Stop 19: Kalaw and 2-day trek to Inle Lake

The night bus from Hsipaw to Kalaw actually went through Mandalay. We arrived at 3 am which is way too early than scheduled. So Luis and me shared a room where Luis left early at 8 to go for his 3 day trek to Inle Lake.

I booked the Roma Inn which is far away from the center on the hills. There I met Alfie again who has been staying there for 3 days already. He said that the surroundings is really nice and chilled. He also met a dude who runs a bakery here and he would also consider opening a business here in Kalaw because everyone is coming here to do the trek and it would attract more people in the future. However, I have my doubts, especially since Kalaw itself has got not much to offer.

I also met Alli, we just briefly talked about the books that I read and I got to know her better during our hike.

At the evening bonfire, I met an american couple who lived 3 years in Zambia. Despite being on the same project, they were living miles away from each other. They were helping the locals to enrich their agriculture. After that, they went to Korea for 2 years. As Alfie mentioned later, during the hike, they  would speak to each other with mixed vocabularies from Korean and the local Zambian language. Quite amazing. So the lady works with with autism children, and the guy was running a refugee camp in South Korea for NK defectors. Now they are moving to Australia by going through the countries inbetween. And they also mentioned how they just don’t fit into the American culture anymore, also just for 6 months …

Now to the trek. I did the 2 day version since Shiyo mentioned that this would probably be enough for the dry season. And our route is the same as the 3 day trek where we just skipped the first day with the car.

We were 4 people, Emma, Beth, Alli and me. Our guide is Nixon who has interesting stories to tell as well.

Emma, from Chester UK, is now living in HCMC to teach English.

Beth, is exchanging in KL and is just hopping around countries in SEA to explore.

Alli, was teaching english in Changmai for a year and is now travelling before finally heading back to San Diego.

Our group picture:Emma, Alli, Beth

A very interesting pattern I realized in our conversations was, that Beth and Emma were always talking in “I” perspective. They would mostly say, oh I totally hate this, oh I totally love this, oh me too and then they would becoming best friends. Basically, people finding same love and hate and coming together. Alli is different. She would be more interested in different topics and asks more questions to find out more. In the end we had a good balance since Beth and Emma talked more and me and Alli would let them talk.

Nixon was a very nice guy. He used to be in the KNU army, which is one of the largest ethnics army in Myanmar. (not the government army) Once you joined the army, you are not allowed to leave. Of course you can, but if you do, they will just shoot you at the spot. Nixon was collecting taxes from some villages one day and he realized how the villagers have actually nothing to give and he threw his gun onto the ground and said that is not something that he wanted to do. Obviously, he is not dead. Why? His uncle is a high official in the army, thus he survived. Now he is living in Kalaw and his wife, who teaches at school, is 100 kms far away and they can only a few times in a year. But afterwards, she will hopefully transfer back to Kalaw.

The sceneries are of different varieties. But the best part was the night stay in a monastery. Nixon pulled a monk from the side and offered us to do palm reading. Of course women are fixated on this stuff and are quite hyped for this. Me, I don’t really want to know any of this because that takes away the fun of life (but I did it anyway haha). So Beth was supposed to become rich at 40,and she should pay attention to her breathing (she smokes). I don’t really remember any of her relationship stuff but she found it surprising that the monk was able to tell a lot of her which was true. Next up was Emma. She is supposed to get married twice in her life. The first time being end of this year (she is still single). The monk was able to tell that she is a teacher but she should become an Author. Well, Emma happens to be collecting ideas for her book, which is a fictional story about mermaids. She wanted to call the book airydescent (something like that, airy has something to do with mermaids, and descent for coming down? really writing after 3 weeks is horrible for remembering the details even with notes). Alli is apparently a play girl … which she totally doesn’t seem to be … She should not get married ever otherwise she would suffer a lot. I guess in the end she is not happy with it because they are not necessarily true.

My turn.

