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.





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 :)





Top five… in South-East Asia

23 04 2010

There are now two weeks since we were in South East Asia and we have had a little time to digest all the things we did and all the memories that we created.  Therefore I decided to create a few “top five” lists.

Top five places we visited in South East Asia

  1. Angkor Wat (Cambodia) and the surrounding temples – just stunning
  2. Ko Phangan (Thailand) – the beaches and the sunshine and the food – what more do you want?
  3. Halong Bay (Vietnam) with its 2,000 limestone islands and relaxing cruises
  4. The Cham towers in Nha Trang (Vietnam) had a deep impact on me
  5. Dalat (Vietnam) and surroundings – great relive from the heat

Top five activities we did in South East Asia

  1. Mahout elephant training close to Luang Prabang in Laos
  2. Snorkeling in Ko Phangan in Thailand and Nha Trang in Vietnam
  3. Thai cooking class in Chang Mai, Thailand
  4. Zip wire ride with Jungle flight in Chang Mai, Thailand
  5. Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos

Top five foods that we ate in South East Asia

  1. Thai red curry with rice – hot and yummy
  2. Fried coconut pudding (Thai sweetmeat coconut) – so delicious
  3. Tom Yum soup with shrimps – will be a regular back home
  4. Cambodian amok – a more subtle curry than the Thai curry
  5. Vietnamese shrimp spring rolls – they melt in your mouth

Top five disappointments/annoyances of South East Asia

  1. Theft on Thai busses (Bangkok to Surat Thani)
  2. Plastic garbage laying around almost everywhere
  3. Loud traffic in Vietnam and drivers unnecessarily honking their horns at us
  4. Annoying and pushy tuktuk drivers everywhere except in Laos where they are too laid back to be bothered
  5. Expensive and ultra touristy Andaman coast

We have done some much in the past three months that I’m sure that I’m forgetting something.





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…





Guest houses and hostels

7 02 2010

On this page I intend to keep track of the guesthouses and hostels where we stay along the way so others can either stay away from the bad ones or go themselves to the good ones.  I’ll use the 5* rating system below.

***** Greatly exceeded our expectation
**** Exceeded our expectation
*** We got what we paid for
** Hardly worth it
* Stay away

South East Asia

ThailandCambodiaVietnamLaos

Central Asia

Hong KongChina


Thailand

Bangkok, Khao San Rd. – Charoendee ***.  The room was clean and the reception area was cozy and the location is perfect, right in the middle of Khao San Rd.  760 Baht for a double room with A/C and a hot shower is not too bad for this location.  We would probably stay there again if we end up on Khao San Rd. again.

Koh Tao – Freedom Beach **.  After a very long walk from the pier we arrived at Freedom Beach after having looked at two other places.  The bungalow was ok, it was one of those not yet renovated.  The view was amazing and the snorkelling great.  The have a good restaurant and are in the middle of renovating the whole place.  We paid 500 Baht for the bungalow with fan and cold shower.  Might be the best location but we should have gone for a better bungalow but unfortunately they were full.

Koh Phangan, Haad Kruad – Haad Gruad Resort ****.  We got a free taxi from Thong Sala so we went for it.  Unfortunately we got the last bungalow and it was their worst.  We paid 350 Baht for fan and hot shower, which is quite cheap but we wanted a nicer bungalow so we went to Haad Yao after one night.  They had a lot of nicer bungalows that looked fantastic and the place is nice if you have a scooter but we should have gotten to Ao Mae Haad sooner.

Koh Phangan, Haad Yao – Silver Beach Bungalows ***.  There are two ladies competing for the guests at Silver Beach Bungalows.  We got a bungalow that was either A/C for 900 or fan for 700 Baht.  We opted for fan and were quite happy.  The bungalow was right on the beach but the surroundings weren’t that great.  We checked at all the other places and this was the best deal around.  Next time we would either check all the places again or more likely head straight to Ao Mae Haad.

Koh Phangan, Ao Mae Haad – Island View Cabana *****.  We rented a great little bungalow with fan for 500 Baht.  The bungalow was clean and nice, the restaurant and the massage was great  and the surroundings were astonishing and everything is priced a bit lower than in other places on the island.  We hope to stay there again for sure, one of our favourite places on this trip.

Koh Samui, Na Thon – Nathon Residence ****.  A very nice hotel close to the main shopping area and the night (food) market in Nathon.  The room was clean and quite large.  It had A/C, hot shower and a fridge for 550 Baht.  A very nice hotel that we would definitely recommend to anyone.

