Sunset over Melbourne City

10 of my favourite places to eat in Melbourne

I’ve realised recently that I don’t write anywhere near enough about my current hometown Melbourne! So I thought it was high time that I started sharing with you some of my regular haunts and local info, so you can make the most out of your visit to Melbourne. Today I’m sharing some of my favourite places to eat in Melbourne’s inner city. There is a really strong Asian flavour to this list as that’s my favourite style of food!

Hutong Dumpling Bar – These are some of the best dumplings in Melbourne in my opinion (having never been to China!). Their speciality is xiao long bao, lovely steamed pork dumplings with broth inside – absolutely delicious. They have a wide range of other dumplings and dim sum also (their wontons in chilli oil are another favourite of mine). The menu doesn’t stop there (although I have been there many a time and only had dumplings!), there’s also a good range of stir-fried and hotpot dishes. If you’re keen to try their food, make sure you do make a booking as they are usually full (particularly on weekends).

China Red – Another dumpling place that’s tucked away in one of the shopping arcades off Chinatown in the CBD, and owned by the same people that own Hutong, so you know the dumplings are going to be just as good. It’s a little easier to get in here, so it’s always a good second options if Hutong is booked out. One thing that’s really novel is the ordering system. Rather than having a traditional waiter, you instead place your order via a touchscreen mounted on the wall next to each table. Drinks and food come out really quickly, and there’s a huge range of food that’s all reasonably priced.

China Red Touchscreen Ordering
Ordering on the touchscreen at China Red

Hofbrauhaus – This is a really fun night out in the CBD, with giant steins of beer and huge hearty servings of German cuisine. There’s always a floor show with German dancing and live music (including crowd participation!), and the atmosphere is great – you almost feel like you could be in a beer hall in Germany. They also have on their drinks list a metre of schnapps, which comes out in a wooden paddle with many shots of schnapps in all different flavours. They’ll even customise the flavours for you if you want (we’re quite partial to ordering the whole metre as cloudy apple – it’s delicious!). You’ll need to book up to a couple of weeks in advance to dine here, it’s a very popular place. There is also a small bar attached as well, where you can go just to have a few steins and a freshly baked pretzel or a small meal.

G2 Korean BBQ – Located in the heart of the city on Elizabeth St, G2 serves Korean BBQ with all of the accompaniments. I’ve only been here once and it was my first time trying Korean BBQ, but I really enjoyed the meal here. We selected a mixed banquet with both pork belly and beef, which was delicious. The meat is cooked over coal burners rather than the gas jets that they have in some places, which gave a really lovely smoky flavour to the meat. Another upside was that the wait staff came and cooked the BBQ at our table for us – perfect for us Korean BBQ novices!

Gyoza Douraku and Gyoza Gyoza – Serving Japanese tapas style food, Gyoza Douraku is located on Bourke St in the CBD, while its newly opened sister restaurant Gyoza Gyoza is found in Chinatown. As indicated by the name these guys have a huge range of different flavours of gyoza (Japanese dumplings), all delicious. They also have a large range of other Japanese cuisine – I haven’t had a bad dish there yet. The wait staff are friendly and attentive, and always happy to recommend you a sake from their extensive list to suit your taste.

Chiangmai Thai Cuisine – Located on Lygon St in Carlton, this is one of my favourite Thai places to eat. They have a good range on their menu with a Northern Thai flavour, and the food is consistently good. If you like your food Thai spicy, make sure you tell them “pet pet” when you order, as they do make the food generally a bit more on the mild side to suit western tastes. They have changed ownership recently, but we have eaten there since and the food was just as good. Another bonus, they also have a Thai massage place upstairs above the restaurant!

Vietnam Noodle House – This is one of my regular weekend cheap eats. I can’t say I’ve tried a massive amount of the menu, as I always tend to go here to specifically eat a huge steaming bowl of pho. For the uninitiated, pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup, made from broth filled with slippery rice noodles, thinly sliced meat, and garnished the way you like with your own selection of fresh herbs, chilli and seasonings – perfect comfort food on a cold Melbourne day. The service and atmosphere here aren’t fantastic, but it’s super cheap and the pho is consistently tasty.

Pho at Vietnam Noodle House
Pho at Vietnam Noodle House

Red Pepper – If you’re after an Indian fix in the top end of Melbourne’s CBD, give this place a try. The restaurant itself isn’t super glamorous, but the curries are delicious, and there’s also a really good range for vegetarians. Even though I’m not vegetarian myself, I often find myself ordering the Paneer Kadhai Masala which is really good!

Riva – This is my weekend breakfast go-to place. Tucked away in the Causeway (a laneway just off the Bourke St Mall), it has great food at reasonable prices. They do a great super cheesy omelette, and Ash is rather partial to their eggs benedict. They also have some really delicious burgers for lunch.

