Recent Posts

The best hostel in Taipei.

The best hostel in Taipei.

If you thought staying in a hostel was just for young backpackers then think again! While I did spend many youthful travels living it up while saving money in hostels we have rediscovered them as a family. How does a common room with a cubby […]

Seoul with Kids.

Seoul with Kids.

The city of Seoul in South Korea is an amazing destination for families. I am not even sure what initially made me add it to our travel itinerary but I am so glad we did. The city has terrific public transport links to everything you […]

Riding the Trans Mongolian train with kids.

Riding the Trans Mongolian train with kids.

At home in Melbourne we use trains for commuter use back and forth to work or to explore the city on a weekend. It’s about getting from A to B but when we go overseas trains take on a whole new level of adventure and it becomes about the ride along with the destination. It enables us to go from country to country witnessing new landscapes and meeting a variety of travellers.

We love exploring different countries by trains. We have caught sleeper trains in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Germany. We have taken long distance trains in Italy, France and the Netherlands. We have ridden on bullet trains in China and Japan.

There is one train trip we had on our bucket list and that is the The Trans Mongolian ( part of the Trans Siberian Railway)

Image via Russible

The night before we travelled on the train we stayed in Beijing and bought some supplies for our trip. We got packet noodles, fruit, water  ( 4L bucket) and some snacks like chips and biscuits.

Ready to board train K23.

We started our journey in Beijing where the train leaves at 11.22am from  Beijing central station. Make sure you have your ticket and passport at the entrance as these are checked just to enter the station. Your bags then go through security. ( this happens at every Chinese train station). Once you walk in, look up at the big board for your train number and it will tell you the platform. There is also a help desk just below. There is a waiting room at the station which is signed well in both Chinese and English. There are a few fast food options and a small supermarket if you need some extra supplies and water for the train.

The gates open up around 11am with another passport and ticket check done before you can go on the platform. There is no need to rush,, things are done in an orderly fashion with some passengers bringing air conditioners, fridges and boxes onboard along with your regular backpackers too!

Your ticket will show the carriage and the berth number. There are staff able to help you if you need it too.

Dinner on the train

We found our 4 berth compartment easily in the second class carriage and were ready to go! Each berth had a set of sheets, 1 blanket and a pillow for you to make up the bed at night. There was plenty of storage for bags above and also under each bottom bed. There is a power outlet under the little table just bring your travel adaptor.

We left Coopers wheelchair at the end of our carriage tied up to a bar with a face washer with the brakes on!

We watched the city turn into mountains as we left Beijing. Woody consumed a packet of oreos within the first 5 minutes and the kids caught up on some journal writing.

Chinese countryside 2 hours out of Beijing.

We wandered along the halls and chatted with many other travellers and watched the sun go down as we prepared our noodle for dinner. At the end of each carriage there was hot water so you could also bring tea, hot chocolates, porridge or noodles.

Onboard the train I loved seeing families creating whole meals together with some people cutting and peeling cucumbers and making salads. Andrew actually bought a duck in a bag to try which we added to our noodles but it was pretty dry and we wouldn’t recommend it.

At the other end was a bathroom with a toilet and basin. On this note don’t forget to bring some toilet paper or wipes to use. We were next to the accessible toilet by chance and there was also an accessible cabin but I have no idea how you would actually get onto the train or down to the restaurant carriage as the walkway was very slim.

Accessible bathroom on Carriage 7.
Hallway on carriage 7.

We spent the evening chatting with Joey who was Mongolian as he taught Pepper how to count and say a few words. The kids fell asleep around 10pm.

At around the same time we stopped in Erlian to change the wheels from the Chinese gauge to the Mongolian gauge which should take around 3 hours. At this stage the toilets are closed and the aircon is shut down. Some people jumped off to the station and others stayed on. This was within a 5 second window and every story I read differs so what happens on your own trip will no doubt be unique. Don’t count on getting any snacks at this station so come prepared! Although a few people did grab a few packets of nuts!

While at the border the Chinese immigration came and took our passports and a departure card I filled out to the best of my ability ( it was in Mandarin) then 4 hours later we got them back.

