from monsoon to paradise.
31.10.2010 - 08.11.2010 20 °C
31st of october until the 10th of november:
Today I went to Da Lat. A village in the mountains. Actually a very annoying ride. In 5 minutes, the claxon is used more than I have used it in all my driving career. It's insane. And everyone does it. Noise polution I would say. In the late evening I arrived in Da Lat. A very nice mountain village with French influence. I checked in in a very very good hotel. The price was 150.000 Dong. 6 euro for one night. Hot shower, big room, 2 beds, WIFI internet and television.
The next day I explored Da Lat a bit and soon found out that nearly all the surrounding area was flooded. It was not possible to do mountain climbing, kayaking, canyoning and most other sports, due to heavy rain and mud. It was possible to hike though.
The next morning at 8 am I was picked up to go for a hike. There was also a woman from the USA, who lived in Saigon and a women from Singapore, who lived in Australia. The hike was absolutely incredible. But far from save, as we found out later.
The road was very slippery, and mud washed away a lot of the pahtway. Sometimes we had to climb up the hill, but due to the rolling mud, slipped away and fell. Until around noon all of us were doing pretty good. We crossed the river twice and just before the second bridge, we headed trough the coffee fields. The result was a very wet shirt. We walked trough ankle high water, with wet shoes as a result. And it started raining, with yes, a fully wet body. Nevertheless the hike was beautifull. Trough the rolling mountains, and the gushing river that was not blue, but dark brown, due to mud it was taking away. The current was very strong. If you would fall in this water, you would be washed away and crashed on the rocks. Luckily the first bridge hold. It didn't look too strong. I was not so afraid, but did realise that the quality of the brigde was very poor. Just before the next bridge, we catched up with another hiking group. One of the older guys there was a civil engineer and could tell that the wires were from a very bad quality. Also, some of the woodwork already collapsed and the woodwork that was left, was rotting away. Imagine wooden plates on three bad quality wires, wrapped around a tree on each side of the river. The total bridge was around 50 metres long and 15 metres above the gushing river.
Nevertheless, we went. I even made a movie.
During the walk, we saw some dogs. Everytime I was petting the dogs, the tourguid would say 'soup dog'. Yes, people here eat dog. At first, that sounds cruel, but then later, realise that we eat chicken, cow and other animals.But the way they kiss the dog is cruel. Tie a bag around the head and then put water over it. So it feels like a drowning dead. Just a few days ago I learned that the US marines did that with the Vietcong. And it was described as inhuman. So my question then is 'Why is it ok to kill the dog like this?'. Again, I have no problems with people eating dog. A Hindu would say 'how could you eat cow?'. But treat it with respect.
After crossing the river, we climbed up a mountain. Sometimes with hands and feet. On top of the mountain, we had an outstanding lunch. (no dog).We walked trough a grassland, were in the 1950s there were still tigers. Probably the Vietnamese have eaten all of them by now. The tourguide teached us how to shoot a piece of a plant about 20 metres in the air. That was really cool.
We reached a hilltop and went down. It was a bit slippery. After a while, I was ahead of the group and waited, sitting on a pumpkin for the rest. It took about 10 minutes for them to catch up. Something happened. The USA/Saigon women had fallen and, later, turned out to have broken her wrist. Very sad. It even was her birthday today.
The next days I hung out in Da Lat. Since almost all tours were cancelled, and the bus to diving paradise Nha Trang didn't go, it was best, just to sit back and relax. Nha Trang was flooded. Same for Hué, Vinh and some more places. The busses didn't go.
The older Scottish guy that was civil engineer went for a mountainbike tour and asked me if I was interested too. After the walk, I told him that I didn't feel save in doing so.
The next evening, I met up with him in backpacker hangout place 'the Peace hotel'. They went for mountainbiking and when they walked with the bike over a bridge, the woodwork collapsed. This guy fell down 5 metres in the mud. He was very lucky that it was not on the rocks and that his backpack absorbed most of the shock. A vietnamese guy ran out of a house and told the tourguide that he kept on asking the local government to fix the brigde. This year two people already died falling of this bridge in the river.
The next few days in Da Lat were a bit boring. Nothing to do. No way of getting out of the village. So I hang out in the 'Peace hotel' were food was also served. Good food . This famous hotel next to the “Easy Rider club'. Easy riders are guys on motorbikes, or motors, that show you around the village. Sometimes very usefull or fun to go with. Sometimes very annoying. Like taxi drivers. You sometimes need them. Most of the time they are annoying. But then, they need to make money to have food and drinks, so, well, ok.
