Not Really a Blog

March 31, 2012

To Dalat and then Mui Ne

From Nha Trang we decided to visit Dalat, which is up in the Vietnamese Highlands. It’s a bit of a change compared to all the other places I’ve been in Vietnam as it is further inland and 1500 m above the sea level. The central highlands is a plateau that borders with Laos, Cambodia and other southern provinces in Vietnam. It also changes as it has a year-round cool weather due to its altitude.

So we decided to pay it a visit for a couple of days with the intention of hiring some easy riders and have some fun (more below).

Dalat is known for its French colonial architecture where the train station is probably the most obvious example.

Dalat 4
Train Station

But possibly the thing that most people know about Dalat is the Crazy House (Hằng Nga guesthouse). From wikipedia:

…popularly known as the “Crazy House”. Described as a “fairy tale house”, its overall design resembles a giant banyan tree, incorporating sculptured design elements representing natural forms such as animals, mushrooms, spider webs and caves. Its architecture, consisting of complex, organic, non-rectilinear shapes, has been described as expressionist. Its creator, Vietnamese architect Dang Viet Nga (also known as Hằng Nga), who holds a PhD in architecture from Moscow State University, has acknowledged the inspiration of Catalan Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí in the building’s design.

So, have a look at some of the pictures

Crazy House

Dalat's Crazy House 4

Dalat's Crazy House 6

Dalat's Crazy House 15

Yeah, Crazy crazy….

Marielle
Marielle

Marielle and I arrived to this city and spent a day and a half just enjoying it. And to be honest, the weather was just great, sunny and not hot. So we enjoyed walking its streets and eating its food. Really good. We even caught some action along the way.

Oooops
I think they are embarrassed

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Dalat 5

Wheel

More about Dalat (Full flickr set)

 

But what we really wanted to do is grab one of the Easy Riders for a ride around Vietnam. The Easy Riders is a term that now applies to many groups of people who do basically the same. They give you a ride on the back of a motorcycle around Vietnam. The original Easy Riders due to its popularity has made appear lots of spin-off which basically offer the same thing. The idea is that you choose what kind of itinerary you want and how many days you want to do it, and then they pack everything on the back of the motorbike (and the front), you jump in and then they take you around while stopping frequently on different places which are usually not easily reachable from main touristy cities (you might like the many spots they stop or you might not, but they are interesting nevertheless).

From Dalat to Mui Ne 1
That’s how they pack your stuff on the motorbike

We wanted a 4-day tour starting on Dalat, going around the border with Cambodia and then going south to Mui Ne, but due to the Tết Holiday (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) which was starting in two days, we just had to reduce it to two days. During these holidays basically everything shuts down (and they even say that finding bus tickets is difficult, but I didn’t have any problems. The easy riders stopped though). Well, I took a 2-day tour, Marielle took a 1-day tour as she had to go to Saigon to catch a flight. So be it, two days.

I have to say that the experience was awesome. A bit tiring, but a lot of fun. So, if you are thinking of going to Vietnam, don’t even think about it, just get on one of these tours. You’ll love it. Make sure you also have your camera with you (and, just unlike me, make damn sure your filters are properly attached to the camera, as I saw, like in snow motion, how my $80 polarizer filter dropped off my camera while we were going at around 80 km/h, seeing it crashing on the asphalt. I think I shed a tear).

Among the highlights:

American Airport
American airport abandoned in Dalat

Weasel
Weasel (AKA shit coffee)

I think I have to introduce you to the weasel coffee. So, they feed weasels with coffee beans that go through their systems. Then they collect them from their droppings (good euphemism) and then they toast it as normal coffee. It seems it’s one of the most valued coffees in Vietnam. More information in Wikipedia. As I’m no fan of Vietnamese coffee (sorry guys, I kind of hate it), this didn’t actually made me appreciate it more.

