If you’re only here for some travel tips or want to read about/look at pictures of what me and Alice got up to on our summer travels, please skip ahead and ignore these first 1000 words or so.
If, however, you’re happy to sit through and read a little about myself and my life/thoughts right now, then go ahead and enjoy this intro into my 3rd instalment of my Vietnam travel posts!
That’s the only word I can think of, to describe how I’m feeling at the moment. In literally every aspect of my life, I feel like I’m struggling and at risk of drowning if I let things get on top of me too much.
That may sound slightly dramatic (and it most definitely is, BUT) I’ve been lucky enough to live a very fortunate life with few/no issues or problems, so I guess that’s made me soft to hurdles when they do present themselves and stand in my way… It’s just little things really, like work, colleagues, feelings of isolation and distance, too many unknowns in my immediate future, a serious lack of direction in my life, and to top it all off, a mouse problem in my teeny tiny kitchen…
Most of the time, feeling overwhelmed is a terrible, terrible thing, which causes you to struggle and to simply get through the day and figure things out as you go. There is one thing which has been overwhelming me recently, but in a crazy crazy good way: my memories of summer and Vietnam. I’ve been looking back through my photos, journal and going over everything we managed to do and experience in 4 short weeks… and quite frankly, it’s fucking insane. I’m totally stunned by the fact that I was able and lucky enough to be given that opportunity. How did this happen? How the hell did I manage to be in a position where I can spend 4 weeks of a 6/7 week holiday travelling such a beautiful and unique country… I seriously don’t get it. If I sit and think about it too much, I start to freak out.
Am I doing enough to take advantage of this life I’ve been given?
Did I really see and do as much as I could/should have?
Do I deserve this life of adventure and excitement that I’ve been dealt?
It’s strange to think that everyone goes through life at such different speeds and take so many different paths. People I grew up with, that were literally living on my street or in the same school as me since nursery, have children, some more than one, others have started various careers, moved in and married their other halves, or stayed in the same dead-end job simply to pay the bills etc. etc… I’m not judging any of these lives and choices. Everyone goes their own way when we leave school (all those years ago), I just can’t quite get my head around it. I’m here in China, responsible for almost 50 children’s English education, simply because it’s my first (and only) language. I’m spending my holidays travelling SE Asia with no other plans or responsibilites. Alice has done her fair share of travelling and is now embarking on a new challenge, completing a PGCE. Sophie has got her position as a teacher for her NQT year. Hannah is in the final stages of completing her PhD and applying for real life/career jobs. Hanna is smashing in both fields of her own business and her now position (all with Roux and Ste by her side). My friends are getting into, or are currently in different stages of serious relationships, and let’s not even mention Sam and Dean who not only own a property, but are now within 10 months of getting married!!
I guess I’m just feeling a little lost and lonely at the moment. Being an observer so far away gives me only a one-sided view of everyone’s life. I guess it works both ways. People only see and know what we want them to, thanks to the death trap and soul sucking world of social media…
I was speaking to Hanna the other week after a particular rough day, and she said something which scared me more than anything has in a while.
“Proper sounds like you’re wanting a bit of stability. Which I never thought I’d hear from you!! Sounds like today you want to be grounded. Tomorrow that might all change, but today, that’s what you seem to want!”
Grounded. Stability. Settling. Starting a real life…. I’m not ready for that. The thought of all that excites me and terrifies me all at once. I think coming home will be the biggest mental and emotional challenge I’ll have faced in my “adult” life. (I use “adult” very lightly here, as I’m still not 100% sure what I’m doing while throwing my clothes in the washing machine or things such as taxes… I’m sort of an Early 20’s Cling On, playing ignorance to my increasing age – hello mid 20’, you came far too fast.)
I’ll be working my last day here at CGS at the end of January 2018. My last day employed in China. My last day of knowing what I’m doing with my life. After that it’s all a blank space (up until the wedding obviously!)… Exciting? Terrifying? Daunting? Overwhelming? … How about all of the above.
For now though, let’s focus on the good, the past, the amazing experiences I’ve already been through. Let’s head from MuiNe, and onto our next stop of our Vietnam trip. Welcome to Delat…
Arrived: Sun 16th July 2017 [Day5]
Departed: Mon 17thth July 2017 [Day6]
Hostel: Tay Backpackers Hostel
Okay, so where did we leave off? On the morning of the 16th July (2017), we were up pretty darn early, having our final cold and sandy showers at LongSon MuiNe, another breakfast of eggs and bread, and we were ready for our 4/5 hour bus journey up to our next stop. The bus was not like the previous one we’d taken. This one was a very small, very cramped, very full mini bus.