The next few days, everyone found its way out of the stormy, rainy Da Lat. Most people flew either to Hanoi, or Saigon. By now, I had a cold for a few days. Since I only had one jeans, that was still wet, and one pair of shoes, that were still wet, it was very difficult to feel healthy again. First, I walked with shorts and flipflops trough the city, although it was really cold. Ok,Vietnamese overdid it with winterjackets, shawls and handgloves, but yes, it was cold. So I ended up buying an extra jeans. My shoes, luckily, were dry by now.
I found a flight with Vietnam airlines. And the 9th of november, I flew Da Lat to Da Nang. Unfortunately I had to skip Nha Trang. The famous diving paradise and I didn't enjoy Da Lat to it's fullest. I still woud say that Da Lat is a beautifull place. But the weather just didn't let me enjoy it. So after spending a few days n my hotel room, playing computer games and watcing documentairies, I was happy to say goodbye to Da Lat.
Vietnam Airlines brought me conveniently into Da Nang with a propellor airplane. The first time in my life in a prop plane. It was very interesting. And I have to say, they look much more cool than the modern place. But certainly, there is a reason why they are getting out of use. Not efficient, or not save? The father of Lud can tell me the real reason
At least I landed savely in Da Nang
In the airplane, I had to switch places with an older lady. So I got a seat next to the emergency exit. And guess who was sitting there? The Scottish guy, the engineer. I had some nice chats with him and we were guite certain that after, somewhere, by accident we would meet up again.
He made his way to a hotel in Hoi An. I went to the city of Da Nang.
Once into Da Nang, I shared a taxi with some locals and ended up in Da Nang city. A fairly old and boring city. In the evening, I was looking for a hotel, but this annoying motortaxi driver kept on following me 'motorbike?' .Hotel? Cheap cheap. At first, I was polite. After, I just ignored him. It's allright if he asks, and accepts my 'no kam án'. But it is very annoying if, when I am close to a hotel, runs in the hotel. I know he will talk to the reception and tells them that he brought a guest. He will get a commission for that. And guess who is paying extra for that?
So, it took me a while to find a hotel. Surprisingly, the hotels are pretty expensive here. Then another motorbike taxi showed up. I tried to play it different this time. He asked whether I need a ride or hotel. Yes, a hotel, for maximum 150.000 dong. He brought me to a hotel. Not the best one, but it was very reasonable. And I have to admit that after having amazingly good hotels for 6 euro a night, I might get a bit spoiled by now. I checked in and this motor guy was still there. Before I went up, he asked whether I want to go to Hoi An tomorrow. Hoi An was the reason to get here. A beautifull UNESCO world heritage village. He offered it for 150.000. I laughed. No kam án. Ok, 100.000. Well, I will think about it. I knew I would just go with the bus for 20.000. But after checking in in the hotel, he was still there. Obviously waiting for a commission of tip. I ignored him. I told him I wanted to pay maximum 150.000. And I just paid 150.000. So it was up to him to get his commission from the hotel, which, I am certain, he did get.
The next day, I checked out Da Nang a bit and met Truc. Truc is a Vietnames guy, living in Australia. With him I went to a poolcafé. His mother still lives in Vietnam and they were intending to buy the hotel. It was for sale.
The next day I went to Hoi An with the bus. The village is beautifull. Despite the fact that it was raining, and the street next to the river is flooded, it is still possible to make beautifull pictures. And, it is kind of funny to have pictures of people with 7 different colours of raincoat, in a half flooded street. Everywhere in Hoi An, people sell beautifull suits. It looked as very professional cut custom made clothing. I didnt buy. But I think India will be a good place to buy some nice suits.
That evening, I had a game of pool with Trúc and his girlfriend.
The next day, during the afternoon, I left to go to Hué. A famous city too. There is a palace of a previous president. I had lunch with Trúc and had a quick ride to Hué. Here, I checked in to a nice hotel and found one that offered 200.000 a night. I said I would stay 2 nights if he could make the price 300.000 all together. He agreed. The hotel had even a bad tub! Yes!