I got a pretty vague read but I also deliberately didn’t want to ask for details. When the monk for saw my hand, he went very quickly for a oooh, as if everything is clear now. He said that my career should be good, whether I work in a company or run a business myself. Mmmh thanks for that. He then said, mmh, between friends, you are authentic and being who you are. But within a relationship, I am rather shy and am not always being myself. Now this is what he got me with. I smiled a little and said, yea, this is exactly what I learned in my last relationship. Well, looking at the subtitle of my page, setting and reinforcing boundaries is exactly about this. After this, he had a feeling that I was rather unimpressed and wanted to squeeze more details for me and said, mmh when you were 14, you are smart and won a big prize or scholarship. That went a bit off, I am not the dumbest kid but I did not “win” anything when I was 14 except a plane ticket to Switzerland :D.

Sunset over the monastery

Also, once the lights went out, we went out to watch the sky full of stars. It was really comparable to the sky I saw in Sahara desert back in Morocco. Wow … My system camera is too bad to capture the beauty of it … but just imagine …

Nixon also took us to some stops once we arrived at the bottom of the Inle Lake. Other groups did not have the luxury to stop along the road, but Nixon did this for us. He also accompanied us on the boat to the upper town Nyaungshwe. Really it is such genuine people that makes a trip as wonderful as it is. He was just saying goodbye once we docked and did not even ask for a tip (some people do, remember the guy at the airport?). That actually makes you want to tip more … sometimes it just works like this …

Finally some scenery pics

Day 1 over dead rice fields

day 2 with reddish soil

Me, in Pakse, typed this in just 30 minutes … Mosquitoes are biting my leg off … I need to head back to my room …

Stop 18: Hsipaw

Mr. Charles hostel had surprisingly a pickup service from the train station. It does make sense since we ended up being 7 people in the truck.

In the hostel I got into conversation with Shoya, a Japanese linguistic graduate who worked in a food truck, and did a working holiday year in Australia (Ofc he thought first that I am Japanese). We also talked about raeggae music and that a signature sound in it is actually played with the guitar. He might start to work in Thailand soon.

Since all trekking routes are closed down(some conflicts and gunfights), there is not much to do in town. At breakfast I got in touch with Marloes, a dutch girl who travelled all the way from Russia by taking the trans siberian train. She seemed so easy to have a conversation with and a few moments later, I found myself gambling with the tour guides playing a local version of blackjack called 8 or 9. Basically all players take turns to be the dealer for 5 rounds. Each round the rest of the players place their bets on the table to play against the dealer. With 2 cards, if you get 8 or 9 (Face cards count as 10, all sum above 10 gets deducted to single digit, ace can be both one or 11), you need to show your hand. If the sum of your hand is below (I believe 5), you have to hit another card. If the kind (Club etc.) of your hand is the same, the payout is doubled or tripled.

I also met Cathlyn, an Australian Physiotherapist. She seemed funny at the dinner where she made a joke when a fly got into her cleavage where she said: at least someone likes them. But The next day we went to little Bagan together where she told me stories about the girl she works with, a New Zealand girl who qualified for the Olympics for NZ but someone more talented got chosen. She mentioned how she didn’t enjoy the job that much since she was basically  her slave. She basically just carried her skis and gave her massages. She complained how this is a sport that rich people can affors and the girl just didnt  want to grow up to take up other responsibilities. When Iemade my notes, I thiught that I wound’t remember her somehow but at the time of the writing I surprisingly remember lots of details. Also how she went to the local superMarket to get an easter present for her sister.

There are only that many places that you can go to in Hsipaw. We usually hang out at Mr. Shake (Funny how most places here start with Mr./Mrs.) to have a fruit shake. There some local tour guides told me more about their stories.

The guy on right used to unload trucks for 10k Kyats a day. He also tried smuggling motorbikes from the chinese border. A group of 20ish people would go to the other side of the border and get bikes to drive them back to Mandalay to sell. However they need to be fast and need to deliver the bikes wthout scratch within 36 hours. The roads from the border is bumpy and need to go up to 80 km/h in order to make it. If you fall behind, you will not get any money. If you fall on the way, you need to pay the repair yourself. And such a risky job just gives him 25 dollars a ride. Jeez. We also played some magic tricks and solved some riddles. Thanks to Fabian back at SCS and Tao, I was able to give the guys some hard problems to solve.

