An American in Australia (What to See in Sydney)

This past winter in 2020, I excitedly boarded the plane to Sydney, Australia. It was my first time going halfway around the world on the west side and the first time, that when I landed, I “lost” a day from traveling. I looked forward to summer in Australia and experiencing another country.

The ten-hour flight over the blue ocean and in the clouds drifted quickly as we slept on the plane. Just about an hour before landing, we’re woken up by the plane lights. Soon, the plane started dipping down into the Earth, and a harbor appeared. Sydney Airport was right by Botany Bay and skyscrapers reached toward the sky and spread farther than it did in Los Angeles the closer we got to it.

We took the train downtown soon after ordering from the Australian McDonald. They had these fries that was covered in some kind of brown barbecue sauce, and we thought it was poutine, but it wasn’t.

Downtown Sydney, Tram Station


My first impression of Sydney was that it was like LA, but with a European vibe and lots of good Asian food. Skyscrapers, tram, and their Asian town seemed endless… well, because it was right in downtown. After dropping off our things in our hostel, we went to Haymarket where our friend showed us a Thai restaurant that had a huge menu.

We kept looking at the menu and finally settled on various dishes that looked good. The food was presented like art and were in good portions. It wasn’t like anything I have tasted. It was pleasant with a variety of sauce, and the warm curry and savory meat were fulfilling. It’s the right taste of tasteful without being too overpowering.


We topped it off with a coconut ice cream from a Thai place around the block, Mango Coco Thai Dessert Cafe. It came with glazed syrup, jelly, and coconut jelly with golden flecks… that’s when you know it’s fancy.

I have never had it in LA and if it was in LA, I’m sure I’ve had heard of it. The other dessert was even more unique… it was like a giant square ravioli of mango and sweetness with cream, and decorated with flowers. All this was about eight or nine US dollars for three people.

Best Coconut Bingsu

That night, we wandered onto the road with the three green and red tower archway and two stone lions that symbolize Chinatown. Most things were closed so we continued our way to Darling Harbor.

Darling Harbor

Art and music was everywhere. There was a round building that looked like coils and was lit up, and inside was filled with confetti hanging from the ceiling. Under the bridge it was blue with golden options that looked like shapes of fish and on the bottom were seats made of stones that looked like wood. One of the buildings played piano music as we walked. Everywhere, lights of different colors shone. It was like the rainbow we saw when we exited the airport.

The Opera House, Botanical Garden, Ferries (Manly Beach), and Sushi

The next couple of days, we saw more art, flowers on the road, sculptures, and ate more Asian food. Sushi was everywhere in every market place, and definitely on the dock, as common as fish and chips.

Though it rained, we still made it to the famous Opera House, where everyone was taking photos and the Botanical Garden, where you can relax in a garden full of colorful flowers and trees and see the ocean. Here, I was looking to see some exotic animals and I saw several different birds.

We also ended up going to Manly Beach by ferry, a quiet beach town that was a little more British. We bought a whole fish and chips combo there with prawns and calamari, but we didn’t have time to wander on the fine sand as much after hiking in North Head and seeing Australian wild birds and vegetation. The fish and chips combo was at the Ivanhoe Hotel, and they cook it right in front of you.

Seafood from Fish Market

Sydney Fish Market

On the third day, we got a taste of some seafood at the Fish Market. What’s a trip to Sydney without seafood everyday? We ordered a large coffee that morning but it came out to be US size small… Are US sizes really that big? My Californian coleslaw was tiny compared to Arkansas’. A small handful compared to a huge bowl, but I didn’t expect Australia’s small cup to be my large cup. I guess you really don’t realize how big American portions are until you travel abroad!

Bondi Beach

Later in the afternoon, my brother took a flight back and I continued on the rest of my Australia journey alone. First, I ended the evening with Bondi Beach, and I end up meeting an Australian who helped me take my photo and offered to grab drinks afterwards. This would be interesting, I thought.

Bondi Beach has the view of Italy on one side, a rock and waterfall on one side, and infinity pools that connect to the sea. Later that night, on the balcony of a fancy bar, the clouds grew dark and long lighting bolts etched the dark sky again and again.

Talking to Australians

“You don’t really have an accent,” he said.

On my lat day in Sydney, an Australian in Sydney noted my lack of a (distinct) accent. It was the opposite of how some Americans would have no qualm about saying, “I hear an accent. Where are you from?” though I rarely get that too.

I couldn’t tell if its because I magically softened my accent or if it’s because I can be soft spoken–naturally quieter, maybe slurring my words and never really pushed it with the consonants and the “r”s and the nasally, coarse, precise pronunciation.. avoiding American phrases and without any stereotypical American accents from specific areas (valley girl, southern, Boston…) or maybe the combination of all and being from one metropolitan area to another metropolitan area, and most metropolitan speakers sound pretty generic and are understood by many. Or maybe, in the last five days, I have adjusted.

He didn’t really have an accent either. Maybe his voice sounded slightly different if you listened very, very closely.