Here I found a restaurant, L'aubergine'. Where I went to very often. The food was very good and I had some good conversations with Hóng, the owner. Actually, not owner, but investment partner. And cook, and manager etc etc. She has lived in France and had a house near Paris, and owned a shop near Saigon. We had some interesting talks about Europe and Vietnam. Surprisingly, she wants to live in Europe. She is doing very good for Vietnamese standards, but she doesn't like the attitude and pollution here. Once, she and her husband borrowed money to a friend and this friend never gave it back. Now this friends expects them to give her a job. Insane.
Another person used to work in the restaurant and Hóng and her husband gave her more money than the average wage. They want that people can also have some more than just the basics and try to give a bit back to the people. What happens? This girl is 'sick' 2 days a week, 2 months sraight. So she gets fired, and doesnt understand why. Right...
In Hué I checked out the palace. It is nice, but definitely not beautifull. And the state is very bad. They are renovating it now, but it might be a bit too late for that now. Also, I went with another investor of the restaurant on the motorbike to the old garden and graveyard of the wifes of the former king. That place is truly beautifull. When we went back, he didn't want to take any money. He was happy to show around his village.
From Hué I took another flight to Hanoi. Since it was impossible to get passed Vinh, due to the floodings, a flight was nescessary to get up north. Luckily, the prices of flights are very reasonable. Da Lat- Da Nang was around 50 euro. Hué- Hanoi was around 60 euro. This flight I was lucky again, since I got a seat next to the emergency exit. This time, I could stretch my legs to the maximum and even have some space in between me and the seat before me.
I arrived in Hanoi and it was already 23.00. Taxidrivers offered me to ride me for 250.000 to the city. I knew 200.000 was the normal price, but I tried my luck. I talked to other tourists to see whether we could share a taxi. But they already booked a hotel and got a ride. So I asked the driver, whether I could book in his hotel. But he didn't understand. Then, there was a minivan, almost ready to leave, for 40.000. Bringing me to Hanoi.
So, middle of the night, no idea where in Hanoi I am. I walked to the nearest hotel, which was about 2 km. During the ride I kept on looking to see where there were hotels. I was obviously not in the touristic centre. This hotel had a room for 25 euro a night. Thanks an bye. Thats way too much.
I walked and got a ride to the centre. Only, by now it was 1.00 am and literally everything was closed. Even hotels were locked and the light was out. Shit, were to go. I met the occasional rat and made a small movie. It is quite interesting to walk around in the capital with nigh no one on the streets.
After a while I found a hotel. It was 300.000. I settled for it. But it turned out to be full. The guy was very helpful, but all other hotels he called were booked too. So I went out and walked around. Some children helped me finding a hotel and I checked in. I was surprised, because by now it was 1.30 am and these 12/13 years old children were still awake.
I checked out of the hotel because I wanted to find a cheaper place. Because, by now, I knew were in the city I was, I took a motorride to the centre. It took about 15 minutes to reach there. And all the way we passed along the aread I had walked during the night. We ended up at a small lake, that I actually passed the last night. I realised that I had walked about 8 km total with my 20 kg of luggage last night. Wow!
I looked first for a tour to get to the Halong Bay.That's why I ended up here. I didn't want to go the the smokey city of Hanoi.
Also, I liked to go to Sapa. Sapa is famous for its beautifull mountains.
After booking the tour, I looked for a hotel. Most of them were full or when they had place, it was 25 US dollar. Shit, so apparently 300.000 dong was not too bad. Hanoi turns out to be pretty expensive. Despite being ugly and smokey.
I checked in to a nice hotel, were I negotiated the price from 20 to 16 US dollar. 320.000 dong. Checked out the surrounding area and went to the water puppet show (2 us dollars), which was really interesting. Just before the show started and I had found my seat, I talked to this American couple that were both over 70 years old. Still, they were travelling around and having fun. Wow! That should be our future bonita!
I went to bed early and got up early to take the bus to Halong bay. A 3 days tour with 1 night on the boat and 1 night in a hotel on Cat Ba Island. By then, I didn't even know how to pronounce Cat Ba. And I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I just went with the tour to see Halong bay. But, before booking, I did ask the girl that if I would like the island, I could stay longer and use my return ticket later. That was no problem at all.
The road to Halong City was bumpy. Arriving at Halong City all tourist got out and it took almost 2 hours to sort out who went in which boat. Very unprofessional and inefficient. Then we went on the boat and the view is amazing! It's absolutely fabulous and beautifull. That night we slept in the boat. I shared the room with the guide. But he wanted to sleep in the dining room. So I had my room alone .
