Friday, 27 June 2014
Wednesday, 25 June 2014
We got a free breakfast, although originally we were told that it wasn't included in the price. We protested that it had been advertised with a free breakfast on Hostelz.com and they capitulated. It was pretty good, with eggs, bread and jam and a fruit bowl (mostly watermelon, yuck!). Definitely filling enough.
We were picked up around 8.30 for our canyoning tour. We picked up two other individual travelers who both happened to be Israelites. The man, Avie*, was traveling alone by motorbike and from his words seemed to be a thrillseeker. The woman, Tal, was traveling with her boyfriend but canyoning alone because he was recovering from pneumonia. She and Avie spent a lot of time conversing in Hebrew but were nice fellow tourists. We had three tour guides, Loc, Tal and Quong. A nice and small group of seven.
We set off to Datanla Falls, put on our life jackets, harnesses and helmets then walked to our first practice spot. The whole area was very busy with mostly Vietnamese tourists gawping at the waterfalls. Once we were at the small eight foot cliff that was to be our practice area Loc started setting up the ropes. Another group arrived and began doing the same thing.
Soon he was teaching us to hold the rope behind our backs with our dominant hand, lean back (lean back more!), keep our legs straight, jump and "slide rope". Because of its similarity to coming down the top rope in rock climbing I was comfortable with the leaning back, which to me feels more like trying to sit down into the harness. Controlling my entire weight with just my right hand concerned me until I tried it, when I discovered that with my hand in the right position behind my back it's very little strain at all. From there it was easy and Avie said I looked like a pro - although I doubt our guides agreed.
We moved to the first abseil spot and were stymied by a much larger group taking a long time in front of us. We agreed to skip that one and went to a spot that Loc said used to be used until the waterfall became popular. I chose to go first because of my streak of bravado that says I have to outdo guys, especially guys who brag about the crazy things they do. I have to admit it was definitely scary backing over the lip of the 18m cliff and being told to "lean back" over thin air.
|Backing over the cliff edge|
Once I was over the lip and had my feet firmly planted against the cliff edge, I knew I was fine. We had a safety rope attached so Loc could control our descent anyway, but I felt secure. My only problem was that my rope was twisted in my caribiner; Loc told me it was fine, but when I tried to let my rope out it felt stiff and moved really slowly. When I got to the gap in the cliff where I was told to jump, I did so and barely moved, despite trying to let the rope slide through my fingers. The guides at the bottom were yelling "slide rope, slide rope!" at me and I screamed "I'm trying!" back at them. The whole way down the rope just would not slide easily, despite my best efforts including letting go of the rope entirely.
When I got to the bottom I got a lecture about letting my rope slide, to which I obstinately insisted I had been. I did admit to Dad that perhaps I had been clutching it more than I thought and resolved to pay more attention to the next one. Dad did well and found it easy enough. Avie didn't lean back enough and Tal found it scary, but we all managed.
From there we walked to the bottom of the waterfall the others had been at and did some jumping and swimming. I had to be super careful that I didn't lose a contact and had a panic moment when I thought I had, but eventually a flash of vision returned and I was fine.
Quong was trying to get us to backflip into the water. I considered it even to the point of crouching in place but decided it was too risky for my contacts so said no. Quong grabbed my arm as I walked away and tried to pull me back but I glared at him and said "khong!" (no!) vehemently before wrenching my arm away. He let me go, mostly I think because he was surprised at my use of the Vietnamese word. We have found most Vietnamese are surprised when we use even the most basic of words such as no, hello, thank you and goodbye. Obviously most foreigners don't bother which I consider arrogant and lazy.
We had a slide next. Tal went first, slipping over the rocks through the water on her back, then plunging into the pool below. It wasn't much of a drop but it looked big enough when you knew you were going to be tumbled over the rocks into it. I went next and got water up my nose, which ruined the experience somewhat.