Khao Sok National Park – Bamboo Bungalows **.  The bungalow at Bamboo Bungalows looked very very nice in the beginning but the bathroom was horrible and we were visited by spiders, ants and a mouse during the night.  If you like that kind of stuff then great but if not there are plenty of other options in the neighbourhood.  I think we paid 500 or 600 Baht but we should have looked at other options.  Next time we would at least check the other options.

Ao Nang (Krabi) – Seebeer Guesthouse ***.  The prices in Ao Nang seemed to be quite high and too few budget options available.  We therefore decided to try a double room with fan and a shared bathroom.  The room and the restroom was very clean and the old Chinese couple were very nice.  They hardly spoke any English though so we needed to go elsewhere for direction and other help.  We paid 450 Baht and were quite happy.  We wouldn’t go to Ao Nang again but if so, the Seebeer is a nice, cheap option.

Ranong – The Asian Hotel **.  We came into Ranong after dark and there was a long walk from the bus station to the downtown area.  Being tired we took the first hotel we saw.  It was far from nice and we should have opted for the guesthouse across from 7Eleven a little bit further down the road, which was much nicer and even cheaper.  We paid 260 Baht for a double room with a cold shower.

Bangkok, Siam Square – Muangphol Mansion **.  A big big hotel close to Wendy house.  Plenty of rooms available and a good location.  We got a A/C room for 800 Baht.  The room was just OK and the free WiFi only worked occasionally.  We should have looked further.

Aranyaprathet – Market Hotel ***.  We slept there one night before crossing to border to Cambodia.  The room was descent but the main attraction is the cozy restaurant area with free WiFi.  We paid 300 Baht for a double room with a fan and were happy with that.  We would be happy to stay there again if we are passing by.

Chang Mai – Libra Guest House ****. Libra guest house came highly recommended so we were looking forward to the experience.  Libra is perfectly located within the old quarter, a short walk from the sunday market and about 15 minutes from the night bazaar.  The staff were very helpful, spoke perfect english and the food was really good.  We had a double room with a hot shower and a fan for 300 baht – a very good deal.  The last night we stayed in a room with a cold shower for 200 baht.  That room was a bit smaller and more basic, maybe good for one person.  We will surely be staying there next time we are in town – but in the bigger room.

Cambodia

Siem Reap – Mitri Guesthouse ****.  We stayed 5 nights at Mitri Guesthouse in Siem Reap.  We bumped into the guesthouse after being turned away by a few full ones and were in for a pleasant surprise.  Mitri is situated midway between the old market and the night market, up an unsuspecting dirt road.  The staff was very friendly and the place had a nice atmosphere.  There is a cheap but good restaurant at the guesthouse, free internet and the rooms are quite nice.  We paid $7 a night for a double fan room with hot water and fan and it was well worth it.  We would stay there again for sure.

Phenom Penh – Fairytale Guesthouse ****.  We wanted to stay at the Sunday guesthouse but that was full.  We were referred to the Fairytale next door.  There we got a great A/C room for $13, the best room so far.  Everything was as it was supposed to be and we even got a Cambodian scarf as a present.

Phenom Penh – Sunday Guesthouse ***.  After the great room at the guest house next door, our room at the Sunday Guesthouse didn’t seem too fancy and the band practising for the Chinese New Year didn’t help either.  To be fair the room was clean and we only paid $8 for a double fan room so we couldn’t complain.  Next time we would at least look at other options and if it is hot and humid – just go straight next door for the A/C that wasn’t that expensive.

Sihanoukville – Sunday Guesthouse ***.  This is a sister guesthouse of the one in Phnom Penh.  It is quite new and everything looked nice and moderately clean.  Our biggest problem was the location, it is a 7-10 minute walk to the beach and I’m sure we could have gotten a similar deal closer to the beach but we got a free transport from the bus station and were only staying 2 nights so it was OK.  Next time I would pay slightly more (if needed) to be closer to the beach but the guest house was ok.

Vietnam

Long Beach, Phu Quoc – The Lounge ***.  After the host went crazy after a night of boozing, apparently hitting his girlfriend, I can’t recommend this place to anyone unless the Frenchman is gone.  The girlfriend and her mother were very nice but the bungalow was nothing special.  We paid $15 for a bungalow with fan and hot shower, which is an OK deal I guess (minus the crazy host).

Dalat – 171 Hotel ***.  Finding the Dreams hotel below full for the night we headed up the street to 171 Hotel, which had the only free room in the street.  We got a room that could have fitted four and paid $25 so the deal was not too bad except that we were only two.  The hotel was ok and the room was nice.  The only problem were some noisy teenagers staying there, screaming in the night and doing teenage stuff.  Conclusion, ok if Dreams I and Drams II are full.