The next morning we had some early kayaking and went to a floating city. Very interesting and beautifull.It took another 1 hour to split the group in the people who booked two nights and the people who booked 3 nights. So me, and some others had to change boats. Stupid and inefficient. On Halong City they asked everyone for the type of tour, but inefficient as they are, put a mix of the people on one boat. So half the people had to change boat..
Then, we arrived to beautifull Cat Ba island. After a walk in the 'national park' with 60 other tourists on one trail, we went with the bus to Cat Ba city and checked in to a hotel. I shared my room with an Austrian guy.
I went to the beach with him. But he was a bit strange though. Already when I had to change boats and came on the deck, all seats were taken, except for one. So I went there and read my book. There was one pair of jeans on it and went I wanted to lay in the sun, I asked, whether it was his. Yes, as is the seat. It was a very strange response. He became annoyed and I didn't want to make a problem. He became a bit more annoyed and I remember the exact line I gave (later some people told me my response was very good). Relax man, you're in a world heritage site. I went to the end of the boat and started making some pictures. A german guy came and I had a chat with him. He, by himself, said that this Austrian guy was a bit strange. He was laying next to the seat of this guy, on the wooden floor.
Later, I went with this guy to the front side of the deck. His girlfriend was there too. It turned out that this Austrian guy was already gone for over an hour, but did occupy the seat.
So, back to the story. This guy asked me to go to the beach. And since he was trying to be nice (I think he realised our bad start), I agreed. We took a boat and went to the beach. There, we had some soccer with locals. But really, here something really strange happened. This guy his swimming short would fall down half on his ass. And he knew and kept on playing. The locals laughed. Later, he started throwing mud at the girls (16/17 years). And he himself was probably about 35 years. He threw mud, or picked them up and put them in the sea. In holland people would call him pedophile. Anyway, he offered me a drink, which I refused. I tried to avoid him as much as possible now. In the evening, when I went to the hotel, I met some people talking and I joined the conversation. A couple from (I forgot) and a guy from India. We had some great conversations and the guy from India, Amit, had some amazing story about his youth in India. After some long and hilarious talks, I went to my hotel and I was very happy to see this Austrian guy asleep. The next morning he left and even gave his number, which went in the bin very guickly after he left.
I met up with Amit, who checked in to another hotel and also decided to stay a bit longer. On the beach we chilled out. Finally sun! No more cold, rain, clouds. Pure sunlight, very little number of rushy scooters, and a beautifull island in the Halong bay. Paradise! Actually paradise 2, because Koh Tao is still paradise 1. I would say the views of Cat Ba are more beautifull. But then, the underwater world of Koh Tao makes up for that. And the food on Koh Tao is a little better than on Cat Ba.
During our conversation I mentioned that I was in Egypt and I bought some souvenirs, among which, a chess set. Amit was very excited to hear this, and invited me for a game. Later that evening we found a good retaurant (and believe me, restaurants in Vietnam are not always good), and had a game of chess. A lot of people stopped and watched. We were very evenly matched. Amit won in the end. A great game.
I could get along very well with Amit and we decided to stay some extra nights on the island. The next morning we would rent a motorbike and explore the island. When having a beer next to the sea, a dutch girl invited herself (very Dutch, but I like the pro-activeness of that) in our conversation. Amit was talking about his youth in India. Here some absolutely great stories. Everyone that wants to hear the real story, the way he tells it, should meet Amit.
When Amit was younger, he went with a friend to a place 24 hours by train from Delhi. There was a very cheap accomodation and a national park. He went to the national park with his friend somewhere in the late afternoon and they let them in. But the sun would set around 5 pm. Amit and his friend thought it was a bit boring to walk over the roads, so they decided to walk in the woods. Slowly they went off the mountain and arrived in a valley with grassland. And it was gettimg dark. Since they lost their sence of direction and it was getting dark, they were getting a bit anxious. What to do? But luckily, there was an Indian armyflag up the hill in front. They decided that going back was no option, since they were lost. So getting to this army flag was the best solution. The mountain was very steep and they scratched their skin sometimes. When finally they were at the flag, they realised there was a fence which said 'danger, Panda'. They had no idea what was a panda. But they thought it was a bearlike animal that is very dangerous. There was fence with points and they needed to climb over this one, into Panda's area, over the next fence, to get to the army flag.
