Da Lat Exploration Begins – a Good Day One!

Day one in Da Lat was a great day! First off was coffee and a huge breakfast at La Viet coffee called the English breakfast. Couple of eggs, bacon, two kinds of sausage, and toast and two americanos. All of that for about $5.00. Yes!

I had decided to take a longer walk to the downtown and city centre area so I could see some of Da Lat. This city is so different and I am really liking it. Its slower paced, weather is a lot cooler. Reason to go to the city centre area was to go to Da Lat Market. I needed to get a coat. Yes a coat! Here in Da Lat it warms up to a nice 70 degrees and then cools off to about low 50s.

So I found the market which is pretty cool by itself. It has at least three levels which includes fresh fruit and veggies, a food court and then levels of clothing. Most of the stalls sell jackets and sweaters! The fresh vegetables are probably what Da Lat is known for. The coffee growing here is stupendous too. I may take a coffee tour with La Viet Coffee later since you start at their farm and they show you the whole process. Then its to their coffee shoppe and you see the beans being ground and the coffee being made.

I wandered around for a few hours today which was really nice and I think I am really gonna enjoy staying here for awhile. Tonight I am gonna spoil myself and go to a BBQ joint and have some beers and some kind of BBQ.

Da Lat is so very different than Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. I have not been to a place here that’s like it. Here’s some cool facts about its history. I also got really interested in the different things to see here. From the city centre with all shoppes and market to a beautiful lake to walk around. Coffee shoppes are all around the lake and there are fresh food stalls here and there.

I am going to be sharing the photo album more than posting individual photos. Here is the link to the album I am keeping of this adventure.

I’m off for dinner in a bit to a BBQ place. I have a hankering for some BBQ and heer tonight!

Bus Rides and Flights of Fancy

The Sinhtourist bus ride trip report.

We started right at 830am for the 7 hour ride to Da Lat. Its now almost 1130 and we have been going for three hours and one rest break. The bus has these seats and reclining areas most likely built for smaller asian bodies than US backpackers and tourists. Its not uncomfortable just smaller.

There is free wifi on the bus which I am on now with the Mac laptop. Its okay too. It does what its supposed to do just a bit slower. But its free! And its on a bus! What expectations? :-). I don’t have any.

The bus rides at about 60 kilometers an hour I would say and the ride is not too bad. It has some interesting sounding air breaks which tend to squeal and complain when the driver decides its time to slow down for a bigger vehicle.

We are up in the forests and hills between Saigon and Da Lat now and the country is so much different! Its really nice to see trees and open spaces instead of a vast city.

I am wondering if they are going to stop for lunch or we just go straight through. Not particularly hungry. Not used to doing lunches. As I walked this morning stopped at a coffee shop and got a little Banh Mi sandwich and an americano coffee.

At the last rest stop I got some potato chips and an extra water. We got a free water on the bus but it never hurts to have more. The rest stop was more like a fast food place with countless isles of all kinds of food. Prices were reasonable.

We stopped for lunch at this place called the Mandagui Forest Resort. It’s more than half way to Da Lat. Now we are back at it again. Here’s a little ditty for you:

I’m riding the bus the bus to Da Lat
I don’t pack much but what I have I’ve got
This solo travel takes me in the air, rails, and ground
Whatever way I go it’s the best way around

Now I sit back in my chair and watch time tick on
Second or minutes or hours don’t matter alone
This road that’s getting twisty and the bus slows down
Good thing for brakes as long as they’re still around

This poem is done because this is all I have got
On this little bus ride from Saigon to Da Lat

So, in the end, I arrived about an hour late. Taking a bus for 8 hours is interesting but really no more so than riding a train for 30 hours I guess. The bus was built for small bodies and it really chugged up the hills while the other buses sped by. I have two trips here but they are on other buses. Yay!

I also got to the hotel. I’ll be here for 30 days and then decided to move to another hotel. I’m going to think through what my minimal goals are here. I think I would like to slow it down a bit from the 30 days in Ho Chi Minh City.

Touristy Fun in Ho Chi Minh City

Wait, wait. Don’t leave yet! You will miss the final touristy day I spent today in Ho Chi Minh City and the amazing views from the Saigon Skydeck which is 49 floors up in the most iconic skyscraper here. Without further explanation, here are a few pictures from a day spent being the tourist.