Onto the next abseil point, which was beside a waterfall and ended in the river, but was dry for the abseil itself. Well, I say it was dry. Actually it had started raining by that point so it was slippery. We had a bit of a wait for the other group - by this time there was a group behind us too, so we were sandwiched between two of them. Finally it was our turn. Avie went first, then Tal. I've no idea how they did because you couldn't see most of it from the top. I was nervous waiting for my turn but as soon as I was backing over the lip of the cliff I felt fine. My rope slid through my fingers a lot faster this time so I think I was right about it being twisted last time. It was easy. Loc was shouting at me to take big jumps and while I didn't want to end it too quickly I obeyed, bouncing down the cliff like a sucker-footed goat. Dad did even bigger jumps than me and was finished in moments. Nothing like the young men in the other group trying to prove their manliness by falling down the cliff though. I watched them and quietly thanked God they weren't in my group. I know I have my silly streak of bravado and I try to put it to good use as a catalyst for things I'm nervous about doing and then keeping my mouth closed about them (mostly - nobody's perfect). The others can brag as they like, I'll just be glad not to hear it.
|The waterfall we abseiled next to. We are all to the left of it.|
|Dad landing a jump|
|Happy father in water|
It was raining again, but it eased off enough for us to have banh mi for lunch next to the big waterfall we were about to abseil into. I chatted with a couple of American sisters but sadly didn't get their contact details due to the strange occurrence of nobody having a pen or paper.
I let Avie go first down the big waterfall, then began backing down it myself. I'm being honest when I say that my only worry was losing a contact in the water beating on my face - I think people with really bad vision understand that losing a contact/breaking glasses is often a far bigger concern than any kind of physical harm, especially when your day is only half over. The slippery rock and rushing water was unnerving though, as slipping over meant trying to regain your footing whilst really being battered by the water. I made it down the first, easier part of the waterfall, to a ledge which marks the start of the water being thrust further from the cliff and therefore more into your body and face. Soon into the second part I completely lost my vision in my left eye (by which I meant I went back to my normal blur of indistinct colours, not that it went black) and stopped moving, to everyone's concern. You can't really communicate through the noise of the fall and since I couldn't tell anyone what was going on or fix my contact while my helmet was being showered, I kept going and prayed I wouldn't lose vision in my other eye.
|Being royally buffeted. Note scrunched eyes and concerned face.|
|La la la, just backing down a waterfall.|
|Dad hurling himself backwards over the cliff.|
Four metres from the bottom, the cliff angles inward. You can't walk on that because your feet will slip and you'll headbutt the cliff. Instead the instructions were to jump. Scary but easy in that there's literally no choice once you're there. You can't go sideways and you can't go up. They count to three, yell jump, and you let go of everything and fly backwards. Only I had to cover my face to protect my eyes and piercings. Somehow I managed to hit the bottom of the river in my exhilarating jump, perhaps because I had my arms tucked in over my face instead of breaking my fall. Either way it didn't hurt and the jump was awesome. When I got to the surface and flailed my way to Tal (the guide) to help me out, I could barely see out of one misplaced contact. I scrambled up the rock and blinked like a demented owl, terrified I'd lost my left contact.
After what seemed an eternity my contact slid across the top of my retina and I relaxed. Dad made it down with no dramas. One of the guys from the other group, going at the same time as us due to having two abseil spots, slipped over in the middle of the heaviest part of the waterfall. He scrambled about, totally forgot the instructions we'd been given about getting back up and slid off the cliff and into the water. It was not dignified but he was unhurt. Tal came very slowly as she was very scared. Unfortunately she fell over too, her legs slipping down the cliff so she was lying against it. I could see by now she was terrified but after struggling for a while she remembered what to do and made it to her feet. Sadly she'd lost her nerve and instead of jumping backwards when told to, she just let go of the rope and fell down dangerously close to the cliff. Despite my worry, she was OK.
We had quite a long walk after that bit, culminating in a cruise down the river on our backs to another small waterfall that was another slide. We were told the options here were feet first, head first and then "Superman". I was pumped from the big waterfall so I went first down our first option - feet first. This time I knew to breathe out when I hit the water so I was perfectly comfy and got no water up my nose. It astonished me that we could slither down and fly out over a metre or so drop without hurting ourselves. I was nervous to lie down backwards and be pushed headfirst into the water but again, perfect! Finally the men and I opted for the Superman, which was head first and on our fronts instead of our backs. This one made me worry my piercings would get jolted when I hit the water and that I'd lose my contacts, being unable to cover my face. No need! It was awesome.
