In between starting our crazy well thought through expat adventure, S and I took a break to do a spot of travelling (and resting). We chose a varied itinerary, and picked hotels along the way largely driven by where we could stay for free or cheap using points. Possibly not the way the pros do it but it did make the holiday much more affordable. Anyway, come and have a snoop around where we stayed in Thailand and Indonesia, and just what I thought of it…

Bangkok: Hotel Indigo Wireless Road

First up on our itinerary was Bangkok. We’ve visited Bangkok once before (and I reviewed the hotels we stayed in) but chose not to return to any of the previous properties, because I had enough IHG points to stay in the Hotel Indigo for just over a week for absolutely nothing. I am a big fan of Hotel Indigo properties, as they cater well for the millennial traveller (yeah I’m owning it) with things we appreciate like decent wifi, rooftop infinity pools, and interesting decor.

So here is the giant double bed that was just the right side of extremely fluffy:

The buzzing skyscraperscape (is that a word? It is now) as viewed from our balcony:

The handy work desk which my husband spent quite a lot of time in, owing to the mini freelancing gig he scored just before we left:

The extremely glamorous bathroom, which had a walk in shower so huge you practically needed a map to find your way around it:

Some very cool artwork in the lobby:

And about that rooftop pool.


Yes, it was as good as I was hoping. There were those big circular bed things you could lie in, sunloungers, a pop up bar, you could have food served there, there was plenty of shade to lie in and all the towels you could ever want. It was a struggle to leave the pool deck let me tell you.

Good things ¦¦ The styling and facilities in general were impeccable. The staff were some of the most friendly I’ve ever encountered – they knew my name and always greeted me with a friendly smile regardless. It was quiet; the internet worked well (important for my working husband); the whole place smelled amazing; the room was just the right size and I liked the seating area; there was a fridge to keep drinks and snacks cool… It had just been done very thoughtfully and honestly felt like a brand new hotel.

Not so good things ¦¦ The food options didn’t suit me particularly; the menu was quite broad but there was never anything I actually fancied on it. Also, they didn’t cater for gluten free at all even though I pre-warned them. Location wise it was a 5-10 minute walk to the nearest Skytrain station, and the nearest food, which isn’t far except when it’s eleventy jillion degrees and 100% humidity and then it feels quite far. Especially if you have to carry your bags. However once at the Skytrain, it was only a couple of stops to all the major sights so I can’t complain on that front.

Would I return? ¦¦ You know… it was a beautiful hotel, but the inability to cater for my diet suitably (even for breakfast) was a huge let down. Having stayed completely for free, I can’t complain, but I think if I was spending real money next time I might rather choose the Eastin Grand Sathorn. Although the location of that wasn’t amazing, so I think I might still be on the hunt for my perfect Bangkok hotel. Despite the amazing sunset views from the pool.


Jogjakarta: The Phoenix Hotel

We picked The Phoenix hotel because I could use some of my Le Club Accor Hotels points which made our stay here another bargain. Annoyingly, you can only redeem Le Club Accor points in batches, so we did have to pay a bit to get us over the line. I think it came in at under £200 for 5 nights including breakfast which is excellent value if you ask me.

The hotel is centrally located, although I would not recommend walking many places because it’s hot, the pavements are inconsistent to put it politely, and you will get harassed whilst walking along. Luckily our hotel always had a couple of taxis on hand which we could use to go wherever we wanted to.

We did spent a fair bit of time in the hotel though, because it was beautiful.

I loved the colourful decorations in our room:

With matching slippers!

The thoughtful welcome amenities

as well as the little jar of jelly sweets they kept topped up every day. Excellent for someone with a sweet tooth like mine. We had a lovely marble bathroom:

With really quite scary amenity holders:

And a very chic balcony:

Perfect for enjoying views of the pool below:

I loved the cosy nooks throughout the grounds:

And the thoughtful phoenix touches around the building:

And the grounds in general were beautiful and immaculately kept.

We had our breakfast next to this koi pond every morning, which made for a very relaxing start. The restaurant was semi-open air which could get a bit steamy at times but I preferred that to an overly air conditioned fridge.

There was also a lovely colonial style sitting room where you’re served a mini afternoon tea on arrival, consisting of a few traditional Indonesian sweets and a cup of tea. It was a lovely touch.