That’s the view at 49 floors up of this amazing city stretching out basically as far as the eye can see.

Some friendly young people on my meandering today. Vietnamese love to have their pictures taken and spend time doing selfies and posing a lot. All in all, a fun loving and gregarious people!

Some college student practicing English. They had questions but we started laughing about half way through and fun ensued. I also asked to take their picture which was not a hard sell :-).

Its raining like crazy now here so resting for the last night in the homestay. May go walk over to the Circle K and get a few beers for the night. Hopefully the rain stops but its been kinda this way all the day today.

Tomorrow at 830am I board the bus from here to Da Lat. It takes about 7 hours on the bus and we stop for a few breaks along the way. I also had to find a ATM which allows larger fund withdrawals then some of them. If you are traveling here, you may want to find a HSBC or Citibank ATM. Many of the local banks do not allow more than 3 million VND at a time. I wanted to withdraw enough for a hotel room coming up and money to spend for awhile. HSBC does the goods!

Thinking about the slowness of the travel a bit…

Sometimes like over the ice cream earlier at Fanny’s (love that name!), I start considering the time on the road, what it all means, how moving slowly has been the best thing for me. I don’t think I would enjoy the so many countries in so many days thing at all. I would want to spend more time in some places and travel slowly there. Vietnam has been great for that! Its dawned on me though that the 6 month tourist visa is running out in September. I think by then I will be ready to go and see some place else.

Take care all! Catch you on the flip side of a longish bus ride tomorrow.

Preparing to Leave Ho Chi Minh City

Today I visited Chinatown for a few hours and walked around the literally thousands of stalls selling just about everything, small Chinese businesses, restaurants, and really crowded streets. I enjoyed it but after about 2 hours I felt done. I stopped to look at Google Maps and decided that I would walk back to my homestay. That’s about 6 km and the navigation said it would take me almost 2 hours if I walked the preferred route. I wanted to walk back so I could say I did it and also to see a part of the city that crosses over district boundaries. It took me a bit longer today because I took a water break at this really nice park with benches that was empty. I sat there for about 30 minutes considering the walk, the trip, life. Its interesting to walk in the places I visit or live in for awhile because I always feel I get something back besides the steps. I get to think. Perhaps over think sometimes. For me walking the hours and hours each day gives me delicious moments to think things through and its always been that way.

Walking in cities has always been something I’ve loved to do because I’ve felt I get a view of the city that buses, cars, even scooters cannot give me. I am at eye level and see the people. Perhaps I take a route less traveled even if it adds more to the walk.

Today was no different. I’ve been contemplating a lot on the retirement lately. Thinking about how the days have slowly evolved. I’ve been able to be in a few places in Vietnam and I feel fortunate but there is more than just the being places I think. I’ve watched so many other people traveling through. I’ve watched expats and digital nomads and round the world travelers and others. I sit there in the corner in the ice cream restaurant and watch just the same as I do over my morning coffee. I guess I’m interested in what motivates them, what their triggers are, what things make them mad, happy, sad.

I’ve only met a few other people and three have blogs that have left forever. I don’t know if there are lots of others out there that are doing this as well. For me, it was not just retirement although the regular payments helped. The significant part in retrospect was the waiting believe it or not. My mom used to tell me if I waited for something that would make the whole thing more valuable. Of course, I was a kid. I had kid impatience and wanted it all when I wanted it.

I learned on this thing that I could not just go when I wanted. There were things that had to happen certain ways. Blocks had to be stacked in an order to allow the randomness later. I had to have work which did a certain thing for me. I had to pay off debts, get rid of everything, leave with a clean slate and not leave with affairs not covered at home.

I think all of this contributed to where I am now when I walk and see a city like Ho Chi Minh City. I feel not only the genuine happiness of each day’s walk and sights I have seen but there is a more basic thing about the vagabonding. I’m finally allowed to be random and not have that incipient project management thing which I always had hanging over me.

I believe that solo travel leads to introspection and analysis and the solitude may help a person find the inner strength when times are bad and it may also be less than positive. It may cause loneliness and anger at times. I’ve only felt the loneliness once and ice cream and a mall helped out. How do we cope with the singular movement and what does it take for the person in the singular to move slowly through the world?