The kid at Mr. shake apparently dropped out of school. He likes to mess around with people and just being naughty. I guess this is also one of the reason why many people kept coming back. It is fun to have a paper-canon pipe war with/against him.

The Shan palace was also interesting. We met Donald who is surely 60 year old, the nephew of the last prince. He just got out of the prison in January this year, after 13 years of restricted freedom. Just because he was talking to backpackers back in the days. Now that he is out again, he is doing the same thing. He says that the best way he can fight against the system is to use his pen. There is also a used-to-be forbidden book written by the last princess of Shan state (Who is Austrian). It doesn’t talk well about the government (the reason it was banned). Donald says it is the backpackers who always helped him and how it is the backpackers who come to see the country and let others know how poorly they live. He showed us pictures how he restored his traktor and how some Australian dude brought him parts. And he was not too friendly towards the Chinese either. He fears that Myanmar will be too dependent on the Chinese suppliers, which might already be the case. What surprised me was that the electricity the close dam produced is 90% sold to China when half the country is without electricity.

This is the prince himseld with the Austrian princess.

There was also Luis, whom Cathrine didn’t like much. He joined our dinner as well at Mrs. Popcorn and put a lot of bashing statements (such as these are shit, these are good) on the table where all can attack these statements. I found it rather amusing to bash back a bit, for everyone’s entertainment. He took it well so it benefited the group.

The last day I got myself a bike and cycled a bit in the countryside. The garbage still annoys me… Look at this… If Southeast Asia countries can finally fix this … When it rains, all the garbage gets flushed into the sea and we will find more dead whales with 50kg plastics in their stomach ..

Me, drafted most somewhere along the road in Laos, finishing it up in Pakse, having slipped on the stairs today and hit my back of my head against the ground, hoping not to become dumb …


Stop 17.5 Pyin Oo Lwin and the Goteik Viaduct

To take the train to Hsipaw, it is easier to go via Pwin Oo Lwin since the train departs from Mandalay at around 4 am and 8:20 from Pwin Oo Lwin. There is no hostel here and because of the diahrrea, I got myself a hotel to chill for 2 nights. The bus ride turned out to be 3 hours longer but luckily I survived. The pass climbing up was a giant construction field and it was interesting to see the buses and trucks form a line of lights in the dark.

Pwin Oo Lwin is in the hills and thus a lot cooler than other places. It is mixed with muslims, christians and monks. You can find mosques, churches and even chinese temples.

I didn’t do much except going to the botanic garden and trying to get a burning man ticket at 2 am but was unfortunately unsuccessful.

The local cafe shop beside the hotel was a really nice place. The food is cheap (Maybe not too clean) and the people are super friendly. Amongst the guests you can find different ethnicities as well. It doesn’t seem to be a problem that all can live happily together.

The train ride is of course the highlight of this trip. The pictures speak for themselves.

On the train, I met a local girl who is 1/4 chinese. In these regions I guess it makes sense since Yunnan is very close. And We were actually staying in the same hotel. She offered me some snacks in the beginning which started the conversation. I was offered some snack as well in the flight from taiwan to hk. It is a good way to initiate a conversation.

Me, still in Luang Prabang in a cafe

Stop 17: Bagan

  • On the bus pickup, I got to meet the girl who played the day before at our rooftop. She is studying law and is travelling with her boyfriend who does something in crafting professions. In Chinese societies such couples would never work out (because people value university education more) but in western culture, the basic beliefs or the environment shaping their values are on the same level. (interesting topic to expand)

The bus ride was quite “fun”. The road went up and down and the driver was trying to break his personal best record. There were moments where we almost feared our lives.

I met up with Fabian and Nicolas at the pool in the other Ostello Bello (there are 2 in Bagan) as agreed at 7. We joined the Bingo game back in our hostel which was extremely challenging and fun … nooot. Despite being a bit tired, I decided to go for the free tour next day.