All I can say is THANK GOD we were not hungover for this one. The journey was bumpy, twisty, crazy, loud, annoying, and we even saw a freshly decapitated cow IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. Blood everywhere. The only saving grace was the stunning views of the Vietnamese countryside and mountains. We arrived fresh from sunny, boiling beach life of MuiNe, wearing shorts, flipflops and vest tops. We got off the bus and were plunged into the COLD wet weather of the mountain town, Dalat. We couldn’t believe the difference in the weather! Not only had we travelled north, but we were up at roughly 4,900 ft above sea level. With bags on both our front and back, we started the 20 minute walk to our hostel. We finally arrived and it was in a pretty good location, just up on a side street with a few cute coffee shops. The staff were super friendly at Tay Backpackers Hostel, and we were swapped from an 8 bed dorm to a 4 bed dorm. We changed, claimed our beds, and headed out into the drizzle to explore, after we’d checked out some tours the hostel offered and even booked on for the “Family Dinner” that night.
We wandered around, found a market, had some super crispy (awful) noodles, and just sort of fumbled our way around, feeling really lost and confused in this odd little town. We hunted out some travel/tour places in search for a bus timetable which would help us get up Hoi An. Everywhere we went we were told that the bus would take a whole day up to Nah Trang (somewhere we did not plan on visiting), and then an overnight bus to get us to Hoi An. NOT OKAY PEOPLE! … We were starting to get frustrated and worried about having to spend an extra day in this strange nothing town, and then waste another day on a bus. We were wet and miserable so headed back to the hostel. We spotted an Easy Riders tour agency so popped in to see what they could do for us. Al got a really nice iced coffee (first coffee I’ve actually enjoyed/drank), and there was a solo travelling Scottish lady in there enquiring about some tours herself. She was being helped by THE NICEST GUY EVER. I can’t even begin to describe this guy; he was so funny, excited and just laughed at everything. He showed us his notebook where he “collected” all the people he took on tours (in a non-creepy way). He flicked through and found a page that he was very eager to show us, it was a thank you note written by some fellow Welsh travellers! He thought everything we did or said was hilarious and was adamant that he would shake our hands because of Gareth Bale… Unfortunately we didn’t end up booking anything with this amazing guy, but we definitely kept him in mind as we got back to the hostel and asked again about tours and buses (we also met our room mates who were two lovely Dutch girls).
The super friendly girl behind the hostel desk told us that there was in fact a night bus from Dalat to Hoi An that leaves at 5pm every day!! THANK THE LORD! Why nowhere else knew about/told us this we have no idea, but after confirming all the details with her for the millionth time, we booked 2 tickets for the following day (cancelling our 2nd night at Tay Backpackers, Dalat). We were in a much better mood after booking our tickets and knowing we had a way out of town for the next day, and we were keen to go back out and explore some more. The girl told us that there was the main attraction of Dalat only a 20 minute walk away, so with a map in hand (digital), off we went in the rain again. We arrived after walking down some seemingly private roads, and 40,000 VND later ( ~ £1.30), we were inside the weird, wonderful and aptly named Crazy House. This place is actually sort of a hotel as well as a tourist attraction. We walked around, climbed countless stairs, took a crap load of photos, took in the view of Dalat from pretty high up on a bridge/walkway, and just generally took in the whole place as best we could.
It was quite busy, but thanks to the weather, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. This place was beyond words. Someone had just decided, many years ago to go crazy with some architecture and build this maze like, visually stunning/confusing place where people could come and stay/visit. It was super cool, some areas were unfinished, and others were just creepy. But I’m glad we got out and saw it while we were there!
Back to the hostel for a chill (literally, it was so cold – which for some reason make me feel like I was in Europe. Whenever I’ve stayed at a hostel in colder weather, I get this really strong feeling of being in a European country; it’s definitely not a bad thing, just a little surreal). Around 6/7pm we headed down to the kitchen for our Family Dinner of Asian hot-pot! There were 10 of us in total, we all had the “free beer” which was included in the meal price, and we all got to chatting. We spent the meal talking to 3 British people, 1 guy and 2 girls, we covered a wide range of topics including: uni, China, travel, and supermarkets, etc. (I’m pretty sure politics came up at one point.) The meal was great and we had a wide variety of stuff cooking in the pot, we had veg, noodles, chicken, octopus, tofu and a few other bits. We ate as much as we could stomach, Alice with a fork and spoon, we with my chopsticks, and treated ourselves to a cocktail after we’d finished.
