Kuala Lumpur – the city of contrast and diversity

As the 5 readers of my blog know, I was unable to fly to Malaysia while on the road last year – because of VOA restrictions on Indian passports. I lost upwards of $500 in the process, and spent over a week moping about it. But I was home last October and during my sojourn, I got the visa and made my way to Kuala Lumpur… and so far, the $100 visa fee has been well worth it!

The first thing you notice as you step out of the airport is a Famous Amos cookies counter and the (extremely humid) heat. But once your body adapts to the heat, and you have a cookie in your mouth, you can start to notice what a lovely city Kuala Lumpur is. I landed in the afternoon, and getting to the central station was a breeze. They have a high speed train that connects both their airport terminals (one for the nicer carriers, and the other for the cheapskate carriers (which people like me fly)), and once you’re in the centre, you can get to pretty much anywhere with their extensive metro service.

My hostel was located in the Bukit Bintang area – which is one of the most happening spots in the city. It’s surrounded by malls, a food street, a party street, a bunch of cafes, and most important of all – a 24 hour McDonald’s. In my first evening I was woken up from my afternoon siesta by some Malay buskers playing a popular Hindi song right under my room’s window. I was irritated, but once I got over the fact that they disturbed my beauty sleep, I took to them and started looking forward to them playing each evening. They have a new set of buskers come in to play everyday, and they play a mix of Malay, English and Hindi songs, and sometimes involve the crowds, when you can shake and dance with them too!

For my first few days in Kuala Lumpur, (including New Year’s Eve), I was joined by Stephanie – who was an absolute joy to travel with. She dances with buskers, buys me Red Bull and even shares a late night beer and shawarma! Can a man ask for more?

We started our tourist trail the right way – by starting with a rest day. We walked around the malls, up to the Petronas Towers, and the KLCC Park.

The following day we made a trip up to the Batu Caves, situated just outside Kuala Lumpur, but easily reachable by their metro. There’s a whole bunch of steps you climb to see what is a rather underwhelming temple, but it’s still a journey worth making. There’s a dark cave tour you can sign up for halfway up the steps to main temple, and there’s even a newly opened Ramayana temple that depicts the story of the Ramayana – and those two, along with the big statue at the bottom, were better than the main temple itself in my opinion.

For New Year’s Eve, KLCC Park, which is right by the Petronas Towers hosts live performances and an ‘epic’ midnight firework display every New Year’s Eve – and that’s where we decided to bring in the new year. We started the evening with some sushi, and then settled down with a bottle of wine and some snackies at a quiet spot in the park, just outside the area cordoned off for the performances. Malaysia is a Muslim country, so there wasn’t going to be any alcohol inside the even; but they are extremely liberal, and you can walk with an open bottle of liquor on the streets. Closer to midnight, we made our way to the event area, and it was absolute chaos. The attendees (which were mostly men) tried to push their way to the front, even though there was nowhere to go… maybe getting squeezed up against other dudes is their way of enjoying New Year’s Eve. 90% of them were of south Asian origin – so I guess the pinky walk they do in India translates to straight up grinding in Malaysia! Anyway; the fireworks at midnight were actually pretty epic and I’m glad we picked KLCC Park to spend New Year’s Eve.

For New Year’s Day we had planned to relax at an infinity pool that was part of an Airbnb we had booked, but then cancelled on us a couple of weeks out. In return for not leaving him a bad review, he agreed to let us use the pool in his apartment complex, and that seemed like a fair trade. However, he didn’t arrange proper access for us, and the guard refused to let us through. After much cajoling, the guard let us get a quick picture, but that is all we got. Can you imagine swimming in a pool with that view though? Argh. Fuck you Vic from Airbnb for taking that experience away from me.

After the infinity pool rejection, we went to the top of the Petronas Towers for sunset, but like every other sunrise or sunset that involves me, it was overcast. The view from the top was absolutely splendid though.

