Off the beaten track

If Easy Drivers wanted to show us the real Vietnam, we needed no help in finding the real Indonesia. After spending leisure-days in Bali for almost a week we continued to Lombok on Tuesday. We reserved inviting (read cheap) hotel from here already beforehand, and found ourselves in the middle of a town called Ampenan, on the outskirts of Lomboks biggest city Mataram.

Our hotel is a cozy family run business in the end of a muddy alley. The owner is a Dutch man with Indonesian wife and kids.

Our lovely hotel in Ampenan, The Red Pepper Inn.

The room has air-con and pink walls. There’s no shower, but we get to pour water on us with a heart-shaped scoop to wash up. Other guests are Indonesian. When we told the guy who arranged our transportation here where we want to go, he asked several times are we sure. “There’s nothing there. You are the only tourists there. Senggiki is a lot better.” But we were sure.

Instead of a taxi, here it’s possible to choose a cart pulled by a pony and all the kids and most of the grown ups greet with a hello, since we sure are the only tourists here. Prices dropped like 70 percent from those in Bali. Even though I like seeing places that aren’t crowded with other westerners, the first night here wasn’t one of the best. I had been feeling a bit sick already few days before we came here, so a visit to a local market place with smelly fish and rotting garbage around, was hard. I must have looked like a stupid, foolish and spoiled girl for covering my nose so I wouldn’t throw up, but I had to.

Ampenan market

When we got back to the hotel I was shivering, and an hour later I already had over 38 degrees fever. So yesterday I spent in the hotel room reading The Girl in the Picture while J stayed beside me, sometimes going out to grab me something to eat or entertain himself. Today he rented a scooter and went to look for monkeys in Pusuki, though we already saw some in Bali. I didn’t feel energetic enough to go with him. Driving on the back of his scooter takes a lot of energy. We tried it already in Bali to get to Padang Padang (the famous surfing camp to get my sports pictures), and I think I still haven’t fully recovered from it…

Macaque in Bali’s monkey forest

Since one day was wasted because of my illness, we decided to stay here at least until Saturday. Then, we’ll probably go to the Gili islands, the tourist-attraction of Lombok. If only we had more time, we would like to search more of the islands here, Flores, Komodo maybe East Timor even, but looks like this time we have to leave it to these few. The original plan was to focus on Indonesia and Malaysia, but we’ve become more interested on Laos and Cambodia, so we want to have enough time to explore those too.

We’ve seen some phenomenal sunsets on our trip. This one is from Tanah Lot, the Rocky temple in Bali. We took a tour around the island to see some temples and rice terraces on Monday.

And here’s what I got from Padang Padang. Photographing surfing was hard, especially with my bad 18-200 kit lens, but luckily I pumped into a local photographer and he let me use his 400 for a short moment.

Life’s totally a beach at Bali

Last few days have been interesting because we’ve seen so different places. Sunday we spent in buzzing Ho Chi Minh City and in the historical Cu Chi tunnels (those tunnels have been actually enlarged for tourist but are still soooo small. Got to give some credit to the soldiers of Vietnam war and really start considering dieting…).

Todays tourists have a hard time fitting into Cu Chi tunnels.

Monday and tuesday we spent, ah, in so air-conditioned and clean Singapore.

The Singapore-view from Marina Bay at night is quite impressive.

And now, finally we’re in Bali, which feels like a mixture of Vietnam and Singapore. Most delighting thing is that people speak pretty good English, and you can actually have conversations when in Vietnam we got mostly sharp “Yes” or “Nooo-no-no-nooo”. What’s great too is that for the first time during this trip we can stay still for a while and might actually sleep in the mornings, with no worries of catching a bus etc.

Dogs like to hang out at Seminyak beach too.

The only thing I have to stress about now is the unfinished homework for school for sports photography. There seems to be no games or matches anywhere here. Guess I just have to hang on the beach few days and catch some pics of surfers… Luckyly beach and surfers are probably the easiest things to find in Bali.

Third World Problems

Piece of real Vietnam.

Almost two weeks in Vietnam, and to tell you the truth, the city-girl in me is starting to miss some things of comfortable western lifestyle (like normal toilets, not just a hole in the ground that you get here in many places…).

Getting used to the night busses has also been a lot to take. If you ever consider taking a bus from Camel Travel or T.M. Brothers Cafe, don’t. Run (or walk) instead, you’ll be there probably faster. We’ve come now over 1700 kilometres down from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) through Hoi An, Nha Trang and Mui Ne, and our last “sleeping bus” experience ended 30 minutes ago. I couldn’t be more relieved. Imagine 13-16 hours drives in an overcrowded bus. Usually the buses carry some other stuff too (like sugar or rice) so sometimes the luggage has to be taken inside, even if it’s so crowded that some people already have to sleep on the floor. My first thought of sleeping bus was: cool, adjustable bed-like seating! The reality is stinking seats made for short people and backrest stuck in one position. So you either sit or lie the whole way.If you’re lucky enough to fall as sleep, the crazy bus driver makes sure with honking horns that you wake up every 5 minutes. At 5 am when you’re thinking the sunrise and the view on Vietnamese countryside is okay, the thing you’ve feared because of odd sounds, happens: bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Then you’re left for hour(s) without air conditioning. It’s always a plus if the bathroom in the bus works.