There I met Christopher. A young local uni graduate doing tours now in his hometown. He shaped his perfect English mostly with movies during his studies. We talked openly about any topics in Myanmar, including what is on the media. But there are actually more conflicts than the Rohinjas (more on that later). Chris sat in the shade of the temple and told us what he knows and what he believes in. He values the backpackers because it is us who actually are helping the local economy. By boycotting toursim, the only ones who suffer are the ones relying on the business, not the government.

Chris also taught English in a monastery. It was part of the tour where he showed us the classeoom. He put up a video about continents and let us chat with the monks (from young to old) about where we come from and where we have been. It was nice to see how some kids are interested and some less. Monastery is a way to let kids receive education for those who cant afford school.

We went to watch the sunset after the tour. All temples are not allowed to be climbed since a American girl wanted to take a selfie and fell into her afterlife a few months ago. We managed to find a place with broken gate on MAPS.ME. Sadly some locals discovered us and we were chased down pretty quickly. The lucky in the unlucky was that the sun went into the fog already when they chased us down.

Sunrise was a typical thing to do as well, of course also because of the air balloons. Me and Fabian scouted a spot Chris recommended us the night before and led also 3 other dutch people we met.

Back to people:

Fabian is travelling for 9 months now. He started in Ecuador where he took 2 weeks of private Spanish lessons in Quito. He has spent at least one month in Ecuador, Columbia, Palau, Phillipines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and now is in Myanmar. It is difficult to describe, but all Swiss people have something in their behaviours that confirms that they are Swiss. I haven’t found the exact words yet, but it is something in the conversations, the way they carry on a conversation, or maybe it is simply just the language itself.

We met a dutch couple after the sunset. They are a bit older. We actually just joined at the table, and started talking. The guy is divorced and runs a building emergency service company. His gf, mike,works at oil company who has 45 days of holidays in a year! He has a pilot license and showed us some pictures from the cockpit as well. They are very grounded person and the conversation felt easy flowing where we would exchange equally.

There was also a dutch guy the next morning who was doing internship in yangon where he was organizing sport events.

On the day tour there was a Brazilian girl who spoke Portuguese, Spanish, very well English (a year in the US) and got a job in Shanghai to teach English and learned Chinese as well. And she spoke well! She is very talkative and uses all the chances to practise. That is what sets her apart.

We met Alfie again after the sunrise and together with Nicolas and Fabian, we ended up discussing about Bitcoin, our jobs, slavery, raeggae, passive income.

Then my second diahrrea hit strong … I was not able to puke it out as last time so I had my troubles for a while before leaving for Pwin Oo Lwin. But not too many details needed …

Me, sitting in a calm cafe on the riverside in Luang Prabang (Laos positively surprised me!)

Stop 16: Mandalay

My trip to Mandalay went via Bangkok. Actually the plane remained the same for both legs, I could have stayed in the plane … (This is something I still remember after 3.5 weeks, which is funny considering how significant this fact is …) Also along the way, saw some more red passports speaking Italian, the first one I have heard on the road so far.

I had organized a pick up from the airport to the hostel. The guy who had my name written asked for the taxi money (20000 Myanmar Kyats, also when he opened his mouth, his teeth, full covered in reddish beet stains, scared me a little). I did not have any Kyats with me so I gave him 20 dollars to exchange. I know that 20 dollars should be at least 26000 Kyats and after he returned he still insisted on giving him tips because he waited half an hour outside. (To be fair, you never pick up someone exactly when the plane is supposed to land … but I wanted to save the troubles to argue) After I pointed out that the missing 6000 Kyats went somewhere I am not aware of, he quickly grabbed the 6k from the taxi driver and split with him by half. This was really the first disappointment I had after hearing a lot of good things about the people in Myanmar. But I guess this is what tourism brings with itself …

The hostel Ostello Bello was pretty organized. They have a specific desk for organizing transportation. Events are organized on the rooftop. The first night, we played “Stand, Land, Fluss” (Didn’t know it is called like this haha) where I briefly met a Nicolas (FRA), Selina (CHE/ZH) and David (AUT) (I believe). Selina and David met online to find their travel buddies for the world travel. Basically, the moderator mentions a letter and you need to come up with unique answers for different categories. For example, for B, you would need to write down Belgium for country, Belfast for city, and if anybody also mentioned Belfast as a solution for city, you only get reduced points. After the events you would get to know different people on the rooftop but after 2 beers, I went down to catch some sleep for the tour next day.

