What is with all the DIY coffee, cocktails and desserts? Sarah Tayler delves into the newest foodie trend.

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These are the up-and-coming Australian tipples you need in your wine rack, writes Sarah Tayler.

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In May’s edition of Tourist in my Town for Blank GC Magazine, Sarah Tayler explores the world of indoor skydiving.

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8 Best Winter Cruise Itineraries from Australia

Fancy a last minute getaway, an escape from the chilly winter months? Check out the 8 best winter cruises from Australia for 2017. Starting from just $54 a night, these deals are not to be missed.

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Australian cruises

Getting to know Saigon

Saigon is busy. The energy and the atmosphere of the city, especially the centre, is electric. Bustling with people, bikes and cars. No matter what time of day it is, there is always something going on.

Most tourists that visit Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is also known, spend their time in the tourist-centric heart of the city. District One comes complete with backpackers, hotels, bars, cafes, markets, and well-known sights such as the Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Reunification Palace.

District One Saigon Vietnam Unbeknown to the majority of people travelling through, Saigon is actually made up of 24 districts, each with their own function and personality. To find out more I joined the XO Tours team for their Saigon by Night motorbike tour. XO Tours is a locally run Vietnamese company whose motorbike drivers are exclusively women. As a female travelling alone this was an attractive part of the offering.

I was met at my hostel in District One by Tam, my driver for the evening. XO drivers are easily spotted because they wear blue and white traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai with white XO Tours helmets.

Not a motorbike owner myself, when I first arrived in the city the thought of taking a bike taxi was not that appealing. At first glance, the traffic is intimidating with hundreds of bikes weaving in and out all over the roads and the pavements. You begin to wonder how the few cars there are don’t have moped shaped dents in them. But on closer inspection, all the cars and taxis are fairly modern and well looked after with no dents. And all the mopeds, although sometimes older, don’t seem to beat up. What at first looks like an impending multi-vehicle pile-up, is actually organised chaos, with pedestrians, cars and thousands of motorbikes and bicycles moving in turn. All being mindful of each other while also trying to get where they need to be.

Riding on the back of Tam’s bike I felt safe and secure, she was a confident rider and knew her way around the streets of Saigon. It was an amazing feeling to zoom down the highway among local Vietnamese commuters as the sun set for the evening.

Our first stop was District 5 – China Town. We met Sang, our tour guide and the other guests on the tour for an introduction before exploring. We walked through fascinating markets selling live chickens and all sorts of meat and veg, laid out on tarpaulins on the floor, with people riding mopeds through the middle of it all. The surrounding streets were lined with shops selling decorative lanterns, wedding decorations and flowers. We stopped at a street food stall to watch them make broken rice and pork, a local delicacy. A top tip from Sang was to buy your street food from a stall joined to a restaurant because they are often more hygienic.

Dinner at Local Saigon BBQ RestaurantNext stop District 8 for dinner at a huge outdoor restaurant. Here locals choose their meat from the counter and BBQ together at the tables. We sat down in the low relaxed seating to enjoy some of the local food and a glass of refreshing sugar cane juice.

On to District 7 which is the new district where expats and well-off Vietnamese live. It is a world away from the hectic streets of District One, very quiet, with modern buildings, no overhead power lines, and very few bikes.

Our last stop was District 4, Sang told us this is where you can find the best seafood in Saigon. We stopped for some dessert at a street cart. The atmosphere was great with lots of people sitting around eating and drinking beer.

The XO bike tour was fantastic, with friendly, funny, and knowledgeable English speaking guides and drivers. Ideal for solo travellers or groups of friends wanting to see more of Saigon from a locals point of view. Surrounded by local people going about their evening, it felt like you were out for dinner with friends rather than on a tour.

Top Tips for Seeing Saigon

  1. For getting around the city download the Grab app (similar to Uber) on your phone for cheap taxis, cars and bikes.
  2. If you pick up a bike taxi on the street make sure to check the price as they can over charge you. Be clear with them how much they are expecting you to pay. Sometimes when they say 150 they mean $150, or 1.5 million Dong. Not 150 Dong, which is a big difference.
  3. Walking around is the best way to see the main sights. You can stop and get street food, or fresh fruit drinks from stalls as you go. It is really easy to walk through whole of District One, just be careful crossing the road as mopeds and bikes can come from anywhere. Plus, when you have a terrible sense of direction (like me) and absolutely no internal compass you can walk the same 2 square kilometres for hours and be totally content. Walking the same street but in the opposite direction complete convinced you are in a new part of town.

To find out more about XO Tours visit their website: https://xotours.vn/

 

A Gold Coast Camping Adventure

Read the January 2017 edition of my monthly column Tourist in my Town featured in Blank GC magazine. This month I explored some of the best campsites on the Gold Coast….