We decided, seen as this was to be our only night in Dalat, that we would brave the weather and go check out the infamous 100 Roofs Bar (also known as Maze Bar). This was basically an indoor, creepier, more insane, weird and dangerous version of the Crazy House, but in the form of a “bar”. I bought the cheapest thing on the menu as our entrance fee (a really awful can of beer), and off we went to explore. (Can I please just point out at this point that neither of us were prepared for ANY cold weather on this trip, so Alice was in her running leggings and I was in jeans and converse which were supposed to be for when I was back in Wales). We headed off alone, in the dark. We got lost, freaked out, stuck, confused, and we even had to climb through a literal hole at one point.
I’ve never been anywhere like it, and I’m not sure I’d want to again! Don’t get me wrong, it was cool, like seriously weird and crazy. But I CAN NOT imagine being in there under any kind of influence and feeling okay about it. We had no idea where the exit was, where we were going or how to get out if, god forbid, there was any sort of emergency. We bumped into a few people at one point and a creepy old Asian guy asked us if we wanted to go with him to see the moon…. We obviously said no and made a quick exit away from them. We stumbled upon an outdoor patio, and we did indeed see the moon, and then we decided it was best to try and find our way back to the front, which, trust me, was no easy feat.
We made our way back to the hostel where we arrived cold wet and ready for bed. We had booked onto a tour with the 2 girls in our room for the next morning, so after chatting with them for a bit, we called it a night and the lights went off.
The following day were up at around 7.30am to pack up our bags and grab our free breakfast of banana pancakes with our roommates and tour buddies for the day ( Rose and Yessie [definitely not how you spell her name] ). Our tour guide was the lovely girl from reception and at 8am we headed off in a car through the rain and to our first stop of the day:
1. A Flower Farm
Dalat is known for three things; its weather, its flower farms and its waterfalls. Something about the climate makes it ideal for growing a number of different flowers and vegetables, so this is where we were taken first. We were allowed to wander around the big plastic tented greenhouses and we watched a woman make the most perfect stack of roses you’ve ever seen. On our departure we were handed two “imperfect” roses which were speckled with yellow on its bright red pestles. They were beautiful!
This was a super quick stop off on the side of a twisting road. The view was stunning, even in the drizzle and mist. The colours were so rich and there was just so much green! We even happened to see the Scottish lady and the super happy funny guy from Easy Riders while we were there.
3. Weasel Coffee
So, this was one we’d heard a little about and were both eager and freaked out about going to! It was a huge coffee plantation, and the girl told us about how they have to wait for the “fruits” to turn red, and then remove them all BY HAND before feeding them to the poor weasels. We were able to walk through some of the trees/coffee plants, and then we saw some of the weasels in cages, which was pretty sad. I’m not sure how I feel about the whole thing to be honest. The weasels get no nutritional benefit from the beans, and they come out whole (I’m sure you can work out which end they come out of), before being made into coffee. At the café we ordered a Weasel Mocha Coffee with ice and fresh milk to share, which turned out to be the wrong choice. It was super strong and, honestly, not nice, but I think if we’d of had it in the “traditional” Vietnamese way, with condensed milk, it would have been better. While we waited for our coffee to drip, we were able to sit looking out at the incredible view; it really was such a beautiful
4. Silk Factory
I forgot about this pit-stop! I hadn’t written it down in my journal, but thankfully I’d taken some pictures of our tour around this little traditional silk farm to help me remember. We were given quite a lot of information about the silk worms and the process of extracting the silk from their cocoons. After having a textiles mother and living in Suzhou (the silk capital of China), I already knew most of, if not all of the information. But it was cool to see none the less, and I was loving getting to experiment and try out my new little camera.
5. Elephant Waterfalls
We walked over to the edge to view the falls from the top, and it was very big, very fast, but also very muddy. Our receptionist/tour guide lady then took us walking/scrambling down, up around and everywhere to get different, closer and “better” views of the falls. Unfortunately, we got absolutely SOAKED, so I didn’t manage to get too many pictures. We also got pretty filthy as well as wet through. It was pretty cool though being taken around by a local who could show us areas that others may not know how to get to. We stayed there exploring for quite a while before heading back to the top of the falls.
