Back on the coast

25 02 2010

We are back on the coast, off the route map on the right, in Nha Trang to be exact.  You can locate it on Google Maps by clicking here.  Nha Trang is like Benidorm’s kid sister, it is a long long beach with pristine waters.  Along the beach you have a bunch of hotels and restaurants and tourist shops but as you get further from the beach you can find some “real” people, shops and stuff.  There are a few mega hotels here and at least three are being built so I suspect that in a few years the beach will be covered with mega hotels and resorts just like Benidorm in Spain.  The town even has its own amusement park – Vinpearl Island – situated on an island just off the coast that is connected to the mainland with a cable car line.  And the park has all the attractions that an amusement park needs.

We have been here for two days already and have had plenty to do.  There are beautiful Cham towers here in the middle of town that we loved exploring.  The Cham people or the Champa kingdom flourished from the second century to the fifteenth.  They fought the Khmers and the Vietnamese back in the day but not they are a small minority here in Vietnam.

We also went on a snorkeling tour this morning where we sailed around the islands out of Nha Trang (they have seventy one of them laying around) and snorkeled at the best spots.  There was a lot of beautiful coral and a lot of different tropical fish.  We were most impressed with a few Squids that we spotted – they looked mega cool!

To celebrate my birthday last week we went to a spa where we had a body scrub, massage and a facial.  The treatment was absolutely wonderful and we feel absolutely rejuvenated.  Since we are always getting better and better in haggling about prices we got a free foot massage on top of our treatment and went for that today and it was heavenly.  You should all go and get one!

Tomorrow the plan is to do absolutely nothing but soak up the sun.  The beaches are getting fewer and fewer on our trip so we really need to use the opportunity.  Our next stop will probably be Hoi An, which is famous for the many tailors that operate there.  We are still pondering what to have made for us and all suggestions are welcome.  What will be fashionable in the coming months?  What are the celebrities wearing?  Any ideas???





Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost

24 02 2010

lost1 The full title of the book, that sets the tone “Lost on Planet China: The Strange and True Story of One Man’s Attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation or How He Became Comfortable Eating Live Squid” …no more and no less.  I listened to the audio book, read by Simon Vance.

The book is the author’s third travel book.  His other titles are Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuat and The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific.

His last book is a tale of the authors travels through China.  In the prefix the authors talks about wanting to move to China so the book really tells of his reconnaissance trip to investigate how it would be to move with a family of four to China.  The author spends a few months traveling through China – north to south and east to west.  He explores both the backpacking scene and on a few occasions travels “business style”.

This is a very interesting book for anyone interested in China and especially for those that want to or are planning to visit China as the author visits a lot of places in China and gives his honest opinion of them all.  He is not trying to sugar-coat anything and if he thinks a place is crappy he will say so.

I really liked the book but there were two things that bothered me.  Firstly, I found the author to be very negative for the most part of the book, it is not until he travels to western China that he finds anything he likes.  Maybe that is his honest opinion but I think that when you are traveling your mood will change how you perceive a place and for the first half of the book the author does certainly seem in a pessimistic or negative mood.  Secondly, I found that the author tries too hard to be funny.  As seen on the book titles, the author is a funny guy and in this book you can really tell that he is trying hard to keep up his funny remarks and witty jokes.  The reader of the audio book tries also to put his dramatic mark on the book and having those two trying to be dramatic and funny was a bit too much for me.

Just to sum this up, the book is really interesting for people with a keen interest in China and might be going there in the future but the others should rather tune into something else.

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Update: Here you can see my re-review of the book after travelling in China for three weeks.