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Me trying weasel Coffee :-P (Photo courtesy of Marielle)

From Dalat to Mui Ne 17
My rider

From Dalat to Mui Ne 25

From Dalat to Mui Ne 26

From Dalat to Mui Ne 29
The Highlands

Dead Snake
Dead Snake

From Dalat to Mui Ne 35

From Dalat to Mui Ne 37

Oh yeah
Little I knew that my filter was about to drop off :-(

From Dalat to Mui Ne 39

Kid on a bike
Kid on a bycicle (Love this photo)

From Dalat to Mui Ne 44
Feeling the speed

And finally I arrived to Mui Ne. I have to say that I really liked this. It was fun and I got to see parts of Vietnam I never thought I was going to see. I really liked the ride through the forest going from the highlands down to sea level. It was actually a shame to see that so much forest has been destroyed due to Agent Orange, as you see big chunky patches missing. The parts where there’s still forest/jungle, it’s actually very very cool.

So now you know, boys and girls, if you go to Vietnam, get one of these, get on a predefined tour or a tailored one, and enjoy yourselves! :)

(Full flickr set)

March 28, 2012

Flickr and Getty images

Filed under: Flickr, Photography — Tags: , , — jesus @ 04:31

Yesterday I had this surprise on flickr. I got an email from Flickr HQ saying that 5 of my photographs had been chosen by a Getty Images Editor because they think they could sell, so they’ve invited me to open an account on Getty Images with, initially, these images so that they can be sold. If they sell them you get paid a royalty. Not much, but I find this very exciting.

And it opens me to the possibility of submitting more of my photographs so that they can review them and approve them if they think they can sell.

The photographs that have been admitted are:

Hoi An 2
Vietnamese boats

The colours of Bodrum III
Fruits in Bodrum

Best Friend IV
Dog stretching

Mariquitas
Ladybirds on Mount Etna

And my absolute favourite from all times:

Empire State Building V
Snowy NYC at dusk

What do you think? I’m willing to give it a go. Not sure about the one from NYC, although that’s probably the one that’s more likely to be sold.

March 26, 2012

Experiencing Nha Trang

Filed under: Nha Trang, Places, Travel, Vietnam — Tags: , , , , — jesus @ 12:00

We arrived to Nha Trang after a bit of a horrible train trip. I was travelling with Marielle, a swedish girl I met in Hanoi who I met again in Hoi An. We were going in the same direction and so we decided to have the same itinerary to make our trip more fun. We decided to take the train because it’s way more confortable than using the bus and we both had had pleasant rides on trains in Vietnam before. It turned out this train trip was going to be a bit different.

We had to go back up north to Danang as there is no train station in Hoi An, so we could catch the night train to Nha Trang. Air Conditioned cabin, upper berths. Sounded like a good plan. But when we jumped on the train we discovered that there wasn’t much of AC. Instead there was some air coming from the ceiling but that didn’t make things easier. Plus, the beds were not that clean, and there were some bugs crawling around. Yay!!! On the lower berth there was a woman with a little kid who was crying all the time and a woman who was totally wrapped up in winter clothes and covered by a blanket!!! And we were sweating the moment we got in. This was going to be fun.

So, we tried to sleep. I think I slept some. I don’t know, I only recall being like feeling like I was under the influence. Half asleep, half awake, feeling how sweat drops were all around. Not a nice ride at all, so when the first daylight rays got through the window, I got up and got out of the cabin. Don’t know how I survived there, really :-)

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But, the train was going down south along the coast while the sun was rising and I was able to see an amazing sunrise, so I went to take some pictures:

From Hoi An to Nha Trang 8

From Hoi An to Nha Trang 9

From Hoi An to Nha Trang 11

Coming back to the cabin, we actually discovered that the kid downstairs was really cute and sweet :-)

From Hoi An to Nha Trang 14
Marielle and the kid

From Hoi An to Nha Trang 21
This is the kid posing while I took the photo

From Hoi An to Nha Trang 22
Just Cute

So we arrived at 08:00 to Nha Trang. Nha Trang is a very touristy city in Vietnam, famous for its beaches. Reminded me of Benidorm in a way. Full with russians and having a not so good reputation towards tourists who come here. We read somewhere (I think it was on wikitravel) that it was full with kamikaze hookers. You know, girls/hookers who come harassing you after you exit a club and then they hug you while they empty your pockets of valuables!!! We didn’t see any of this, to be honest.