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Big4 North Star Camping

Gold Coast’s Prettiest Walks

Whether walking on a Saturday morning is your weekly fitness ritual or your hangover cure, now that summer is here it’s time to get out and about on the Gold Coast!

To help you in your quest, we’ve rounded up seven of our favourite pretty walks from leisurely strolls to sweaty hikes.

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Gold Coast Hiking Mount Warning

Luxury Staycation in Brisbane

Read the November 2016 edition of my monthly column Tourist in my Town featured in Blank GC magazine. This month I escaped the Gold Coast for a luxury vacay in Brisbane….

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Luxury stay in Brisbane

Top Three Secret BBQ Spots on the Gold Coast!

Read the October 2016 edition of my monthly column Tourist in my Town featured in Blank GC magazine. This month I have been hunting down the best BBQ spots on the Gold Coast….

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Best place for a BBQ on the Gold Coast

To see my previous Tourist in my Town posts click here.

All-Inclusive Vs Pay-As-You-Go: Verdict

Ever wondered if all-inclusive actually works out better value? Sarah Loughlin compares two European cruises to find out! Read more…

Regent Seven Seas Explorer all inclusive cruise

Regent Seven Seas Explorer

You Don’t Have To Run Away To Join The Circus

Read the July 2016 edition of my monthly column Tourist in my Town featured in Blank GC magazine. This month I learnt how to fly, somewhat gracefully, through the air on a circus trapeze…

I must have driven past Circus Arts at the side of the M1 a thousand times, always thinking “I really must give that a go.” Then one sunny Sunday afternoon I finally got around to it. I was going to take a trapeze lesson. Not being the most coordinated of people I had little to no expectation in terms of results, but as the saying goes, you should try everything once apart from incest and folk dancing. Read more…

TOURIST IN MY TOWN: YOU DON’T HAVE TO RUN AWAY TO JOIN THE CIRCUS from Sarah Loughlin on Vimeo.

Sarah vs. Shark: Surfing Down Under

With the recent rise in Shark attacks both in Australia and other parts of the world Sarah Loughlin finds out just how Sharky it really is out there.

The most dangerous thing about surfing in Jersey was the chocolate milkshakes from El Tico’s. Those things were seriously addictive. Learning to surf in the UK seemed a tremendous feat at the time, but looking back the worst thing that could happen was you would get a weaver fish, or be washed up on the beach a bit battered and bruised.

Growing up in the England I had never given sharks much of a thought. But the recent move to Australia has bought these issues to the front of my mind. The week we moved over to the Gold Coast, a surfing mecca, was just after World Champion Surfer Mick Fanning was attacked by a shark in South Africa. Mick is from the Gold Coast, and can often be seen out on the water when he is in the area.

Surfer Shark View

What I probably look like to a shark.

Just How Sharky Is It?

There have been record numbers of Shark attacks in the last few years on both the West coast and more recently the East coast of Australia. In 2015 there were 22 recorded shark attacks on humans in Australia, this is double the amount recorded in 2014, and higher than the yearly average of 13. Of the 22 attacks, only one was fatal, and seven of the shark attack victims were uninjured. NSW has the highest rate of attacks with 14 recorded in 2015. Experts have many theories about why this might be, and are equally unsure as to how to deal with the problem. From increased helicopter patrols and lifeguards on previously un-manned beaches, to more controversial solutions such as shark culling and shark nets. Some reports say that one of the most influential factors to the increase in attacks is the increase in population. The more people there are in Australia spending time in the water, the more chance that a shark attack could occur.

Facing My Fear

Before heading in to the water I wanted to find out exactly what I was up against so I caught up with Josh Fuller, a pro surfer who now runs his surf school from Kingscliff, NSW. One of the first things Josh explained is that is it a small selection of shark species that are normally involved in shark attacks; Tiger Sharks, Bull Sharks, and Great White Sharks. Most other species are completely harmless. Josh explained that there are risks involved with surfing, as there are with most sports, but if you take the time to learn about basic ocean safety you are more likely to enjoy surfing and stay safe in the water.

One of the first Aussie phrases I came across moving over here was ‘Sharky’. Not commonly used in other parts of the world, I still wasn’t quite sure what it meant. ‘It’s more of a feeling’, explains Josh, ‘when the sky is grey and overcast, and the water looks really dark, it just feels sharky’. One of the first points covered in Josh’s ocean safety run down is to avoid surfing at dusk and dawn, as this is feeding time for sharks. After our pep talk on the beach I was ready to hit the surf.

Surfing Dbar NSW

Heading out for a solo surf in Dbar, NSW. Sarah 1: Shark 0.