Besides all of that, there’s not much to do in Kuala Lumpur. They have a big square, few mosques and a few museums, but none that really standout or are must-sees. Not for me anyway. There is a nice bar called the Heli Bar – that used to be a helipad on top of a skyscraper – but is now a good spot to watch the sun go down.

Between all of this, we also partook in an activity most of us enjoy doing… eating.

The internet is right people – Kuala Lumpur does have some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Malay food is delicious, but their Chinese and Indian food is some of the best food I have eaten in my life. The Indian food is even better than Indian food in India!

There’s the Petaling Street in Chinatown, Little India and a whole bunch of food courts within the malls. The famous food street Jalan Alor was right behind my hostel and serves some of the best food from all of Asia. Malay, Chinese, Mongolian, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Pakistani, Indian, you name it. And all sooo good. They say Penang, which is in the northern part of peninsular Malaysia, has the best food Malaysia has to offer. It’s hard to believe food can get any better than this – but I’m so curious to find out. The whole over eating has also got me 10 pounds heavier in just 10 days… my parents will be overjoyed to hear that. I’m not too pleased though.

Advertisements

Krabi, Phi Phi, Phuket, Surat Thani, Bangkok, and back home

I needed an appropriate end to my Southeast Asian sojourn, and what better way to spend my last 2 weeks than in the as-yet-unexplored-by-Mazahir parts of Thailand? They got great street food, easily accessible and cheap hostels, amazing nature spots, supermarkets at every corner selling you everything you could ever need, and in my opinion, the perfect blend of Asian and western life. It really is one of my favourite countries.

I flew into Krabi town from Laos, and on my first night I witnessed a Chinese man brushing his teeth in bed.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, maybe I just attract the weird Chinese. But trust me, every long term traveller I’ve met has had a few of these encounters. There’s over 1.2 billion of them, and the strange ones are everywhere!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_224e
Had to take this because how else would people believe me?

Top thing to do from Krabi town is to go to Tiger Cave Temple. It’s a misnomer. There were no tigers and no caves. There were, maybe, a few hollow rock formations – but they don’t count as caves in my book.┬áThey say the place got its name from a cave that was discovered with tiger paw prints. But I also saw no such paw prints. They must get this error corrected ASAP.

Anyway, the highlight of this temple visit is a 1,237 step climb to the top of a temple for some spectacular aerial views of Krabi. I know the number accurately because it is advertised, and to put things into perspective, that’s like climbing a 70 story building.

I struggled, oh how I struggled. But there are certain things you need to do in life for a few Instagram likes, and this is one of those things. I huffed and I puffed, and no I did not blow anything down, but actually made my way to the top. And guess what? OVERCAST.

Rain Gods: 1, Mazahir: 0.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2255UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2257

After a couple of days in Krabi town, I switched bases and moved to Ao Nang Beach, Krabi. Made a day trip to Railay Beach from there, got massages, partied, met some really awesome people (wink wink), and had such a nice, relaxing time. Even channeled my inner basic white bitch and got in some beach yoga. Good times, good times.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2392UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_23aeUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2397UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_235fUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2389UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2374UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_225b

Stopped over at the Phi Phi Islands from there, visited Maya Bay (from the movie The Beach), snorkelled with some fishies, dropped my snorkel mask in the water and pissed off the junk boat driver who dove in and found it when I couldn’t, watched an amazing sunset from the junk boat, and scuba-ed with some white-tip reef sharks.

Now I don’t know what it is about islands like Phi Phi, but I absolutely love them. Wouldn’t it be amazing to live on an island where you can just walk from one end to the other?