On the tour, I met Nicolas again, together with Dane and John. Nicolas is a social worker who lives in Le Mans. Dane just finished his 2-year teaching in Korea and is traveling through land routes only from Korea to London. John is retired and is exploring the world by himself.

The tour guide used to be a monk for 2.5 years. He said he was a very bad monk, and we suspect that he might have been kicked out of the monastery. He also has an owl at home, which if screams at night, is supposed to bring good prophecy for the family.

During the lunch we discussed some interesting topics, however, I can’t recall the details after 3 weeks … Maybe it was not that interesting to me after all. The golden leaf pagoda, Ava, monastery and U Bein bridge gave us a pretty good impression of Myanmar.

At the sunset, while having a beer, we met others from the hostel as well. One particular Dutch said something that I still remember: if you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much. I had a good chuckle at that one.

Without doing much that night, I headed to the Mandalay hills the next day. I took a bike to get to the foot of the hills and took the below local bus which drove quite crazily to the top.

The walk from top down was really enjoyable since there were almost no tourists on the way ( I only saw two). There was time to observe and also to let your own thoughts flourish. In the afternoon, I followed suggestion someone and visited the area behind the hills as well. Despite being only a blink of an eye away from the imperial palace, the neighborhood looked like a shit hole. The food was so cheap (500 Kyats for a noodle soup). It doesn’t really make how this area is so underdeveloped. But of course, from time to time, you see well established buildings too (such as the pink one in the picture).

The (last) imperial palace did not have much to offer, except the exterior. I met a French lady, Darphene, in front of the gate and we visited the palace together. She used to work in a medical device company and basically the relationship with her younger, newly joined boss, went south and she decided to quit.

The more modern part of the streets of Mandalay.

That night, live music’s been played on the rooftop. Also, a German girl played there as well, who I met afterwards in the bus to Bagan as well. Just before, I met Alfie, who just introduced himself downstairs while I was reading a lonely planet about Myanmar. Normally, I would not have done that since reading a book would be a sign that normally someone does not want to be disturbed. But did I mind? No, I did not … So interpreting these kind of signals can be misleading too. If the person is interested, he/she will be. The best way is to find out.

After the concert, I also talked to Fabian from Lucerne, whom I did many things together in Bagan along with Nicolas. We ended up checking our facebook friends to see whether we have some mutual friends or not since Switzerland is not a very big place. He was able to explain his connection to everyone I mentioned which is not bad at all.

We also had conversation with a girl originally from Uzbekistan, who lives now in Miami. She was on the same trek with Nicolas from Kalaw to Inle Lake, where all 3 guys in the group ended up being gay. Nicolas told us much drama on this trip whereas the Uzbek girl considered the other 2 guys being very nice to them. ” fights? xD”

Me, in the raining Bangkok, I guess it is god’s turn at the water festival now to pour down what he/she might have missed. But this was some good catch up to do, now I am only one country behind!

Stop 15: Siem Reap / Angkor

Angkor Wat has been the place that I was looking forward to the most. The trip is somewhat pre-organized. In order to save some money and get around the outer circle of Angkor a bit easier, I created a post on Qyer (Chinese travel app / platform) to find some buddies to share the cost for a mini van. Finally we ended up being 4 with a girl (let’s call her A) around my age who is traveling with her mom and an other girl (let’s call her B) who is slightly younger doing data analysis for a milk product company.

The major difference traveling with Chinese people is the involvement/interaction with other groups. It is very difficult to get in touch with others since our group doesn’t really speak English. Also because we did not participate in any other tour activities. Our 3 day in Angkor is all organized by a Taiwanese driver who contacted me through the travel platform as well.