We had a long wait for our final abseil, as the group before us took a long time. We waited quite a way away from it so we knew nothing about it except that it was called the Washing Machine. Avie and Tal chatted and Dad and I talked with our guides about our countries and languages. It was sad hearing them say they want to leave Vietnam on holiday one day, probably when they are old because they earn so little money with the dong being so weak. It's not fair that I can afford to travel and they can't just because of the countries we were born in. At least those three have a fun job. We could tell they were enjoying themselves.
Even when we got to the Washing Machine it was a mystery, because none of it could be seen from above. Loc told us that almost all of it sloped inward, like the last 4 metres of the one before. He told us what to do and we were off. Avie went first again, slipping to the side at the top before recovering and disappearing from view - he told us at the bottom that Dad and I did it way better than he did. Tal was next but her nerve was broken from the last, so she refused. I was next.
Again, by now it was easy. I sat into the harness and started lowering myself right away, though to myself I was wondering what on earth I was supposed to do when I hit the waterfall coming at me from my left. Trusting that Loc wasn't lying when he said this one was easy, I walked myself down until I ran out of cliff to touch, then was left hanging, one hand locked behind me. That was an interesting experience. It felt harder to control my speed when all of my weight rested on my right hand. I kept going slow and steady until I hit the waterfall - or more accurately, until it hit me. "Don't go too fast or you'll lose control, but don't go too slow or you'll start spinning and hit the wall." Goodoh, if you know what's too fast or too slow! To add to my complications, I was now getting so much water in my face that I was forced to close my eyes or say goodbye to vision.
I was now hanging in midair above the churning water of the Washing Machine, being buffeted by a waterfall and knowing that I was about to lower myself into that narrow, angry channel of water to be sucked under. With my eyes closed. I believe I have used this word before, but it was awesome. And scary. But more awesome because of the scary.
|Me dangling over the Washing Machine|
|Eyes firmly closed|
At that point I took a deep breath and lowered myself into the water. I let go of the rope and felt myself be pushed under, left and right and finally to the surface, where I spluttered gracefully. I made it the whole way to Tal (guide) to be pulled out of the water before I could rub my eyes and risk opening them. I instantly wished I could do it again. Dad was as graceful and controlled as you could be in the circumstances, although he said he was alarmed when he suddenly ran out of rope underwater. I'm not sure what he was expecting to do with it at that point.
|Eyes still firmly closed! That is a happy, spluttery face. Not a sad one.|
|Dad showing how you run out of cliff face to walk on.|
That was our last hurrah and my pride was then squashed by my abysmal progress up the steps cut into the mountain for our return. I really hate steps. They have me wheezing like an asthmatic bulldog within seconds. Probably for the best, for my shame kept me from bragging about my abseiling prowess.
Then it was back to the hotel for a shower, out to a Japanese pizza place (I know, what?) for a yummy margherita pizza and a banana and passion fruit shake, then to sleep. Best day of trip hands down.
|Our happy little group|
*Although I could pronounce everyone's names I'm having to guess at how they were spelled.
Tuesday, 24 June 2014
We got to Dalat at six or so in the morning. It was a little chilly, which was nice for me as I was wearing pants and my fleece top from the aircon on the bus but a little cold for Dad. We met a couple of Korean girls who weren't sure what to do and we waited around with them. A Vietnamese lady started yelling at another backpacking couple, telling them she loved them and other strange things until a security guard yelled at her and made her go outside. I was glad she was gone, but was also sorry for her because I didn't know if she was putting on an act to get money or genuinely mentally distressed. None of the locals gave her a second glance.
After a while we found space on a transfer van which took us to our hotel. Unfortunately the hotel was closed and barred so we dumped our packs and sat down in the next door cafe, Balaboom Cafe, where I got some sort of fizzy called Sting. Dad got Sting sua, which turned out to be a bottle of Sting, a glass of ice and a glass of condensed milk. It wasn't really to my taste, although I liked the condensed milk (sua, meaning sweet) by itself.
|Con mèo. Cat! I couldn't pet it because of rabies risk :(|
We ended up in the cafe for a couple of hours, entertaining the local children with our foreign ways and me trying to take photos of the cat. Finally the hotel opened and we could check in. Our room didn't have AC, which worried me. I found out that it doesn't get warm enough to need it - a nice change from Saigon!