Sitting in my room at the homestay with the AC going and the feet sore and the feelings good, its dawned on me more than a few times that it has been the best of times and the worst of times as Dickens said.  But there is an essence to the solo vagabonding. A thing that belies all attempts at defining because it is beyond all those things. I’ve felt akin to it a few times but I am no closer to understanding its shadowy presence or what it means.

All I know…

All I know is that I must move yet move slowly. There is not a thing awaiting on the road. Vagabonding has no end state. Its a process that evolves but never ends. We find ourselves in new places like I will in a few days. Perhaps a new country. Maybe a passing discussion in a coffee shop.

Anyways, I also wanted to share the album of my travels the last almost 30 days here. Its been a great experience seeing the city. I don’t think I will come back here but the city has a wonderful spirit and essence that is funky and fun and full of gracious and great people.

The next post most likely will see me in Da Lat Vietnam. The central highlands and new places to go get lost in!

Museum Closed, Beer Hall Available, Lets drink!

A humorous thing happened on the way to the Revolutionary History Museum today. Perhaps I should have checked their open and closed hours but it ended up being closed on Mondays. Anyways, I walked the long way around to get there and now I don’t think I will make it unless I go on Wednesday. Tomorrow I’m set to go to Chinatown. Going to either ride the bus or take a cab depending on my laziness. I don’t really care what it costs to get there so I may do a cab. Once I get there I plan on spending the day and then getting back via a cab.

I ended up in a Beer Pub today drinking for a few hours and felt pretty good when I left. I had three large Tiger Draught Ales and kinda stumbled back to my homestay and the host was laughing. Now its raining again. I stopped before when it rained and camped out at this building that was closed along with a few Vietnamese guys and gals. We laughed a bit about the rain as they waited too. The rain here comes in pieces. It will rain for about 30 minutes and then the sky lightens up but you can tell when its gonna pour down like I’ve mentioned before. The wind picks up, the sky gets dark, temperatures drop. If you watch the local folks they are covering up and anticipating the rain. But then it ends after 30 minutes or so. Today I just stopped at a beer hall and drank my way to happiness and somewhat inebriation. I don’t do that often but when I do, everything suddenly looks better. Of course the waiters were very attuned to insuring I had sufficient beer as well. If there is one thing about the Vietnamese, they like to drink. If there is another thing, they like to eat! They also like to socialize in coffee shops.

I spent the morning at one my favorite coffee shops and really love the place and since I have been going there regularly they offered me a loyalty card where I get so much off after so many visits. Unfortunately, I am leaving on Thursday so I don’t know I will go back there again. Their latte and sandwiches, fresh bread specialities like banana bread is superb. I will miss their attention to detail!

No real pictures to share or other thoughts besides still having a bit of a beer buzz on. It feels pretty good so I may walk over and get a few more beers after dinner tonight if the rain stops for a bit. I happen to like drinking beer and I’ve not done it in awhile.

Here’s another thought. Have you ever decided to go through your facebook friends and get rid of some of the people that somehow became friends? I did that today and dropped a few. I read some of their wall posts and I did not like them. I unfollowed one and dropped the rest. I guess the other thing, and perhaps its the beer talking, is that I don’t take FB seriously at all. Its just a place to find real friends which are the vast majority of people I have friended up with. If you are a virtual friend, I may drop you at a whim. Mean? Yeah. I know. Such is the way of it though.

Tomorrow is Chinatown and then perhaps will try again on Wednesday for the museum. Time is running out though. I need to have Wednesday afternoon to get to an ATM machine and get some money. I am pretty careful with that part of things and will not withdraw cash at night or in places that seem strange. So off I will go to Vincom Centre on Wednesday and use their ATM. I have to take the money out twice because of limits on debit card transactions. I’ll be ready to come back after that and pack up my stuff for the bus ride on Thursday to Da Lat.

I’ll have a few thoughts Wednesday on leaving HCMC. Its been a blast here living in a homestay and walking the city. Here’s something of an update since I was correcting some of the beer edits and words from earlier. Tonight at dinner I met two Chinese tourists just graduated as school teachers. Both were so charming and fun to talk to. We discussed their visiting Vietnam, politics at a global level, and how much they were anticipating getting back to teach. I found them very vital and interesting people with a pretty good command of english and it was fun to meet people from yet another place while staying at the homestay here. We discussed many topics and also enjoyed a great dinner together that our host provided!