Farwell sweat Dalat

23 02 2010

In Iceland we have a saying that says that if you start at the wrong foot you’ll have a good journey ("Fall er farar heill”).  That certainly was true for our stay in Dalat.  When we arrived five days ago we arrived late in the evening but we managed to get a ride to a hotel of choice (Dreams Hotel – see the hostels and guesthouses page for details).  When we came there everything was closed, not just our hotel but the entire street – iron shutters everywhere.  We rang the doorbell but the lady said that they were full and we wouldn’t find any hotel room anywhere in town but we could try the mechanic shop across the street, they might have a room available.  When we tried there the shop was as closed as any other in the street and no doorbell but the lady was watching us an invited us into her hotel and said we could stay in her reception area  since she had no rooms available.  Being our best option we readily agreed.  Then the lady went and got us a thick and nice mattress, thick blankets and pillows and we ended up having a great sleep in the foyer :)

On Icelandic “Wife’s day” or “Women’s day” we rented a scooter and rode to The Valley of Love, a very corny amusement part according to the Lonely Planet.  It ended up being a nice public park with some amusements for the kids, boats on the lake and a nice forest circling the entire lake.  We brought our hammocks and had a wonderful few hours in the park just napping, reading and watching the people.

In the afternoon we rode to an artificial lake and visited a beautiful Pagoda that was on a hill overlooking the lake.  They seem to have many artificial lakes around Dalat that are by-products of big damming projects up here in the highlands.  The Pagoda was, as I said, beautiful but very different from the once we have seen in Thailand and Cambodia.  The garden was beautifully attended with flowers and sculptures.  It was a  very quiet place and we didn’t really want to leave but they closed early.  It seemed a bit unreal, in this place that seemed very old and traditional, seeing the monks bring out the vacuum cleaners just before closing.

Yesterday we rented a scooter again – I think I’ll buy one when we come home, they are so much fun.  We rode to a different pagoda out of town.  This one had a eight storey tower with a 2.5 ton bell (2 m. in diameter) where you are supposed to write your wish on a post-it note and hang it on the bell and then ring it three times to get Buddha’s attention.  The Pagoda also had a big temple and outside was probably a 10 m. Buddha all decorated with dried flowers – quite impressive.  After the pagoda we visited a silk factory and saw how silk is made.  The whole process starts by acquiring eggs of the silk worm, which is a larvae of this butterfly of fly – I couldn’t quite make out which.  After the eggs hatch they are fed huge amounts of leaves (50,000 times their initial weight) and the grow rapidly for about eight weeks (10,000 times their initial weight).  After the eight weeks they start making their cocoons by spinning the silk out of their mouths and they continue for a few days.  When they are done, they are killed by steam, hot water or stung with a needle.  Some are left alive though to produce the next generation.  The worms look a bit like little balls of cotton in their cocoons.  Now they are put in a spinning machine that unravels the cocoons into a thread that goes into another machine that makes a proper silk thread that is now ready to be woven into cloth that can be used to make garments or what ever.  The last thing is to wash the whole thing because silk has some sort of a layer that needs to be washed off to make the transformation from raw silk to silk.  It takes 5,000 worms to make one kilo of silk so my guess is that for one silk scarf you need to harvest and kill about 1,000 silk worms :-o

One evening in one of the many nice restaurants in Dalat we met an Icelandic girl.  She was traveling down Vietnam after five months volunteering in Hanoi and heard us speaking Icelandic and was quite startled.  According to my calculation we have so far met and acknowledged 0,000016% of Iceland’s population.  That equals an American meeting just under 5,000 of his country men or a Swiss meeting 133 other Swiss. 

The only thing that is really bothering us here in Vietnam is all the garbage laying around.  It might be nothing compared to Cambodia but still annoying.  The people seem blind to the problem as we see them just throwing the garbage on the street.  When we arrived we saw a lady walk out of our bus, taking the diaper off her baby and just throw it in a small pond or lake that was next to the sidewalk – just in the middle of the town – what a lack of respect!

But all in all we love Vietnam, it is very beautiful and the people are just interested in their own thing rather than us, which is a nice change.





Photos

21 02 2010

I just inserted some random photos on Flickr.  They can be accessed from the right hand side of the blog.  Just click on one of the photos and you’ll be brought to my Flickr page.





