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Ho Chi Minh City Travel Blog

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A 'road' in the central highlands.

It's been a while since I updated this blog, and now I feel the urge.

So, where did I leave off last time...? Ah yes, Dalat. The super ridiculous Vietnamese valley of love! So, we spent 3 days there, lovin it up, and then headed north, to Lak Lake. It took us 3 attempts and an entire morning to even leave Dalat in the right direction. First, we decided to take the back roads. Bad idea. Well, it was a god idea, but proved to be unsuccessful. It hadn't rained for 2 or 3 days but even so, the 'roads' were impassable. We made it some 40Ks until we reached what was marked on the map as a small town, but turned out to be a little outpost populated by a couple of forest rangers - telling us to go back where we came from.

Mountain roads
At first, we thought we'd carry on regardless. Sure, the roads had been tough, and we were starting to get pretty bloody muddy, but we figured we could handle it. It wasn't until we saw another motorbike coming from the direction we were heading in, that we changed our minds. This guy was covered in mud from head to toe. Perhaps the rangers were right. After a quick adjustment of the clutch cable, which had slipped due to constant usage, we turned around and headed back to Dalat.

We then left Dalat for the second time, in the wrong direction (Thanks to some lovely navigation skills on Keishia's part!! She's now telling me to point out that we were, infact, on the right highway, just heading in completely the wrong direction... nice one Keishia! Oh, and, wait for it.

A lady sieves rice, Dak Lake
.. The maps were shit! True, I guess. I’ll give her that one!). Finally we were on track though, although with only a couple of hours driving before night would begin to set in.

We pulled over at some roadside cafe for food. More rice. Then it started to rain. We spotted a nice bit of flat ground beside the cafe and proceeded to ask the owners of the cafe if we could set up camp there. I think they misunderstood, and proceeded to offer us some hammocks to sleep in on their porch thing. More guitar, and many more mosquito bites!

The next morning, we ate what was possibly the worst banh mi in the world. A dry baguette thing full of very fatty meat.

Night fishing ,Dak Lake
Yuck. Anyway, a few more hours of driving and we were at Lak Lake. Keisha ad been to this place before and knew of a little village on one side of the lake where we could spend the night in a longhouse. It was a beautiful spot and the place had a really great atmosphere. Pigs, chickens and elephants roamed around, whilst the locals did their thing with the rice. Yes, I did say elephants! Although they only seemed to be there to take tourists on walkabouts. Kinda sad really.

From Lak Lake, we began to head further West, right up to within a few Ks of the Cambodian border. These were some beautiful roads. Rubber and coffee plantations were plentiful. We spent one night camped by the road, next to several large spiders. Seriously, these spiders were huge - 6 or 7 inches long! Not my cup of tea! I made Keishia kill one of them with a stick.

Kids fishing at Dac Lake
I think she missed and it scuttled off, only to reappear 30 minutes later. They seemed to be living inside the telegraph pole that was acting as one of the supports for my tent. Much to my distaste, we had no choice to camp there regardless. It was already dark by this time, and finding another camping spot would have been impossible.

The next night was interesting. We found a suitable camping spot, yet again, a simple roadside clearing. It was kinda in the middle of some crops, but the ground was flat and it had a great view. We waited until nightfall to set up camp so as not to draw (more) attention to ourselves. Once we had the camp set up, we headed off to find the nearest village in search of food. Pho this time, and a really tasty one at that. Once again, we were the highlight for the locals, who offered us shot after shot of rice wine! We returned to our camp, got a fire going and started on the guitar thing again.

Rubber farmers have never seen a headtorch before.
After an hour or so, some farmers from the nearby houses came over to see what all the noise was about. They didn't seem impressed and were acting very hostile, telling us to go home. I think they thought we were Vietnamese at first, after their crops or something. It took a while to convince them that we didn't want to cause any trouble and just wanted to sleep. No harm meant. But these people didn't speak a word of English (not many people in this part of the country do) and our Vietnamese skills were being tested to their limits. A couple of hours on, and the hostile farmers had become our friends and were taking great interest in every last possession of ours, especially the head torch. They wanted this torch badly and didn't give up asking for it all bloody night. They wanted to buy it, swap things for it, or for me to simply give it to them. I held my ground. I still have the torch.
Our last camping spot
As far as we could make out, they worked on the rubber plantations in the early hours of the morning, when it’s still dark, and this headtorch would really help them out as it would leave both hands free to do whatever it is they do with the rubber trees. They had never seen such a thing and thought it was the best thing ever! I don't think they were impressed with our suggestion of taking a normal, hand held torch, and attaching to their heads with a spare pair of boxer shorts!

On our map, there was a huge lake not too far from where we were. We decided to head over and check it out. Turned out to be a good move that lead to 3 awesome days. We arrived, and once again did our scouting for suitable camping ground. We spotted an excellent site, right by the lake and decided to ask the nearest people if it would be ok for us to camp.

