Sydney’s best parks, reserves and outdoor spots.

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One of the nicest things about Sydney is the amount of green space everywhere, little spaces of calm amongst the city. With so many nice views and a great climate it makes for a good way to spend an afternoon reading a book, or like a lot of sydneysiders a quiet place to hang out and eat lunch.

These are our favourite spots.

Observatory Hill

My absolute favourite place in Sydney to kill time. Sat on the opposite side of the harbour bridge to the opera house it offers a differing view of the Sydney Bay. The view takes in Balls Head, Blues Point, Lavender Bay, Luna Park, ‘That Bridge’, and all the lovely rooftops of the old terraces in The Rocks.

I discovered this space the first time I came to Sydney, and have been coming back ever since. I never get bored of the view, it’s just beautiful with enough background noise from the Harbour Bridge traffic. It’s also close by to lots of lovely old buildings in The Rocks, one of the nicer places to wander around.

Accesible from Kent Street, next to the tennis courts; Watson road (off Argyle Street) or the footpath under the Harbour Bridge from Cumberland Street.

Botanical Gardens

OK, so it’s always full of people whatever the weather but for a good reason! Dating back to 1816, and on the site of the first colonial farm in Australia, It’s full of plant species from all over the world, beautifully manicured gardens, some great sculptures, and wedding parties. There’s also plenty of wildlife including Ibis and Flying Foxes who sleep hanging from the trees in large numbers.

Several Entrances, most accesible from The Sydney Opera House.

Clark Park sercret gardens

Hidden away between Lavender Bay and Clark Park, lies a little green field of calm. Regenerated  by Wendy Whiteley, wife of the prominent and now deceased Australian artist Brett Whiteley. The land belongs to the railway company and was a dumping ground until transformed into a communal garden.  Superb harbour views from the top (as usual) and a secret grotto down the stairs with sculpture art, beautifully designed gardens and picnic tables.

Take a walk along lavender bay past Luna Park, and go up the stairs nearest the toilet block.

Paddington Reservoir

A tiny little space lies in the remains of an old reservoir, a sunken garden. It’s a clever design concept in trendy Paddington, with a tranquil space in the lower, sunken gardens and a grassy reserve on top of the remaining chamber. A great example of modern regeneration and clever, urban architecture.

It’s not a big reserve, but well worth a look if you’re headed to the Paddington Markets, or the Australian Centre for Photography which are all on Oxford street and within minutes of each other.

Nearest the junction of Oatley Road & Oxford Street, known as ‘The Walter Read Reserve’ on Googlemaps.

Blues point

Blues point is on the northern side of the harbour. Nice big green spaces overlook the Harbour Bridge & parts of the rocks including the Walsh Bay Wharfs. It’s a nice spot to sit in the sunshine and relax, or take a picnic. It’s also the home of one of Sydneys more controversial buildings. The Harry Seidler designed Blues Point Tower. Loathed by many locals, it was the first building in a plan of many tower blocks for the area that were never built; it now stands alone, and seemingly out of place on the harbour front.

It’s a nice walk from Milsons point, through lavender bay and onto Blues point.

Most accesible by driving. Can walk from Milsons Point train station, through Lavender bay. one hour (ish)

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Others good spots include…

Hyde park – A favourite with the backpackers and the city workforce. Lunchtimes are busy on a nice day. Also home to the Anzac memorial, giant chess and lots of Ibis.

Bradfield Park – underneath the northern end of the Sydney Harbour bridge, near Milsons point station with nice views of the city at dusk, often busy on nice days.

Shark Island – Ideally located in the middle of the harbour, with no city ferry service. Access via private ferry, kayak or water taxi! See more Shark Island pictures from NYE here!

What’s Your favourite? Have I missed anything?

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Interested in Sydney? Check out some more culture, tips and articles here.

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Border jumping, Thailand to Laos: Chiang Khong to Huay Xai, and the slow boat.

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When I was researching this trip, this was one area I was pretty confused by. I found some articles from Flash Parker, which are very useful, and served me well. Hopefully now I can add some updated information to this subject.

If like us, and a lot of others you are leaving Chiang Mai and looking to get to Laos, you will get a bus from the arcade bus station. We booked onto the 08:30AM green bus service to Chiang Khong. It stops quite a lot, but they have air con, really comfy seats and a TV. We watched a dubbed copy of Spiderman!  Also, you get a receipt for your baggage. I’m not sure this would be any use at all in the event of your stuff being stolen, but hey.  The bus was 241Baht, for about a six hour journey. I’ve read conflicting information about the station, some people say it’s mental busy others fairly quiet. The day we travelled out the bus queues were quite short, however our bus was full so book ahead if you’re on a schedule.