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_234bUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2330UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_227aUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2264

I even spent two days in Phuket even though everyone told me it was trashy and full of hookers. Phuket was the last major tourist spot in Thailand that I was still to see, and I just had to go! It was indeed trashy, and even though I found an 11 Eleven supermarket that is obviously better than any 7 Eleven supermarket anyone has ever been to, I’d say skip it.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_23deUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_23d5

We’re now into the final week people, and there was still one tiny thing left that I hadn’t done in Southeast Asia – take a night train. So I made my way up to Surat Thani to take a night train to Bangkok. I was joined by my friend Stefan and we first spent the day exploring Surat Thani, and at around midnight got on the the train to Bangkok together. The second class compartment is a bogie with upper and lower bunk beds along the side and are extremely comfortable. I slept like a baby.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_23eeUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_23ea

Once in Bangkok, there wasn’t much left for me to explore. I had spent so much time in the city over the months of travel that I had no tourist spot (not one that interests me anyway) left unexplored. I also just needed time to reflect on the 6 and a half months that had passed so quickly. I ate my favourite Thai dishes (still pad Thai, with pad kra paw in second), walked for hours and hours with just my own thoughts, read a little, and took the last picture of my trip – the fast moving city traffic of Bangkok.

tRGangfGQDesZq+ehL2zFQ_thumb_23f9

Do I have final thoughts? Yeah, but the journey isn’t over yet. Expect an update soon. ­čÖé

Laos

Laos… lazy, lazy Laos. If you ever make your way here, and you should, my only advice would be to head to a restaurant at least 30 min before you think you’re going to get hungry. Time slows down in this country, and Lao PDR, that is Lao: Peoples’ Democratic Republic officially, but Lao: Please Don’t Rush as every travel blog you read will tell you, really lives up to its slow paced life tag.

I flew into Luang Prabang, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site… aren’t they all in Southeast Asia? After Luang Prabang, I went up to the less touristy villages of┬áNong Khiaw (was touristy) and┬áMuang Ngoi (not very touristy), then south to Vang Vieng which is famous for its tubing and parties by the river (liked tubing, did not enjoy or partake in the riverside-drink-till-you-are-about-to-die-partying), and then to the capital of Vientiane (it’s a city, good food).

That is all. This country is lazy, and I am lazy too.

Look at some pictures:

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_21b8
The beautiful Kuang Si Waterfalls.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_21acUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2194UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2588UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_256f

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2591
Hiking in Nong Khiaw.
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_21fe
View from the top.
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_21ff
Also from the top, and one of my favourite pictures of the entire trip.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_21c2

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_21cc
Playing with some village puppers.
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_223d
Laos’ Arc de Triomphe.
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2234
Sunset in Vientiane.

Northern Vietnam

Phong Nha Ke Bang – a mountain formation that only has a page or two in most travel books, the background for the movie Kong: Skull Island, and the spot for the largest known cave passage cross-section in the world.

Here’s an interesting story about Phong Nha: around the year 1990, a local was walking around and discovered the entrance to Hang Son Doon (the largest cave). Vietnamese people are scared of caves since they think they’re occupied by spirits and steer away from them. The local heard the sound of the water flowing in the cave and the winds that were blowing out of it, was probably spooked, and left thinking no more of it. Many, many years later, a bunch of British researchers working in the area heard the story of a local having found a cave, and reached the house of the local. The passage of years didn’t alter his superstitions and he initially refused he had discovered any such entrance. After a couple of years he came around and took the researchers to the cave… and ladies and gentlemen, that is how the largest cave in the world was discovered!

So; the cave itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site (as is the entire national park), and you can visit the largest cave in the world only via a guided tour that will set you back a measly $3000. No, that is not a typo.┬áThat price was a tad bit beyond my budget, so I settled for some of the other cheaper and more accessible caves, and they were stunning… makes me wonder how amazing this Hang Son Doon cave to command a price like that and still have people that go!

The area is still developing and there’s just a few hostels and guest houses around, but the hostel I stayed at, the Easy Tiger, pretty much ran the place (in a good way, I might add). They hold briefing talks every morning where they talk about the area for free and you can book tours to the caves, that they don’t run themselves, via them, or even on your own. While they are obviously running a business and probably make their money, they employ locals from the area that are likely to lose their way of living once tourism really picks up in this town, teach them English, and overall help uplifting the entire community. They also serve delicious western food and make a mean peanut butter. In short, recommend.