A note on wikitravel. Don’t believe everything that’s put in it. I have the impression that, being a collaborative effort, it’s kind of full of generalizations made by people who had a bad experience and they write it down to make it look as if that’s a common event. Also, I’d say the same thing about the lonely planet guides too. Some common sense thinking needs to applied here :-)

Anyway, as we arrived in Nha Trang so early, our hostel room were not ready. So we left our stuff at the hostel and went straight to the beach for a swim, just because we needed to remove all that night sweat from us! And it was warm. First place that we could call summer. And it was very very welcomed. Getting rid of all of our winter stuff was a relief!

Nha Trang 1
Nha Trang Beach

There we met Brad, a cool dude from the USA who was travelling across South East Asia too. And was into photography as well (Check out his flickr stream)

Nha Trang 2
Brad

Nha Trang is full of water sports. Diving, boat parasailing (I don’t know how this is called in English, really), water skiing, etc. We just took it easy and enjoyed a tour on a boat that would take us to a few islands. I also did some diving which was really good as I hadn’t been diving for many years. The water wasn’t very clear but it was not the best time of the year to go diving anyway.

Nha Trang 36
Off you go girls

Nha Trang 8
Parasailing

Nha Trang 10

Nha Trang 15
Sailor

Boat ropes
Boat Ropes

Jumping III
This was FUN! :-)

Brad and his faces II
Brad had amazing faces!!

Nha Trang 27
The Lady Boy moment

The barman
He ended up being our bar tender in the water!

Now the funny anecdote in Nha Trang. This is possibly a good summary of Vietnam, in my opinion. So we went to this place to have dinner. Apparently good. It was like 10 of us, more or less. They had a variety of different dishes, european and Vietnamese cuisine, so, oriented for tourists. I ordered, if I recall correctly, chicken with lemongrass. There was a girl who ordered chicken with curry or something similar. Now, what happened is that this girl got served a dish which she didn’t know what it was. On asking they said it was the chicken curry so she started eating it. 5 minutes later, they arrived with another dish with chicken and they said chicken curry. Hang on a minute, chicken curry again? This can’t be, what am I eating here?

So, as it happens, she was given my chicken with lemongrass which she eat half of it when the proper chicken curry dish came. Argument for a while, trying to decide whose fault it was and trying to get another chicken with lemongrass for me (I needed to eat it anyway). Them saying that it was not their fault (despite saying at the beginning that was the curry dish). Anyway, this girl asked them to get another chicken with lemongrass for me and pay for it. Fair enough, we were not going to ruin the night for a few dollars.

Now, 5 minutes later these guys come to me and they bring me a dish and say: Here’s your chicken with lemongrass. Thanks!. I look at it and I don’t see any lemongrass in it, just chicken with pineapple. So I call the guy to take it back as they’ve given me the wrong dish. They apologize and they take it back. Ok then. 5 minutes later they come again and they put a dish in front of me. I look at it and it’s the same pineapple chicken dish. What the hell? Now I call them again, a bit angry, and look at the logic of the conversation:

Sorry, this is not the chicken with lemongrass I’m waiting for.

Yeah, but if I take it back then I will have to pay it with my money.

Well, that’s not my problem. I ordered chicken with lemongrass, no? so you guys have made a mistake.

No no, you pay for it.

Excuse me, I don’t want this, why would I have to pay for something I haven’t ordered? I want chicken with lemongrass.

But I can’t pay for it. It’s not my fault.

It’s not your fault? So whose fault it is?

etc etc.

I don’t like you, and I don’t like this restaurant.

So, I’ve seen this a bit too much. In the end it was all a good laugh, but I had to eat the frikking pineapple chicken. It just that they didn’t even bother to apologize. They kept dealing with the issue as if it was our fault and they were not doing anything wrong.

