A Travellerspoint blog

October 2008

The Short Bus

My experience with the Vietnam Open Bus Tour

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Dalat....I'm finally here!! For anyone thinking about taking the bus from Mui Ne to Dalat, I would caution you to find alternate options. I found the bus to be miserable. First, I expected a much larger bus and was herded into a 24 seater which was about the size of the 'short bus' at home that carries the handicaped children to school. It would have been much more fitting for about 12 people instead of 24. And of course, it was full!

I was terrified that I would over-sleep (although now I think that might have been a blessing), so I set my alarm for 0530 for an 0700 departure. I was ready and waiting outside at 0650 just in case. Craving a morning coffee, I opted not because I figured as soon as it was placed in front of me the bus would arrive. Ahhhh how wrong I was! So, packed and ready to go with my Lonely Planet in hand I sat....and waited....it's 0710...and waited...0715....craving some coffee....waiting...0730.....5 more minutes?.....0745....maybe I missed the bus....waiting....0800.....looking for the number for the tour company....0805....the bus finally arrives!!!

I'm quickly herded onto the bus with an empty seat beside me, thinking this must be my good karma, because the seat in front of me is so close that my knees barely fit. Next stop....my empty seat is taken, d#%n!

The girl that sat beside me was very nice, Lee (I'm sure I am butchering the spelling) from Singapore. She is on holiday for 17 days to travel to Halong. We shared some conversation before it got to loud to continue.

The Vietnamese man in the seat in front of me apparently thought that his comfort was paramount to anyone else's.. His window was wide open the entire way and although a little cool air would have been nice, by the end of the trip I felt like I had ridden 5 hours in the jeep from the day before, my hair slapping my face the entire way. Then just to make matters worse (remember my knees are tight against the seat in front of me), he decides to lie his seat all the way back. So suddenly out of nowhere....his head is slammed into my lap without warning! Now maybe it would be nice to have a mans head in my lap but come on!! This was ridiculous.... I managed this for about 10 seconds....took a deep breath so as not to say anything horribly not lady-like and tapped his shoulder and politely told him to remove his face from my chest!! He kindly obliged....with a horrible grimace my way.

The road to Dalat is not a smooth one. Between dodging huge holes in the road and the ox-carts carrying everything you can imagine, most of the trip was taken at about 10mph (or so it seemed). Except of course when we finally got into the mountains with no guard-rails then the speed seemed to increase as quickly as the elevation. Most of the time it was better to pretend to be asleep than to watch the passing scenery or the cliff that I was sure we were going to tumble down or send some unsuspecting moto-bike down as we took the hairpin turns on the WRONG side of the road!

There were a couple of stops along the way but I was careful not to wander far from the bus due to yesterday's display on the streets of Mui Ne. As we were having breakfast (lunch for me), some girl suddenly ran screaming at the top of her lungs chasing after a bus. We were certain that the bus had ran over a friend/companion of hers and she was hysterical. Come to find out it was her luggage. Somehow, the bus left her with her luggage still on board.

As we arrived in Dalat, I had planned to taxi to another hotel than the one that the bus dropped us at but I was way too tired to deal with finding a taxi and hoping that another hotel had vacancy. So here I am at a shit-hole guesthouse, The Trung Cang Hotel. Actually, it isn't really too bad. I have a double room that is HUGE, clean, with two beds, hot water (real hot water...the shower was wonderful), cable TV, mini-fridge and a window that wont close. Breakfast is free and there is wi-fi in my room! All for a mere $7/night!

So by this time, I am starving. Having only eaten a few grapes on the ride here (for fear that motion sickness would set in if there were anything on my stomach). I basically dropped my bags and tried to head out of the hotel. I checked in at the desk to drop my passport and let them know that I would only be staying one night The clerk at the desk brought out a tour paper and wanted to give me his sales speech....I quickly informed him that I was headed out to find something to eat and I would think about tours later. He did not appear happy but I didn't give him any other option.

Leaving the hotel, I attempted to find the town center and the market. Certain that there would be food to be found. True to form, I headed the complete wrong way!! I quickly figured out that I was not in the right place and turned myself the right way. Soon, I was approached by the well-known Easy Riders!

Already knowing that I plan to do the Easy Rider trip, I told him that I needed to eat and then I would talk with him. He directed me to a place in the market and I had a fabulous lunch/dinner. After, we discussed the options for my Easy Rider trip.