Unfortunately, since Phong Nha is in Vietnam, it gets their fair bit of party kids. While checking in, I overheard a shirtless guy talking to someone at the reception telling him that their group has been in Phong Nha for 3 days, but they really haven’t had the time to explore any of the area because they’ve just been partying hard. He wanted to know what they can do in a few quick hours before they leave Phong Nha to go to their next destination. The guy at the reception took a few seconds to process this, but was too nice to mock this fool, and actually gave him suggestions. My question: why do you need to fly to Vietnam just to drink? Just stay at home and save your parents some money.

Later that night, an English lad came to the dorm around 4 am, unzipped his pants in the middle of the room and peed. Right there, in the middle of the room. I guess that’s why he needed to fly to Vietnam – there’s no way he could get away with that back home.

Peeing also seemed like a tourist trend in the town. I spotted an old Chinese man peeing in the middle of one of the caves with absolute disregard to the cave’s heritage, the security guards, or the women around. Remember how I previously talked about how Chinese tourists are the worst? Add this to the list of reasons.

Now here’s some pictures of the area:

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20c0
View from the hostel hammocks (that I may or may not have fallen out of).
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20db
Inside of the Phong Nha cave.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20fa

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20e0
Casual pee session in the caves.
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20e6
Swimming through one of the newly discovered caves.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20c4

-x-x-x-

After Phong Nha, I had a short recovery stay in Hanoi and made my way up to SaPa, which should be on everyone’s places to see list in Vietnam. On the recommendation of a friend, I stayed at a hostel in Ta Van Village, which is about an hour by road from SaPa, but it’s where most of the trekking tours you do from SaPa will take you. I think this post is all about recommending hostels, because I strongly recommend this one too. It’s called My Tra, and is run by an Aussie bloke called Andrew. He gives you tips on how you can trek in the area along with a hand drawn map, and the beds and food at the hostels are some of the best I’ve slept in / eaten in Vietnam.

SaPa, and the area around it are all rice terraces, the temperature is cooler than anywhere in Vietnam – even in the summer – and overall it was a great place for me to wind down and relax. I spent more nights here than I had planned on, and I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_210a
Right outside the hostel.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2128

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2117
Fansipan cable car.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_211f.jpgUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2119

-x-x-x-

Onward to HaLong Bay from there for me, where they have emerald waters, junk boat tours, and loads of floating garbage.

Over-tourism has ruined what this place probably was, and while the natural beauty of the place is still visible, it would be a lot better if the locals stopped disposing of their waste into the waters. I was in HaLong only for a couple of nights, and other than the time a Spanish dude in the bunk above me, picked up my towel lying on my bed while I was away, used it, didn’t bother putting it back on my bed, pretended he only spoke Spanish when I saw the towel on his bed and confronted him about it, and then told me (in English) that he thought it was the ‘room towel’, nothing particularly eventful happened.

I did a HaLong Bay tour, rode kayaks, did a small viewpoint trek, rode bikes across the island, drank a few beers, played some card games, and ate some delicious Vietnamese food.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_213dUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_215cUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2139UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2151UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2157

-x-x-x-

My final stop in Vietnam was Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital, and the museum hub of Vietnam (along with HCMC).

My departure date from Vietnam would mark the last month of my adventure, and I wanted to spend time by myself. So while I stayed in a hostel (a party one at that too, because it was cheap), I spent my days walking around the city, exploring the museums, and drinking loads and loads of Vietnamese coffee.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20dd
St. Joseph’s cathedral.
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2166
Shards of an American fighter plan at the Military History Museum.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2167UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2168

Central Vietnam

Between the major cities of Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City in the south lies a bunch of ancient Vietnamese towns and cities with an influence of cultures and a centre-point for one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam war.