But anyway, it gave us a few moments to have good laughs! :-)

Update: Thanks to Rishi for letting me know about parasailing.

March 20, 2012

Hoi An

Filed under: Hoi An, Places, Travel, Vietnam — Tags: , , , , , , , , — jesus @ 13:44

Hoi An is this little precious town which was initially a fishers village and now has become a full tourist attraction. It survived the war fairly well, and now it’s regarded as a lovely destination for tourists. Part of it is the small size and traditional atmosphere you see here (French style). And mainly, too, because it has around 450 tailors who will make suits and other clothing items for you in a matter of days.

Hoi An 9
A vendor at the beach

Hoi An 11
It also has this…

Hoi An 12

Hoi An 14

Hoi An 60
French style?

Here’s the deal, you go to one of these tailors where you can choose a suit from their extensive list of models and get it done in two days. Not only that, you can show them a photograph of a clothing item you like (or bring an old one) and they’ll copy it within days. And cheaply. And when I say a clothing item, I mean anything. You can bring your favourite Nike shoes and they’ll copy them, in different colours if you like!!!

Now, you can imagine, hordes of tourists who only come here to get stuff done and have it sent back home, spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars to have tailored-made suits and dresses, at a fraction of what you’d have to pay back at home. It’s not that every other tailor is this town is good, but you’d like to shop around and find someone who has a good reputation (search online) if you want to have the best outcome at the best price. So my advise is, if you are visiting Vietnam and happen to pass by Hoi An, do a bit of looking at home, for something you like, take a photo, copy it from a magazine and bring it with you to get it ‘copied‘ in Hoi An. Because you’ll want one of these. And it’s fun to try anyway! :-)

Boyfriend Blazer
At one of the tailors…

The city has an interesting atmosphere. Apart from the suit business, it’s full of small restaurants, most of them oriented to the tourists, where you can have really interesting and cheap (and good) food. Its colonial French style gives the houses an interesting and pretty look. This frenchness can be also appreciated in the food, finding normal coffee everywhere (Vietnamese coffee should have a post of its own) and baguettes with butter and jam for breakfast.

Hoi An 55

Espresso Machiato
Umm, real coffee! :-P

Hoi An 21

Hoi An 20

Hoi An 13
Happy Hour all day long…

The other thing that catches your attention is the number of shops selling lamps, very colourful lamps that you can buy for nothing, and they make a good present.

Hoi An 22

Hoi An 3
You could buy these and put them on the river

Hoi An 7

Hoi An 32

It's sunny, make love!

If you end up buying some stuff, don’t carry it with you, go to the post office and have it sent home, via airmail. I’ve used the Vietnamese post service a few times and have found it to be very reliable. You just show up with your stuff, they’ll put it in a package, wrap it up and fill in most of the forms you have to use. Very convenient.

And then, there’s the people of Hoi An, young and old:

Hoi An 36

Hoi An 38

Hoi An 39
Isn’t she pretty?

Hoi An 41
Playing in the street

Hoi An 42
I know, I know, I said people…

Hoi An 28

Hoi An 29
Awesome lady!

When are you coming? :-)

March 11, 2012

Hué

Only spent a day and a half in Hué. I somehow didn’t particularly like it. I have this theory about liking a city, where , when  you don’t like a particular city, it has to do with your mood during those days. And I don’t know about you, but my mood changes a lot during this trip! :) Or maybe, it was the welcome I got when I arrived to Hué and went for a stroll…

20120111-DSC_2502

I was on my own on this city and I joined an organised tour to see the city. I’m hating these tours, but I came to this realisation after doing a few of them. They are too constrained, as they take you from place to place where you have limited time to see it, and generally you are being hand-held all the time. They even tell you when you can take pictures ‘Sir, now take pictures‘ ‘Oh, really? Thanks‘. On the other hand, it’s a good way to meet people, on these trip I ended up meeting three nice australian girls who I would see again in Nha Trang. You keep bumping into the same people on different places. this is good if you like their company. Not so good if you don’t like them (oh, it’s you again (smirk)).