Wheels changed and ready to go closer to 5 hours later and we stop at Mongolian Immigration a few moments down the track. They took our passports and then some military people came on and lifted the kids beds up to check we hadn’t smuggled anyone across ( I am only assuming) about two hours later and the sun is rising and we are in Mongolia ready to continue the trip.

( I must add the extra real story in here for good value reading! Around 11pm Pepper projectile vomits off the top bunk onto the floor. I run down the passage asking someone to translate to the guards for me so they can open up the bathroom. The train guard opens it up for Pep to continue vomitting. He sweeps the vomit carpet with a broom and hands Andrew a wet face washer to clean the carpet. All her bedding gets thrown in the passageway where the wheelchair is)

Don’t say this isn’t adventurous or full of detail!

I also have to add that people did smoke between the carriages and often it smelt as though it was coming through the air-conditioning. The guard room was also used for smoking and sleeping shift changes. Just so you know what to expect and everything is done differently depending on which country you are exploring.

The landscape has changed to green green grassy plains and blue clear skies. The train weaves its way through the hills and we start to see gers dotting the land.

We pull into Ulaanbaatar around 4pm and jump off the train all exhausted and looking dishevelled but ready to adventure into Mongolia.

Arriving in Mongolia.

 

The details:

Number K23 ( runs each Tuesday over Peak Summer.)

Starts in Beijing, China

Ends in Ulanbaataar, Mongolia

Covers 1553Kms

Time- anywhere from 27-30 hours.

We booked our tickets a couple of months before travel at CITS. Their email correspondence was great and we paid via paypal online. We sent copies of our passports and collected the tickets from the main office the day before our trip. ( tickets open around 45 days in advance)

We bought 5 tickets for a 4 berth lockable/door compartment 2nd class hard sleeper. Because Woody was 5 and under 120cms tall he had a ticket but no bed. We wanted to all be together but on seeing the train the compartments were really close together so we could have booked a berth next door for an adult to sleep in but spend the day in the cabin together.

$240 adult

$148 child

$128 child (no berth)

( Prices are in USD and what we paid in July 2017)

Australians need visas organised before travel for both China and Mongolia.

Our top tips:

  • bring enough snacks and water for your journey. ( restaurant car is very limited )
  • bring wipes or toilet paper for the bathroom plus a face washer to freshen up.
  • plastic bags for emergency vomitting/collecting rubbish
  • make sure you wander around and chat with other travellers.
  • wear comfy clothes and layers as the aircon is a bit hit and miss at times.
  • don’t expect much sleep ( at night) as passport control requires you to be awake and alert!

 

10 things we learnt living in a Mongolian Ger that will positively change our daily life.

10 things we learnt living in a Mongolian Ger that will positively change our daily life.

Staying in a traditional Mongolian Ger taught us more than we had imagined so much so that we are taking what we learnt on the land and applying it to our every day life at home. 1. Going Green. Our Ger had no power or […]

Self catering ideas while you explore.

Self catering ideas while you explore.

We partnered with Tip Top to bring you this post. One of our favourite things about travelling is trying new foods in different environments. Being a family of 5 we tend to choose to stay at apartments or houses while we travel. These allow us […]

How to get a Chinese tourist Visa in Melbourne.

How to get a Chinese tourist Visa in Melbourne.

If you are an Australian heading to China on holiday you need to organise a visa before you go. Just follow these simple steps and you’re passport will be stamped and the visa pasted in ready for you to explore China.

I have learnt a lot about applying for visas this last fortnight.

I know how to do it now and really needed to share it here after I learnt from my own mistakes along the way.

This is all about applying for a visa in person at the Melbourne Visa Service Centre. Each Australian state will be different.

 

First up You can never have too much paper work!!! just keep that in mind as you seemingly photo copy so much information.