Quick stats on Vietnam

21 02 2010

Vietnam’s full name is Socialist Republic of Vietnam.  Vietnam is the 13th most populated country in the world with more than 86 million inhabitants.  The country is larger than Italy but smaller than Germany or approximately three times the size of Iceland and is the 65th largest country in the world.  About 86% of the population is ethnic Vietnamese and 85% follows Mahayana Buddhism.

As you might have guessed, the Vietnamese speak Vietnamese :) and now they use a Vietnamese alphabet, which is based on the Latin alphabet with some additional umlauts.  Previously they had used the Chinese writing system.  I always thought that Iceland was the only country with the letter Ð/ð but apparently the Vietnamese have that one too.  At least we still have the Þ/þ for our selves :)

Vietnamese Dong is used for currency but the US dollar can be used in some of the more touristic establishments.  One USD equals 18,800 dong so you have a lot of dough when you chance over to dong.  My theory is that having such a high-denomination currency hampers inflation, at least on tourist things.  At least that seems to be the case compared to Cambodia that mainly uses the US dollar and they seem to have been raising prices a lot.  It seems little, just two quarters at a time but when you compare that to the neighboring countries the difference is obvious.

Vietnam got its independence from China around the year 1,000 and kept it more or less until the French colonized Vietnam in 1885.  In 1954 the country was split in two after several years of internal fighting, North Vietnam belonged to nationalist communists led by Ho Chi Minh and South Vietnam to former French supporters.  US military advisers worked with the government in the South part and in 1965 they became involved in ground combat operations.

After the war Vietnam became a troubled, isolated country, especially after its invasion into Cambodia where Vietnamese forces helped to over through the Khmer Rouge.  Vietnam’s only friend throughout this period seems to be the USSR.  Rehabilitation after the Vietnam war was slow and marked with big humanitarian and economic problems.

In 1986 things stared to change for Vietnam with a change in leadership in the communist party.  After a really slow economic progress since the war, Vietnam’s economy was transformed into a socialist-oriented market economy similar to what we have seen in China in recent years.

Since the changes in 1986, Vietnam’s economy has been growing 7-8% per year, making it the second fastest growing economy in the world.  Vietnam is still relatively poor with a GDP (ppp) of $2,800 per capita.  Agriculture is still the main pillar of the economy with rice, cashew nuts, black pepper, coffee, tea and rubber as the main exports.  Production is always getting more and more important with manufacturing, information technology and high-tech industries growing rapidly.





ahhh sweat Dalat

20 02 2010

After two days in Dalat we absolutely love the town.  First of all the town is high up in the highlands (1,475 m.) and the weather is cooler than by the coast.  We have had between 20-25°C during the day with a slight breeze and a bit cooler in the night so you don’t have to worry so much about the heat and sweat and bugs and drinking enough water so this is a wonderful retreat from the sometimes too hot sun – its kind of like Húsavík in the summer time ;)

Today is the last day of the Tat (Chinese New Years celebrations).  Dalat has been packed with Vietnamese tourists and difficult to get hotel here but the crowds are quieting down today.  The traffic here in Vietnam and in Cambodia as well is very chaotic to say the least.  To cross the street you just have to walk out, even if there are plenty of bikes and cars going past as there will never be an empty street for you, and you just have to go one step at a time and make sure the drivers notice you and can either pass behind you or in front of you.  The drivers are constantly using the horn and the noise can sometimes drive us crazy but at least there seem to be few accidents and the drivers are really engaged, not on the phone, fixing the makeup or looking at the scenery like we do in the West.

Elínborg and I haven’t completely agreed on how good the Vietnamese cuisine is.  I am loving it, it is quite different form the Thai – more variety and more exciting thins to try, but Elínborg has been a bit unlucky and is not as enthusiastic as I am.  I’ve had a wonderful fish in caramel sauce prepared in a hot clay pot, fantastic pork ribs in ginger curry, beef phó with bean sprouts and a few other excellent dishes.

