Photo update…

Hey beautiful readers! We are back in Bangkok for the gazillionth time going through bureaucratic hell as we try to replace M’s expiring passport.  Gotta love doing that stuff while travelling, and it’s our second time doing it! So we are here for now, sorting it all out.  A longer post is imminent as I plan to talk about my 28-day Sharon Salzberg Meditation Challenge! But not now.  The internet cafe is going to close soon…

As promised here are some recent photos from our time in Dalat, Vietnam including pics of aforementioned Crazy House!  Note the beautiful architecture.  Is it Europe? Is it Vietnam? It’s Dalat!!

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Check out more at my Flickr account here!

Dalat…

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(journal excerpt: February 24, 2012-Dalat, Vietnam)

We have been really enjoying our time in Dalat and I’ve been especially enjoying taking photos! I swear, every time I take out my camera, I breathe a sigh of relief. 

Dalat, being the top rated location for Vietnamese honeymooners, is full of tourist kitsch and tackiness and we had to take part by taking a paddle boat swan onto the lake in the middle of the city.  I haven’t had a chance to upload more recent photos of all the things we have seen here but I will be sure to include some in my next post.  The paddle boat was fun but the lake is quite green with quite a few fish floating belly up.  Apparently the lake is drained and dredged every decade or so having just been drained last year but you can’t tell by looking at it! The fish don’t seem to tolerate it much either.  Surprisingly, this doesn’t stop people from sitting around it all day, trying to catch the diseased fish.  It made me glad I’ve been off seafood the past few months.  But mostly the paddle boat just showed me how out of shape I’ve become. 

We then wandered around this creepy abandoned children’s amusement park, taking photos of all the weirdness (again, photos to come soon).  No idea why it is not in operation anymore but there was still a woman working there, presumably renting bicycles.  It’s funny how there is absolutely no such thing as copyright infringement here.  The park has weird representations of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Mickey Mouse images are pretty much used everywhere in this country, including on the front of elementary schools, on T-shirts in the market, no problem! Same with the whole bootleg DVD thing.  Apparently not an issue. 

We went to a free flower garden next to the golf course which was nice but not very well maintained and a little run down.  Perhaps because they are not collecting admissions like the other main flower garden here (update: we went to the paid flower garden yesterday, equally mismanaged and dirty).  We were particularly surprised to see all the produce growing, just rotting on the vine-pumpkins, tomatoes and chili peppers, seemingly going to no use at all. 

We went to the market which is huge and covers two large indoor spaces, spilling out onto the streets surrounding it.  Pretty much everything is for sale here, but it’s geared more for locals with not a lot of tourist tat which is great because HCMC is full of that.  In fact, I read somewhere that Vietnamese tourists make up about 80% of the tourism here, with the rest being from other countries so it is kind of nice. You feel like you are getting more of an authentic experience wandering around the country roads here.  Anyway, back the market.  The bottom floor is full of food, local produce and dried local fruits, sugared to the point of candying.  I got suckered into buying a bag of mixed dried fruit, most of which were okay but some where just awful and far too sweet for my liking.  Like most sweets in SE Asia, they are just TOO sweet for me. 

The next day we went to Crazy House, a place we had heard about from Departures years ago.  The photos we took (to be posted next time), do not really do the place justice but it is indeed crazy! The mastermind of a Vietnamese, female architect, Crazy house was built, I think, starting in 1990 and it is still under construction.  Heavily influenced by Gaudi, as far as I can tell, Crazy House is a mass of artificial hills and terrifying bridges with no guard rails.  This fellow travellers Youtube video gives a great idea of what it looks like, actually.  It felt like I fell down the rabbit hole, wandering through all the weird themed rooms and we just missed the tourist buses so we mostly had it to ourselves.  I don’t know about staying here though.  Besides the parades of tourists walking through all day that you would have to put up with as a house guest, the place wasn’t the cleanest looking and the beds all looked rumpled and slept in, not to mention it was more expensive than any other place we had been staying in thus far.  Very cool though and very worthy of the 35,000 D admission charge. 

Hard to say what we will do on the rest of our days here but we’ve been enjoying wandering around, checking out all the beautiful old French architecture and drinking the cheap local wine.  We’re not much for the tourist hot spots, choosing instead to walk back roads and avoid tours and major tourist sites but there is a pagoda that sounds interesting to me that you can also access by cable car.  I don’t know about a cable car in the third world, but we’ll have to see!

Dalat and Heart Attacks and How much I love Vietnam…

(journal excerpt: February 21, 2012-Dalat, Vietnam)

We left HCMC yesterday in the early morning and caught our bus around 8am.  The bus ride wasn’t too bad and took about 8 hours with a break for lunch.  We climbed a lot of narrow windy mountain road with the typical third world passing of the traffic in the oncoming lane on the blind corner but it still wasn’t as unnerving as similar trips in India or Malaysia.  A lot of the landscape on the way was quite pretty with coffee and tea plantations and colonial architecture left over by the French.