So much fun to meet others in a communal setting like the homestay and sharing a home cooked meal with them!

Well, that’s my update of updates!

Three Days left and Two things to do – will this Mike do it?

Its raining right now here in Ho Chi Minh City. I just got back from a day of wandering around in no set direction with the camera doing what I basically love to do which is taking frames and then sharing with all of you fine people. As I lay here on the bed in the homestay, the rain is really coming down now but I bet it will be done in about 30 minutes. I may walk out tonight and get a few beers and bring back. There is a friendly Circle K about 200m from my homestay.

I basically have two things left to do and three days to do them. I decided to get to one additional museum called the Revolutionary History Museum which is a walk away and then I will go to Chinatown. I am not clear on what day for what. Perhaps tomorrow some clarity will come over morning coffee.

Now the rain has stopped so its time to share a few photographs. I hate sharing when its raining outside. All my stuff gets virtually wet :-).

I don’t have any running narrative for these few photographs. Just take them as y0u will as the evidence of a person that turns left, right, and repeats it over and over again. I will say that this city is so very welcoming to this old retired guy and his camera. I get so many “hellos’ and smiles. By the end of the day though, my legs are tired. I guess because I am old and I cannot do the 20 miles or 30k steps per day and really have no desire to.

Here, in no particular order and with no more diversions are a few things I saw today. Get your popcorn and cold beer ready!

And if that’s not mysterious enough, here is the second one. Vrooom! Ready for a ride?

Finally just perhaps to show you how beautiful the city streets are here. This is a block I was walking down and these streets always grab my fancy. Its not isolated in this city folks. I see city blocks of quiet beauty most turns I take.

Now to a few serious things. It seems to me walking each day that thoughts propel themselves through and often come with little or no warning. I stop for the 1.5 liter bottle of water and the break sitting on the street corner and even more things come unbidden to me. Its like a thought factory opens up and launches never ending streams of fragmented things which I sometimes note down in Ulysses to think about later or to write a journal post or a blog post about.

Often times the things become this blog post but I have a little workflow in Ulysses that lets me work on the things, perhaps define them a bit more, and then on my iPhone I start seeing where they should go. I developed this awhile ago where I have an inbox which leads to stuff to do and then ideas which are developed into stories. A story can be a blog post, longer static content that perhaps on a down day or when I feel like developing it will become thing else, or its personal and private and it moves into my journal.

I have to say that Ulysses is the best app I have found on the Apple ecosystem for this kind of thing. There are others like byword and you can use Google Docs for it as well depending on your platform of choice. To me, the one app that holds diaries, notes, blogposts, workflows is just so good! It also holds travel notes and I attach PDF files and images to my travel plans. I used to use Tripit but I prefer to have the notes in freeform or markup so I can export when I want to PDF or whatever.

Is there a tool you use that’s your baseline, your must have? For me its Ulysses on the Mac and my iPhone. I’d be lost without it. This blogpost started being formed as I walked today but I did not capture it. Sometimes the ideas come fast and furious and Ulysses gets tapped into on my water break or when I stop for ice cream or beer.

Do you work, travel, record like this? Do you have a central repository where you keep everything? A central tool? Others use a set of integrated tools like Day One for journals, Byword for writing, perhaps something else for travel planning. I tried this before. I much prefer the one home for the creation and management of ideas, text, writing, recording of things.

Your thoughts?

Ben Thanh Market, District One HCMC, and some street art! What a bargain for you!!

The last weekend in Ho Chi Minh City prompted my desire to not wander far. That, and the weather seemed to be ready to get a good rain going. Here’s what it does here though and you can tell when its gonna rain. It clouds up first. Then the wind picks up a bit and things get dark. You start seeing rain drops often ahead of you. Then it either really starts with a torrential downpour or it just stops and the sky gets all clear and pretty again. Today it decided to do the first thing so I was kinda glad to not be wandering farther away.

I also went to the Ben Thanh Market which may be the best known market in Vietnam. You can find just about anything you may want. I wanted a leather money clip because I don’t carry my wallet when I go out for the day. I found one in about 10 minutes and spent 5 minutes in a good natured haggle with the shop owner. We reached a point and both were laughing so I told her she won and I got the money clip. Its a handy device on the road because you can more easily carry a daily allowance of cash in your front pocket and not be concerned with it too much.