Dalat – Dreams Hotel *****. Easily the best hotel so far.  The staff was extra helpful, the breakfast was absolutely wonderful, the room was very clean and cozy and the location perfect.  We had a  double room with a hot shower (no fan nor A/C needed in Dalat) and the wonderful breakfast included for $20.  This is THE place to stay in Dalat and we would come to Dalat again just to stay at the Dreams if for nothing else.

Nha Trang – Pho Bien Hotel ***.  Recommended by Lonely Planed.  Nice and clean hotel very close to the beach and the main tourist area with the restaurants and bars.  The room was clean and spacious with hot shower and A/C for $12 for the night.  A very good value and we would surely stay there again.

Hoi An – Huy Hoang II ***. This was an OK hotel.  The location is perfect, right by the market in the Old Town and that is its main attraction.  The service was nothing special and the room was ok – relatively clean, double bed with a fan for $12.  If you want budget accommodation with the perfect location, this is the place.  We would probably stay here again.

Hue – Phu An Hotel ****. The bus from Hoi An stopped right out side so we decided to give it a try after figuring out where exactly we were and the location ended up being excellent, quite close to the citadel and the emperor’s palace. The hotel is new with all new rooms. We got a double A/C room for $12 and were very happy.  As I said, the room was new, cozy and super clean.  A very good place to stay if in Hue.

Halong Bay – Boat & Holiday View Hotel on Cat Ba Island ****. Both the boat and htel were excellent. Very cozy and a lot of space. Since both were a part of a package I don’t really know the price.

Hanoi – Hanoi Guesthouse ***. A small guest-house near the East Gate of the Old Quarters. The room was relatively clean, had A/C and hot shower and was only $10 with breakfast. The main asset of this guest-house is the super helpful staff that is ready to help you with anything.

Laos

Luang Prabang – Sokdee Guest House ***.  We looked around in the middle of town and found an OK room with hot shower, relatively clean and included WiFi in the room for 120,000 Kip, which we negotiated down to 100,000 Kip – the standard rate for the location.  The room was quite simple but had a nice garden with chairs and tables so we took it.  We would probably stay there again but they have a lot of similar ones in the neighbourhood.

Vang Vieng – Somphathiai Guest House ***.  It was the first guest house we looked at and the room was big and clean with a hot shower for 60,000 Kip so we just took it.  Not the coziest or anything but fine to sleep in and was right down town.  We would surly go there again if in town for a couple of days.

Vientiane – Phonepaseuth Guesthouse *.  For 100,000 Kip a night it surely wasn’t worth it.  The room was small and windowless and the sheets were dirty – but free WiFi was a plus.  We didn’t want to look further for one night though.  When we went to sleep we discovered that the room had bed bugs and we weren’t too happy.  Ended up paying 50,000 Kip but still, that is too much for a room with bed bugs.  The first stay away warning!

Hong Kong

Hong Kong – Causway Bay – Marlboro Hostel **.  We had our eyes on a different hostel in the same street but couldn’t find it.  We were lucky that an old lady saw us and directed us to this one.  At the reception we were told that the price was 370 HKD which was more than we wanted to pay.  We checked out the room anyway and it wasn’t anything special.  The room was very small but reasonably clean.  We managed to haggle the price down to 300 HKD, which I guess it an OK price in this area.  Even though the location was great I doubt that we would stay there again.

China

Beijing – Beijing Forbidden City Hostel ***.  We found this hostel on hostelworld.com.  Location was perfect for us, close to the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square.  The rooms were windowless but clean and nice.  The hostel has a restaurant and a service desk that sells train and tour tickets.  We had a double room for 160 Yuan.  If we will stay in the same district when we return to Beijing we’ll stay at the Forbidden City Hostel again for sure.

Shanghai – Le Tour Traveler’s Rest Youth Hostel ****.  A really nice hostel with a great location close to Nanjing Road and Jing’an temple subway station.  The rooms were very nice and clean and the common area were very nice.  Helpful staff that speaks good English.  We had a double room for 210 Yuan, which is OK for the expensive Shanghai.  When we return, we’d love to stay there again.

Hongzhou – 4 Eyes Backpackers Youth Hostel ***.  The rooms were nice and clean but the hostel was a bit run down.  The location is very good if you want to bike or walk to the west lake but a bit away from the main city centre.  We paid 170 Yuan for a double room.  Even though it was not that bad, I’m not sure we would stay there again.

Nanjing – Jin’s Inn ***.