the trip in general would be well received, but I'm more interested in sights. And yes, we're already well sorted with our vaccinations/disease prevention plan. I feel like a pincushion!
posted by antifuse to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Cairns - don't miss:
snorkling on the Great Barrier Reef - I like Low Island, but Green Island is good.
walking through - maybe swimming - at the Mossman Gorge (the locals will think you're mad because it'll be winter for them 18-25 degrees celcius)
Train trip (if it's running) to Kuranda or maybe the skyrail thing.
Trip up to the Daintree River?
Hartley's Creek Crocodile Zoo?
In Townsville
Magnetic Island is charming!
there's a casino on the beach in Townsvillle
posted by b33j at 3:09 AM on March 28, 2007

I won't pretend to be the end all on Victoria, but while Phillip Island is nice and all, it wouldn't be a "must see" place compared to, say, the Great Ocean Road and the Otways.

I've only been here for a couple of years so far, but another option if seeing the native wildlife is an objective is to head to Healesville and continue up to Marysville. You might even be lucky enough to see snowfields filled with snow, not that you need that before heading back to Canada. :)
posted by michswiss at 3:41 AM on March 28, 2007

Response by poster: Well, to be fair we're going to be heading back to what will likely be a blisteringly hot Toronto summer, so a little snow won't be unwelcome... but bear in mind that we're also going on a full day glacier hike in NZ too :) Oh, and we ARE planning on hitting the Great Ocean Road for sure as well (I didn't think to list ALL of the things we were planning :))
posted by antifuse at 3:51 AM on March 28, 2007

In NZ, go to either Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound. Milford's easier to get to, so that's more likely. I did a sunrise kayak trip there, and it was more than worth getting up before dawn - it's one of the most spectactularly beautiful places I've ever been to. Go at sunrise for the the unbelievable peace - the crowds will hit by midday. Do it even if it rains - if it does, there will be waterfalls everywhere.
If you're out toward Dunedin, go see penguins come ashore at sunset. And there's a few colonies of sea lions that you can see near there as well, I think near the Catlins.
If you're up the West Coast a bit, definitely see the Punakaiki rocks.
And there's nothing like bungy jumping in the land where they're really proud of it.
Finally, have an amazing trip.
posted by bassjump at 4:14 AM on March 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

Sydney meetup? That'll be about two months from our most recent one. We'll show you a good time.
posted by web-goddess at 5:33 AM on March 28, 2007

The beach from the Beach isn't that good. Far too many people there. It's busier than Bangkok.

Just my 2p.
posted by sdevans at 5:41 AM on March 28, 2007

Fire some machine guns at the shooting range in Phnom Penh.

Great fun.
posted by the cuban at 6:00 AM on March 28, 2007

People are always the greatest attraction. You might have to spend much of the day with other tourists seeing the sights, but in the downtime, in the evening, meet and talk to local people, not to other travelers who are a lot like you. You don't want to go back remembering the guy from Toronto you shared a table with, you want to remember the Cambodian woman in Cambodia who showed you how and where to get a good cup of tea and something to eat and then talked with you. And if you can, get names and addresses of people who were good to you, and then write to them for the rest of your lives. With so many friendships now based only on electronic meetings in virtual spaces, it's good to remember face-to-face meetings in the real world.

Similarly, try not to go to museums (unless it's fine art you can't see otherwise) or other tourist traps -- you want to see the place and people as they are, not as the local historical society or tourist board chooses to represent them. Locals will be able to take you round the Melbourne they know.
posted by pracowity at 6:01 AM on March 28, 2007

Siem Reap/Angkor Wat: 04/29-05/01 (Taking the bus there from Phnom Penh, and flying back)

The roads in Cambodia are mostly unpaved dirt roads, and not much fun for long trips. From Phnom Penh I recommend that you take a boat ride up the Tonle Sap (sp?) river, which will take you about 80% of the way to Siem Reap. Riding a bus in Cambodia is amusing...for the first hour. Then reality sets in.

Take the boat. It's a nice, smooth ride and the main way to travel that route.
posted by zardoz at 6:49 AM on March 28, 2007

Response by poster: zardoz: funnily enough, just about every commentary I've heard/read about the boat ride from PN to SR is that it's absolutely miserable, and to avoid it and take the bus, despite the bumpity bumps.
posted by antifuse at 7:21 AM on March 28, 2007

Unfortunately, there isn't much in Siem Reap besides Angkor Wat (and the surrounding temples), so you might want to buy a 3-day pass (about $US50) and take you're time each day.

The Singapore Zoo is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to - and make sure you're there early enough for the Polar bear feeding (about 10:30), he's a show-off. I never made it to the Bird Park there, but I've heard that's pretty good too.