I met B first in the hostel. I was bit tired after being squeezed in the first row of the bus from Phnom Peng (Mekong Express is a safe company, the service is very good despite the old bus, the only down side was that I had no leg room, yes, I finally had this issue too … The Australian high school admin beside suffered more though). She very warmly said hi and went upstairs to finish her work in her dorm room (because of AC). We walked around after and bought some pants for the next day and had a chat during a can of Cambodian beer. She has been to a few places in China and mentioned how the traveling has ‘destroyed’ her world/value/life view. However she refused to mention details and I can only guess this goes into the physical attraction direction.

Girl A seemed a strong woman in the chat beforehand but turned out to be quite easy going when we met her and her mom. Her mom smiles a lot and is also very easy to talk to. She would take a break from time to time and then tried to teach our tuk tuk driver more Chinese.

Our taxi/tuktuk driver, named 祁益龙/QiYiLong (I always imagined “peculiar dragon” in my head which sounds exactly the same) is the highlight of the Angkor Wat trip. Coming from a poor village, he taught himself Chinese. He laughs a lot and the laughter is always genuine which comes from deep within. Sometimes he would watch us suffer from the heat and laugh at us, sometimes he would make a joke and laugh at his own joke, sometimes he would mention his boss and laugh a bit about him too, sometimes he would look at us how we eat the bamboo rice and laugh at us.

Despite him not knowing a lot of the history background from Angkor, he was a very fun person to be with. The genuine way of communicating with us just gives us the warm feeling of him being honest with us. When we had a flat tire, he would laugh out loudly as well. In the end, he is just a happy man. You do not sense any annoyance even when the tire broke. Whatever happens, his laughter is always the best answer to any problem. In the night, he would drive us back to the market and said that he would look for a job to drive back, if nobody hails him, he would drive us back home.

YiLong is also quite skilled. He knows how to climb a tree, how to drive a boat, how to distinguish all the plants in the fields. And us, slaves of the modernity, can only watch him and envy.

The last day, we met the Taiwanese boss and another boy from HK who joined for the mini van last minute. The boss seemed very quite and did not talk much. Girl B talked a bit with him and he mentioned that in Taiwan it is not easy anymore to make money and sustain a balanced life, that is why he moved out of the country.  He didn’t introduce much either about the different temples we went to. I wonder how he found YiLong to help him with his agency. The boss himself can’t really speak the local language, YiLong is such a valuable asset to him. The first time he started saying something is actually in the afternoon to say that the Cambodian people are offered a chance to learn Chinese for free when we saw a 4,5 year-old girl selling us bananas.

The HK guy made a very weird first impression. When he got into the van, I asked him whether he speaks Chinese. He just looked up and did not say a word. But after the first stop in a temple, he started to tell a bit more of himself in Chinese. In the end, he seems quite talkative. He is working in the cinema as someone who sets up the film rolls. Now he would even make mean comments within the group chat. I guess the first initial nervousness is something I still experience as well. There are days, where I instinctively avoid eye contacts when seeing new people.

So this is our group, we did have a fun time together, although we could have had more (meaningful) conversation after dinner. I had a beer or two with the HK guy where he told me some of his stories living in HK. That was actually quite nice.

One thing that surprised me on the road is the Cambodian People’s Party buildings. Everything around it looks fucked up and this one was just shiny and freshly painted … They charge now 30 dollars for one day in Angkor. Looking at the sheer amount of tourists there, and all the join funded preservation projects, I wonder where the money has gone …

Otherwise, Angkor Wat is really astonishing with its architecture and the detailed carvings (I missed it the first time I went in, only got to know it after visiting the museum so I went in again on the last day). Every other temple has its own specialty as well, the below one (Banteay Srei) has very detailed carving of the gods. Some temples have wet stones and the trees can actually grow on them.

And on the way to the muddy/dirty lake of Ton Le Sap crossing the floating village.

2 more pictures:

After the first day ofc, there were so many tourists around so that I decided to go to Myanmar straight after. Also to give myself enough time in Myanmar.

me, in Bangkok for 4 days to get a tailored suit.