By that I meant he didn’t have the strong Australian accent that people know so well… maybe his voice sounds slightly different if you listened very, very closely, but on the whole, it sounds generic and indistinguishable.

He has also been to the US, so that probably explained why he also dressed in a pretty American style too. Of course, he wanted to appear like that too.

Aussie Shepherd’s Pie

Driving on the Wrong Side

He was more my age and a better company for me, so we went to a brunch place so he can grab breakfast and I can try Australian shepherd’s pie before we head out. I am usually wary of trusting people too soon, but he seemed nice so I invited him along. I tried to convince my new Australian friend to see Bondi, but Bondi is a popular beach and it’s hard to find parking, so we decided on another place near Bondi.

“Let’s go,” he said as he unlocked his grey sedan. Excited, I open the door and found the steering wheel in front of me!

Like a typical American, I had opened the wrong door when I knew better. I forgot about what I’ve learned and instinct overtook me. I looked back at him and laughed.

“Yeah, the passenger seat is on the left,” he said, smirking.

I wanted to try driving in Australia, but he had a stick shift car and they drive on the left side.

Gordons Bay

We made our way towards Bondi but a bit south of the beach. Gordons Bay is in a nice neighborhood with rolling hills. We parked in the neighborhood and made our way down towards the beach.

On the left side of the trail down you can see the gorgeous bay. It’s extremely rocky, and we must have missed the main entrance so we took the trail to Clovelly Beach first.

Clovelly Beach is not your typical beach. It has sidewalks and walls of concrete on both sides and a swimming pool right next to the body of sea water.

No one was at the sandy shore where the waves were small, allowing seaweed and debris to wash up and stay. Instead, they were deeper in the ocean where the body of water that went inland, like a narrow bay, was calm and smooth. It was the perfect place to swim laps, and it looked decently deep, at least five feet around the rocky edge and maybe ten or twenty in the middle. I’d swim but earlier in Melbourne, I got a scratch my ankle and wanted to avoid infection.

Like a Figure 8 Pool

The rocky shore across from the pool and the ocean water had many indents in them, like holes, and many of them were filled with water and small snails. Some of these holes were as big as one of the Instagram-famous Australian Figure 8 pool that gained attention from millennials swimming in it during low tide. I went near one of these pools and took a photo like I was at the Figure 8 pool.

I really wished I could’ve seen the Figure 8 pool, but it was located deep in the national park. The trail includes hopping on slippery rocks and is about three hours long. The pool is only accessible during low tide, and weather conditions could change any time. It was recommended that people traveled in groups or by tour, and that they dedicate a whole day.

I had only six hours at most if I arrived at 8 AM by train. When I arrived at the train station in Melbourne, the sign said my ride was relocated to the coach section. The coach section?

Last Day

My brother knew what happened the day before and he could’ve told me but he didn’t. Because telling the truth might worry people. If only there was a way.

The train from Melbourne to Sydney rushed above speed recommendation, trying to catch up lost time when it derailed. A few lives were lost including the train conductor. My train derailed. I shuddered. I could’ve been on that train!

With that unfortunate turn of events, setting a strict plan was almost impossible. Going to the Figure 8 pool wasn’t a good option for me, so I had to choose between Gordons Bay and Bondi. That way, I didn’t need to worry about the tides or renting a car or taking a bus and backpacking on slippery rocks with all my stuff for three hours.

Cockatoo Island

Since I arrived early, I took a ferry to use up my public transportation currency. Cockatoo Island is less than a twenty minutes ferry ride and is great for a picnic area and the ferry has an amazing view of Sydney.

It was a small island with a dock on one side, a camping ground, a high cliff with a tunnel to the other side, which had a restaurant and factories.

It’s a a historical site that was used for boats and many of the old buildings remained. I ran up this cliff to a plumeria tree to find more old buildings. Across the top of the island sits a fancy, two-story mansion where the owners reside. Behind this house are flights of stairs down to the other side of the island. After two hours on the island, I boarded the ferry back to Sydney.

The Cliff

So this was how hours later, I was on the other side of Sydney and sitting on the edge of a protruding rock, swinging my legs. Cockatoo Island seems farther than it was, and by miles, Gordon Bay wasn’t too far either. It just seemed far because the scenery changed so quickly.

The rocky side of Gordons Bay was full of boulders and this cliff that protruded out into the ocean. The weather was warm with a breeze and not too cold or hot, and the view was peaceful. It’s relaxing here.

I’d stay longer if I could. Everyone in the hostel wondered why I was only in Australia for a few days. That evening, I bought sushi and tried a little bit of Australian delicacy from the airport (meat is meat, I guess) before flying out.

True, six days is not enough. I didn’t see any living kangaroos, but I’m amazed and thankful for the sample of Sydney during three of those days. In many ways, Sydney is similar to the United States, but I no longer saw it as a giant desert island, but a blooming metropolitan with good food everywhere and many beautiful, relaxing beaches.

Let us know your favorite places in Sydney or Australia in the comments below! I hope to share more about Australian food and beaches in the next few post!

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