My final place to get to is China Town which I will do either tomorrow or Monday. I have 4 days and there is a museum I could do as well one of the days. Wednesday I have to make ready to leave Thursday morning early on the bus to Da Lat so I will be packing and going through my stuff.

Luggage Thoughts

I still have the Tortuga Outbreaker 45L backpack but I also have a North Face (fake but works good for me) duffel. The duffel is good for shorter trips since it fits in the overhead or even under the seat. The Outbreaker is also carry on. I’ll get rid of the duffel when I go to Cambodia and travel only with the Outbreaker and the daypack as a personal item. The duffel cost all of $15 USD after haggling for it for awhile in Hanoi.

I think the Outbreaker is a great choice for travel since it does not pack top down and opens like a suitcase. I never liked the packs that pack top down and prefer to have everything easily reachable for either short or long term stays.

Next Stop is Da Lat

Da Lat is my final longer stay place in Vietnam. I wanted to change things up and had originally planned on spending longer here in HCMC. I feel though I have done what I set out to do here and tromped across the city and captured it via the camera so now will go to Da Lat. I have two side trips planned from Da Lat to Nha Trang and another beach place. Each of those lasts 4 days I take a bus there and back.

So now that my time is wrapping up here and I don’t have a whole bunch of destinations left I want to do, I can just wander around with the camera and do what I really like doing. I like just exploring and capturing what I see with the camera. Today I saw a few things and took lesser photographs. I’ll be sharing out the final album for my 30 days here soon and its been a lot of fun walking the city and capturing what I think are the daily highlights. Here are a few pictures from today.

This was some street art I saw walking around District 1 today. Th0ought it was pretty cool!

I liked how this image was framed by the flowers. I took this by Ho Chi Minh Square.

Life has been pretty good of late here in HCMC. Ive enjoyed the homestay experience immensely and my host is a very nice person plus a really good cook who insists on filling my plate up with rice and veggies and food twice. I think if you come to Vietnam you should check out the homestay experience. It really lets you get to a personal level with a family, see how they work and live each day, and also have some really good food. I paid $360 for the month and got all my meals, my laundry, free bottled water and just the family part of things. Really made things nice!

Wandering City Streets here – the things I saw

A week left in the beautiful Ho Chi Minh City. I have a few destinations to still do and some days to get them done. I’m going to get over to Chinatown one of these days on the bus and am also going to get one more museum. I don’t have a bunch of other stuff so I will continue exploring the city each day with no real goals since I seem to do better that way with finding random things to capture on the camera.

It was good today out. It seemed that today had to be one of the most beautiful days we have had yet here. I got out this morning for some classic Vietnamese coffee and a croissant and plotted and dreamed and figured out a way to go. It never really matters if I have been close the same way before. Everything is new to the lens of the camera and I am still practicing with different types of photography to figure out my style. I believe what comes the closest is a mix of street and urban photography but its pretty free flowing all in all.

Here are a few frames from today’s fun travels for you to check out.

This shot was in black and white use the Acros + Red custom film simulation on the camera. I love the richness of black and white photography and the Acros simulation is so rich and deep!

I like urban and city things I happen across. Not looking for a lot of context. More things to capture as I walk!

Just a Pho place!

I also saw this raptor today!

Pretty cool! I am not sure what the story was since it was sitting out on the street but look at the size of that bird!

I’ll be more focusing on street photography next few outings since there is so much to capture of every day life type things here. All in all, a great day for wandering and doing what I like! Getting lost and taking photographs.

Take care you all!

The many skylines of Ho Chi Minh City – a small tour

I thought you all may enjoy what the skylines look like here from a few vantage points. I did visit a museum also today but photography was difficult and it would have gotten in the way of actually seeing the amazing historic artifacts. I’ll wrap things up in the post with some thoughts about the Museum of History here in HCMC.

Here in a montage is the city for your enjoyment.

You can see that the sky was kinda threatening looking today as I ventured around the city. It rained a few times this morning but the rain here is interesting. It will rain heavily for about 30 minutes and then stops for some time. Usually I have enough time to get to a place for ice cream or a beer and then it starts up again. Now its raining again and I just got back to the homestay. Cool timing!