Stop 14: Phnom Penh

The bus ride to Phnom Penh was really smooth. In the half empty bus, the guy would collect your passports and take care of the stamping and the arrival visa for you. Compared to the China Vietnam crossing, this one is so easy to walk (almost no walking) and easy to manage.

It turned quite dark when I arrived in the city centre. On the road, I noticed that many shop signs are also in written in Chinese. The influence they make is too large. As usual, I felt unease getting out of the bus and being surrounded by tuktuk drivers. Without internet, I was able to bargain the price down to 3$.

The dark streets of Phnom Penh don’t give you the safest feeling in the world and I also read about bikes that would grab your stuff in your hand when they drive by. So I am trying to be more cautious.

Not much more happened the first night except signing my new contract. Hype.

I booked the day tuktuk to the killing fields and the S21 museum. Together, there were 2 swedish girl, both around 20 years old on their gap year(s). One looked older and now I slowly start to believe, there is some truth to the sentence “you look like you have stories to tell”. She lost her brother on 2016 new years eve, her grandma 3 months later. Her brother took his life, and it came as a surprise for family members. After such turmoil, I think your facial expressions won’t be the same and somebody tried to explain that it is the gaze that changes when you grow older.

I played chess with some Swedish guys from Linköping. Some rooftop chats and I am heading off to Siem Reap.

Me, just arrived in Nay Pi Taw at 2:30am and waiting for the apparent possible early checkin at 6am

Stop 13: Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon

Something I ate in Dalat got me pretty bad and I had diarrhea in the morning when I am supposed to go to Saigon. I took 2 Imodium tablets and even puked out what I ate in the last 24 hours. That helped a lot … With much worrying, I arrived in the hot HCMC without much troubles after 6 hours. May’s cousin was also riding with me since he is going back to work (his family has a packaging tape factory close to HCMC and the competition now is more fierce since China is producing some raw materials itself which leverages the competitiveness of Chinese products.)

I met up with Yawhuei’s cousin for dinner with stories about her cousin who  would observe her from his room across the road and come to visit whenever she is home. But she hasn’t really figured out what she wants to do after some years learning Chinese in Taiwan and China.

The hostel itself seemed not to organize events to gather the guests together so it was a bit more difficult to get to know other people. I talked to a Malaysian student who is visiting friends here. Met a firefighter guy from Catalan who used to be a web developer during my half day tour to the tunnels outside of the city. I eventually met 2 Danish girls in Phnom Peng again but we did not talk much.

The owner was more interesting. She was learning German and greeted me in German and we had some very basic conversation. Later I found out that she is actually only 29. She used to be an accountant and is now trying the hostel business. This is her second hostel since she sold the first one and rented this apparent one million USD house and designed it herself. One thing she is confused about is that the facilities she has is better than some other hostels in Vietnam but they have far better ratings (not that hers is bad, she has roughly about 9 but she wants to go to 9.5). One thing I would think is missing are the activities that brings people together. She does not seem the type of person who is super outgoing and likes to connect with everyone. She is a good host by all means but the warmness that for examples Kate radiates is missing here. That was the suggestion I made, hopefully that would help. We even ended up talking about Bitcoins and how she was reading into trading and actually made some thousand bucks last week. So all in all, she is a doer and learns thing super quickly. Also very smart since she seems to get it. I wish her all the best! (The Like Hostel & Cafe)

I did not do much sightseeing. The war museum is very informative and the pictures are quite powerful. Also if you think about it, all things sort of stitch together now for what happened after WW2. Korea war, Vietnam war, and afterwards I would also find out more about Cambodia and Myanmar. Politics and wars are actually interesting topics and I start to see the impacts of them in those places I went to. Crazy how some decision of several individuals can impact the lives of millions of people. And do these people take accountability or responsibility for what they did? I don’t think there is even equivalent responsibility for them to take what they did … maybe they can try to do some things as of help to fund the reconstructions, but … it is not the same … (something we talked in Myanmar is actually that a country can take responsibility for what was caused before by helping now, France is doing that, but not every country)

I also met Valerie again before she flew back to Austria. We had some nice conversations while eating sushi and having a beer on the rooftop in a bar in the backpackers area where you can also find all the bars and clubs. I can’t remember the details now what we talked about back then … I do remember we talked about Croatia and my high school class but I don’t think the conversation got on to a deep level.