And Sydney... Well there's lots of options there. Make sure you get on a ferry at some point so that you can enjoy the harbour from the water (maybe take one out to Manly, or Watsons Bay). Brigde climbs are pretty amazing (apparently), but expensive ($A160 per person). Rocks/Darling Harbour/Watsons Bay are really nice areas. And of course there's Bondi if you want to be very touristy. The Aquarium in Darling Harbour is cool. Here are some of the things that will be going on in Sydney while you're over here. Tell me what sort of nightlife you're interested in, and I'll tell you some good places to go...
posted by kisch mokusch at 7:44 AM on March 28, 2007

Fire some machine guns at the shooting range in Phnom Penh.

I've heard about that. And you can apparently also throw grenades around as well. But I thought it was illegal, even in Cambodia.
posted by kisch mokusch at 7:48 AM on March 28, 2007

Okay, I hate to say this but I must. YOU WILL MISS THINGS. There is only one of you and you'll only have limited time, so it's inevitable. But don't worry about it! Don't stress over it, just accept it. Even if you never get to a single famous site in one of these countries, you will no doubt STILL have an amazing cultural experience that's just as valuable and incredible. For your own sake, just remember that.

I say this because I took a 7 week holiday from Egypt to Austria last year and I felt so rushed. There are a lot of things I missed. Sometimes I had to just sit and relax in a cafe and not care if I saw another mosque or museum for a few days, though. My recommendation to you is to go through all of the suggestions here and in the guidebooks and just highlight a few things that you REALLY don't want to miss. Don't plan an exact schedule for yourself, but make a basic outlined itinerary that is subject to change. Then keep a list of other possible sights in mind, but don't beat yourself up if you don't get to them. You will also get a lot of INCREDIBLE suggestions from people you meet while you are traveling, of things to see that most people might not even know about. So play it by ear. Also, part of the joy of travel is sitting still once in a while and just peoplewatching and soaking up the environment. It's easy to get stressed out and blind to things when you are too focused on itinerary. When you're traveling for a month there will be days where you don't feel well & are tired. Sometimes you might just want to spend a few days watching the sunset from the beach while eating satay & drinking a Singha. Embrace that!!! That's a sight you shouldn't miss too. :)

Just get out there and enjoy the world. Whatever you are meant to see, you will see. Just have a great time!
posted by miss lynnster at 10:02 AM on March 28, 2007

Bad wording alert! There is only one of you = you don't have clones that can run around and physically see everything for you.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:05 AM on March 28, 2007

The Blue Mountains are about 60 miles inland from Sydney and are well worth a day trip.
posted by essexjan at 10:07 AM on March 28, 2007

If you can afford it, consider flying into as well as out of Siem Reap. My mother-in-law took the boat and heatstroke nearly did her in. When we went, we flew both ways, and were glad for it. I don't think you'll really miss much by flying and you will have more time to actually see the ruins- use it by hiring a guide and going out to the more remote sites- the Roluos Group and Beng Melea are usually a full day, but because they are so far off the beaten track, they aren't overrun with busloads of tourists. When we went, we had Beng Melea all to ourselves, and it was the highlight of our trip to Angkor Wat.
posted by ambrosia at 12:03 PM on March 28, 2007

What miss lynster said, except that she wrote it much better than I could have.

You can't see everything. And don't forget to stop and smell the roses.

That said, you have some great ideas for things to see and do. Just be sure to *do* things while you're there, don't just *have done them* afterwards.
posted by different at 1:35 PM on March 28, 2007

Second michswiss on Great Ocean Road in prefrence to Philip Island - the sea stacks are beautiful

Franz Josef out of Queenstown ? Maybe you're planning to fly but if you're going by road that's a long journey (5 hours each way) and I would be more inclined to do something closer to Queenstown but you may feel differently about travelling by road. It's certainly a pretty drive I just wouldn't do it as a day trip myself.

Wellington ? Cable car from Lampton Quay up to Botanical gardens - beautiful view of harbour/city. Similarly walk/bus up to top of Mt Vic - great views. Wellington if weather dodgy ? Te Papa (NZ National Museum) is a great place for all levels of interest in NZ history/culture.

Have a good trip and take time to breath ... ;-)
posted by southof40 at 4:46 PM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

zardoz: funnily enough, just about every commentary I've heard/read about the boat ride from PN to SR is that it's absolutely miserable, and to avoid it and take the bus, despite the bumpity bumps.

I traveled from the opposite direction: a bus from Bangkok to Siam Riep. About 6 hours of misery, that. Constant bucking up and down, up and down on a dirt road. The boats from SR (actually a small village nearby) are quite big, and if I remember only took a few hours. If you get seasick easily, then maybe ground travel is better, but for me there's no comparison.

Fire some machine guns at the shooting range in Phnom Penh.

Some touts wanted us to do this. They'll take you to a range and you buy bullets and hand grenades...and you buy chickens for targets. No joke. It was rumored that they had RPGs, too. At the time my friends and I had just returned from the Killing Fields and Toel Sleng prison (depressing as hell, but worth it) and were pretty disgusted by the idea.
posted by zardoz at 5:41 PM on March 28, 2007

Hm, Singapore... I guess one of the best things they have in Singapore is food! Going to a food court or hawker centre there and trying all the different types of food they have there is pretty awesome.