Good things ¦¦ The ambience of the hotel was lovely. It’s a gorgeous heritage building and they’ve maintained as many traditional touches as possible. In general it felt like a peaceful haven amongst the hustle and bustle (and heat) of the city. The staff were wonderfully helpful, nothing was too much trouble, and the pool was just gorgeous.

Something about this hotel reminded both S and I of one our favourite hotels we’ve ever stayed in, the Victoria Angkor in Siem Reap. I think it was the atmosphere and general focus on quality of service.

They had gluten free bread for breakfast which was actually pretty good, and they tried very hard to accommodate my dietary needs at other times. Sometimes I had to work to find someone who understood, but there was always someone.

There is also a travel agent within the hotel who will arrange all the tours you could ever want. We found them well priced, considering they’re part of a high end hotel, and the staff there were extremely helpful. It made arranging tours super easy, you could just pop in at your convenience and arrange something for the next day – and ask all the stupid questions that Google can’t help you with (like what do I wear on a sunrise temple tour?!).

Not so good things ¦¦ There weren’t a heap of restaurants that you could walk to in the locale. However the in house restaurant was very good, and not stupidly priced (by Western standards, anyway). The pool area got a bit busy sometimes… I guess? Honestly there weren’t too many down sides to this hotel. It’s a lovely place.

Would I return? ¦¦ I’m not sure I’d want to return to Jogjakarta itself, as I found the place a bit challenging. More on that another time. However I thought the hotel was brilliant and if we ever did make it back to Jogja, I’d definitely stay at the Phoenix.

Lombok: Qunci Villas

For the Relaxing portion of our trip, we ventured to the island of Lombok and stayed in a proper resorty resort in Senggigi. This place was the real deal and is probably one of the fanciest places I’ve ever stayed. We had no points on this one, but as it was the only hotel we paid any significant money for, we were happy to go for a bit of a splurge. We stayed here for 5 nights in total.

We stayed in a couple of different room types, including a garden view room, a pool villa and a one bedroom villa. I’m going to do a post on the resort and room types because honestly I just want you all to go there and I want to help you pick the perfect room.

We caught the night flight from Jogjakarta via Bali, and after checking in and dropping our bags in our room we went straight to the restaurant for a late dinner. I think the memory of walking into the restaurant on the beach, with the waves lit up and a firepit burning nearby will never leave me. I thought I’d wandered onto a film set.

In our three different accommodation options we had outdoor bathrooms:

A pool just to ourselves:

Our own lounging zone:

Our own en-suite Buddha – and greenery for dayyysss:

Sunset views to take your breath away – you can see the sun start to dip behind Mount Rinjani in Bali:

And frangipani trees everywhere that kindly dropped their flowers so I could make full use of them:

Good things ¦¦ Where do I start. The place was everything you think of when you think of luxury. Excellent service, friendly staff, three ocean front pools (!), a little beach, private and secluded rooms (I don’t think you could get a bad one), and that ocean view. I mean…

I ate excellently for breakfast every day – I think it was the best hotel breakfast I’ve ever had. It was a la carte but you could order as much as you wanted (and believe me I did). They had great gluten free options and I’ve vowed to try and recreate these Brazilian eggs myself.

Not so good things ¦¦ You were pretty resort bound; there wasn’t really anywhere to walk to for dinner. However, taxis were always waiting at the front of the property and there were plenty of places to eat in Senggigi so that wasn’t really a huge issue. This is a place you come to do serious relaxing, so if that’s not your thing then you might get a bit bored I guess. I don’t really have a bad word to say about the place.

Would I return? ¦¦ Definitely. I don’t think it’s somewhere I’d go regularly, as it’s a bit of a schlep to get there and obviously it’s a bit on the pricey side, but for pure relaxation I’ve never known anything like it.

I think Qunci is maybe my favourite hotel we’ve ever visited. Where’s yours?


Linking up with Van, Marcella, Lauren and Isabel for Wanderful Wednesday and with Mummy Travels and Wander Mum for City Tripping

Fancy visiting any of these places? Pin me for later:







Wait, what happened? I’ve been here two months already?!