My trip northwards started with the ancient town of Hoi An – a UNESCO world heritage site. The town itself is a small and easily accessible on bike or foot (no motorised vehicles inside the main town), and the highlights of the little town are in a cluster, a few metres apart from each other. Hoi An was the base of spice traders in ancient Vietnam, and the settlements included people from Japan, Portugal, the Netherlands and India. By night, the town transforms into this magical place lit by lanterns; there’s restaurants at every step, but the whole town makes you feel like you’re back in the 15th century (albeit one where people have iPhones and selfie sticks).

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2024.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2025
Hoi An by night.
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2019
Japanese bridge – a wooden bridge linking the Japanese quarters to those of the Chinese.

Hoi An is famous for its Cau Lau noodles – a dish of noodles and pork only available in Hoi An. The noodles are delicious, as is the case with most Asian food, but nothing to revere in my opinion.

I also had my first experience with bia hoi in Hoi An – a local draft beer brewed fresh daily and sold in bottles measuring around 700 ml for around 15 cents!┬áLike the rest of Asia, where there is cheap alcohol, there will be 19 year old kids wanting to get shit-faced; and Hoi An, in spite of its culture, is no exception. But the bars are less than a handful, which makes them easy to avoid.

-x-x-x-

The highlight of any trip to Central Vietnam is ride a bike through the Hai Van pass – rated by Top Gear as one of the top 10 scenic rides in the world – as every tourist shop will also point out to you. You can rent a bike, strap on your haversack to it, and make this beautiful journey on your own, or you can have an ‘Easy Rider’ do the riding while you sit at the back of his bike taking in the views.┬áIt had been raining on and off during my time there, and even though I really wanted to ride through the mountains myself, getting an Easy Rider seemed like as safer option.

My first stop was the Marble Mountains of Da Nang: five marble mountains representing the 5 elements. The mountains have Buddhist sanctuaries all over, and only the mountain representing water is open to tourists to ascend. The view from the top – breathtaking (mainly because you’ll be breathless after the ascend).

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_208f
Top of the Marble Mountains.

The next stop was the Hai Van pass…

Now, there are times when pictures and videos cannot do justice to an experience, and riding through the Hai Van pass is one of those things. There’s wind in your hair, the temperature is just right, and riding through the pass is a feast for the eyes. I was glad I chose to get an Easy Rider because it started raining while we were reaching the top of the mountain, and you’re literally riding through the clouds with a very short visibility range.┬áThe rain clouds also made it pointless for me to stop at the top of the pass and climb up to the very tip for the viewpoint – I wouldn’t be able to see more than a metre ahead of me, but well…

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2099
I was forced to do this, I swear. 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_205eUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_208eUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2087

After we got off the pass, my Easy Rider took me to a waterfall where ‘only the locals go’. Everybody knows that’s tourist talk for ‘it’s where all the tourists and maybe some locals go,’ but I was in for a surprise. The waterfall was actually a place where only locals go, and I was the only non-Vietnamese person there besides an older white man who had married a local.

The Vietnamese were fascinated by my non-white appearance, and the kids were mesmerised by my GoPro. They passed it around and looked at the exact same view in front of their eyes through the screen on the GoPro like it was magic. An old man swam up to me with his friend who spoke some English. They asked me what I did, and were very curious to know what I thought about Vietnamese women. I found out why a few minutes later when the non-English speaking guy offered my his daughter’s hand in marriage…

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2078.jpg

While I was being propositioned, my Easy Rider arranged for a simple, but delicious lunch by the waterfall – spicy grilled fish, steamed rice, cabbage and soy sauce – and a lot of Huda beers (a beer company from Hue). He got us 6 cans, but only had 1 because he was riding, which left me with 5 beers to guzzle.

The journey ended in the imperial city of Hue, where I said goodbye to my Easy Rider who would now make the scenic ride back to Hoi An by himself… what an amazing job to have.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2028.jpg

-x-x-x-

Hue was the capital of one of the Vietnamese dynasties a few hundred years ago, and is host to what is called the Imperial City of Hue: a walled palace that was the seat of the king.

