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Sam mountain: Colorful hammocks beckon at every step for those that have been slacking in their exercises recently. And temples, pagodas, altars in EVERY little nook. Creepily fascinating. The best panoramic view is as you climb up, because the top is shielded around with trees and buildings.

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Is my new favorite destination in the country: peaceful cajuput forest, strange temples and pagodas in the mountains (hundreds of them), 4 wheel cyclos, cheap riverside restaurants, and a basa catfish monument that involuntarily marked the death of the province’s industry.

Trà Sư cajuput forest: We rented a motorbike and didn’t check carefully enough to realize that the foot break was not functional. Bad mistake. I was the driver and didn’t follow the sign ’cause wanted to look around. Ran into some people who directed us to go by ourselves directly to the sampan dock for a cheap tour. Lucky us! Unluckily, the road was narrow and muddy and under my hands, we almost ate it a few times while going back and forth between shrieking and laughing. The adrenaline pumping ride contrasted sharply with the leisurely sampan tour into the picturesque forest and its myriad of canals to look at storks walking on water and hairy heron babies sitting on tree tops.

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Phú Quốc, Việt nam, dirt road

Phú Quốc, Việt nam, dirt road

Phú Quốc, Việt nam, dirt road

 Phú Quốc, Việt nam, dragonflies

Phú Quốc, Việt nam, mountain god altar, fairy stream, suoi Tien

Phú Quốc, Việt nam, fairy stream, suoi Tien

Phú Quốc, Việt nam, west side beach

Phú Quốc, Việt nam, west side

Phú Quốc, Việt nam, Da Ban stream

Phú Quốc, Việt nam, Da Ban stream bridge

Phú Quốc, Việt nam, scuba diving boat

Phú Quốc, Việt nam, Ham Ninh fishing village

Phú Quốc, Việt nam, Ham Ninh fishing village

Phu Quoc, South Vietnam

Typhoon, storm, rain, flood, 2 months in the central coast. I was so sick of wading through puddles, getting splashed on by trucks, walking around in wet shoes and damp clothes. Sunshine, here I come.

I rented a scooter from the airport right after landing. VND 120k/day for a manual. No paperwork needed. The guy asked me to keep an eye on the helmet as bikes are less likely to get stolen than helmets here.

Sleepy town. Empty beaches. Friendly folks. Reminds me a lot of Nha Trang 10 years ago. Even better, it’s an island. That said, lots of construction: hotels, resorts, roads, signalling the fast coming changes. But for now, the roads are still a nightmare. Bumpy, muddy dirt paths, even washed out. My ass wasn’t happy.

Phú Quốc, Việt Nam

Long Beach, Phú Quốc, Việt Nam

Phú Quốc, Việt nam

suối Mơ, Phú Quốc, Việt Nam

I spent 3 days on the beach, 2 days hiking streams and waterfalls, and 2 days scuba diving! It was my first time diving. As I don’t have a certificate yet, I went tandem with an instructor; all I had to do was to breath regularly and equalize my ears. The underwater world here honestly didn’t wow me as I’ve seen much more colorful and pristine in Hawai’i. But just floating there among the fish was so calming and meditative. I looked, I observed, I marveled. But I could not speak, nor could anyone speak to me, not in any human languages. It was a world where I was insignificant. Maybe what happens on earth is that drowned in our own sounds, we forget about our insignificance. We are loud, and that makes us think that we matter and have power.

Chợ Lớn – the Big Market: Originally a town settled by the Chinese 11km away from Saigon. As they both expanded, the two finally merged in 1931. Today Chợ Lớn area encompasses most of district 5 and 6. At its center is Bình Tây wholesale market which has remained a major hub of commerce and trading through the ups and downs of our modern history. (In everyday conversation, Saigon is still used to refer to downtown, District 1, not to the whole city of Ho Chi Minh as erroneously claimed in so many guidebooks.)

In appearance, Chợ Lớn is not that different from other densely populated quarters of the city. There’s no strict demarcation, and you can easily miss it zipping by on your scooter or in your car. But only a short stroll in the steamy narrow alleys is enough to confirm that you’re indeed in Chinatown. Past noodle stalls, dimsum houses, small repair shops and other family businesses, you’ll hear orders placed and gossips exchanged in their native languages, Cantonese for the most part. You’ll also walk past big hometown association hội quán. Inside big blocks of spiral incense are burned day and night; all the newspapers and TV channels in the common area are in Chinese.

Chợ Lớn, Cholon, Chinatown, Vietnam, Sai Gon, Ho Chi Minh city

Chợ Lớn, Cholon, Chinatown, Vietnam, Sai Gon, Ho Chi Minh city, chùa bà, temple

Chợ Lớn, Cholon, Chinatown, Vietnam, Sai Gon, Ho Chi Minh city, chùa bà, temple

Chợ Lớn, Cholon, Chinatown, Vietnam, Sai Gon, Ho Chi Minh city, temple

Chợ Lớn, Cholon, Chinatown, Vietnam, Sai Gon, Ho Chi Minh city, temple

Chợ Lớn, Cholon, Chinatown, Vietnam, Sai Gon, Ho Chi Minh city, food store

From Pleiku, we continued south into Buôn Ma Thuột, Dak Lak province – the coffee capital of Vietnam. Coffee was first introduced in the country following the French arrival in the late 1800s. A century later, it is still the omnipresent colonial legacy. The whole population is hooked. Especially from Hue southward, coffee reigns supreme. No matter how small the town, there will be a cafe that local people take pride in. Hosts would take out-of-town guests to their favorite coffee hang-outs as if they were some must-visit landmarks. It is courteous to show appreciation to both the style of the shops, and the taste of the coffee available. You can get into lengthy nitpicking discussions on which house has the best roast and the best blend, the pros and cons of a chrome vs. aluminum slow-drip filter, etc. The indisputable is that Dak Lak gives the country the most superior beans. Many claim that it is the basalt-rich red soil that imparts a flavor hardly perceptible but impossible to replicate elsewhere.

Slightly north of town center is Ako Dhong (buôn Cô Thôn in Vietnamese) – a wealthy Ede village with rows of beautifully preserved long houses. The houses seem to be of little daily use nowadays as families have built new American suburbia-style residences right behind. The architecture and construction would leave many city folks envious, not to mention the clean streets. The small settlement – it takes only about 20 minutes to circle around – is among the prettiest and wealthiest I’ve seen in the whole country.

Dak Lak, Buôn Ma Thuột, Ako Dhong, buôn Cô Thôn, ethnic minorities, longhouses, nhà dài, Ede ethnic, dân tộc Ê-đê

Dak Lak, Buôn Ma Thuột, Ako Dhong, buôn Cô Thôn, ethnic minorities, longhouses, nhà dài, Ede ethnic, dân tộc Ê-đê Read the rest of this entry »

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