Sunday, December 26, 2010

An old friend

This is one of those songs I discovered a long time ago. But it's one of those songs that still makes smile every time it comes on.

It's overall mood (not necessarily the wonderfully romantic lyrics) described my contented, mellow mood while traveling.


Friday, December 3, 2010


Danang is worse than Buon Ma Thout, which really wasn't bad, just difficult to navigate with all the jeering and solo tours being so high priced. I can see why they would be higher and all the distance trekking, travel, etc but they still seemed exorbitant to me.
Either way, here I am in Danang.
I got here shortly after 5pm and went right to sleep, waking up to the ever present needless noise at 9am. Must have completely crashed from the barely sleeping I do.
I am very excited to head toward the laid back reputation of Laos. I think after all the constant in your face touts from these two cities (and really all of Vietnam) I'm ready for some peace and even more so QUIET!
I'll do one full day here in Danang and probably one more in the city of Hue, then head to the Laos border from there-published as the easiest land border to cross into/from Vietnam.

Oh, just to throw this little tip out there. If you want to meet other travelers it's best to go out at night, like after 9pm. I'm usually winding down about that time. :)

(After visiting here and writing this I heard many people, locals and travelers alike say, "yeah, that's the last Vietnamese city and they hate everyone, even other Vietnamese, who aren't from their city.")

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I want my bubble back! Or: Jag vill ha min bubbla tillbaka

Today I am sick of being a tourist. I'm sick of being yelled at, followed, grabbed, dragged, pulled, and pushed. UGH! All of it!
All of this I'm sure has been heightened by the new city I'm in: Danang.
The German girl I met in Cambodia described Saigon very much the way I feel about Danang. Constant noise at stupid volumes. Insane traffic. Rude people and someone, multiple someones, always in your face.

I'm tired of "being rude" if for one minute I don't want to smile and play games or answer the plethora of questions meant to trap and ensnare me into dishonest games.

I don't want to be on display anymore. "My western ways" of space and quiet, and respect for other people's body (there have not been any inappropriate touching-I don't mean to imply that, but there is tugging, pulling, blocking one's way, and literal in-your-face confrontation of whining and pretend begging), wishes, requests is screaming out.

I ended up going to the movies just to get a much lowered level of volume. I saw Harry Potter 7.1. Funny when you go to a loud movie theater for some peace and quiet. I need some solice and it's no where to be found, even and especially at the hotel. SO LOUD. All. the. time. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!

*sigh* I found a cafe ran by the deaf :)....aaaaahhhh. Still loud but not as much. a bit of peace. It was fun to not have people constantly talking to was like a family there, that little group. And I did do a bit of eves-dropping to see how many of the signs I recognized. I was able to understand quite a bit of it, if not the details, at least the main topic. I will come back tomorrow if I'm still in town even though, like the rest of Vietnam, I don't love the bland food.

I've also taken to pretending I don't speak English :). It works some times believe it or not. A few speak French and will give that a try but if I do a Nordic (i.e. Swedish) or Germanic accent with gibberish talk, I can get a little less attention.

I'm ready for a little more Laos and lot less Vietnam.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Guys may want to stop reading now and skip this post all together.

So until recently. Let's say about the last 5-6mos I've legally had to be on birth control due to another medication I was taking.

Birth control is wonderful for lots of reasons. It makes your periods light, or in my case, less than half the normal duration of time and with almost no bother otherwise (to avoid the other details). It also takes away the oh so many pleasantries that come with a regular menstruation. Not really too many food cravings, immense appetite, bloating, downer in mood and rationality, maddening insomnia followed by debilitating fatigue, and worst of all -for me- a severe case of BLONDE,(seriously, I'm just stupid for about 2-3days), etc, etc.

(Guys if you're still reading, you really have NO IDEA how little control we have over ourselves during this time. We understand before and after that our actions are ludicrous and out of proportion, but we can't do anything about it. Cut us some slack, huh? We really do try; we just chemically have no control!)

That being said, my lot in life has been a delight compared to many others. But after 5-6 months of being on "the pill" and barely noticing them at all, can I just say one thing:


And mine haven't even ever been that bad. And I know the tells so well that I'm usually able to excuse them for what they are and very rarely have my world crash down on me. But MAN! Ugh, I used to put up with this all the time?!

So what's the good news about PMS-ing in a French-inspired town:

(cheese and spinach crepe)
If this is wrong, I don't want to be right!
Things really do taste better when you have a hypersensitivity to everything, including taste and flavor.
(chocolate truffle cake)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Buon Ma Thout....