Yesterday we wondered around town and went to the flower garden.  It is a bit strange being with all the Vietnamese tourists.  All the sales booths are directed towards them and we are mostly left alone.  People stare a lot though, which is strange since Vietnam receives over 4 million tourists per year.  The stuff that is sold on the streets is very different from Thailand and Cambodia, to us it just seems all so tacky here – maybe it is just we that are tacky ;)

Today we rented a bike for two and rode out to see the Crazy House and the kings summer palace.  Crazy house is crazy alright, build by a Vietnamese architect educated in Moscow.  The house has a Gaudi feel to is and the pictures may say more than any words.  It doesn’t seem like the architect followed any architectural rules when designing it and the result is fascinating.  The summer palace was definitely a big hit with the Vietnamese that were there in big groups.  The palace was build for King Bing Dao that sat at the throne before WWII and was finished in 1938 and is more or less how he left it.  We weren’t that impressed but it was a nice tour never the less.

I have seen that there are more people from Húsavík checking out the blog now.  I thank www.640.is for mentioning the blog.  I can just tell you that even though Dalat is wonderful – Dalat is no Húsavík :)  All the best to all of you guys!  More on Dalat tomorrow  …or the next :)





Taxi-boat-bus-bus-bus-bus-taxi

19 02 2010

Since we left Phu Quoc Island on Monday we have kind of just been moving from one vehicle to the next.  To make a long story short we just – took a taxi to the pier, fast boat to the mainland, bus to Can Tho, walked to a hotel where we slept, took a taxi to the wrong bus station, another taxi to the correct one, bus to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), bus to another bus station, bus to Dalat and finally a taxi to the hotel.  The route map on the right side of the blog has been updated accordingly.  This basically took us 35 hours and consumed all of my birthday.,  How appropriate to travel for 35 hours on my 35th birthday – but we’ll make up for that for sure :)

First a few words on Phu Quoc.  Phu Quoc is a beautiful tropical island that the French handed to Vietnam when they were splitting their colony, French Indo-China and specifically the Mekong Delta between Vietnam and Cambodia.  Phu Quoc is in the Gulf of Thailand and has been predicted to become Vietnam’s answer to Phuket in Thailand.  Fortunately it hasn’t come to that yet and Phu Quoc is still mostly undeveloped even though it has a population of 85 thousand.  Unfortunately we didn’t explore enough of the island but what we saw is very nice and we would recommend it to anyone interested in the 2beach life – just get there before all the big resorts and the pushy street vendors!

As for the other places, we didn’t stay long enough to pass any judgment on them.  The decided to skip Saigon as we had heard that it would be big, very crowded and extremely chaotic.  We only drove this one bus route through the city and it looked very nice and not more chaotic or crowded than the smaller cities we have been to so maybe we did a mistake by not stopping there but then again we have something to look forward to next time ;)

It is obvious that transportation vehicles come in all classes here in Vietnam.  The boat we went to the island with was a very old wooden boat that at least would not pass as a passenger boat back home.  The boat that took us back to the mainland was a fancy vessel that just shot through the waves with all  200 passengers without any of them getting sick or anything.  The busses have also been of various kinds, everything from a minibus with no legroom what so ever to a big, brand-new and comfortable express bus.  Most of the time we have been the only westerners on board, which is great.  The Vietnamese are very curious and don’t hesitate a minute to stare at us any chance they get. They are also extremely helpful, often too helpful, at least you are never left alone looking into the Lonely Planet for more than a few seconds, someone always comes and offers their help.  The biggest problem is that we haven’t meet anyone that can read a map and most of the time their English is very limited so even though they want to help they can’t.  We are also maybe a bit too defensive when people are trying to help us, we often assume that someone is trying to trick us when they are being nice.  A few times the locals have tried to take advantage of us and those black sheep spoil it for the ones that are just kind hearted, which is a big shame.

At least we made it to Dalat and we are very exited about Dalat.  The town lies in the highlands, about 300 km. north of Saigon, in an elevation of 1,475 meters.  Therefore the temperature is supposed to be between 15° and 25° degrees Celsius – a nice rest from the rising heat by the coastline.  More on Dalat later…