This month I’ve been delighted to be able to go to Vivid at long last, taking multiple trips to see the lights wherever I could, I’ve been to a couple of films at Sydney Film Festival, and taken out a membership at Costco. It’s been all go. Here’s the nitty gritty…

The Good

We got a flat! ¦¦ It was looking tense for a minute there but I’m very happy to say we found a flat we both like, in an area we both like, and after an afternoon of deliberation we applied for it and found out we’d been approved the next day. I must say the education in Sydney real estate was fast and brutal, but there’s nothing like a steep learning curve to help you feel settled!

In the end we decided to go for a place in a more lively area, and accept that we’d need to stump up a bit more cash for it. If we only end up staying here for 18 months (#visaproblems yo) then I’d like to say we maximised our opportunities and lived somewhere where there’s stuff going on. Plus, the sunset views from our balcony are swoony.

We got stuff for our flat ¦¦ Flats here generally come furnished with nothing (notably no fridge or washing machine, although inexplicably for a hot country they usually have a dryer), and furniture and white goods are exPENsive here, even factory seconds or second hand stuff. We have been so lucky to have generous friends and family who have given us a sofa, shelving, a fridge and a washing machine – the latter two from people at church we’d never met before. How nice is that?!

Our stuff arrived! ¦¦ Yep, all 16 boxes of it. There were some mild shenanigans in the form of lift access fees (surely the presence of a lift is a good thing…?) and the fact our stuff was sat in a warehouse in Sydney for a good fortnight before they could be bothered to get their paperwork done and find a delivery driver, but no matter. What’s a couple of weeks after 2+ months without our things. Unpacking all our stuff really did feel like Christmas, and yes I had completely forgotten what we’d packed.

We already have visitors lined up ¦¦ I had thought that when we moved out here it would be crickets for a while, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. We’ve got my sister coming over from the UK in August and September, a friend of my husband at the end of September, my friend in November, and some more possible bookings next year. At this rate we’ll have to start listing our spare room on AirBnB! I’m really pleased folk have been so keen, I can’t wait to see them all.

I passed my skills assessment ¦¦ This is basically the first hurdle towards my permanent residency application. It was quite a significant hurdle so I’m very happy to have passed it! To celebrate, we went to a restaurant we discovered near us that serves South American food.

I had the most delicious gluten free empanadas and arepas, but I now have some important questions. Marcella and Lauren I’m looking at you here – what is a soursop? Or a lulo??

The cooler cabinet contained some other things I’m dying to try out, like a Colombian soup mix and some premade frozen empanadas. Yummmm.

I met some lovely internet friends ¦¦ So, my husband and I have been getting pretty sick of just hanging out with each other the whole time (the fact that both of us are currently working from home is NOT helping matters at ALL) and new friends are tricky to come by. So you can imagine how delighted I have been to be able to meet up with some readymade internet friends over the past few weeks. It’s been awesome. I’ve tried new food places and tried not to get lost in the crowds of Vivid with Sam, I’ve had Mexican with Erin and Kristen (plus special guest appearance from KC), and there was even a flying visit from a certain Kiwi.

It’s been so good to see friendly faces, and in the case of Erin and Kristen, to meet people I’ve internet-known for actual years yet have never met in person. I have more people besides to meet, and am now shamelessly putting myself out there. I figure at some point you just have to. So if you’re in Sydney (or Melbourne, I’ll be there for work soon), let’s go for a beverage!

The Bad

Some of our stuff got broken in transit ¦¦ Of course it wasn’t the stuff we weren’t bothered about, no. It was the prettiest and most useful of our plates, a serving dish I adored given to me by my grannie, and most of the wine glasses the other granny gave me. I’ve started the process to file a claim on the insurance, but obviously you can’t claim back sentimental value. Still, I tell myself it was a risk we had to take. What else could we do? Leaving it behind wouldn’t have achieved anything other than burden someone else.

Renting sucks ¦¦ Yeah I won’t go on about this much because I know I’m in a very privileged position. All I will say is that I had forgotten just how rubbish some agents can be. Ours is a piece of work – not only ineffectual, but also just makes stuff up to try and fob us off so she doesn’t have to do any work. She doesn’t really make any effort to hide it either.

We haven’t explored much ¦¦ This month we’ve been mainly focused on flat hunting, flat securing, finding and moving aforementioned furniture and appliances, shifting stuff around in general, making multiple trips to Kmart, waiting in for deliveries, etc etc. It’s been necessary but a little dull, if we’re honest.