What a place to live!
They seemed to be happy with the idea and escorted us to our chosen spot. Once we had camp setup, they invited us into their house for food and drinks, after which they insisted that we slept inside the house because it would be cold by the lake at night. We couldn't turn them down. We drank rice wine and played guitar and they asked if we would stay another night. Infact, they even made us shake on it! It was a heavy night. These people don't go easy on the rice wine, and this stuff is strong (40% or something).

The next morning, we were woken up by their very cute kid poking our mosquito net. We arose to find that Hiep, the man of the house, was out in the lake catching breakfast! The fish were served with rice and soup. Oh, and rice wine! Seriously, 7 in the morning and they were back on the rice wine.

Hiep and co. A rice wine session.
So, I drank several shots - Keishia managed to get out of the morning drinking session somehow... lightweight! Then they took us on a tour of the lake. We had three on our bike - keishia, myself, and Hiep's 4 year old kid! Two other bikes joined us, each loaded up with three people. They took us round the lake, to a huge pagoda. It was a really nice day. The evening was similar to the last, although this time the rice wine was replaced with shots of beer.

And that was pretty much the end of our holiday. 2 and a half amazing weeks that I will never forget.

Now, we're back in Saigon and it's all go. We have moved out of the Pham (the Saigon tourist trap) into our own place, and we have (2) jobs.

Hiep returns from the lake with breakfast.
Our house is amazing. $700 per month, shared between 3 of us (Keishia, Dave and I), although a fourth person is going to be moving in at the weekend. It was unfurnished when we moved in, but it's all coming together now. It really is a nice place, and our landlord is really cool. It's a 3 story town house, situated on a quiet alleyway just off 3 Tang 2 street (Bah Tang Hai - although probably not spelled like that!). Ground floor is a large open plan living/dinning/kitchen space. First floor has our bedroom at the front and the spare room at the back. We have a lovely balcony in our room and a really nice bathroom too. The second floor has Dave’s room at the back, a shared bathroom in the middle and a big landing at the top of the stairs. This is going to be our study area, and possibly somewhere to give private English lessons. There is also an amazing roof terrace on the second floor too.
A large Budah, and an even larger temple.

Then, the only thing left to talk about is work. I started my first teaching Job on Tuesday, had two more classes yesterday, and have just had another two tonight. I'm mainly teaching exam classes at the moment (TOFEL, and TOEIC), and unfortunately I'm not being paid enough for it ($12, before tax). Exam classes really should pay more, but I'm not too fussed at the moment as I also have another job on the side. Ever heard of Leapfrog? They make electronic audio books for kids. That is, an interactive book with a special pen thing which you can use to press on the words in the story to hear them spoken aloud. Thee company I work for (LTRC) are the software testers for Leapfrog, and have employed us (Keishia, Dave and myself) to check the grammar and pronunciation of the audio.

Chillin at Hieps house.
We can do it in our own tine, at home, and they pay us well. $200 per title. Each title should take from 1 to 2 days. I did my first one today and almost completed it after about 5 hours. They have 24 titles to do by the end of January, and more to come after that. That is seriously good money for Vietnam, considering my months rent is about $150!

So all in all, life is good out here… Who's up for coming to visit sometime?!

And I just realised... It's only 5 day until Christmas! Mental!

Shakey_Jakey says:
Great update Tom. Love to hear the latest news....sounds like it's all working out brilliantly. We look forward to coming over to see you!!! Mis you, particularly with Xmas upon us BUT never mind life goes on. Speak soon Dad xxx
Posted on: Dec 22, 2007
gringostarr says:
Hey Tom....

Great to hear all about the trip. Sounds seriously memorable and a whole load of fun. Glad to hear you have sorted out a house etc...all sounds good.

I'd like to try and take you up on your offer some time this year and come out. Any ideas how long you'll be there for? I could find it a little tricky getting to Vietnam with work but we'll see.

Have a lovely Christmas...I'm sure it will be a little odd not being home! We'll be thinking of you...

x
Posted on: Dec 21, 2007
kirkie49 says:
hey Tom, what a great holiday. Love the photo of you playing guitar with the little boy.
Richard and Julie, love the photo of your little one, hope things are going well with you all, happy Christmas!
Posted on: Dec 20, 2007
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A road in the central highlands.
A 'road' in the central highlands.
Mountain roads
Mountain roads
A lady sieves rice, Dak Lake
A lady sieves rice, Dak Lake
Night fishing ,Dak Lake
Night fishing ,Dak Lake
Kids fishing at Dac Lake
Kids fishing at Dac Lake
Rubber farmers have never seen a h…
Rubber farmers have never seen a …
Our last camping spot
Our last camping spot
What a place to live!
What a place to live!
Hiep and co. A rice wine session.
Hiep and co. A rice wine session.
Hiep returns from the lake with br…
Hiep returns from the lake with b…
A large Budah, and an even larger …
A large Budah, and an even larger…
Chillin at Hieps house.
Chillin at Hieps house.