6. Linh An Pagoda & Happy Buddha
This place was only down the road from where we’d parked for the Elephant Waterfalls, so we walked down and headed in. Some really nice unusual statues/architecture, and there was also a huge hall with a few amazing alters and statues. Our guide helped us burn some incense sticks and we watched quietly as she prayed and worshipped. We wandered around exploring for a bit taking it all in, and then it started to rain, and I mean really rain. It was coming down hard and there was no sign of it stopping. We carried on as best we could until it got so bad we had to seek shelter and wait/hope that it would ease up a little. The rain kept coming though, so we decided to brave it once again and go see the bug Buddha before making a mad dash for the car which our lovely driver had brought as close as he could to where we were!
7. Pongour Waterfall
It was a pretty long drive out to this waterfall, and when we arrived we stopped to get something to eat. Our girl ordered us the traditional rice “dish” which is cooked inside a bamboo shoot and was actually pretty good (similar to sticky rice).
After we’d finished up, we headed into a park/forest area and after about a 15 minute walk we were face to face with the largest waterfall in Vietnam. It was huge (obviously), it had lots of different sections, and it was wide rather than stupidly tall, and just generally pretty awesome. There was a huge opening area which was really strange and all the rock was very very dark, almost black. It felt really prehistoric.
Me and Alice were starting to get worried about the time however. We still had one more stop after this (a cable-car to give us the birds-eye view of Dalat and a trip to a temple) and it was going to take at least an hour to get back…
We had a long and anxious journey, watching the time obsessively, knowing there was nothing we could do to speed things up. The bus was picking us up at 4pm to take us to the bust station for our departure time of 5pm, and we got to the cable-car station at 3.55pm… She left us in the car and sent us back to the hostel with the driver while she went with our Holland pals up to the cars. It was around 4.15pm when we got back and stumbled into the hostel and we were told that our bus had already come and gone and “maybe he will come back again”. So we super quickly changed and repacked our bags in the kitchen (all the while some annoying lady was trying to have a casual conversation with us, despite hearing that we’d missed our bus and were in a hurry). Thankfully, the minibus did come back for us and we were shoved in the front and dropped off with a load of others who would be taking the same sleeper bus as us. Most people would be taking the bus all the way up to Da Nang, we seemed to be the only ones who would be dropped off in Hoi An. We got chatting to 4 Canadians and a French dude with a huge pile of dreads on his head (which doubled up as an instant pillow for him.)
We didn’t actually have assigned seats (it seemed the foreigners never did), it was a case of simply wait for everyone to get on, and then send us in to claim any empty bed/chair we could find. (It was always a bit concerning that we were never given tickets or even a confirmation slip for the buses or anything.) Before getting on we had to put our big bags under the bus and stick our shoes/flip-flops into a plastic bag. Me and Alice claimed some beds at the very back of the bus, but this time we were on the top and it was only 3 beds wide due to there being an on-board toilet right next to us. If we’d have thought about it, we should have just taken 2 single beds in the middle of the bus and let the group of Canadians take the 3 at the back which are squished in like sardines. But, because we didn’t think of this before we lay down, we were stuck with one of the Canadian guys next to Alice for the night. He was fine, very friendly and sweet, but MY GOD he was a talker. Like, seriously. I get it, 5pm is an awkward time to board a sleeper bus as it’s too early to actually sleep, but at least just have a quick chat and then let people settle down. Nope. Not this guy. Poor Alice had to entertain him and engage in endless conversations with him while I lay on the other side of her silently laughing to myself. We stopped at around midnight for snacks/food and we finally managed to get some decent (ish) sleep before waking up at around 5am thinking we’d missed our stop!
We handled this “panic” pretty well by just shrugging our shoulders, and settling back down to listen to our music haha. If we’d missed it, then we’d missed it, there was nothing we could do, we would just have to sort it out when we got to the next stop! Even the other Canadians seemed more concerned for us than we did! Luckily though, we hadn’t missed it, the bus driver had just taken a really weird route which made us come into Hoi An from the north (despite us travelling from Dalat which is most definitely south compared to the city.) At around 6am we were dropped off on a backend quiet street of Hoi An and left to fend for ourselves again as we started our 7th day of travel…