Fonda – For some delicious modern Mexican food, head to Fonda at the top end of Flinders Lane. They have an awesome array of Mexican classics with a twist, as well as an extensive drink menu complete with cocktail jugs and a huge range of tequilas. The tortillas there are pressed fresh every day, and the hot sauce there is excellent! They only do booking for large groups, so I ‘d recommend to get there for an early dinner if you don’t want to queue.

Where are some of your favourite places to eat in Melbourne?

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TripIt app on iPad

Using TripIt to plan your holidays

I wanted to share with you a great tool that I use to help plan all my journeys. I find it particularly useful for the style of travel that I do, as it usually involves multiple destinations and transport types which can be tough to keep track of the traditional paper based way.

The TriptIt app, which is available for free, consolidates all of your flights, accommodation, tours, and much more all into one place. It also syncs across multiple devices, so you can view your trip details on your smartphone, tablet or PC. It’s super simple to set up and use and I’ve found it absolutely invaluable in the trip planning that I have done.

To set up an account, just head over to the TripIt website (www.tripit.com) and create a log on. You’ll then set up an email address that you want to have associated with your account. I’d recommend that you use the same email address that you usually use to book your travel plans. You can also download the apps on your smartphone and tablet so you can view your plans on the go.

Once you’ve setup a log on, it’s time to start building your itinerary! This could not be any easier, simply forward the confirmation emails for your flights, accommodation voucher, transportation or tours to plans@tripit.com. TripIt then magically associates this information with your account, building it all into a neat and easy to read itinerary. You can also set up TripIt to automatically scan your email inbox periodically for new plans.

If your itinerary doesn’t look quite right when you’ve imported it, or you have plans that weren’t booked online, you can easily edit or add these manually with as much or as little details as you’d like. TripIt will also alert you if plans that you have added conflict, so you’ll easily know if you’ve double booked yourself.

TripIt actually saved us from being stranded on our last trip! We thought we had booked all of our flights, however when I imported them into TripIt I quickly saw that we had not booked a flight to get from Krabi to Kuala Lumpur to make our flight home. A quick double check through our emails to make sure that there was no ticket that we hadn’t sent through to TripIt (there wasn’t), and we were able to book the flight still with plenty of time. That could have been a disaster!

Some the other things I love about TripIt are the stats that it has (being as obsessed with data as I am!). On the desktop version, it has stats like how many cities and countries you’ve visted, how many trips you’ve taken, and even how many kilometres you’ve travelled! Certainly not essential, but really cool to know. My very favourite feature is the countdown timer (visible on the app and the desktop version), which quickly shows you at a glance how many days you have remaining until your next trip.

There are also paid versions of TripIt that may be useful for business or frequent travellers. These include features like advising you if your gate changes for your flight, tracking frequent flyer points, and finding you the best fares. I haven’t utilised this, as the free version has been more than enough to fulfil my needs.

So if you’re looking for an app to keep all of your travel plans in one place, I couldn’t recommend TripIt highly enough. It’s super simple to use, and it’s fantastic to be able to look at your plans at a glance and see what you’ve booked and what is still outstanding.

*Please note that I am not affiliated with TripIt, nor did I receive any discount or commission for reviewing them – they actually didn’t even know that I’d be writing a blog post! All opinions are my own.

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1000 steps Kokoda Memorial

Hiking the 1000 steps in Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges

The 1000 steps is well renowned in Melbourne for being a place where the fittest of the fit go to test their mettle each weekend. It’s located in the Dandenongs, and is a memorial walk (I use the word walk very loosely!) dedicated to the memory of the Australian soldiers that served in Papua New Guinea on the Kokoda trail. The trail is 5km up and back, and Ash and I thought it would be a good short training hike to help us prepare for the Everest Base Camp trek.

The first weekend that we decided to give it a go, we were both suffering from a pretty nasty cold that was going around. I made the decision that we were going to go and give it a try anyway, as I’d made a commitment to myself that I was doing a training hike that weekend and was determined not to back out given that Everest was getting closer and closer by the day.

So off we drove to the Dandenongs, and soon found ourselves standing at the memorial statue at the base of the hill, watching the many people just starting or completing their walk. There was a whole range of ages and fitness levels, so we figured that even though we were sick, we should be able to make it to the top easily.

1000 steps track start
The start of the track – it’s much steeper than it looks here!

How wrong we were. The path was steeper that I had ever imagined, and very soon my lungs were burning with every step and my heart was beating out of my chest. Ash and I looked at each other struggling, and decided to take a rest stop, feeling very inferior as sprightly grandparents raced past us. We continued struggling along, taking regular rests and hoping that the gradient of the path would flatten out. Once we reached the 1km mark, we had to admit defeat. We were exhausted, and had to come to the realisation that it just wasn’t our day, particularly in the sickly condition we were both in. We were determined to come back and make it to the top though!