We’ve tried to squeeze in some fun stuff around errands however, like this incredible view we caught from the top of a Westfield, of all places. Pro tip: Bondi Pizza in Bondi Junction has a balcony where you can enjoy this view with sunshine and pizza. What more could you ask for?!

I’m hoping we’ll get more time to explore next month. As I dropped in above, I’ll be in Melbourne for work in August so I’m hoping to see as much of the city as I can around working hours.

I haven’t blogged much ¦¦ I have been so worn out by the moving process that I just haven’t found the energy to sit down and write about things. I’ve got our whole pre-pat trip to recap, and I’ve got so much I want to write about, but it just hasn’t happened. I’m also struggling to figure out how to go about it – I bounce between wanting to just write a straight recap, to thinking that’s dull, to trying to be more creative and failing miserably. Arg.

The Ugly

In case you’re new to these updates, I’ve decided to share The Ugly side of things via email. That way, I can share a bit more honestly on things like work and personal matters that I don’t want searchable on t’internet. Seeing as you’re all my friends, I’d just feel a bit happier doing it this way.

So if you want to know The Ugly, just put your email address in the box and I’ll add you to the list. You’ll get mail from me 2-3 days after you see this post, just to give everyone a chance to sign up who wants to.

Have you ever met an internet friend IRL? And do you prefer to read about people’s trips in recap style (we did this, then we did this) or about individual activities? Or listicles? Or… not at all?!


Linking up with Kristen and Gretch for What’s New With You and with Van, Marcella, Lauren and Isabel for Wanderful Wednesday. 

Welcome to Part 5 of my ongoing series featuring real life stories and advice from living breathing expats. It’s a thinly disguised way for me to store up wisdom from others which I can use when I have an absolute freakout about what I’m embarking upon. I thought I should do the right thing and share it with the internet at large, just in case it helps anyone else out. Enjoy.

Today I’m sharing some wisdom from two of my favourite bloggers, Kelly and Sarah. Added bonus, they’re both gluten free like me so I know I can always ask them for food suggestions when I’m travelling and, chances are, one or other of them will have been to wherever it is I’m going.


First up we have Kelly, who is now a genuine IRL friend after she realised we lived just around the corner from each other in Bedford, that we both like gluten free cake, good chats, and visiting National Trust properties. Sometimes we do all three at once. I think this photo sums up our friendship quite well:

Why did you become an expat?

I’d spent 7 months travelling through Europe, the Middle East and Africa in 2003; when I got back to New Zealand I felt rather restless. I had changed as person especially after my overland trip through Africa however everything was the same so after two weeks at home, I booked a flight and applied for visa to move to the UK with the promise to my folks that I was only going to be in the UK for two years *coughs 13 years later*. I had met G while on my overland tour so I thought I would say hi when I arrived and my plan was to do more travelling through Europe while earning the pound (travelling on the Kiwi dollar when it was £1 = NZ$3 was the pits!).

What advice would you give to a brand new expat?

Don’t expect to be out of the red financially for a good year after your arrival in your new home; I think this is often overlooked and your savings are never going to be enough…setting up a new life is an expensive business and there will be expenses you weren’t aware of until you arrive…and let’s remember you will potentially need to reapply for another visa and they aren’t cheap!

You will want to explore your new home and take some holidays but remember you always need a savings account with money in it for a rainy day (rainy days happen A LOT when you’re an expat!)…do explore but remember to keep yourself within a budget for your first few months…look out for discount vouchers, make yourself a picnic instead of visiting fancy restaurants and plan adventures well in advance.


I’m disappointed I didn’t get to meet Sarah before I left the UK, because when you live in the UK Bedford to Devon seems like such a long way but when you live in Sydney suddenly it doesn’t seem so far any more! I love reading Sarah’s posts about life in the south west and the travels she gets up to. Her writing really is excellent.

Why did you become an expat?

I became an expat for a few reasons…I studied abroad in England when I was in college and fell in love…with the country and a guy. So when I eventually returned to the US to finish college, I knew I wanted to move back to the UK after graduation.