Being at the border of what was Northern Vietnam and Southern Vietnam, Hue was the place where the bloody Battle of Hue took place. One of the longest and bloodiest battles between the Americans and the Vietcong. This also means a lot of the imperial city has been destroyed, but what remains is still pretty amazing.

I’ll spare you the details since Wikipedia has all the information you need about the battle; so here are some pictures of the Imperial City.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20bcUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20bdUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20b7

 

Dalat, Vietnam

It started out as an amazing first night. My hostel hosted these amazing family dinners where pretty much the entire hostel ate a local meal with the family that ran the hostel – all you can eat Vietnamese spring rolls, a salad, a soup, a vegetable, a chicken dish, and rice… all for a pricey $3!

I made friends with a group of Dutch girls over dinner (the Dutch are easily the nicest people I’ve met on my travels), and we decided to go out on the town. Our first stop was the Escape Bar which is a multi-level bar that’s designed like a maze. You buy your drinks at the entrance, and then make your way through multiple stairwells, each randomly breaking out into a cluster of tables / a dance floor / an area full of quirky artefacts / toilets / another bar to buy more drinks. You have to stick together as a group, or you aren’t going to find your friends again.┬áI’d have pictures of the bar, but one of the Dutch girls was designated photographer for the night, and she left the morning after, without exchanging coordinates.

From the Escape Bar, it was another bar, and then another, and then another, until we ran into a bunch of partying locals on the street, who insisted we share their barbecue and beers with them; we did. We also sang a couple of Westlife songs – the only English songs they knew!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1faa
Dalat street party. 

After that, we ended up at the only night club open till 4 am in Dalat… 2 blocks from my hostel. The club was packed: fancy locals in VIP tables on the sides of the club, not-so-fancy locals in little clusters all around the club, and tourists strictly in the centre of the club on the dance floor. The clubs have a weird no drinks on the dance floor policy, I guess they’re worried someone will smash their beer bottles on another’s head? Props to them for trying…

As we were dancing, we noticed a fight break out at the VIP tables. One of the locals grabbed the other by the collar and shoved him all the way to the DJ’s booth. Now the DJ, not wanting the crowd to miss the spectacle, promptly turned off the music so that everyone’s eyes are towards the action. Right on cue, the collar grabber pulled out a knife and stabbed the other guy right in the neck!

Now, there are some people who like to stand and watch fights like these, but not me… I fucking ran! My hostel friends, just like me, ran with. We told the bouncer at the door what happened, and he insisted we get out of there immediately as well; like we needed more convincing.

We ran maybe a block until we were a fair distance from the club, and right outside the little alley where my hostel was, we met some other people from the hostel smoking cigarettes. Clear from any danger (or so we thought), we were narrating our story to them, when we notice some shouting from the direction of the club and the guys from the club were now brawling on the streets with machetes! We ran again, this time straight to the hostel.

We were later told the two guys originally involved probably belonged to rival gangs. And sure, maybe they did, BUT WHO BRINGS KNIVES AND MACHETES TO A NIGHT CLUB! AND HOW DO YOU CONCEAL THEM!

-x-x-x-

Anyway, Dalat is a tiny city / town, 6 hours north of Ho Chi Minh City, and the French came here to escape the blistering heat of Ho Chi Minh City. For being this close to the city, I was surprised by how cool the temperatures were. Dropping to 15 degrees at night in the middle of the Vietnamese summers, the hostels here don’t even have air conditioners installed. They don’t need it.

The place is filled with French style villas, and they’ve even got their own Eiffel Tower (it’s a telephone tower – but under renovation currently).

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1fff

There’s a lot of trekking you can do in the surrounding hills, and some canyoning as well. I enthusiastically signed up for a canyoning trip, and then proceeded to get very drunk (night of the stabbing), so I did my canyoning trip hungover. A lot of fun, but would not recommend.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1fcaUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1fc2UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1fae

Similar to the Escape Bar is the Dalat Crazy House, which is a home / hotel that was built by the lady who was the teacher to the guy who built the Escape Bar. Quirky house, but I can’t imagine this being a peaceful hotel to stay in – there were over a hundred tourists walking around. It has a nice aerial view of Dalat though.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1ff3UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1feeUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1fe2UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1fef

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1fe8
Classic Asian girl pose. 