I have booked 7 days from Dalat to Hoi An (hopefully off of the tourist trial) at a price I am not planning to share. I have read many things about the Easy Rider trips and hope that I am as happy with my trip as others have been in the past. My itinerary travels through several small villages (with an optional home-stay) and includes Lak Lake, Buon Ma Thout, Pleiku, the old DMZ, Phouc Son and several others taking the scenic route to Hoi An. I'm very excited about the trip. We are leaving tomorrow morning after breakfast. We will tour around Dalat a little more (took a couple hours today) before leaving town for our journey. My driver is Stephane and he speaks fluent english, french and vietnamese. I rode around town today with him for a couple of hours and he seems a very capable driver. He states that he has been doing Easy Rider tours for 16 years....

Today, we toured the Truc Lam (Bamboo Forest) Zen Monastery, walked along the shore of the Tuyen Lam Lake (paradise lake according to my guide), and indulged in a tram ride (which was a little scary and I'm not fearful of heights). I was happy that he dropped me at most places and allowed me to explore for some time alone. He then joined me and explained some of the history/stories about the places that I saw. The Monastery was beautiful and actually a working Monastery. There is a huge bell in the garden and reportedly, it rings only at New Year. (something about placing family names on paper slips inside the bell for good luck or something like that...I really need to pay more attention). After, we shared a coffee at a pleasant coffee shop near the market and I am now relaxing at my hotel.

Planning to make it an early night, I am comfortable in my pj's here at the hotel. My body aches from the bike-riding, bus-jostling, and climate changes. It's nearly cold here at 67 degrees!

Life is good.....

It would seem that there are more people reading my blog than are subscribed. I would love to hear from those of you reading...please leave your comments!!

Posted by Khandilee 06:56 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

Brothers Grimm

....Fairy Springs and the Lake of Tears

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Yesterday felt like a page out of Grimm's fairy tales. Kim, Mike and I signed up for a jeep tour of the white and red sand dunes. Fortunately, the Fairy Springs were included, for me it was the highlight of the trip.

We started the tour with a wade through the Fairy Spring. I'm not sure of the origin of the name, but I'm most certain that there is some sort of magical tale behind it. I was quite leary of taking off my shoes and wading through unknown waters....who knows what might live in those waters. Fortunately, there were no incidents except for Mike scratching his leg pretty good on the rusty jeep! Hopefully he had his tetanus shots!!

The red rock formations were beautiful, the pictures do not do them justice. The red mixed in with the white in a multitude of formations is indescribable. It did remind me somewhat of the Red Rocks in Sedona, Arizona.

After the Fairy Spring, we took a 30km drive out to the Lake of Tears and the White Sand Dunes. I think the highlight of this part of the trip was the ponies cooling off in the water. The Lake of Tears has an interesting story that I only caught part of and wish I could find more information about...something about a man and a woman and I'm sure some sort of love story with a sad ending. The ride it's self was quite bumpy and uncomfortable (although I have to say that I did get the best seat in the middle). Poor Mike and Kim were on the edges where the seats were separated (not really sure how to explain it other than I am sure that it wasn't comfortable). I tried to swap places during the trip but they are both too damn stubborn....!!

Another 30km back and we got a glimpse of the red canyon. This looked stunning but the main entrance is apparently closed and the government (I think) is going to start charging admission at some point in the future (according to our driver...).

I think we were all simply beat from the bike ride the day before and the jeep ride out to the white dunes because when we got to the red dunes, none of us wanted to get out and walk up them!

Daily expenses (usd):

Hotel $10
Day Trip to Fairy Springs and Dunes $9
Coffee/Breakfast $2
Lunch $ ???
Dinner and drinks ~$5

Total for the day: $26 + lunch

Highlight: Fairy Spring
Annoyance: Taking my shoes off all the time! (Those that can wear flip flops/thongs don't know how easy they have it) :o(

Posted by Khandilee 06:27 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Biking to the Fishing Village

....sore backsides included!

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Today Kim, Mike and I moved to a different hotel in order to be closer to a beach that they can launch the kites from. Still no wind for them :o(

We took a great bike-ride today north to the fishing village. I'm not sure how far it actually is but I think Mike said that it's something like 6km ? The bikes are old and rickety but all three made it to the village and back without any issues. The traffic is a bit perilous at times, with the big buses and the multitude of moto-bikes, and an occasional cow, chicken, or goat. I just kept straight ahead trying to convince myself that 'they will see me and go around....I'm sure they see me and will go around...yes, they see me and will go around' yep, it went something like that in my mind. So...happy to report no fatalities, although I felt that there were a couple of close calls.