Having decided to go on a Groovy Gecko Tour, we headed to the office to decide on exactly which we'd take. Dad was quite keen to ride an elephant but the riding was only 1/2 hour and the rest of the tour sounded quite lame. In the end we decided on a half day tour of Dalat with canyoning the next day.
We had a couple of hours until the tour so we ate at the Chocolate Cafe, with some more of the ubiquitous lemon juice and a pancake for me and Dad has forgotten what he ate. We wandered around for a bit looking for sandals to replace the ones that were bothering Dad, then realised we were running out of time. We rushed to an ATM to get money to pay for our tours, then Dad set off jogging down the hill to pay while I walked at a more leisurely pace. Dalat is a bit hilly, which makes for a nice change of terrain and makes the city look nice as the green spaces are more visible among the buildings.
|An example of the healthy eating I am doing over here|
Our tour guide Tom and our unnamed driver picked us up from the hotel for a private tour as there were no other tourists on the trip that day. Our first stop was the cable car. At the station Tom showed us the city and explained a bit about its origin as a French city for the rich and its current abundance of vegetable and flower growing in many greenhouses. He showed us a communications tower nicknamed the Eiffel Tower for its imitation of the famous tower's shape. It rained a bit while we were looking but not enough to stop photos.
We then paid 50.000d (less than $3) each to hop on the cable car and admire the gorgeous view of the city and the forest surrounding it. It really was beautiful in a way I wouldn't really expect a city to be. There were tons of the pine trees that had been introduced by Europeans and flourished in the mountain climate. Dad and I both agreed we'd do that cable car ride again in a flash. Then Dad left his umbrella in the cable car :-(
|This is Dalat|
Tom met us at the bottom and took us to Paradise Lake, which while pretty was just a lake to me. I'm spoiled by our pristine lakes in NZ. We said hello to some boys splashing in the water - water that was MUCH warmer than many NZ lakes.
From the lake we were taken to the summer palace of the last king of Vietnam, King Bao Dai. It was more interesting to me than I anticipated because it was modern (from the 1940s/50s) and not nearly as lavish as I'd expected. Almost all the rooms were bigger than a normal NZ home and there were many more of them, but they were furnished fairly simply and with none of the ostentatious clutter I'm used to from Vietnamese and Chinese royalty. Mind you, it was plenty ostentatious compared to the glimpses of normal Vietnamese homes I've seen.
|The summer palace|
|The funny shoe coverings we had to wear inside the palace|
|A beautiful map of Vietnam inside the palace|
|I cant remember whose bed this is - maybe one of the princesses - but ALL the rooms were colour co-ordinated. The heir's was yellow.|
Our tour guide had told us not to take photos of any monkey and while I planned to obey him, I did want to at least see one. Despite staring into all the trees I found I saw no monkeys. It turned out he'd been referring to a statue of a monkey from a famous movie. Talk about disappointing!
Our next stop was the old railway station. There is no railway station in Dalat anymore because the hills are too steep to make it worthwhile. The old trains needed special gear to hook to teeth in the railway to climb up the hills.
|The old railway station|
Finally we went to a pagoda where he showed us a giant Buddha, another giant reclining Buddha and another reclining Buddha that was in the process of being carved. There were also statues of scary guardians to punish those with evil intent and a dragon and a phoenix. Although I dislike the style of the Asian dragon and phoenix, I will not hesitate to say that the workmanship of the carvings were exquisite. Tom started to explain some panels showing Buddha's journey from rich, pampered prince to enlightened teacher but I couldn't resist trying to recall my teaching from high school and interrupted him to tell Dad the story. Tom laughed and said I know everything about Buddhism (not true!).
|Giant Buddha being serene|
Back to the hotel, where we sat around for a bit until I realised I needed shoes I could get wet the next day. We set off in the rain and quickly bought a new umbrella for Dad. We went by the bus office to buy tickets to Nha Trang then went to the market to search for shoes. We stumbled into the dried fruit stalls and were kept a while trying different dried things like lychees, kiwifruit, tomatoes and unidentifiable things. One red dried flower, which the seller called rose leaf, was nice enough that Dad bought some. We moved on.
|The snack stall - one of them, at least. There were probably at least 10, all selling identical products|
Apart from the flowers, the market yielded nothing useful. The shoes were too expensive for something I knew I might destroy and definitely wouldn't be able to walk in for long periods of time (yay crappy feet) so we ended up at the shops Dad had been looking for sandals in. I found some that for 160.000d were cheap enough and we went to Da Quy so I could try hotpot for the first time.