Splashing about in the shallows in the warm, clear waters it was hard to imagine that there were huge predators swimming probably not that far away. Josh explained that although sharks are often close by, the number of attacks on surfers compared to the number of surfers is very low. After picking up a few tips from Josh on my technique and spending time in the water with a local, I felt confident that I could take to the beach on my own, but I still couldn’t get the thought of sharks out of my head.

To get over my fear I wanted to see what was going on under the water, and get a feel of what might be lurking underneath me. I felt that if I could see one up close I wouldn’t be scared anymore. It’s more the fear of the unknown than anything else. Sort of like falling off your bike for the first time when your a kid, once you have done it, and it doesn’t hurt that bad, and you don’t have to be scared of it.

turtle cook island NSW

Swimming with Sea Turtles @ Cook Island, NSW.

Heading out on the boat to Cook Island, a local diving spot known for being a bit sharky, I had mixed feelings. I wanted to see a shark, but at the same time I felt like hunting them down was asking for trouble. Never the less I hopped into the water and sunk down with the dive instructor to have a look around. I will never tire of diving and seeing at the marine life going about their business, swimming about, its mesmerising. About 10 minutes in, almost forgetting why I was there, I saw one. Small, but most certainly a shark, it swam by in the distance, not giving us a second glance. After thinking of nothing but sharks for the last few weeks, it seemed almost an anti-climax to have the shark be so uninterested in us.

I blame my irrational fear of Australian wildlife on being addicted to Steve Erwin’s TV show. Before I moved here I imagined that everything in Australia would kill you as soon as look at you. But with one fatal shark attack per year in Australia you are far more likely to come to a sticky end using a vending machine!

To get out surfing on the Gold Coast visit in2surf.com.au and book your lesson!

Dbar Suring NSW

Having caught approximately three waves in my surfing career so far, here is one of my terrific paddling.

 

Hawaii: Sandy Beaches and a Turquoise Ocean

Sarah Loughlin’s top tips on where to stay and what to do on two of Hawaii’s most popular islands.

In Waikiki, the relaxing sound of Hawaiian music floats on the breeze. You can hear it as you walk the busy shopping streets, relax on the beach or wait for your next wave surfing in the bay. It has been Hawaii’s most popular destination since the first hotel was built in 1901. Read More…

Tree Top Challenge and a Half

Read the June 2016 edition of my monthly column Tourist in my Town featured in Blank GC magazine. This month I spent some time in the rainforest at Mount Tamborine, being outdone by small children…

There is nothing like spending time in the rainforest, with the lush green leaves as a backdrop, and the birds as your soundtrack for the day. Living on the Gold Coast it’s easy to take for granted that we not only have white sandy beaches and warm water year round, but we also have miles and miles of hinterland to explore. Right on our doorstep. Read More…

Tree Top Challenge Gold Coast

Discovering Jersey: Channel Islands, UK.

Sarah Loughlin’s top tips on where to stay and what to do in Jersey this summer. Read more..

Jersey Channel Islands UK

Gold Coast: Girls’ Night In With A Difference

Read the May 2016 edition of my monthly column Tourist in my Town featured in Blank GC magazine. This month learn about Wine Group and Co., a company that runs fun informative wine workshops on the Gold Coast!

I really like wine. But I usually choose my bottle the way I pick a horse at the races, based on the appearance and an interesting name. Like any sort of gambling this sometimes pays off, and sometimes results in a $20 bottle being relegated to cooking wine. Read more….

Educational wine workshop Gold Coast

 

 

To see more of my Blank GC Tourist in my Town articles click here.

 

Spoil Yourself on Mount Tamborine

Read the April 2016 edition of my monthly column Tourist in my Town featured in Blank GC magazine.

This month I’m exploring Mount Tamborine in Queensland to find the best spa’s and afternoon tea on the Gold Coast! Read More…

Things to do in Gold Coast

Tweed River Cruise

Read the latest edition of my monthly column ‘Tourist in my Town’ featured in Blank GC magazine. Each month learn about fun, interesting things for locals to do on the Gold Coast!

Find time to make the most of this amazing place we call home this summer, starting with a boat trip up the Tweed River. Read More…

 

Dolphin spotting on the Tweed River, NSW Australia

Dolphin spotting on the Tweed River, NSW Australia.

 

UP, UP AND AWAY

Read the latest edition of my monthly column in Blank GC! ‘Tourist in my Town’ features fun, interesting things for locals to do on the Gold Coast each month.

Sarah Loughlin looks the coast from a new perspective with a hot-air-balloon trip to remember. Read more…

 

RIMG0683

Ballooning in Lamington National Park, Queensland.

French skiing destinations within driving distance

Sarah Loughlin picks her top three resorts to drive to from Jersey

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Time to hit the piste!