Fast forward to 2 weeks later, and we again stood at the bottom of the track, looking up with trepidation. I was bit nervous that we wouldn’t make it all the way to the top of the 1000 steps again even though we were fully fit this time. Maybe we just weren’t fit enough and we wouldn’t make it all the way up to Everest Base Camp.

1000 steps

Those fears were soon put to rest as we started climbing up the track. It was a lot easier this time, and I found that we did not need to stop anywhere near as much to catch our breath. I was so pleased, it really felt like all the early mornings we’d been spending training were worth it. We made it up to the top with little trouble, and had lunch in the glorious late winter sun lying in the grass at the picnic ground there.

The descent gave us little trouble as well, and we were feeling ready to take on the world! It was amazing to see the improvement in our fitness, having kicked our illness and started training hard. We’ll soon see if it was all enough to prepare us for Everest!

Have you been to the 1000 steps? How many attempts did it take you to reach the top?

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Out plane window AirAsia

AirAsia X Premium Class Flight Review

I was really excited for this plane trip, so much that I almost didn’t mind that our holiday was over and we were heading home! It was the first time that I had travelled internationally in anything other than economy class and I was really looking forward to it.

AirAsia is an airline that I fly with quite frequently while I’m overseas. The prices are always right, I’ve never had an issue with long delays (touch wood!), and I always get friendly consistent service. When we were finding flights for our trip home, I discovered that AirAsia not only had the cheapest fares to fly back from Ao Nang (via Kuala Lumpur), but also that they had some super cheap fares on the Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne leg in their Premium Class. Given it wasn’t going to cost us that much more than the usual economy fares, we decided to book it in!

The experience started as we arrived at Kuala Lumpur’s low cost terminal. Being used to travelling on the cheap, we headed straight over to the self check-in kiosks and printed out our tickets and bag tags. However, when we lined up to go through to the bag drop counters, the security guard told us that we were in the wrong place and that we needed to go and check in at the AirAsia service desk. We moved over there, and discovered that we needn’t have even printed all our own documentation, as part of our fare meant that we got express check-in. We must have looked a little out of place walking up to the Premium Class desk with our shabby backpacks that have been all around Asia!

AirAsia X Plane

With check-in completed much sooner than we had thought, we had plenty of time to grab a bite to eat in the airport terminal. With AirAsia being housed in the low cost terminal, there are no lounges or anything like that, although I don’t think that lounge access is included in the Premium Class fare even if there are lounge facilities at the airport.

It was finally time to board our flight. Ash and I had selected seats 1A and 1B, so we were right at the front of the cabin with plenty of legroom (a must for Ash as he’s 6’3”!). The seats in Premium Class on the flight we took were in a 2-2-2 pattern. The seats are much wider than your standard airline seat, and I could safely say it was probably the comfiest plane seat I’ve travelled in.

AirAsia X Premium Class Seat
My seat upright…

The real selling point of the Premium Class seats was that they were lie-flat beds, something that’s usually reserved for Business Class in full service airlines! Although the seats did flatten out completely out, you are still lying at a slight angle to the floor, but this didn’t bother me in the slightest. The footrest and headrest were also fully adjustable using an easy panel in one of your armrests.

AirAsia X Premium Class Seat lie flat
…and fully reclined later in the flight!

Each seat had a decent sized table that folded away into the armrest, and an individual reading light which was easily adjustable. Each seat also had a small privacy screen that you could pull across in between the set of 2 seats, in case you wanted a bit of alone time. Additionally, there was also a power outlet so you could charge your electronics and ensure they lasted the whole flight.

When we boarded the plane, each seat already had a quilt and pillow on it, ready to go for you to make yourself comfortable. These were so comfortable. The pillow was just like a normal pillow that you’d get in any decent hotel (albeit slightly smaller to fit the seats comfortably), and instead of the polar fleece type blankets that you generally get on budget airlines there was a decent sized proper quilt that was so snuggly without being overly warm.

There is no entertainment included with the fare, however AirAsia does have entertainment units for rent at a quite low price. Given that I travel on budget airlines a lot, I’m always prepared with my own entertainment anyway, so this did not bother me in the slightest.

Meals were included in the ticket price, and we were able to pre-select our choices from a menu online when we booked the fare. Unfortunately something had gone wrong, and our selected meals were unavailable on our flight. We were given alternative meals, which was a bit of a shame as being allergic to nuts I have to be quite careful in what I eat. Naturally I received a meal that contained nuts, which Ash was kind enough to swap with me for his nut-free meal. The meals were really nothing to write home about, and we were glad that we had eaten at the airport before we left. Snacks and beverages could be purchased throughout the flight if you got peckish.