The weather again, was overcast and we got a little wet on the way back. It was a great work-out and I even got a little sun despite the clouds. My backside is a little sore from the rock-hard seats but overall, not in too bad shape. We stopped along the way for an iced coffee and a bite of lunch. Spring rolls for Mike and me and noodle soup for Kim. Yummy....

I have been craving a bit of chocolate but have been told that the chocolate here has some sort of additive to keep it from melting so it reportedly has an off taste and I guess I would rather have no chocolate than bad chocolate.

We took a great video today of our bike-ride. Mike mounted the camera to the handlebars of Kim's bike. It's a little wobbly but overall it's a very good representation of what the local area looks like. I will try to get it posted somehow soon, but I'm not sure when or how. If you look closely, I think you will see a bit of sweeping and sitting going on!

The fishing village really didn't amount to much other than the landing point was pretty cool with all the boats docked. I suppose that we should have gone in the early morning in order to see all the fishermen off-load the daily catch.

We walked down to the waters edge at the landing point and were met by 5 young girls selling stuff. I broke down and purchased some post cards for about $2 usd. The girls were ages 14-15 and they all looked so much younger than that. It's hard to tell the age of the locals here, they all look so much younger than they are. If I had to guess, I would have thought them to be around 8-9 instead of Trinity's age. I did manage to snap a couple of pictures. I find the young to be very pretty and the older women very 'worn' looking.

It's raining this afternoon, so we are resting inside and I am currently watching Harry Potter on HBO. whooo hoooo

Tomorrow, I am going to try to figure out the bus for Dalat and hopefully book a place to stay. Still working out all the details of my trip but hopefully it will go smoothly. I am a little hesitant to leave here with the security of Mike and Kim but I need to press on if I am going to see anything other than the beach.

Life is good....

Daily expenses (usd):

Hotel $10
Postcards $2
Breakfast $3.50
Lunch $1.90
Dinner and drinks $10

Total for the day: $27.40

(I am going to try to keep up with the cost more for myself than anything. Ignore it if you want)

Posted by Khandilee 07:56 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

The Vietnamese Diet

.....my aversion to the EGG!

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The culinary delights of Vietnam leave a little to be desired for me. I am trying but having a difficult time adjusting to the food here. Certainly no gourmet dishes for me. Although eating on a budget might be part of the problem, My food experiences so far have been less than desirable.

I think that I mentioned the 'snack' that we got on the bus on the way here to the beach....some sort of eggs and pork wrapped in a sweet dough? Ekkkkk! And my lunch in Saigon, when I really wanted rice and instead was served some sort of noodle soup (with eggs). I dont know what the deal is but I am afraid of the eggs. I think it goes back to my days at SF General and working with the
Philipinos there. There was one nurse, Armando who brought in this egg (a Phillipino delicacy) that had a fully formed chick inside....and he ATE it!!! So I am terrified of eating any eggs here for fear that I will chomp down and get a lovely wing or beak....

So yesterday morning at breakfast I ordered the banana pancakes. Sounds yummy, right? Not! The pancake was quite doughy and very greasy and although the banana's were good, there just wasn't anything to it. Kim got eggs and bean(s) and the eggs were all soupy and the bean (s) were covered in a bright red sauce that Kim stated tasted very tomato'y. Lunch yesterday consisted of some sort of grilled sandwich which was literally, cheese (not like our cheese) and tomato between two pieces of white bread and grilled in some sort of sandwich maker. Although it was tasty, it certainly wasn't on my list of foods to crave.

Last night's dinner was the exception. We had bbq fish (some wierd looking thing with bright blue on its skin) and rice and veggies! It was fabulous although I kept thinking that I wished Daddy were here so that he could have shown the locals how to fillet it!! Had to pick around all of the bones and it was a bit of work to be careful not to swallow any! Speaking of Daddy....you would be in heaven here. I was watching the fishermen yesterday and thought of you. I can just imagine you out there fishing all day in one of the round 'boats' and loving life! I will hope to post some pictures of the boats tomorrow. We are headed to the fishing village today, on bikes!

So back to the Vietnamese diet....

I think that I stand a very good chance of losing some weight during this trip. With the lack of food options and the extra excercise ie at Madam Cuc hotel we ended up on the 5th floor...which is more like the 8th floor...wish I had counted the steps.

Yesterday was a busy day....coffee and check in online, then off for a walk...a long walk on the beach. The water is smooth and calming, the sound of the waves makes you want to lie back with a fruity tropical drink and lounge away the afternoon. After our walk we took a quick dip in the South China Sea, which was as warm as bathwater. Before dinner Kim gave me my first lesson in yoga beside the pool. I loved it. Although there are several 'poses' that I cant even begin to do relative to a lack of flexibility...I can see that yoga would be a great work-out for the mind as well as the body. Kim copied the program to my sd card so that I can practice on my own. Yeah...thanks Kim!