In spite of my experiences though, which I believe was a one off, Dalat is one of my favourite places in Vietnam. The family run hostels, weather, food, and coffee make it the perfect getaway.

Most tourists travelling Vietnam go to the old city of Hoi An from Dalat, but it’s a really long bus journey, so I decided to stop by the beaches of Nha Trang and break up the travel time. But it’s a city made literally just for the Russians – they’re everywhere and more in number than the locals – and everything is either in Vietnamese or Russian.

It’s supposed to be a good spot to scuba dive from in Vietnam though, but I’m poor, so I didn’t go. For what it’s worth, here’s a picture of the beach at Nha Trang.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2005

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

I started my Vietnam journey with the lovely city of Ho Chi Minh. Originally called Saigon, but rechristened after the northern Vietnamese (Vietcong) won the war against southern Vietnam.┬áNot many know about the Vietnam war, and the reasons behind it (included me, until this trip), so I’ll start this post with a bit of background. What I say may sound opinionated (it is), and it’s very likely that I have missed mentioning, or perhaps I may not even be aware of, some of the facts surrounding the war. But this is what I understand of the situation:

Vietnam was a French colony and under the French, like every other country under foreign rule, they were oppressed. Towards the end of WWII, the attitude of oppressed nations (including Vietnam) changed. The fight for freedom was gaining traction, and it was getting harder for the oppressors, especially the allies of WWII, to continue to hold their colonies while stopping Germany from doing the same in Europe – they couldn’t take a noble stance at the UN if they themselves committed atrocities outside Europe.

Vietnam demanded independence, but the French didn’t want that; the riches they were looting from Vietnam were too valuable to let go of. France had suffered heavily in WWII, and sought the help of the United States in controlling Vietnam. Under Ho Chi Minh (the leader of the Worker’s Party of Vietnam), however, the Vietnamese declared independence from the French rule. The details aren’t necessary (nor do I know them well enough), but as a result of this declaration of independence, Vietnam was split into two. Ho Chi Minh’s party controlled the north, while the French (with the help of the USA) indirectly controlled the south – installing a Vietnamese puppet to rule the south. By the mid 1950s though, the French had more or less left Vietnam, and the southern Vietnamese cause was aided and controlled only by the USA.

The Vietcong began their attempts to free the south and unify Vietnam as one independent nation. The Vietcong were a communist regime, while the south of Vietnam was an attempt at democracy. The USA didn’t want this. They wanted Vietnam (or at least southern Vietnam) to be a democracy – because they didn’t want communism in more countries of the world. Why was this USA’s problem? Your guess is as good as mine. But from what I understand, they were financially (and politically) motivated – war is, after all, the best kind of business. And while the USA didn’t ‘officially’ enter the war against Vietnam until 1965, they long funded the war by aiding the southern Vietnamese.

On the flip-side, Russia, along with a few other communist nations decided to support the Vietcong. If USA was supporting the south, the Russians probably found it fit to support the north. With this, Vietnam ended up being a battleground that continued the cold war between the communist regimes of Russia and the democratic nation of USA. The southern Vietnamese were armed with US provided helicopters, tanks, bombs, guns and other ammunition, while Russia and China took care of the Vietcong. And though the battle went on for decades, and the casualties were mainly Vietnamese.

The Vietnamese were basically pawns. The US did everything they could to force the Vietcong to retreat, including the use of Agent Orange, but the Vietcong had some serious fight in them. In spite of being repeatedly bombed by the USA: every single day, for years and years, the Vietcong did not give in. Through the war, the USA dropped 7 million tons of bombs in Vietnam – that’s more than double the amount dropped in Europe and Asia in WWII! As for the chemical warfare, please Google ‘Agent Orange’ to see the consequences of what the chemical did to the locals.