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Anyway, Hué is interesting from a historical point of view. Here the battle of Hué took place (remember Full Metal Jacket)?. It’s kind of weird to be in one of these places where all this Vietnam war happened (sorry, American War as it’s called in Vietnam). But well, it’s not only about recent wars. You can visit many temples and other places in the city, like the Citadel.

Have a look at some of the views about this city.

Hué 10

Hué 11

Hué 14

Hué 16

Hué 18
Car that belonged to Thich Quang Duc

Hué 22

Hué 26

Hué 30

I specially liked the market, where you don’t get to see many foreigners and see the real Vietnam. Markets in this part of the world are even more boiling with life. You see all sorts of people selling everything. Clothing, accessories, amulets, roots, meat, vegetables, everything.  And it’s full of food stalls where you can try real cheap-ass food, sometimes not knowing what you are eating. But that’s part of the experience and what makes it interesting.

Hué 31

Hué 32

Hué 33

Hué 36

Hué 38
Yummy!

But maybe, it was that it was raining (again) and that made me not like this city very much! Rain Rain Rain, when are you going to go away? ;-)

March 10, 2012

From Ninh Binh to Hué

I really don’t know any more which day it is now. I mean, I know the number, as I base my bookings on that. I also know when my visa is expiring. But I don’t know if it’s a Thursday or a Sunday. Not anymore. I guess this is what happens when you are doing pretty much every day the same thing and there are no ‘weekends

That’s what happened to me when booking a train from Ninh Binh to Hué. I thought it was going to be on a Sunday, but it ended up being a Tuesday Morning.

Anyway, I had this train ticket I had bought in Hanoi to go to Hué. I found out that I paid some commission at the hostel. OK, fair enough, they did all the work and I didn’t have to go to the train station. In Hanoi. Beep beep.

But today, I was talking to this girl at Ninh Binh train station. She’s German, but from Vietnamese origin, so she looks totally Vietnamese, and people treat her as a local, until she speaks, because she only has a basic command of Vietnamese.

  • Yeah, I look Vietnamese but I pay foreigners’ price.
  • Foreigners’ price? What?
  • Oh yeah, they have a two-tier pricing system here. Institutionalised.

Fantastic. I still don’t know if it’s true or not. But on the tickets themselves it’s printed with a big font: Foreigner

Score: Vietnam 5 – Jesus 1

From Ninh Binh to Hué
Typical Vietnamese Train

From Ninh Binh to Hué
My cabin

I had a ticket for this soft sleeper on an empty cabin, just for me. Boring. Almost every carriage was empty. And I had 12 hours ahead of me on this train. Only the people who work on the train are using one of the cabins. Luckily, after one stop more people come in and it becomes nicer, as you see you are not the only one travelling on this carriage.

From Ninh Binh to Hué
Empty train

Alright, what do I do? The train is moving. There’s nobody in this train except two women and a semi-naughty kid on the adjacent cabin. Get some sleep? No, too noisy to get some sleep at 10 in the morning. Try some music? Could do, but I still have 12 hours ahead of me…

It was obvious that this was going to be a really boring trip, 12 hours trapped in this metal cage without having anyone to talk to.

From Ninh Binh to Hué
Kid next door

But as it happened, the guys working on this train were very nice and they somehow managed to get my attention. First, one of the girls gave me some sunflower seeds, like the ones we have in Spain, but not salty at all. And while I was eating them, a middle-aged woman called me from 5 cabins away. Intrigued I went there and found all these guys who work on the train. They were all sitting comfortably there.

Three girls, one guy and this woman. Ah, yes, and a Spaniard. All the conversation carried in Vietnamese, as English was only spoken by a couple of them, and by English I mean a variation of ‘How are you?‘, ‘What’s your name?‘ and so on.

So what happened is that each of them sat in front of this woman, who had deployed a table-cloth on the train seat, on which she put some cards, while all of them paid attention to her. WTF? After a few moments, I figured it out. She’s a fortune-teller. In Vietnamese. Awesome!