I guess you could go to Sentosa Island (in Singapore) - its touted as the 'must-see' tourist destination - but personally I find it rather commercialised. There are beaches, a muscial fountain that has a laser-light display every night (that is rather exciting, I have to say! ;-p) and the Merlion statue is there too.

A trip to Sentosa would probably take the whole day.

The gardens in Melbourne are beautiful in spring/summer! (I realise you're coming to Melbourne in May - don't really know much about the gardens at that time of the year :-p)

Have a great trip! :-D
posted by Mrs PuGZ at 7:15 PM on March 28, 2007

With five days in Melbourne you could certainly spend it all just in town, but you may wish to hire a car. Great Ocean road could be on the list, or alternatively go to Daylesford, or Bendigo or Ballarat (all less than 2 hrs drive) or Mt Dandenong. Go to the Healesville Sanctuary for a zoo experience.

There are many opportunities to get out into the bush close to Melbourne. Do NOT worry about snakes in May/June, they are all hibernating, you will never see one.

In Wellington, go to the Karori wildlife santuary, it's very nice (not really must see though). Te Papa shouldn't be missed.
posted by wilful at 11:12 PM on March 28, 2007

Response by poster: Franz Josef out of Queenstown ? Maybe you're planning to fly but if you're going by road that's a long journey (5 hours each way)

We're driving up one day, doing the hike the next day, and driving back the day after that. We're certainly not planning on doing it as a day trip, that WOULD be crazy! :)

And thanks for all the suggestions folks... we do intend to make time to stop and smell the roses... and we're also visiting with friends and family in both Sydney and Melbourne, so we expect to be relaxing for at least PART of the time that we're in both places there as well, not to mention while we're up along the barrier reef. I'm not overly concerned about missing anything - if we do, so be it... but I felt like I'd be remiss in not at least polling the AskMe collective for anything absolutely amazing.

Oh, and thanks for the notes on snakes wilful, I'll make sure to tell the fiancee about that. She'll be very happy to hear it! :)
posted by antifuse at 4:25 AM on March 29, 2007

As other people have said already, Magnetic Island off Townsville is lovely; I stayed there for a few days and, while I didn't see any snakes, there were lizards living in (and occasionally falling out of) the roof, which I found adorable but I can see that not everyone would.

I much preferred Wanaka to Queenstown, generally more chilled out and less geared towards British gap-year kiddies (ok, I was one of those kiddies, it annoyed me that I was getting ID'd there as nowhere else), but that could just have been me, it certainly is the place to do everything. The zoo ... thing, I can't remember what it was called, in Queenstown was the only place I saw a kiwi, which was cool.

I suppose the end of May is really not the time for kayaking in Doubtful Sound; I was there in April, and there was a distinct autumnal edge to the air - but on the other hand, less sandflies! yay! Maybe just a one-day trip of the non-kayaking kind to Milford Sound, instead? Just hope it stops raining for a while....
posted by Lebannen at 4:52 PM on March 29, 2007

Wellington is pretty close to Rotarua and Taupo (hot springs and amazing mountain, respectively). You should be sure to travel since Wellington is nice, but not that nice.
I've been to some of those other places you mentioned and they're all great and you can always finds tons of things to see and do ( is a great place to start); however, that is not IMHO the best way to travel. And what do I think is the best way to travel? Get Lost!
I traveled alone in most of these places and I usually didn't know where I was going or what I was supposed to see. I just had a small backpack (when in cities) with enough food to last a bit, a leisure book, a water bottle, and a camera. And then I'd walk around for hours and hours on end. I got to see parts of ShangHai that I doubt many Westerners venture into (where I bought an awesome old Chinese military jacket) and slept in places in NZ where I felt like the only person in the world (hitchhiking + tent = awesome).
Don't only go to restaurants where there's English menus and white people eating. Walk into a tiny, dive-y place, point at a random jumble of letters on a menu or at a neighbor's plate and get the same thing.
Don't have an itinerary. Get a decent map of an area, find a couple ideas of things you're interested in seeing, and then walk there/take a bus, and enjoy meandering and getting lost and working your way out. You learn a lot about yourself, meet heaps of people, and see parts of the city that you don't learn about in Lonely Planet.
Keep an open mind; imagine differences between cultures as 'different' and not 'stupid' or 'bad' and it doesn't matter if you get to every museum or not - you will still have a great time.
P.S. The History Museum in the People's Square or wherever in ShangHai is pretty nice if you need a stop in your walk. And if museums are your thing.
posted by shokod at 6:52 AM on March 30, 2007

I will second the Blue Mountains near Sydney, I liked it so much I moved in ;-)
Email if you would like any itinerary suggestions for a visit to the area.
posted by bystander at 8:29 PM on April 18, 2007

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