 

  • Apply for your visa less than 3 months before your trip. The visa will only be valid for 3 months. We applied for ours with 6 weeks to go.
  • Head to the website and download the application form. You can find it here. You could also drop into the office if you live in the city.
  • You will need passport pics which you can do yourself at home, at Australia Post or Officeworks. Usually they cost around $14 for 6.
  • Prebook all your accommodation for the entire trip. I used Booking.com as it meant I could book without payment just incase I needed to change things later on. On my first appointment ( yes I went in twice!) I was told that for a 15 night stay I needed 8 nights booked but I thought it smarter to just book the whole trip and have too much information.
  • Book your flights/train/bus in and out of China and print this information out. We printed out our voucher from the Trans Mongolian train even though the tickets had not been issued as yet.
  • Photo copy your passport page.
  • Photo copy the kids birth certificates and bring in the originals for the appointment.
  • You can make an appointment online or just turn up. I went on a Wednesday at 11am and was second in line.
  • Fill in all the forms per passport. We filled in 5.
  • Take in your original passport.
  • Take all your paper work mentioned above to the appointment.
  • At the appointment grab a ticket from the machine and wait for your number to be called.
  • Staff will thoroughly go through each piece of paper and ask questions about your itinerary.
  • Receipt will be issued and it takes 4 days for the visa to be issues.
  • Come back 4 days later and take a ticket and join the queue for passport pickup. Payment is made on the day. There is an ATM in the foyer if needed but I just paid with a Credit card. Each visa at time of writing was $105
  • Enjoy your trip!

 

Getting there:

The Visa Centre is located at 570 St Kilda Road, Melbourne.

There are trams that go out the front.

Parking is ticketed in all streets around the building and very limited and busy so best to park around the corner and walk back.

The building is wheelchair accessible and has a designated wheelchair height desk for your appointment.

Cafe onsite.

 

 

 

Getaway with Airbnb.

Getaway with Airbnb.

We have stayed in Airbnb properties all over the world. We stayed in an apartment in Verona, Italy just around the corner from the best coffee shop in the world. We stayed in  a house in Mittenwald, Germany with outlooks to the Alps. We have […]

Why you should visit New Zealand with kids.

Why you should visit New Zealand with kids.

New Zealand is the perfect country for your next family vacation. With spectacular scenery, pristine nature and it’s compact size New Zealand with kids is the place to create amazing travel memories. We spent 10 days exploring the North Island of New Zealand. Our kids […]

Exploring New Zealand by Campervan.

Exploring New Zealand by Campervan.

If you are going to explore with a campervan then New Zealand is the place to do it! We had never been camping, caravanning or in a campervan before and honestly it had never really appealed to me. As a young kid we would go camping quite a bit around Victoria and I loved it. As a parent doing all the organising, setting up and packing up I just couldn’t get excited about it. To be honest the fact that camping seems pretty inaccessible to a wheelchair user also put me off. However I booked our sale fares back in August and decided this was the time to experience a camper van adventure and we never looked back.

We hired a campervan for six nights/seven days and covered 1600kms of the North Island of New Zealand.

Booking.

I did lots of research online and chatted to lots of people about which camper van to choose. Weighing up price , convenience, facilities and size.

With our family of 5 choice was rather limited as we needed 5 seat belts to travel safely.

Basically we had two choices for this experience.

  • There is the 6 berth fully self contained ( with toilet and shower) fixed bed, bunk bed and dining table turned into bed. We were quoted anywhere from $2,0000 to $2500 for the week in April. The bonus of this camper was that you can freedom camp which would negate any fees for overnight stops.

You can find these types of  campers here.

  • We chose the Toyota Hiace converted camper which had seating for 3 in the front and two in the back. ( both back seats have anchor points for car seats) It cost $800 for the week. I figured for this more affordable price we could be a bit squished for a week.

We found our camper here.

Freedom to explore and park anywhere, anytime.

Picking Up

Arriving at Auckland airport we could pick the camper up after 8:30am. Just keep in mind that the Jetstar flights from Melbourne get in at 5:30am so its a bit of a wait. We had breakfast in the upper food court.

A shuttle bus collected us and took us to the camper van office offsite.

When picking up your camper there will be some paper work involved and we also recommend taking your own screen shots of the camper just incase any issues arise with damages etc.

We also recommend organising insurance and excess etc with either the camper company or your own travel insurance.

Driving.

Our camper took Diesel Petrol which ranged from $1.00 to $1.50 a litre.

We also paid a diesel tax ( $80)  on returning the vehicle. We filled up for around $50 a time and did this 4 times.

Stretching our legs during a 7 hour drive.

Where to stay.

 Within the North Island of New Zealand there are three options for where to park at night.

Freedom camping.

Here is a list of places to Free camp. These can only be accessed if you are fully self contained. We were not so we did not use these sites. Interestingly all the campers we saw that were self contained seemed to stay at the Holiday parks anyway so it may just depend on your budget and what sort of experience you are after.