Museum Notes

I went to the Museum of History today and really enjoyed it. It covers from the prehistoric to historic periods really well and the artifacts are amazing! I guess being a past archeologist, I really like to see the stone working and carving the most but the ceramics were just beautiful too. The rooms were darkly lit but light played across each artifact so it created an interesting view but hard to take photographs of. I don’t think they favor cameras there so I just stopped. I think that this is one of the must see museums if you come here. Its easy to get to and the hours are like other museums and historic sites. They open until 1130am and then are closed until 130pm for lunch break. then they are back open again to 5pm or 6pm.

I would say that if you are a history buff and want to get around here you have to see the Independence Palace, the City Museum, the War Remnants Museum, and the the Museum of History. They are all located kind of close to each other so you could do this in a few days. I like to spread the museum visits out a bit so I enjoy them more.

Other things, thoughts, ideas or whatever

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about solo travel or vagabonding. Since I decry the term travel I will say “Solo Vagabonding” instead. I’ve read a lot of blogs from people wanting to try it, asking questions about it, wanting a way to find out if its for them. I think a bit about it since I’m doing that and its come to me there are no yardsticks for it. You could do 10 test trips in Europe or the United States and come to Asia and it may not work for you. Things are just so different here. There is no way to know if you are gonna be good at it. But lets be honest here. If you are by yourself, who are you worried about impressing, making happy, etc? What do you think the biggest challenge is for solo travel or vagabonding? Could you do it for the rest of your life? If you found yourself able to chuck it all behind and leave forever; could you do it? Lets just say that all barriers were removed and those were financial, family, organizational, functional, technological and you were given the opportunity to leave but it had to be by yourself. Could you do it and never come back?

What do you think would be your obstacles and what would you gain? Forget about being lonely or having a downer day once in awhile. I have those. Some ice cream and a beer and a crowded mall often work. This is more basic. Could you do it? And if you could would you?

New Directions in Wandering in Ho Chi Minh City!

Prior to going out for the day, I was sitting downstairs at the homestay when Grace came in. Grace is the daughter-in-law I believe and she’s good with the English and loves to talk. She told me about her busy weeks working at two jobs and also doing a fitness thing. I told her a bit about my adventures.

I had decided to visit a coffee shop around the corner which has some of the best banana nut bread and service I have found. I sat there for awhile and watched mostly tourists come and go. I always kinda surreptitiously wonder what the people’s lives are like. A young couple came in holding hands. They had nice breakfasts and drinks. They left. Then a family came in with at least three kids, the man, and his wife. I lasted longer and got there before them all. I ordered a second americano and sat longer.

After about an hour of enjoying the atmosphere and elegance of the coffee shop, I started looking at google maps to find how I wanted to get to a new walking area and plotted a basic trip. I had looked at the map for where I wanted to go and it seemed that there was a walking trail by this canal or river and numerous bridges that I should see. I also had never gotten there before walking so really wanted to get there. The walking there ended up being really nice with this beautiful walking trail right by the water that I could follow. Bridges were great and came in old and new. Walking there was low stress. No guys trying to sell rides, no shoe shine guys. Nothing. I did see a few people out and about walking on the walkway but it was pretty quiet and its really kept up well.

I got done with the walking by the water part when I reached one of the bridges and checked google maps. I wanted to visit a park and get some water and rest for a bit so I went in that general direction. The weather was kinda iffy today by any standards and before I got to the Vincom Towers for some ice cream it rained. I took shelter in this closed building alcove where some chairs were left. It rained for about 15 minutes and then I could continue my walk.

Ending at Vincom is always fun since I like Bud’s Ice Cream a lot there and the prices are reasonable. I always sit and look at the frames on my camera and start thinking about what I want to do the next day. Usually its around a different direction of walking or perhaps a museum to see.

So, one of the better days of wandering since I saw something brand new and felt really good doing it. I got back and dinner is right at 630pm and is always interesting in a good way. Then I saw Grace leaving again for work.

The day’s photographs were good today too. Finding a new path and a new thing makes taking photographs that much better. I gotta say that Ho Chi Minh City is no slouch with places to find to practice some city photography or urban type stuff. Its also really good for practicing since none of this is so far I could not get back. The chances are though I will not walk that path again.

Here’s the link to my photo album so y0u can see how beautiful it was today!