If ever there was a place in S.E.A. that would be useful to have a travel buddy...
The city is modern, despite how far from everything it is. there's plenty of things to do here but most if it and far away, and requires a guide. A very expensive guide, which would be nice to split with someone. There doesn't seem to be a lot of traveler's, especially solo ones here. My hotel and the two major travel companies don't seem too forthcoming with information. I've had to drag snippets out of them but they have no interest in helping me book anything. And like I said, it's very expensive to do these excursions and the cost doubles if you are doing it on your own. Considering I still have quite some time to go here, I wasn't prepared to pay the high prices. Not to mention the men here are no the most pleasant, polite, helpful kind I've gotten to used to and taken for granted. They are brash and rude. They shout out and not in just a, "hey, it's a foreigner" sort of way. They do it to local girls too. They're crude and the attention is unflattering. I've also opted out of being stuck solo with a guide who may end up with the same attitude.

Had I not been so turned off by the new attitude/culture of this city with their lack of helpfulness and rudeness of males I may have got a motorbike and rode all around on my own.

I did go for a very long walk on day---
I just looked for a way out of the city until it turned into dirt roads and forest. It was quite nice.
I passed a Christian semitary. There plenty of people visiting, taking such good care of the graves, even sweeping the ground around them.

If I ever come back to Vietnam-who are we kidding-when I come back this will be a place to come with someone.
Almost no one here speaks English, and those who do speak English don't speak it well, but that actually makes it kind of fun. I ended up getting this delicious meal from a little shop by drawing pictures and acting it out with a few, rare friendly people. They had just as much fun as I did, I think :).

I did however have someone refuse to sell me mangoes today. THAT was devastating! I really wanted those mangoes. Yay, for friendly people who don't hate foreigners and tasty, tasty, street food.

By the third day I was able to finally pry some information concerning a nearby trek the national park without a guide and how to get there but by then I was-to my own discredit-burnt out on this city-and ready to bolt. So I booked a flight of that afternoon. (If I had waited until the next day to leave I wouldn't be able to leave until 1630 and didn't want to spend another full day here.) So quite impatiently and stupidly of me I skipped the National Park in order skip town.

I flew from Buon Ma Thout to Danang and ended up getting one of my favorite shots from the entire trip.

side note:
While chatting with a friend they other night she said, "it's not like you'll be back any time soon..." I was confused, and my thought was, "of course I will". It was then I realized that many people see this as a once in a lifetime thing. And this particular trip certainly was, but it's just the beginning of my travel, which I intend to continue through out my life. Yep. This was the first step that began my journey of the rest of my life filled with adventure and travel.

I'm So Cool

What's the coolest thing about in Southeast Asia?
Long, Blonde, Beautiful hair? Nope
Stunning, Sparkling, Magical, Blue Eyes? Nuh-uh
Pastey White with Freckles? Not at all

Although I have had a few people, mostly young children stare me down. It's funny because I'm the one who feels rude for looking away when people are staring. What's really odd is that they seem to forget that when they are staring directing into my eyes (which is why I feel rude looking away-cause then they can't see them) that I can see them in return, that I in fact can see them looking at me. That in order to not disturb their curiosity, I have to stare at them right back. And yes, I do get some attention for them and although blue eyes are rare in this area, they have been seen before. Nope. The coolest thing about me in Southeast Asia is...... camelbak. Yep. The attention that little bag gets when people watch me pour water into it they can't get enough. They want to examine, and many are bold enough to ask to try it out. It's kind of fun.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Solo

3 nights in Buon Ma Thout and oddly enough, Thanksgiving Day is my fist day alone so far this trip. I enjoyed scouring the market and shops for my Thanksgiving feast. This is what I came up with :

It was a quiet day, but only really stupid Christmas movies on. I was hoping for something fun and seasonal. I did catch up on a bit of sleep as my imagined Turkey coma set in. (Best I could do was KFC. If there is going to be a fast food restaurant around, it's going to be a KFC.)
but the view wasn't terrible.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Traveling Alone

Many people wonder what's it's like to travel by yourself, or more specifically by myself. Honestly, I haven't been alone much; like at all. I spent the very first night at the hotel airport by myself. Other than that I have either shared a room or was meeting someone early the next morning. So I guess it's more like I've been traveling with strangers than traveling alone. I've run into some pretty cool people too; people I would love to have as friends in my everyday life.

Of course they all happen to be the kind of people who will hop a plane to Asia all by themselves too, so we're already starting off on some pretty solid ground. :)

But to answer the question simply, skip the first verse of this song and you'll have the basics. Plus it's just a really cool song.