Sadly it turns out that as much as I adore lemongrass as a smell, I really, really don't enjoy eating it. It was infused through my hotpot and made finishing it impossible. At least now I have tried it.
|Attractive but deceptive hotpot|
Monday, 23 June 2014
We milled around the hostel for a couple of hours in the morning and then after some wandering around we had brunch in a little place I don't know the name of. There were a couple of older and very loud American men in there who recommended the food and got annoyed at a tout selling glasses. One of the men had snapped one of the arms of his glasses off and was looking a little lopsided.
I got fried rice and a banana smoothie/milkshake (believe it or not, fruit smoothies are actually fairly common drinks here). The fried rice was large and I barely managed to finish it. At home I stop eating as soon as I stop feeling hungry since I can eat leftovers later but here I can't without a fridge to store them or a microwave to heat them so I keep stuffing my poor little tummy and have mostly avoided all snacks for fear I might have to leave food behind.
Dad got an omelette that came with a whole baguette, so he also struggled to finish eating. We haven't had three meals a day yet, as we haven't had the stomach space.
From brunch we caught a local bus to the historical museum, which turned out to be in the zoo. We went to the zoo first and I liked looking at all the animals, but their enclosures made me sad as they weren't very well kept. I've read that it's much better than it used to be but it still put a melancholy tone on our visit. The zoo was large and it was the middle of the day so we didn't see anything. I most liked the little cats (of course) and a strange enclosure where some squirrels were climbing on a sleeping pangolin.
|Weird, rundown theme park area inside the zoo|
|The scariest tortoise ever. Look at that mouth!|
|Just five snakes in a pile|
|In case you didn't like the snakes, here is an otter. It was making cute sounds,|
|And now a leopard cat! So cute.|
|Oh my gosh so many deer.|
I was too tired for the museum so spent most of my time sitting in the courtyard playing solitaire on my phone until it started raining. Then I sped through the museum, ignoring all references to the Vietnam War (as well as being depressing in itself, the Vietnamese description of it is very irritatingly biased to the point of misinformation). I tried to pick up some idea of Vietnam's history but the erratic and inaccurate English translations left me only with the vague idea that there are a bunch of difference ethnic groups in Vietnam (one with only 184 members) and everyone wants to own Vietnam, especially the Chinese based on all their attacks over thousands of years.
We walked back to the tourist section via the extremely unimpressive waterfront. We had tea in the Saigon branch of the restaurant we'd eaten at in Can Tho, also just called Cappuccino. I decided that as a responsible adult I would eat a banana pancake for dinner.
By now it was very tired and our bus wasn't until 10pm. We walked top the park near our hostel, me with the idea of napping on a bench. Instead, as everyone was out exercising and socialising in the slightly cooler evening, I found a group of women doing something akin to Zumba to club dance music. I made a snap decision to join them, to Dad's surprise, and then proceeded to attempt to keep up with their quick and energetic movements. Lucky for me they were easy to follow after a couple of mishaps so I exercised along until I got a stitch.
|I exercised with these ladies|
Exercising had woken me up so I joined Dad in talking to a young man who was studying to become a tour guide and wanted to practice English. Soon a woman came along and I made space for her to sit next to me on the wall and I talked to her. She took English classes for a hobby and was newly married to a man living in a different city. It was fascinating talking to her about her life and dreams - her dream job is working for the Vietnamese branch of the company Dad is a contractor for. Another man came along to talk to Dad, then another joined my conversation with the young woman, Lan. None of them knew each other, they just saw people speaking English and drifted over.
Time went pretty quickly and soon we had to say goodbye so we could get some more water and juice in preparation for our bus trip. At the bus office we meet another father-daughter duo from Austria. Dad talked to them while I talked to a man who had planned to motorbike around but after his bike broke down in Mui Ne had brought it back on a bus to Saigon, sold it and was now going to bus up the country instead.