We are changing hotels today. The original hotel is doing construction and they have woken us at 0700 for the last two days. Packing and moving this morning then off to the fishing village sometime today....

Life is good.....

Posted by Khandilee 21:37 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Better Days!

Arrived in Mue Ne and thoughts on Vietnam

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Arriving to Mui Ne via bus wasn't the horrible experience that I could have imagined. The ride was smooth (actually not, but I managed to sleep through most of it). We stopped about half-way for a break and I headed to the bathroom while Kim and Mike got some snacks. We ended up all trying some sort of pork wrapped in dough with tiny little eggs inside. It was an interesting flavor, I'll admit. None of us ended up eating them. I am terrified of eggs...but that's another story. We opted on the chips and peanut brittle instead.

Dinner at the hotel was ok, but I'll remember next time not to get the pork. It was pretty difficult to chew, but otherwise a decent meal. I was able to satisfy my craving for RICE, and Mike indulged with me. We shared a couple of beers and off to bed for me. I think that the jet-lag caught up with me. I slept nearly the entire 4-5hr bus ride then to bed early and here I am awake at 0700.

The coffee here is amazing! I bought myself some grounds and a coffee-maker (dont worry, it isn't near as large as my Cuisinart at home! It will actually fit into my backpack! I only need to find a way to make hot water and I will be in heaven with my own coffee in my room!

There is supposed to be wireless access here at the hotel restaurant, but the signal is so low this morning that I am typing this and going to post it later. Hopefully I wont lose this one.

So far, the beach is much more peaceful than Saigon. I was happy to see Saigon behind me as we drove out of town. I don't know that I am looking forward to returning on the end of my trip. It's my understanding that Hanoi is much the same as Saigon, but I will overlook that in anticipation of Halong Bay.

I'm not sure how long I will stay here at Mui Ne . Long enough for sure to see Kim and Mike do some kite-boarding! Kim seems a little worried that the month away will cause here to have lost all her new-found skill but I am confident that she will do fine. I'm really looking forward to watching them up close!

It's overcast here in Mui ne this morning. But the air is a little cooler and no rain...yet. When I woke this morning, I walked out on the balcony and the water is beautiful. The China Sea...I think? The fishing boats are all over and not surprisingly, it looks exactly like the many pictures that I saw when planning my trip. I took a few quick shots from the balcony but hope to get to the fishing village and get some close-up interactions with the local fishermen.

Just a few thoughts that I have noticed so far about the culture here:

There is a lot of sitting around! Everywhere you look, there are people (men in the majority), sitting around drinking coffee/tea/beer on these little plastic garden chairs. You know, the kind that you buy at Wal-Mart. Only, they use the kids chairs instead of the full size ones!
There is a lot of Sweeping going on. You can look far and you will find some Vietnamese woman or girl with a broom in her hand sweeping the steps, the sidewalk, or the road! It's a constant thing.
Uniforms. It would seem that every place of business has a dress code of sorts. Usually simply a shirt of the same color. While walking around Saigon, I noticed that the nail/hair salons have quite an interesting dress code that I am sure the men in America would enjoy. Tight skimpy shorts and top or short, tight dresses. I didn't get any pictures. (sorry Dad).
Moto-bikes, moto-bikes, and more moto-bikes!! Enough said...
Work ethic. It seems that although life is laid-back, there is a lot of work going on. Everyone seems to know what their job is and they appear to take it seriously. People seem content at working. I don't see the unhappiness that I find in America. Everyone seems to know the job that they need to do and go about it with a good attitude. And although I noted earlier that there is a lot of sitting around, there is also a lot of hard work going on.
Smoking. Being a smoker, I have of course noticed the smoking culture. It appears that most (if not all) of the men smoke. I have not yet seen one Vietnamese woman smoking. Smoking is allowed everywhere.

The last thing that I will comment on is the attitude toward women (so far). I have found that the Vietnamese men seem to have a much different attitude toward women than American men. I don't see men leering at the women, no matter how beautiful. The amount of respect toward women seems great. Although I will note that it seems that the women do all of the domestic chores and the men seem to have a lot more leisure time than the women. The dating/courting would seem to be quite different also. I have seen many couples siting idely at the park on benches enjoying time together. Simply sitting close, holding hands and enjoying each others company. It's very sweet to see.

I am going to leave you now and enjoy my iced Vietnamese coffee....life is good!

Posted by Khandilee 17:29 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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