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I think we passed a church every kilometre or so.  I don’t know why I never realized last time how many Catholics live here! We eventually made it to Dalat, where it was cloudy and misting rain and walked to find our guesthouse, avoiding the touts who were waiting for us as soon as we arrived.  We found it, eventually, after I handed M the map (I’m starting to realize I’m not so great at map reading)!

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Our room is quite big with heavy wooden furniture, two big wooden chairs and a coffee table.  Flat screen, fridge and hot water with french doors that open onto a beautiful balcony for only $14.  Man I love Vietnam for the quality of their accommodation.  You just cannot compare the value to anywhere else in SE Asia.  But by the end of the day I had come to love Vietnam for so much more. 

After hanging out in our room for a couple of hours, and resting from the long bus ride, we began to think about dinner which made me think about my day-pack and how I needed to reorganize it and stick the camera in it to take out with us, as is our routine.  That’s when I realized I didn’t see the camera bag anywhere.  This camera, the one that I’ve blogged about buying, splurging on, spending a big chunk of coin on, the camera that I’ve taken all these past photos on that you’ve seen on this blog, was gone. 

I immediately asked M if he could see the camera bag and the freak out soon commenced.  Once we started to realize the camera wasn’t in the room, my heart began to race and I felt sick.  M was livid.  Not at me specifically, (it’s me that carries the camera case, he carries the laptop-it’s our deal) but at the fact that the camera was gone and he feels like, “…stuff like this…” always happens to us.  But all he could say to me, was, “well, it’s gone”.  I racked my brain trying to figure out where I could have left it.  On the bus we attached the strap to the back of our seat so no one could nab it from under our seat, we are that paranoid.  In fact, I am always obsessively careful with the camera and knowing where it is at all times so I could not believe this was happening.

I must have left it on the bus, but that seemed so crazy to me.  M would have had to step over it just to get off the bus from his seat and there was just no way he would have missed it.  After checking downstairs with the hotel lobby, as I thought I may have left it down there, it slowly started all making sense.  When the bus arrived, I was a bit distracted.  We pulled in at the station and there were already touts waiting to talk to us as we got off.  I HATE this part of travelling.  They were pulling our bags off from under the bus and I was keeping my eye on what was going on there while thinking about the directions I had to the guesthouse and carrying a couple other plastic bags and things.  We got off the bus and grabbed our packs, pulling them to the side to put them on and adjust them for the ten minute walk uphill to the guesthouse.

During this, the touts starting talking to us, asking if we wanted a day tour, seeing if we had a hotel booking-I was tired and frazzled and we wanted to get out of there quick.  I left it on the bench with all the touts.  There was NO WAY it was still there.  But we had to go back to check anyway. We left to head back to the tour company’s bus station.  I wasn’t crying yet, but I was definitely hyperventilating and I felt like throwing up.  I had already started considering if we would be able to buy a replacement camera on this trip or if that would be it for travel photos. 

On the way to the tour office I went over the possibilities a thousand times of what happened and none of it made sense but I started thinking about how much a  local person could sell the camera for and how much it would compare to a monthly salary here and how a local would consider it to be a totally replaceable item to a comparatively wealthy tourist and well it wasn’t looking good. 

We went into the hotel at the tour office but she led us to a small booth adjacent which seemed to be where the tickets were sold.  The hotel woman talked in Vietnamese to the man and I frantically explained in English.  He began to look in  a box under his desk and handed me a notebook and asked me to write today’s date and my name.  I didn’t really understand how this was relevant but I did what he said.  He asked me for a description of the camera and case and just as he was asking me to sign my name in the notebook, I saw him pull up my camera case from under the desk.

My heart leapt up into my throat.  That’s not just a cliché.  That actually happens.  I could not believe what I was seeing.  The camera was turned in!! I practically left over the counter and hugged him while he sat dumfounded and stiff.  I was crying in shock and happiness as I thanked him.  M shook his hand, equally shocked but far more composed than I.  I mean, the camera was gone and I took it on 100% as being my fault-it was my responsibility, despite the fact that M didn’t blame me at all.  The relief and surprise were overwhelming.  I was so blown away by the kindness and honestly from someone who had so much less than us.  Even if a tourist handed it in, the staff could have kept it and said they never saw it.  It was unbelievable and I am still in shock.  All we read in guidebooks and web forums is how much theft there is in SE Asia, particularly Vietnam.  Lately we’ve seen a lot of blogs where people have been complaining of how much they hate Vietnam for its dishonesty and scamming. 

Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of that too, and I’ve been ripped off a few times since being here but this has given me a big reminder to never underestimate people and never to generalize.  There are good and bad people everywhere and we were very, very lucky the right people were involved in our saga but I know one thing for sure-I will NEVER say anything bad about the Vietnamese people.  Thank you Vietnam!

I love you!!