Department of Conservation Campsites.

These sites have basic facilities like toilets and maybe a cold shower. They differ between sites and you can find lots of info here.

We stayed at two DOC sites.

The first one was near the Kauri forest and was brilliant. We parked on the grass by a picnic table with no power access an loved the rural feel.

Facilities included.

Powered and non powered sites.

Simple Kitchen with fridge and hotplates.

Warm showers

Toilets

Picnic tables.

It had access to a great walk in the Kauri forest and lots of space for camper vans amongst nature. When we stayed there were 4 other camper vans and a couple using a tent. It is a great way to meet other travellers.

In the kitchen area you sign in and grab a ticket for your dashboard. You can leave money in an envelope, wait for a ranger to pop by or use your DOC pass.

Playing at our first stop.

The second site we stayed at was at Matai Bay.

Facilities included:

Non powered sites

Toilets

Cold shower.

It is right on the bay beach and a stunning location.

Tip: bring a head lamp to access toilets  at night!

All rubbish must be taken with you.

This site has an upper and lower ground area and when we visited in April there was around 50 other campervans/tents.

For our family the prices was around $50 for DOC campsites.

You can also get a DOC campsite pass for seven days.

Matai Bay

Holiday Parks.

There are lots of Holiday Parks to choose from and we loved the TOP 10 sites in both Hot Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula and Rotarua.

You can get certain discounts if you are a Top 10 member in NZ or a Big 4 Member in Australia.

Hot Beach is an amazing location and the kids voted this their favourite as did we. The grounds are huge and the scenery is spectacular everywhere you look.

The Holiday park has every type of accommodation from non powered sites to glamping bell tents to beautiful cabins and great access to the famous Hot Beach along a boardwalk.

Facilities include:

Hot amazing showers

Full Kitchen

Bathrooms

Laundry

Kids go karts for hire

Jumping pillow.

Playground

Fish n chip shop onsite from 5.30-7.30pm.

Dumping stations and rubbish bins.

To stay here for our family of 5 in a powered site cost $80 a night.

Hot Beach Holiday Park.

Top 10 Rotatrua

This Holiday park is close to all the Rotarua attractions so a more city base. It was fully booked ( powered and non powered sites) when we were there and it also happened to rain all day and night.

Facilities included

Kids playground

Lounge area

2 x Kitchen and BBQ’s

Laundry

2 mineral pools at varying temperatures to relax all year round.

Swimming pool for Summer.

For our family it cost $100 a night which was the most expensive stay on our trip.

Dinner prep at Rotarua.

Our camper.

*Pros

Easy to drive and park when we were out sightseeing.

It fits in a typical car space.

Affordable option

5 seatbelts.

Small fridge

*Cons

Packing up each day to turn bed into dining and vice versa.

Bunk bed max weight was 60kgs and only suited to small children. My kids didn’t like the closeness to the roof!

We ended up sleeping 5 of us on the bottom area but once the kids get bigger this wouldn’t work.

Anymore than a week might have pushed us all a bit! (limited space inside when raining all day outside)

Breakfast in the camper.

Our extra tips.

Having a table outside next to your camper is ideal. You can hire one, buy one or use picnic tables at camp sites. It just gives you that extra bit of space.

Make sure you have a heater to dry off! Our camper came with one.

Head to Countdown supermarket for supplies before you head off from Auckland. There are other small supermarkets called 4 Square but they are extra expensive. On that note we found all groceries and eating out to be more expensive than Melbourne.

Because we travel carry on only this was perfect for the camper too. In our camper there is no way big suitcases could have fitted comfortably with us all.

We used Google Maps on our phone for directions. We are with Vodafone in Australia and there is no extra charge for roaming in NZ until Jan 2018. View current info here.

If you are planing on exploring Europe by camper van check out these top tips from our friends Thass and Vix.

To see all our adventures head over to check them out on Instagram.

 

Exploring the Docklands, Melbourne.

Exploring the Docklands, Melbourne.

The Docklands in Melbourne is fast becoming THE place to visit. When staying in Melbourne we have usually chosen the centre of town or in the Southbank area. We spent a weekend in the ever changing Docklands precinct and think you should check it out too! We […]