Actually getting back was more difficult… I initially tried to get a job, which I was flown to London to do final round interviews for, but although I got the job, they couldn’t sort out my visa sponsorship. So I ended up deciding on going to grad school in the UK (I had been applying for my Masters at the same time as applying for jobs). Currently I’m on a 28 month student visa, have fallen even more deeply in love with the country and its people but have no idea what I’ll end up doing when this visa expires! So,
I’m not a “permanent” expat but expat life is quite a transitory-feeling experience, regardless of your visa status, I think!

What advice would you give to a brand new expat?

I struggled a bit my second time moving to the UK because I felt so, so lonely. The first time I came here, I had the support of my American University and a bunch of my best friends on the same study abroad program. This time around, I was more familiar with the UK so there wasn’t as much culture shock, but I only knew a few people in the whole country and they were all… British. There’s definitely something to be said about building yourself a support network of people who either share your nationality, or are having a similar experience of expat life. I think that’s honestly why we see so many expat-themed blogs – people crave connection to people going through similar experiences!

I ended up joining an international student society and meeting people from all over the world, which made me feel so much better when all I wanted was to have someone commiserate with me over how dumb milky tea or baked beans with breakfast is 😉. [Note from Rachel: I hate milky tea and baked beans with anything, I so would have commiserated with you!]. 

So my advice would be to either join an expat group in your city, or just force yourself to do a lot of random things that are out of your comfort zone (I signed up for a dog sitting website, started playing squash, said yes to literally every invite to the pub, moved into a 7-person house). If you make yourself say YES to everything (for the first couple months at least) you’ll start to build your support network. It’s not sustainable behavior, but it’s a lot easier to meet new people when you first move somewhere.

Thank you again to Kelly and Sarah for sharing your advice with me. I’m pleased to report have been putting your advice into practice already!


I have decided that my favoured method of getting to get to know my new city better is going to be by trying as many gluten free afternoon teas as I can. Then, because I enjoy nothing more than applying a bit of analysis to daily life, I’ll score them from best to worst. Hopefully over time this will form a Gluten Free Afternoon Tea League of sorts, and then I can recommend to you all the best gluten free afternoon tea in Sydney. In my opinion.

I decided the best time to kick of proceedings would be to celebrate my birthday. So, the weekend just after I turned 31, we headed out to Park Hyatt to see how their offering measured up. Here’s what happened, and how they scored.


I’ll just leave this here, shall I?

Yes, this is the view we enjoyed from The Dining Room whilst eating our afternoon tea. You don’t get much more of a classic view of the Opera House than this.

And if you look the other way…

Not too shabby either.

Practicality wise, The Dining Room is all indoors so it’s perfect for cooler or wetter weather. If you were going in summer, it might be a shame to miss out on the weather, but I feel like so much of Sydney is geared to good weather that it’s actually quite good to find somewhere to go when it’s not great out. 10/10


The atmosphere was a bit buzzy but also quite laid back, and generally very pleasant. You could dress up or down and not feel out of place either way, which I liked. It wasn’t too noisy or too hushed, overall just right.

Unfortunately there were a couple of small things that didn’t impress me much. The first table we were shown to had lots of crumbs and hair still left on the bench seat, which given it was a cream leather seat should have been spotted and dealt with before we sat down. As it was I asked to move anyway, because despite having booked quite far in advance, we still weren’t given a seat near the window (apparently they’re allocated based on booking date). We did get moved to a table nearer the window, and it was actually clean, which for the price is really the bare minimum you’d expect if you ask me.

As for the decor, it was nice enough and nothing too in your face; understated minimalism. Nothing wrong with that, but if you’re after an Instagram paradise this isn’t the place for you. 5/10 mostly because of the crumbs and hair. Eew.


Service, honestly, was mixed. Some servers were excellent, checking on us and bringing anything we requested very quickly. On the other hand, we had to wait for our food and drink to arrive for a little while after being seated, which when you’ve pre-booked an allocated time slot doesn’t make much sense to me.

Also, the server who brought us our stands of food didn’t explain at all what anything was, leaving us to a lucky dip type situation. Of course, they’d whipped away the menus early on and my gluten free items were different to the normal menu anyway. Obviously this isn’t the worst thing in the world, but we saw others having their teas explained to them so I’d have hoped for consistency across the board. I’ve heard of others with complaints about service too, especially for those ordering teas with special dietary requirements. 5/10


There were some tea options, as you’d expect, a glass of fizz if you wanted, and for fussy people like me there was the option of hot or cold chocolate.