Okay, so now you’re in Chiang Khong! You’re there? Wrong.  Due to some great idea involving getting more money for the local tuk-tuks, the bus stops at one end of the town and the ferry is at the other. You guessed it, you have to pay another 30Baht to get there.

Make sure you have some US Dollars before you leave Chiang Mai, you cannot pay the visa fee with any other currency and I expect the exchange rate at Chiang Khong is terrible. Most prices were around 20USD for Asian countries and 30-35USD for Europe and America. Oddly, Canadians have to pay 43USD. Also, you need one passport photo for your application.

You then wander down to the boats, stopping at the customs post (it looks like the booths attendants sit in at car parks) to get an exit stamp.  The two minute ferry across the Mekong will cost 30Baht and you’re in Laos!

Here, you have to fill in your entry card and pay your fee. I’ve read online about border staff being suggestive about bribes, but in my experience they were polite and efficient, people at Heathrow could learn a thing or two! Oh, and keep hold of your departure card, unlike most places they don’t seem to staple it into your passport.  There is a booth opposite customs for money exchange, but we waited until we were further into Huay Xai as again, we expected the exchange rate to be better. The bank in the town apparently does the best rates. If you have a smart phone, get the XE currency app, it’s brilliant and it’s a ball ache trying to work out prices when everything is interchangeable between Baht, Kip and Dollars.

So you need somewhere to stay! (You can spend the night in Chiang Khong, which is bigger but I’ve read about the bottlenecking at customs, and having to get up earlier to make the ferry. Also, mid- afternoon the border was pretty much dead) We stayed at one of the standard places on the main strip. It was clean and nice enough, it also happens to be opposite a place called Bar How? which is a really nice place to eat very good Lao food considering the transient nature of the town. You can book your ferry tickets via pretty much anyone in the town. We just bought ours from our hotel. We probably paid a bit too much, but it was more efficient and stress free than wandering around the travel agents.  I hate that.

There are three options to get to Luang Prabang, slow boat, fast boat and bus. I’ve read pretty bad things about the bus and any reputable guidebook recommends avoiding the fast boats.

The slow boats vary in size and quality. Some boats have seats taken from buses with cushions, others are benches.  We were lucky our boats both had comfortable seating. Rather than buying a cushion straight away, check your boat out first!

The people in the Huay Xai have all kinds of stories to tell, some people say the boat leaves at 9:30, 10, 10:30…etc. Also, everybody is trying to sell you stuff such as sandwiches and snacks. They will all tell you that you can’t buy anything on the boat. You can buy water, hot drinks, noodle pots, fizzy pop, beer and crisps, but take a sandwich with you. I’ve also read online that people would come onto the boats to sell other stuff, but this didn’t happen on our journeys so don’t count on it.

Also, the boat leaves when it’s ready, time is irrelevant. Depends on the cargo and other things they need to send on the river, we were told 10:30, but left at midday.

Invariably, someone will come onto the boat to tell you about Pak Beng, the stop over point and that it is high season and what not. They will probably try to sell you accommodation; we foolishly took some there and then, just to make it a bit better than dealing with all the touts. Don’t believe the hype. There must be enough accommodation, and frankly it’s cheaper directly in Pak Beng. Lesson learnt.

Pak Beng is nothing more than a stopover. I can’t think of any reason why somebody would stay here longer than the one night. Lots of people tried to sell me drugs here, I can only imagine they have a deal with the police and get a cut of the fine on top of the retail price. Being as you’re in the middle of nowhere without any choice, stuff is expensive here.

The second day is back on the boat, it might not be the same boat, and I’m not sure if you can buy cushions in Pak Beng, so it’s a bit of a gamble if you buy one originally. About eight hours later you arrive in Luang Prabang! Again, if you haven’t got accommodation sorted lots of people are waiting at the dock to welcome you to town, as such.

The journey is long, but it’s very rewarding. Make sure you put a warm layer in your bag because as the sun starts to think about going down, it gets cold. The views are pretty spectacular and you’re in a boat full of people to chat to if you feel like it. It’s a far more leisurely and enjoyable way to get travel than the bus.