6 Feb, 2014
Day 3 in this country, and so far every experience has made me love this country more. Especially now, here I am on a bus. But it is like no other bus I’ve ever experienced. Every “seat” is a bed – even though the bus departs at 10 a.m.! The reclining bed comes with blanket – thank goodness, for that provides my lumbar support so I can sit up. I LOVE this.
A negative I’d heard before Vietnam arrival was: everyone tries to cheat you; you have to negotiate for everything. So far, I stayed, for a reasonable price ($22/night) in the best hotel I’ve stayed at yet in Asia. The people who ran it (Long Hotel) were totally nice and patient and helpful and spoke excellent English. They always gave me good guidance, so patiently: guidance for my moto tour, and for restaurants.
Here I am with my moto tour guide. She was so cool.
Wifi works great here in Vietnam – at all my hotels. And just now, waiting for this bus, there was a Starbucks-like coffee shop (one of hundreds) right next door to the bus stop. I tried Vietnamese coffee for the first time since VN arrival. It was REAL coffee, and the very first coffee I’ve had since arrival in Asia on 11/1, i.e. 3+ months ago. What a wallop! Feel like I just did a low dose of meth – mood and heart rate elevated.
So, at the coffee shop, I of course see the usual cohorts of computer-using young folks working away. So, I got the password and off I went and in a few short minutes was able to upload photos onto Facebook. That really is miraculous – a testimony to my own learning curve, and the efficiency of the local broadband.
In addition, not yet any sense of people wanting to fleece me. E.g. This morning, pre-bus, I needed to take a moto-taxi the short distance to my next hotel to leave off luggage I’m not schlepping to Dalat (where I’m headed). Could have easily walked it, except for my oh-too-vulnerable back. So, inquired at hotel how much moto taxi should cost – was pleased that my own personal estimate (max $1) was on the mark.
Exited from the quaint and interesting alley where my hotel is located, and surprise! No on accosting me with requests to provide me with moto-taxi service. So, I stood on the street and waved my hand, hoping the universal sign was truly universal. And, a wonderful thing happened: a new white air conditioned taxi stopped. I showed him my desired address, told him I was expecting to take moto taxi and only planning to pay $1, was he willing to give me a ride for $1? Yes!
During our short ride, the man smiled and gave me language lessons, which of course I cannot remember a word of.
2 hours later
I’m on this bus to Dalat and still waiting for scenery. I’d been told to take the day bus (even though it’s an 8 hour ride) by my nice hotel proprietor because I’d see the scenery. Did take day bus, but only because no overnight busses had seats. Here’s a sample of the non-scenery:
That coffee did in my tummy – spent first 1 ½ hours on bus preparing to throw up from too much stomach acid, and planning how I would urinate in this bus (nice as it is, no bathroom on board.
Fortunately, we did stop 1 ½ hours into the journey. All announcements by the “bus host” were only in Vietnamese (somehow, that seemed right. So tired of being catered to). I certainly could read the cues when the bus stopped at what clearly looked like a rest stop (e.g. big WC signs).
and lots of available food:
Passengers began to disembark. – another clue There was one Western guy who bounded off so quickly, I knew I wasn’t the worst off.
I grabbed my shoes-in-a-bag (no wearing of shoes in the bus) and as I stepped off the bus guess what: there was a basket full of rubber flip-flops!
I put on a pair and followed the crowd to the (free) (Western) toilets. These toilets were so “clean” that water was about 1/8 inch deep on the floor, and as I utilized the facilities, more wash-water came sloshing into my stall.
There was soap at the sinks and TP in the stalls!
I looked around at the fine food offerings – including an entire display of fresh fruit. I’d heard about the good VN sandwiches, but given that the main ingredient was “pork paste” in the variety on offer, I passed. Given my tummy state, fruit didn’t sound good, either.
There was also a 7-11 type convenience mart, and I trolled the well stocked aisles searching for antacids. I think the multiple array of “xylitol” based products were chewing gum, not antacids, but who knows.
I chose the only thing that looked curative (and something I remember searching through multiple African countries to find): pretzels! At first I thought the bag cost 30 cents, but upon reflection, it was $3.00. 150 gm. worth of pretzel sticks imported from Germany. Yumm! And guess what: they seem to have done the curative trick. Thank goodness.
I was hoping the culture here in VN would be different from the 4 other Asian countries I’ve just visited, and thank goodness, it is. For whatever reason(s), I was really tired of the similarities between Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma (Myanmar). They all seemed like different versions of the same country, at different stages in economic development. But all on the same trajectory. Same same, as they say here.
So far, major differences I’ve noticed here in Vietnam:
– buses like no other
– Sidewalks without treacherous holes
– Technology taken for granted – i.e. good wifi abounds
– Better food – more varieties, tasting better. Yes, I prefer it to the food in Thailand
– Modern looking markets are frequent and visible – imported goods much more in evidence. E.g. Sensodyne toothpaste and my German pretzels.
– Sit-down restaurants I went to were frequented by 99% Asians, instead of vice-versa (i.e. 99% Westerners –maybe I’m being unfair to Thailand) suggesting more of a middle class.
7 hours of bus ride and finally got to Dalat. Despite its being a great bus, 7 hours during daylight hours is too much for me. Thank goodness I take a plane back to HCMC (Saigon). It was only in the final hour that scenery improved at all, but truly, this was NOT a pretty road. The following are about as good as it got:
So, I am now happily in Dalat, a pretty and hilly city that was spared by both sides in the American war. More reports to come.