Fortune Teller
Fortune teller in action

From Ninh Binh to Hué 13
more fortune telling

So I sit there for like an hour watching the whole thing fascinated while I try to speak some rudimentary English with one of the girls, who had a limited vocabulary and pronunciation. At the same time I’m paying attention to this woman and the reaction on these guys. Well, trying to get their body language, because to say this was a conversation would be a bold statement.

I was enjoying watching all of that, actually. When the lady finished we all moved to my compartment (except the lady, who wanted to get some sleep ;-)) and they all tried to engage me in some conversation. They either kept my company as way to spend some time or they really wanted to know more about me because they don’t see many like me (I know, I know, one of a kind…). Probably they were equally bored about being trapped on a train to Saigon (36 hours)

And to top it up, the kid sleeping next door joins us attracted by the smell of some Oreos cookies, so a lot of fun was guaranteed.

From Ninh Binh to Hué 30
Oreo cookies, anyone?

From Ninh Binh to Hué 19

I have to say that the Vietnamese have surprised me in many more ways than the Chinese. While they try to squeeze a few dollars off you, when buying stuff or negotiating a taxi, etc, they always do it with a smile and, true, they try to get your money. But the normal people you see on trains, hostels, etc, they seem very very nice, and they actually are very friendly by inviting lame foreigners like me to share a bit of their lives, which has made me very happy on all of these tiny moments so far :) It’s nice to get to talk to local people and know a bit about their lives (and I guess them knowing a bit about mine too)

From Ninh Binh to Hué 12
Fun and giggles

From Ninh Binh to Hué 15

From Ninh Binh to Hué 18

This trip has been very enjoyable, what looked like a train trip from hell turned out to be a fun trip. There was even more to come. Apparently one of these girls seemed to fancy me as she gave me her phone number. Like she saw my phone, grabbed it and put her number on it. She didn’t speak any English so I’m still wondering what she was thinking, as most of the time she was ‘translated‘ by the other guy. This one even wrote on my notebook ‘Dung loves Jesus‘ (I think he meant ‘likes’ instead of loves). To which I tried to reply with ‘everybody loves Jesus‘ but they didn’t understand the pun ;-)

From Ninh Binh to Hué 26

From Ninh Binh to Hué 28

And now the other girl moved the conversation about whether I was married or not and whether I wanted to get married and, specifically, married to a Vietnamese girl. Oh, I can see where this is headed. He he he. And, the thing is that all of this was happening while I was cracking up and didn’t have anyone there to tell this story while it was unfolding :-)

From Ninh Binh to Hué 17
Rice fields along the way

From Ninh Binh to Hué 22
And the kid who would not stop

This way, a 12 hour train ride to Hué that looked like it was going to be hellish turned into an entertaining day.

From Ninh Binh to Hué 21

And then I got to Hué, got to my hostel finally. I took a taxi which reminded my of my first day in Hanoi. Again, they try to scam you and get more money. You get approached, no, harassed when you get off the train by all these ‘taxi‘ drivers and they offer you a flat-price ride to your hostel. Where flat is 100000 dong ($5). But I thankfully had done my homework and had found out that the taxi rate in Hué is 15000 dong ($0.75) per km. Telling these guys that you want to use a metered-taxi for 15000 dong makes them disappear. And when they disappear you can see the official taxis that use that rate. Total fare in the end was 45000, so a bit less than $2.

And, 22:00, I need some fresh air and I go for a stroll around the hostel. Just have an hour. Guess what? you get approached by moto and cyclo drivers. Every 5 minutes, and the conversation goes like:

  • Where you going sir?
  • Just want to walk for a bit.
  • I can take you anywhere.
  • No thanks, I want to walk.
  • Marihuana?
  • No thanks
  • ‘sniff, sniff’ (while he does the snorting gesture)
  • No, thanks.
  • Boom Boom? Girls, pretty girls?
  • No thanks.

(If you are interested, it’s $20 for one of these girls…).

Anyway, welcome to Hué.

The Shocking Blue Green Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

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