In about an hour I will part from my latest travel buddy and be on my own again, and really for the first time this trip...depending on who I meet along the way.

Many more blog entries to come, where you will be introduced to many of said friends. I just don't have time to type them out right now.

Buon Ma Thout by Bus

The bus ride was breath-takingly beautiful. Planted coffee fiends and every shade of green, all set in small, but plentiful and steep mountain peaks.

Every spare inch of yard was covered with drying coffee (I think that's what it was). I was passing through these small villages around sun set, which is when every one comes out and wraps them up in the tarps they are spread out on, into perfect neat little bundles.

Once it got dark, however, and I was still on the bus for several hours, I was really ready to be done with it all.

Sayonara Da Lat

Thanks to our wonderful hotel, our plans merely headed to a waterfall ended up as a gondola ride to meditation center (the first peaceful, calming pagoda/temple Ive been to thus far, as most of them have been tourist packed and quite geared toward tourists rather than reverent places). From there we hiked/walked to the waterfalls, with some unintentional detours :).

It was a cool little waterfall, which we had to go downhill to get to--that was interesting :)

I finally understand many a traveler's complaint about Vietnam's tendency to make something a tourist attraction by adding cartoon-like characters. There were some cheesy, plastic animals scattered about, obstructing the natural beauty of the falls. Worse yet, there was a man dressed up as a "cowboy" with his horse that people could pay to have their pictures taken with him. Totally out of place and pointless. Nature doesn't need to be hokey.

And my thought is that people who want to go see natural beauties are more interested in the nature than the cowboy and the plastic toys blocking the landscape.

We grabbed a cab and headed back to the hotel, ready to go our separate ways. I'm headed deeper in the highland to Buan Ma Thout, while Colin is headed coastal---I'll probably head that direction next week--to the city of Hoi An.

We split on good terms, having been good travel companions, and having become good friends. And we made it official on Facebook where will most likely randomly keep in touch, at least through the rest of our trip. He gave me a tighter-than-expected hug and waved as my bus drove off.

Nice kid. Best of luck to him in returning home to Ottawa in the winter after several months in S.E.A.

(Update-we really have kept in touch and really have exchanged pictures of the adventures we had. As I have with a few others I've met along the way.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Honey Moon City-Da Lat

A little story I heard from an expat (Austrailian, I think, but I could be making that up). He told me that while he was sitting at a table outside a cafe (the same one he is sitting at while telling me this story), he had overheard a conversation take place between a young American backpacker and the native Vietnamese waitress, in her late teens. The American had asked her if she enjoyed traveling. "Oh, very much!" she assured him.
"Where is your favorite place you've ever been?" the naive backpacker asked.
Sheepishly, the young waitress explained that she'd never been outside of the town she is currently in but that one day she hoped to go to Da Lat.

-The expat new what she was talking about. Da Lat, the honeymoon city. Every Vietnamese girl dreams of getting married and getting to travel to Da Lat for the honeymoon. But, of course, the backpacker did not.

"Dallas, huh? That sounds pretty cool. I've heard Dallas is a great place to visit."

"Oh, yes! I cannot wait to go. I hope I will get to go one day."

The expat said that he sat back and listened to these two young people from different worlds have a 10 minute conversation about two completely different cities.

And there you have it, an introduction to Da Lat. I didn't hear this story until after I had been there (if you keep close track of the time line-I heard this story in Hoi An, which was a short while after I visited Da Lat, itself).

Ladies and Gentleman: Da Lat (from my hotel window)

Today is Saturday, I guess :). I have no need for knowledge of days of the week. But today is a bus ride from Saigon to Da Lat, in the central highlands of Vietnam. The short trip from out hotel to the bus station was an adventure in itself. Our transportation set up via the bus company were moto taxis.

It's a good thing we didn't have suitcases!

I've said it before and I'll say it again: it's scary how comfortable I am on the back of a bike even with complete strangers...even more scary when you throw in the Saigon traffic.
We weaved in and out of traffic like drunken bumble bees, barely missing non-blinking pedestrians and nearly missing being completely smashed between buses and other vehicles. At one point I believe I had to jerk my leg up to my chest to avoid being crushed. But alas we made it safely to the bus station.

Colin, and I heard there was good rock climbing in Da Lat, which solidified as our next destination. We're on our way. The bus ride itself was beautiful, although nausea-inducing for a few fellow traveler.

Me on the bus. Look at the beautiful green in the background!