They realised there might be electricity on the fence and they were debating who should touch the fence, after trowing sticks and stones. No conclusion, so they hold hands and Amit touched the fence. No electricity, luckily. They made a plan how to get passed Panda. They gave themselves to minutes from passing the first fence, to reach the second and climb it.
Once up the first fence, they jumped off and surprisingly came down like tigers. No problems at all, while the grounds was actually very rocky. Now they were in Panda area, so they ran like crazy to the other fence. It turned out to be very steep, so it was more climbing, and scratching themselves evenm more. They reached the other fence and climbed over. Totally with blood they reached the army flag and camp. The militairies showed them the way back to the village.
It was around 21.00 when they arrived. They went back to their, very bad and very cheap place.
The story continues.
In India it is normal that when you invite someone for dinner, you pay. So Amit invited his friend sometimes and his friend invited him sometimes. And both of them thought that the other one had some money left. But it turned out not to be. And just before they left, they realised they very almost out of money. They needed to pay for the place to stay, and food etc. It was not enough. The 'hotel' was a place where they would beat the shit out of you if you don't pay, so they needed to have a plan. They ate in the most cheap and disgusting places to save money and needed to get out of the 'hotel' without paying. Since this big house had only one exit, which was locked by night, and the owner would sleep in front of it, there was no way of getting out there. So they decided on another plan. Their bus would leave at 6.00 am. At 3.00 they tied down 6 pairs of jeans on each other and made a rope. Slowly, they put down their luggage on the streets. First the friend went then Amit. But the jeans were tied to something in the room. They were able to get 2 jeans out and let the other 4 hang out of the window. They sneaked away and found a place to hide and got the bus to the train station. .It was still a 24 hours ride to their house by train. Luckily they had the return ticket. But they didn't have money anymore.
Amit has more of those stories. Another one I will tell later. It is really fun and amazing to hear those stories.
The next day, at 5.30 am I got up. With Amit and the Dutch girl, I went to the beach. We had Yoga on the beach. Amit used to do Yoga and he is incredibly good. He himself thinks he is not so good though. He could hold his head in his hands and then go upside down and stay balanced. Wow! After, we rented a motorbike with Amit, the Dutch girl and a Canadian (Quebec) girl. Except for Amit, none of us had ever rode a motorbike. But we were all doing very good. It was great to explore Cat Ba on a motorbike. And, I was learning something new! We had a great ride and on our way back, I was riding behind the Quebec girl and felt something was wrong. I asked her and when I looked, I noticed she had a flat tire. So we discussed what to do. I went ahead and called Amit and the Dutch girl and we went back. We called the motorrenting place, but we didn't know exactly were we were. So Amit went along finding a motorbike repair service. A guy came with Amit's motorbike and wanted to drive the motorbike to his shop. That was a few km. And we didn't allow him. The wheel would get totally fucked up. So he called his colleges and once they started working, within 20 minutes they fixed it. I was amazed. For me to fix a flat tire on my bike takes ages!
The guy asked 800.000 dong (32 euro). Way too much. So we called the shop (hotel) were we rented it and 200.000 should be enough. After some chatting, that was allright and we made our way safely back to the city.
The next day I hang out on the beach with Amit and we had a couple of chess games. Amit won most of them. But it is very interesting how the game went most of the time. For a long while, I have more pieces and am stronger. But somehow, Amit knows how to sneak trough and wins the game. Sometimes I even have 2 major pieces more, but Amit keeps on putting pressure on my king and thus, has control. One by one, he takes my pieces until he can make the final blow and make me Check mate. We had some really good games. The longest lasted for 2 hours and 10 minutes.
We had another great day on the motorbike, this time reaching speeds of 70 and occasionaly 80 km an hour. And the famous chess games continued. By now, the owner of our restaurant knew we were playing chess and would often watch. In total I won twice from Amit, and he won about 8 times. Most of the time, I would have the advantage for a long time and then give it away in the end. Amit told me that in the last 10 years he had played versus a lot of people, but he was never beaten. We are very much a challenge for each other. So we ended up having a lot of chess games, some beers next to the beach and good food in our favourite restaurant.
I already dropped the plan of going to Sapa. That would be a 16 hour ride from Cat Ba and back to Hanoi would be 10 hours. A waste of time. And Cat Ba was paradise. Amit was intending to go to Nimh Binh; a beautifull nature park. We decided first to stay some extra days on paradise island 2 and then make our way to Nimh Binh.