Mui Ne by night and a nice restaurant with a sand terrace by the beach.

And that is, if the bus ever comes. The night bus always has to be confirmed a day ahead and two times we asked our hotel receptionist confirm them for us, but the reservations never got through. That’s why we were left in Mui Ne last night because the bus was full, and they hadn’t got out reservation (But I was actually happy we got to stay in Mui Ne. It’s a beach paradise. Who would complain about a moonlight swim under the palm trees?). Today our bus was supposed to leave at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. We got on the road at seven…

One other thing that bugs me, is that when something happens, like a bus is delayed or broken, nobody tells anything unless you keep asking. Nobody is sorry, and then in the end, when the bus finally leaves, everything has to happen in a speed of a lightning, like we were supposed to know all the time what was going on. That’s kind of what happened with our motorbike tour to Da Lat too. At first, we were going to take motorbikes from Da Lat to Mui Ne, but because it’s a long way, our guide suggested the minibus. We we’re clueless of were to get the tickets our guide had bought for us and the departure time of the bus also varied a little bit, so a bit more info would have been welcome.

Our guide and J’s driver Tai.

This sunny beach we left behind in Nha Trang on thursday when we hopped on motorbikes.

Anyway, getting from Nha Trang to Da Lat on a motorbike on thursday was an amazing experience. Even though, I was scared most of the way and wished in some mountain road turns that I were home with mom. 🙂 But the view with the small mountain streams and water falls was just something unforgettable. And our drivers Tai and Huan drove very well. Tai (who was also our guide) wanted to show us the real Vietnam, so we saw for example making of rice paper (that’s from what they make fresh spring rolls), coffee plants, flower farms and we even got to taste sugar from the ground. The next day in Da Lat they took us to a silk factory and to a pagoda with a big, happy buddha.

On our way up to the central highlands.

Vietnamese women by the pagoda in Da Lat.

Now I have to get some sleep to get the most out of tomorrow, our only day in Saigon before we fly off to Singapore on Monday. Wish I had more time later on on this trip to write about everything, maybe I get back to for example Hoi An later… This time in Vietnam has just been hectic because of the tight schedule we had (because of the flights to Singapore and Bali already being booked), but I think it’s about to change when we reach Bali on tuesday night…

Stuck inside in the flooding Hue

So we got a sunny day like  I hoped. But that was yesterday. It’s been training all day today which made us cancel our motorbike tour we had planned (and partly paid for). Only walking few blocks to a near-by restaurant and to this internet cafe got us soaking wet. And yes, we had rain coats on! The streets are flooding, there are 5-15 cm deep puddles all over.

This is what Hue looked like today.

So to cheer up this rainy day, here’s some tourist-snapshots from the first week in Vietnam. We’ll see if the roads are still in driving condition tomorrow morning after the heavy rain. If so, we’ll continue with the open bus towards famous beach-city Nha Trang through Hoi An.

Cyclo driver in Hanoi.

The Bridge of the Rising Sun, at Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi.

I think the view from this cave was even more amazing than the cave itself (which wasn't bad either).

Ha Long means decending dragon, and the story tells that's how these islands were formed.

Arriving in Halong Bay. I have a feeling the boats aren't the eco-friendliest kind...

This dog was the cutest sight in Halong! 🙂

The Perfume River is filled with lights at nighttime.

Scary spiders on a bridge in Hue.

Ha Noi and Long

The traffic is chaotic, people are friendly (even though you can’t trust in the prices they’re offering) and you can see grilled dogs in the street kitchens: we’re definately in Vietnam. It might take a while to get used to this…

We landed in Hanoi with a nice 24 celcius degrees weather, so it’s quite all right. First day it was raining so we just strolled on the streets of old quarter and planned what to do next, and bought a two-day trip to Halong Bay. There has been some accident’s with the boats there, but we decided to spend the night in the boat anyway, so that we had time for kayaking (It was fun!). We got some discount for a luxury visit, since the not-so-luxury-boat was broken in the tropical storm that raged here on monday. Not sure if this was a way of getting more money out of us, but in the end we paid only 10 dollars more, and get a room with air conditioning etc.

Halong Bay was as beatiful as promised but I believe it would have been even better with some sunshine. We haven’t seen the sun yet, so we have high expectations for the southern parts…

Otherwise Vietnam has been charming. I’m stunned how quickly I got used to the traffic. Crossing the street is now possible without getting myself killed, even though I thought otherwise when I first saw the roads. The key is to be calm, you can’t walk too fast and you just have to be brave enough to stand between the cars and mopeds.

The open bus is picking us up in few minutes to Hue, so the next 12 hours we’ll spend in a night bus. I hope I get some sleep. Otherwise I can play this new game J invented: how far can you get in here without seeing any mopeds when you look outside? At the moment our best score is 13 seconds. The goal is to reach one minute. 🙂

I’ll try to upload some pictures as soon as I have the time and place to do that.