That actually concludes my 20 days in Vietnam. I may have missed Sapa or Phon Nha, but all the people I met along the way and all the beautiful sceneries are such enrichments to my life and I hope I did capture the most interesting in my blog posts. Sometimes I still recognize the “thinking too much” me but the journey continues. And I am very much looking forward to browsing through these pages again once I get back.

Me, in Hsipaw feeling very productive even though sitting in front of a very crappy computer where some keys get stuck when I type …

Stop 12: Dalat

Eddy dropped me off pretty early in Dalat and when I checked into my room, my roomies were sleeping. Later I found out that they were catching up with sleep since they did the canyoning tour that day.

In the common area, I met some people before having the family dinner. One girl looked Asian but spoke native English. She has a tattoo on her inner forearm with 司徒 on it. It was not a beautiful handwriting, so I was wondering how that came to be but didn’t have a chance to ask. One girl called Anna is running a blog and later when I got to read it, her posts are really 流水账 where they are all simple descriptive texts of what happened. (none judgmental since mine might not be better)

After the dinner, I went for a smoke outside where I met the chilled Dutch roomies Jacky and Melissa on their gap years (if I remember correctly). We ended up even doing some abs exercises the next day. That became the running gag between us.

When I stepped back in for the free awesome piano plus violin concert in the hostel, this is when  I sat next to Mai / May. She lost her husband and is now travelling (to deal with it). With her own words, losing her husband “sucks dick”. I can’t imagine how much that sucked, but that snapped me out of my problems for sure. She grew up in a west Africa country which name I forgot and moved with her parents to South Africa as refugees since civil war broke out there (her parent worked as agricultural advisers). Now she is an asset manager in Capetown who has the freedom to invest the money in meaningful projects such as funding of a local church. She is travelling with her cousin who lives in Ho Chi Minh City and rarely travels. He is a chilled dude actually and has 2 kids who are living in Taiwan withe their mom. May convinced me to take the canyoning tour next day and later even convinced me once more to extend one night to do the secret tour. Both of which are the best things in Dalat instead of going around the city.

The canyoning tour includes up-sailings, water sliding, jumping off a cliff of 7 meters (which I never did before). What stressed me out a bit was the fact that when water comes into the lenses and you have a feeling that you might have lost them. A psychological thing… But the whole tour fits well into the theme of “feel the fear and do it anyway”.

The secret tour is a really cultural one and if you are in Dalat, definitely do it! If you wanna know more, PM me ofc. And on the way Mai would speak thoroughly about her knowledge gained in research about food and  the unhealthiness of sugar. But she is not only knowledgeable but also can sort of let go as well when drinking beer. That made her so all around and likable (that comes also with experience I guess).

During the two tours I also met Tylor (young Canadian guy travelling for quite some time, riding the bike to the north, he told me stories about how he doesn’t feel connected to his friends back in his town who don’t want to go out and see the world), Valerie (anthropology student from Graz who I met in Saigon again), Luisa (Argentina girl who I have not found out a lot about), Lorena (German student), Becky, Josh (sweet Winnipeg couple), Andi (also a German student from Mainz, a pretty energetic guy and interested in general), a German guy who lost his bag incl his passport on the road to Dalat (he lost the bag on the road, realized a few km after, went back but the bag was not there anymore), Saskia (who is out travelling with her boyfriend still in NL) and others.

I even went out the night before the secret tour to a club called rain. The music has some weird basslines that is specific in Vietnam. I ll try to upload it later.

Also the maze bar is really cool! With decorations like the Crazy House it is a good place to spend the evening. I also met one girl from Hoi An whom got called old when the 18 year old German boy was asking her age. Andi met some people from Saigon and there was one guy who got laid off whose job ironically was to lay people off (HR i guess) back in the UK.

Me, in hsipaw still recovering and getting better and ready to go to Kalaw.