In the end, the Vietcong proved to be too resilient. They were masters of guerrilla warfare, and although USA didn’t officially lose the war – they withdrew forces from southern Vietnam, which led to the downfall of the southern Vietnamese regime – it seems pretty clear that it was a war that they were not likely to win.

A badass, war-movie like interaction took place when the Vietcong army entered Saigon, broke through what is now called the Reunification Palace (post-war name to signify the reunification of the north and south of Vietnam), and entered the cabinet room where General Duong Van Minh, the leader of the southern Vietnamese forces, along with his advisors were waiting. I quote from Wiki: “The revolution is here. You are here,” Minh said.┬áHe added, “We have been waiting for you so that we could turn over the government.” Colonel Bui Tin, the commander of the Vietcong curtly replied, “There is no question of your transferring power. Your power has crumbled. You cannot give up what you do not have.”

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1f7f
Reunification Palace.

Coming back to the city as it is today, they have the War Remnants Museum that gives you, admittedly, a pro-Vietcong view of the war. But the museum is worth a visit. They have a whole section dedicated to the horrific consequences of Agent Orange – and the pictures made my insides churn. There’s a lot of American tanks, helicopters and planes on display in the courtyard outside the museum, and they are pretty cool.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1f7d
Courtyard outside the War Remnants Museum.
The city also has a lovely, French style post office, as well as a French built cathedral called the Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon.
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1f82
Outside of the post office.
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1f83
Inside of the post office.
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1f84
Notre Dame Saigon.

A short drive away from Ho Chi Minh City, there is a town by the name of Cu Chi, that has what remains of the famous Cu Chi Tunnels. During the war, most of the fighting took place in the middle of Vietnam by the border between the north and the south. But the Vietcong found a way to bring the battle to the south. They took the sea route from the north, and went all around Vietnam to Cambodia, from where they entered the mainland, moved northwards, and then cut east to Cu Chi in Vietnam.

If you want to see how the Vietcong fought, this is the place to go. Masters of guerrilla warfare, these locals were farmers by the day, and soldiers by night. They used these tunnels as a place to hide, as well as a place to eat, sleep, store weapons, and sneak up on the enemy. The network forms a part of a larger network of underground tunnels, and the Cu Chi Tunnels themselves are around 120kms long – stretching all the way to Cambodia. The tunnels themselves are so tiny, it’s amazing how these soldiers moved through them. The tunnels are a measly 60 centimetres by 80 centimetres, and the only way to move was crawling horizontally on their bellies.

The tourist accessible spot of the Cu Chi Tunnels are some of the few tunnel networks that have been preserve by the Vietnamese government, and a lot of the tunnels collapsed during the war because of the bombings. There’s an original entry point that you can briefly enter into to see what it was like to be in the tunnels, and there’s also a 100m stretch of tunnel that they’ve more than doubled in size through which tourists can enter to see what it was like being in the tunnels: claustrophobic, cramped, terribly hot, and tiring – in spite of them being king-sized.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1f8c
One of the original entrances to the tunnels.

I also visited the Mekong Delta, which is a vast network of rivers and rivulets that the Vietnamese use for trade and travel.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1ffb
Cruising the Mekong Delta.

In terms of food, Ho Chi Minh City offers pretty much every kind of cuisine you could want. I stuck to Vietnamese food for the major part. I love bahn mi, and it’s probably one of the few good things the French did to Vietnam: they gave them the recipe to a perfect baguette. During my tour of the Mekong Delta there was also some snake infused rice wine on offer. It’s rice wine with some snake poison (the alcohol makes it harmless) and the snake itself (for added zing maybe?). A cool souvenir to take back from Vietnam.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1f9e
Ready to drink snake infused rice wine.
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1f92
Take away bottles for tourists.

A lot of people don’t like Ho Chi Minh City, but that’s probably because they are expecting a Bangkok like experience. I really liked the city, its history, and as is standard with most of Southeast Asia, the people.