The service on the flight was great, attentive but not intrusive. When I laid my seat flat and snuggled into my quilt, an attendant was quick to offer to close the window blind for me, and they made regular rounds throughout the cabin offering drinks and snacks or collecting rubbish.

I would definitely fly AirAsia X Premium Class again, it was one of the best flights I’ve been on. The extra cost is well worth it, and I’ve found the fare prices are a lot of the time comparable to a normal economy seat on a full service airline. Do yourself a favour, give AirAsia X Premium Class a try!

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School of fish and reef diving Ao Nang

Under the Sea – What it’s really like to Scuba Dive for the first time Part 2

Back to where we left off last week, I had just tried scuba diving for the first time and it hadn’t really gone as planned! But Geow, one of the instructors made it his mission to make sure that I succeeded!

Geow first started off with having me hold on the anchor rope of the boat, and taking me underwater little bit by little bit. We would descend slightly, and just stay there, Geow keeping eye contact with me and holding tightly to my hand to reassure me all the way. Each time we descended a little deeper, he would check in that I was feeling ok. This was fantastic, as I soon felt more comfortable under the water, and before I knew it we were down deep enough to be close to the reef.

Descending with Geow diving Ao Nang

Checking in that I was ok once more, Geow started swimming off, still clutching my hand tightly. He towed me around like this for the whole dive, pointing out sea life and constantly checking in with me to make sure that I was still feeling comfortable. Going around like this, I soon relaxed and started to enjoy exploring all the beautiful sea life that you don’t normally see so close up when only snorkelling.

Parrotfish Diving Ao Nang

When we returned to the boat, the other divers hadn’t seen us as we were diving on a different part of the reef to them. Remy was so pleased when Geow told him that I’d been able to dive and gave me a huge high five!

Feeling elated that I’d been somewhat successful, we set off in the longtail for our second dive site for the day. We had a filling Thai coconut curry and rice for lunch that the dive company had provided, and chatted amongst ourselves about all the things that we’d seen on the dive.

We soon arrived at the second dive site, where Geow hoped that we’d see some seahorses, as this was a popular area for them to be. There was a reasonable current at this site, which made my heart sink a little knowing that I’m not the strongest swimmer. I was determined to get back in and give it another shot though!

As there was quite a current, Remy suggested that I try to enter the water with all the scuba gear on this time, as I’d successfully done the dive entry backwards off the boat at the other dive site. I got all my gear on and was sitting on the edge of the boat, but I just couldn’t do it. I felt frozen to the spot, and even though I knew the buoyancy vest was filled with air, my mind kept telling me that all of this gear was way too heavy and that I would sink. Remy saw that I was struggling and quickly took off the vest. I entered the water without it and he dropped it in to me, directing me to swim over to the rest of the group with it.

Geow helped me to put on my gear, and everyone was soon ready to dive. As Geow started deflating my buoyancy vest, I felt that familiar fear rising in me, and as soon as I’d get underwater, I’d kick to the surface in a panic. I was so disappointed, thinking that I had overcome the sensation on my last dive and anticipating that this second dive would be much easier. Geow was once again so patient with me, and eventually I managed to descend down to where the rest of the group were waiting for us. What I found really helped me, was rather than descending in a upright position, I put my face underwater and started breathing with the regulator before starting to deflate my buoyancy vest – it meant I felt like I had a bit more control over what was happening.

Lionfish diving Ao Nang
Can you spy the lionfish hiding in this coral?

Our second dive was just as great, and Geow stuck with me the whole time, constantly checking in on me and pointing out all the wonderful sites there were to see. As Geow was really familiar with these local islands, he knew all the little nooks and crannies to peek into, and we were lucky enough to see a pregnant seahorse! While on the second dive, I did still have some moments of panic where I would suddenly realise how far under the water I was or if another diver would come too close to me, but Geow always brought me back by looking me in the eye and asking if I was ok. Each time I took a couple of deep breaths to calm myself, and realised that I was alright.

Fish eating jellyfish diving Ao Nang
A school of fish feeding on a dead jellyfish

All too soon the second dive was over, and we were heading back to Ao Nang in the longtail. I was so happy with what I’d achieved that day, and resolved to continue diving to become more and more comfortable underwater. We farewelled Remy and Geow, and I thanked them so much for their help.

Surfacing after diving in Ao Nang
Feeling pretty happy with myself after surfacing from my second dive!

So I’m going to chalk up scuba diving as a success! I did enjoy the day, and I couldn’t have picked a better company than Scuba Addicts to go with for my first dive – the instructors were so patient and never made me feel like I was being a hassle or holding them up. They really did devote themselves to making my first dive successful, and I really couldn’t thank them enough. I see a couple more discover dives in my future to increase my comfort levels in the water, and then hopefully an Open Water certification at some stage!

Have you tried scuba diving? What was your first dive like?

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Travel, adventures and exploring the world

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