Mom was asleep, grandma had the baby and I had....goldfish cracker :). It wasn't long before I had the baby and we became fast friends.
Colin, who is still with me, was on his way to becoming fast friends with the baby as well. He turned into the biggest puddle with this little guy (about 10 mos old).
A short distance into the trip and grandma looked green. I instantly had the baby in my arms and grandma a bag in her hands.
Colin and I had sole custody of that little guy for the remainder of the trip. The best part, aside from watching Colin ooze lovings all over the baby, was that grandma's misery was lessened by us being perfectly good strangers with goldfish crackers, and willing to take a strangers baby a moments notice.
It seems pretty standard here that on buses you get a bottle of water, a wet wipe (aka "refreshing towel", and a barf bag. They don't go unused.

In your Lonely Planet Guide, there is a hotel listed in Da Lat: Peace Hotel. Cross it out. With permanent marker. We couldn't go up or down the stairs without the owners/workers of the hotel, literally obstructing our path, insisting that we buy something. We couldn't leave without being followed halfway down the streets without people crowding us trying to force a sale, right up in our faces. And forget about skipping a meal there and wanting to check out somewhere else. (We did anyway mostly because of the harassment.)
BUT if you're willing to spend a bit more, draw hearts and rainbows around "Dreams Hotel". There are two. We stayed in Dreams II. The rooms were spotless with great ammentiites and the staff were crazy helpful-when asked.
We were never once solicted for anything but if we asked for help or an opinion our plans were enhanced and all bookings take care of within mere minutes with excellent service.
Oh. And the breakfast! It was the reason I got up in the morning! A huge display of fresh fruits, fresh baguettes (yes, the ubiquitous baguette), made to order eggs, fresh Da Lat made yogurt! Endless supply of mangos! Mmmmmmm.....I love the breakfasts here. I'd devour mangos witha side of passion fruit, watermelon and pineaple with made to order eggs that I'd place on my fresh baguette with their version of cream cheese before heading for more mango. I don't even like mango in the states but here I have at least two a day.
Baguettes are ubiquitous here. I first noticed it in Cambodia, which was kept as a French "protectorate" province for about 40 years. (Don't check my facts too closely.) It seems the only thing they've left behind here is the baguette. It really is every wehre! And odd addition to ever asian meal. Your curry, your stir fry, rice, pho with, of course, a baguette on the side. It's rather odd. But there is it nonetheless.
Da Lat itself, with its "eternal spring" weather is werehe most of the French camped out during their occupation, so there are a few French bakeries. The artistry is beautiful. The pastries themselves, not so much.

Day 2 in Da Lat, Vietnam

Hiking again today, this time with guides. We hiked up Pinhatt mountain to a village area near the lake.

I wish I would have realized we could have camped there. It was beautiful!

I think you have to camp with a guide though and that can be pretty expensive. I had a big of a hard time with the rapid elevation change today. It wasn't nearly as high as yesterdays hike but we ascended much faster. Our guides were determined to get to the top.

Both out guides were college graduates. one had a degree in English and Eco tourism; he also teaches night classes in marketing at a the university. This seemed a little odd as neither one of them looked older than 17.
When we got to the resting point at the top I was all but assaulted by this little guy:

He loved having his picture taken and people here love handing over their babies. Probably doesn't help that encourage this kind of behavior :).

Later on that evening I did some lovely, solo street wandering and met up with Collin again for dinner. Bland food-that's what I think of when I think of Vietnam. Any flavor the food seems to have to me is added nearly entirely by red chilies. We tried the rock grill thing again at an attempt at some flavor-not as good. Colin's was good, he said-seafood style. Mine was pretty bad :). beef jerky, with fat. We tried to regain the gift of taste by finding some ice cream. But the one sure thing about Asia and it's "western food"---you never know how it's going to turn out-or even what it's going to come out looking like. Needless to say, "ice cream" was a bust. The pictures on the walls of the shop were deceiving, as is often the case. They didn't even have the items pictured on the walls listed on the menu.
Off to bed again to sleep. I haven't been sleeping well. I noted early on in this trip there is a constant LOUD noise. ALL. THE. TIME. The fans all squeak not so subtly, but you can't sleep without them because of the heat, and the noise they provide to drown out other noise, which they don't. Cars all hours of the night. And when I say people lay on their horns here constantly, it's not an exaggeration. They literally drive down the street constantly honking. At nothing. For no reason. I heard it rumor it's considered polite. I don't think it's very polite, especially when I'm trying to sleep.
That and I probably go to bed way earlier than the rest of the world.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

LangBiang Mountain (Da Lat, Vietnam)

Colin and I decided to go for a hike today to Langbiang Mountain. This story will be told mostly in pictures-which don't nearly do the beauty or the exertion of this hike justice.