For the purposes of review I tried both. Here’s the cold:

and here’s the hot:

Whilst both were very good, I personally recommend the cold chocolate. It would have been nice to see some fruit juices on the menu but that’s a small quibble. 8.5/10


The tea was served on your classic three-tier stand, which (sidenote) was condensed and cleared away extremely efficiently.

On my three tier stand I had one plate of sandwiches, with two open sandwiches (one sliced tomato and avocado, one sliced tomato and mozzarella with pesto) and two traditional sandwiches (one smoked salmon, one cucumber).

The bread was great but the traditional sandwiches were a bit skimpy on the filling. These were essentially the only savoury items on the plate, and they were tiny, so I was still starving after inhaling them.

On the next tier I had two scones, which were the flattest scones I’ve ever seen that I didn’t make myself.

They were served with cream and strawberry jam; because I’m a heathen I asked for butter instead of cream and this was brought to me very swiftly. I was highly sceptical about the scones but they turned out to be delicious – see more below.

The final tier was the best, obviously, as it contained the cakes. I was really impressed at the look of the plate, even though I had no idea what anything was.

There was a chocolate brownie with a nutty topping (I’m not a big fan of nuts so tried my best to scrape off most of it, however would have appreciated a heads up). There was also a raspberry cube which turned out to be the most intricately layered of things, all raspberry flavour, all delicious.

Then there was a pistachio macaron, again I wish I’d been warned as pistachio is not my favourite (S had a passionfruit one, I was jealous) and the final cake was my favourite, an expertly done profiterole decorated with a beautiful white chocolate disc.

Whilst some of the cakes weren’t quite to my taste, you have to admire the skill and care that went in to putting together a plate of cakes this pretty.

In summary, I thought the quality of the food was excellent and I was very impressed at the effort the pastry chefs had gone to with the cakes in particular. I am marking it down from a 10 however because I wish there had been more of it – I did ask if I may have some more scones and they said I could, but I’d have to pay for it! The cheek. 7/10

And now I have a couple of specific tests that I will be judging each tea by:

Panna Cotta Quotient

Personally I think giving coeliacs panna cotta or variants thereof (crema catalana, crème caramel, crème brûlée) for afternoon tea is a bit of a cheat. One of the above is ok, but when you have a three-tier stand full entirely of set creams and maybe one fruit jelly while all your friends tuck into delicious looking cakes I start to feel a bit hard done by. So this test is for how many set cream desserts are included in the selection. In this case, there were zero! 10/10

Kelly’s Patented Scone Test

I’ve totally pinched this one from Kelly, I hope she doesn’t mind. Her benchmark of a good gluten free scone is:

  1. Easy to cut into: Nope. They were so thin it was an exercise in precision to bisect these skinny things.
  2. Don’t break a tooth: All my teeth are intact. The texture of these was just right.
  3. Yummy: These were delicious, with sugar crystals on top for those of us with a super sweet tooth (me). The flavour was excellent.

These scones would have passed with flying colours had they not been so flat! Also, I wanted more than two. Just saying. 8/10


This one is expensive at $61 per person. I’ve just noticed the list price is $55, so I’m not sure whether that’s ex tax or whether we were charged for a second round of drinks – which I think is a bit cheeky. The setting was pretty amazing but given we left feeling we could have eaten more, I’m not giving this a great score for value for money. 6/10.

Final score

59.5 / 80

Top tips

  • Park Hyatt is also a hotel, so if you felt so inclined you could book a room here to retreat to after your tea. The rooms look gorgeous and if it’s good enough for Pippa…
  • Book as far in advance as you can and stipulate you’d like a window seat, otherwise you may end up missing out on the iconic view
  • For more information see the Park Hyatt website, or email to book directly. Make sure to specify any dietary requirements – as well as gluten free they cater for nut free and dairy/soy free, and may well do more besides if you enquired
  • The serving size is not huge. This could either be a positive or a negative depending on your particular situation, but something to bear in mind
  • After your afternoon tea you are excellently placed to go for a nice stroll and pose for some photos in front of this iconic Opera House view:

Which I did alongside a couple having their wedding photos taken. I felt very underdressed.

Do you have any gluten free afternoon tea recommendations in Sydney? Any volunteers for co-testers?