The bus to Dalat was a sleeper bus, it being a 7-9 hour journey, and it was very cramped. There were three beds in a row in about six rows on two storeys (like bunk beds), making for about 36 beds in one normal size tour bus. Dad and I were glad we were short.
|Dad and the back of the sleeper bus. Note the exciting lighting. Very useful on a SLEEPER bus, amirite?|
|Our leg space. We got to have our bags on top of/beside us. There was also loud music all night. Apparently the Vietnamese sleep through anything.|
|My triumph at taking out my contacts on the bus in a rush|
Sunday, 22 June 2014
We'd booked an early bus back to Saigon so we got downstairs early in the morning to await the van that would come to pick us up from the hostel. While we waited I picked up a little book about a showjumping mystery and was halfway through when the van came, which was disappointing.
We took a different bus company back to Saigon, one that went faster with fewer stops. Once back in Saigon we weren't sure how to get to our hostel, since the bus station is a long way from the center of the city. Some helpful people told us to get on a certain public bus and we did so, paying 5.000d each for the fare. Fortunately it took us right to the street we were staying on, almost opposite Vietnam Inn Saigon, where we'd returned. We were in the same room as before, but the Milo drinks I'd accidentally left in the fridge were gone :-(
|On the public bus using Google Maps to check where we are|
We didn't do much this day except plan what we were doing next. Originally we were going to stay another night there, but we decided to go to Dalat sooner - a decision I'm glad we made! We booked tickets for the next night at the local Phuong Trang bus office.
That night when we went out for tea I decided to wear my dress, which was a bad idea as I was introduced to thigh chafing, a phenomenon I'd only really experienced after swimming occasionally in the past. Unfortunately the heat and humidity meant my thighs were really unhappy with each other, so as we strolled/hobbled through the tourist section of Saigon I grabbed some of the loose pants many of the tourists had bought and were wearing. I looked a bit dumb wearing a knee-length dress with baggy pants, but I don't regret my purchase at all. My pants have elephants on them, are light enough to wear in the heat and heavy enough to wear in the (admittedly very slight) cold and are the most comfortable thing ever invented by man. EVER.
|The pinnacle of style with a dress, pants and my sweaty face (it was about 34 degrees)|
So looking and feeling fabulous, I ate nachos at a Mexican restaurant. Weird nachos, but still nice. I wondered how the chips were made because they did not taste familiar. Dad ate a lotus root salad with cold pork, fat and cucumber. After carefully picking the fat and cucumber out of his salad, he declared it quite yummy. I tasted a lotus root; it tasted of vinegar.
After eating we just wandered around, visiting little commercial hole in the wall shops selling drills and glue (different shops in different streets - they're highly specialized) where everyone smiled at us, to the business sector with big highrises (comparatively) where almost no one looked at us. We stopped to take photos of a building that had lots of lights going through different patterns and while we waited for a good one to photograph I tried to do bunny ears to a local woman taking lots of selfies. I don't think I was successful.
|A security guard snoozing while his partner smirks|
|Seafood for sale|
|Old men playing Xiangqi (Chinese Chess)|
|Some building with lots of light patterns. We waited for ages for this pattern to come back.|
|Ballroom dancing in the park|
|Soccer and bike tricks in the park|
Saturday, 21 June 2014
I tried writing this more briefly due to falling behind rather drastically in my blog writing. It's not really enough detail though so you will have to live with slower but more detailed posts after this. I've actually written six more as of the publishing of this post, but uploading photos is a real pain so I've been putting it off.
Our day started at 5am as we got ready for an early morning tour of the Mekong Delta that started at 5.30. We floated upstream to the Cai Rang floating market, where many vendors sold fruits and veggies. Our boatman, who didn't speak much English, bought us a pineapple to eat which was nice but made my mouth hurt for the next three days and made me decide no more pineapple, thank you!
|The sunrise, before 6am in the morning|
|Somebody asleep on the back of his boat|
|The Cai Rang floating market|
|So many pineapples|
|Our boatman and Dad|
|Pineapple - looks good, tastes good, hurts bad :(|
|A much quieter branch of the Mekong Delta|
|Houses on stilts!|
|Wandering around Can Tho|
|Uni students playing volleyball|
We parted ways to do some shopping - Dad for sandals and I for a maxi skirt, but it soon started pouring with rain and I felt bad taking my dirty shoes through the little shops so we met up at a place called Cappuccino to eat pizza (me), pad Thai (Dad) and lemon juice (both).
Then to bed, ready to return to Saigon the next day.