It seems to have become a theme that every time Colin and I decide to do something (i.e rock climbing in Saigon turned into soaking wet clothes and smore making) it starts to rain.

So in keeping with tradition, just a few steps inside of the park, it starts to rain.

We bought little plastic sheaths and up we went. (halfway through the hike they were shredded so badly that we just stuffed them in our packs and hiked soaking wet.

To start, we followed a steep, paved road/path to the most popular summit of Langbiang.

Most people choose to take a jeep up to the top. We decided to do it on our own, despite the weather.

Oh but first I have to mention the "zebra" we ran into. At first we were both really confused. "Are there zebras in Southeast Asia?" Our confusion turns to laughter as when we get closer we see the our "zebra" is just one of the "semi-wide" horses someone has painted to look like a zebra.

That's pretty clever, and probably took some work! Apparently there are a few groups of horses that live in the area. I've heard them referred to as "semi-wild" horses as they don't belong to anyone and just live in the mountain of their own accord.

The hike was beautiful! Lush green, rolling hills/mountains, even with severely obscured viewing I lost my breathe a few times and just let my spirit soar!

Most of our hike was a in a pleasant, light rain. We even saw some of the semi-wild horses along the way, looking very mystical in the clouds we were hiking through.

As we neared the summit it began to pour, really clouding up our view. Once at the top we had some warm drinks (restaurant closed due to no one else being crazy enough to summit in the weather to see a view that is completely white-washed out). and played with a kitten.

We used the same goldfish to make friends with this kitten as we used on the bus to make friends with the baby. There you have it: goldfish=friends.

On our way back down we noticed another trail.... :) unpaved. Knowing we were running out of time and with the weather being terrible and most likely having to come back in the dark of night, we smiled at each other and started down the trail, or should I say UP. This isn't something I'd be stupid enough to do on my own but having a second willing traveler does open up some avenues for more adventurous undertakings.
The hike was wicked awesome! the would-be trail was quickly flooded out and we found ourselves tramping through an instantly formed creek several inches deep.

The peak in the distance behind me is the eventual summit.
The muddy brown clay started pouring from the mountain sides. It's a wonder how there is anything left of the mountain at all after that rainstorm, let alone after a full season of rains like that year after year. Up and up we go. Straight up sometimes. Many sections of this hike even felt very much like rock climbing. :D HEE! Instead of actual rocks, though, I was grasping roots and creating my own holds in the slick, soft red-brown clay. Mmmmm....I LOVED IT! The climb was straight vertical on my than one occasion.

I slipped only on one of these occasions.

Colin calls this picture "photography before chivalry". He did try to help me up afterward, but some things are just easier on you own. :)

We pushed our way through the thick jungle-forest, against the rushing water that had completely flooded the trail

and then FINALLY....the SUMMIT!

It was much much further away and much much higher than anticipated, but the journey itself was worth the trip. Even if the view from the top looked like this:

Completely whited out from the storm.

Sure enough, by the time we got back to where the the original break off from the paved trail was (a little over half way to the top of the first, paved summit) it was black outside. dark. dark. dark. With my poor night vision and Colin's glasses completely fogged up we laughed all the more and continued down the steep slope to the bottom. Finally at the bottom, we realized that there was no more transportation for the night and all the few shops at the entrance were closed. Fortunately for us, a small family was gathered around their television and hunkering down for the night (many of them live in or above their businesses). I'm sure we're not the first idiot travelers they've run into, but you wouldn't know it with how kind they were. They called a cab for us, which had to come all the way from town (about 20 min away) and were sweet enough to bring us some warm tea, which was very much appreciated as I was a popsicle by this time.

I don't do cold well at all and although this was Thailand I had spent the last 7 hours in hiking in a rainstorm that had turned cool toward the evening and now it was night and I was no longer moving. I was COLD! Colin was appropriately concerned and filled our "in-room spa", which was more like an oversized bathtub, when we got back to our awesome hotel and made me get in (in my swimsuit of course) while he prepared a delightful meal of left over chocolate and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was already half way through my sandwich when he got in his skivvies as well and smashed into the warm water. We laughed uncontrollably for a few minutes while we tried to adjust in the tiny tub and just got used to the others feet in our space. We only had about 4 inches of water when the hot water started to run out so we took turns getting to be waste deep while the other one's legs were barely covered. Of course, becaue he has a good mother, and I was freezing and am defenseless against the cold, I got the first real shower. I think we both slept pretty well that night and woke up to that once again magical spread of deliciousness that is breakfast at this hotel. Yes, I'd say this trip is going quite well. Thank you all for your prayers and well wishes.