Friday, August 26, 2005

Vietnam Photos Now Up

Just what the title says, though there's been a bit of a change. Because Yahoo Photos doesn't allow me to create subfolders, and I've posted around 250 photos, I'm using an alternate account to display them. So, please go here. The folders are in chronological order, starting from the first album, Saigon, through to Ha Noi. The photos should be almost entirely in chronological order within the folders, barring a few exceptions.

Now, I haven't had the time to put comments on all these photos nor linkified from my blog entries. The comments will get done eventually, but not sure about the link. So enjoy, and feel free to ask any questions in the comments here and I'll do my best to answer them, if you can't wait until I write more.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Back Home Again in Japan

I arrived back in Japan on the morning of the 23rd. I spent the day in Narita visiting my friend Yumi, then caught a late train back to Hiratsuka. I stayed at Ana's since the buses had stopped running and got to spend time with her and her roommates, as well as Damien. I've still got another week til I start work again, so I'm going to attempt a climb of Mt. Fuji and see all the people I haven't been able to see yet. Unfortunately, the typhoon that's blowing through today isn't helping, so I'm stuck inside unpacking and trying to organize all my photos. I'll hopefully post a bunch of them over the next few days and maybe write some more about Vietnam and my impressions after taking it all in.

Monday, August 22, 2005


I've finally arrived in Hanoi. I don't know what anyone else knows about it, but all I'd ever heard conjured up visions of American POWs and a city practically flattened by bombing during the war. Actually, Hanoi is a very European city, having been the capital of French Indochina. Within an hour of arriving I wandered down one street and ended in a plaza with a giant French cathedral at one end. I could've been in Marseilles or Nice were it not for the zipping motorbikes and conical hats. They also have baguettes here, I've bought three to savor during my flight back.

One thing that I definitely notice between here and the south is that the military fashion is still in. Olive drab is very popular, and you see almost all the men wearing the green hard helmets. The people are also a little bit cooler towards foreigners, and fewer people speak English. Another thing I noticed is that nobody here wants to haggle for anything, and if you don't like their (relatively) high prices, you can just fuck right off. A 1.5 liter bottle of water costs 4,000 VND (roughly 25 cents) in Saigon. In Hanoi, you're lucky to find one for 6,000. It's only about 12 cents difference, but it is a 50% increase. Maybe I'm just being stingy.

I didn't feel like doing much sightseeing, so I've been buying last-minute souvenirs and searching for the Thai/Indian fisherman's pants that are so popular with the backpacking crowds. I finally found a place, but the can only make 2 pairs for me. I've also spent my afternoons savoring the coffee seated next to the lake, watching the world pass by.

On the hellish overnight train from Hue, I met a girl going with her mom to visit her college-age sister. She gave me her phone number and told me to call her when I arrived in Hanoi. The three of us plus her sister's friend went to a village outside Hanoi to see how traditional ceramics were made, and I got to enjoy a motorbike ride in the finally cooler air. It'd been sweltering up until late last night when a tremendous storm blew in. I could hear the rain and thunder from deep inside the building. It finally quit right as we left town and it's been cooler ever since, though still rather humid.

Anyway, I'm off to pick up my pants and then head to the airport. I hate having to leave here at 6, my flight isn't until 11:30pm, but that's the last $2 minibus and I don't want to pay 5 times that to get a taxi, not for a couple hours sitting around the hotel instead of the airport. Funny to think in less than 24 hours I'll be back in Japan, which will feel like home compared to here. To tell the truth, I'm ready to go back to a safe place where you don't have to guard your wallet and the vendors don't charge you 400% the local price. It just costs that much for everyone.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Hello Hanoi!

Eventually I made it to Cat Ba island. Cat Ba is the largest island in the Halong area. Halong Bay is dotted with small, rocky mountains that jut up out of the water. Technically speaking, Halong Bay is only the open area of water by Halong City, but for our purposes it includes the surrounding karsks and formations. More than half the island is a National Park, with some small villages and one town that caters to tourists. Of course, I ended up in the touristy area. Everything there is expensive, at least by Vietnamese standards, and as such everyone is loath to pay for anything not absolutely necessary. I ended up taking a tour my first full day. I really wanted to go kayaking around the formations, and this guy promised it, albeit after a morning walk to see a hilltribe village. Sounds good. Well, the pleasant walk turned out to be a hellish hike. From the village we could either sit around and do nothing for 2 hours, or go on this hike. It was sprinkling a bit as we headed out, not that it mattered after a while - we were all soaking wet with sweat anyways. The so-called trail ended up being a stream at various points, then as it turned upward it became a mudbath due to the heavy rains the previous couple of days. After about 30 minutes hiking up the slick mud we hit the rocks, sharp and pointy with just enough slick, wet spots to make it very dangerous. I'd been told we'd go kayaking, so I was wearing my swim trunks and sandals. One poor German guy, Christian, was only wearing flip-flops as he had no idea what would be happening.

The view up was fantastic, though. We were able to see all the way to Halong City, and take in the view from extremely high up. Then came the best part, going down. Down is always more difficult, this path particularly so. A few Brits and I took the lead, not really waiting for anybody. We just wanted to get down and get cleaned up. I don't think anybody got back without slipping and getting either a bruise or cut someplace. I lost a couple layers of skin on my palm when I slipped and grabbed a rock. One girl managed to fall and land sitting on a sharp jut of a rock. Ouch! The nice part was stuffing ourselves with food back at the village and after a pleasant walk back to the boats we took a swim in one of the grottos. I met some really interesting people on the tour, particularly a couple of nice Austrian girls and Christian, the German. We ended up spending that evening hanging out, sharing stories, and going to the beach together the next day. I also rented a motorbike and drove to the far side of the island to see the beautiful scenery. It was great until I got caught in a downpour that made driving impossible. The beach near Cat Ba town had been damaged a few weeks before by the typhoon and debris was washed up all along the shore. But the waves were big and fun to swim in. We also got to witness a landslide that partly ruined the new landscaping of a hotel resort and reminded me that the Vietnamese aren't known for either their environmental awareness nor their capacity for landscaping. I caught an early morning ferry to Hanoi after my third night (yesterday) and have beeng wandering the Old Quarter looking for souvenirs to bring back to my schools. I fly out tomorrow, so I'll also have to stock up on baguettes and strong coffee that'll strip the enamel off your teeth.

On the Road

I've just finished a (for me) rather whirlwind series of hops, skips and jumps through various places. I wound up on Cat Ba island, just south of the famous Halong Bay, where internet is 3 times as expensive and works like crap, which precluded me from posting then. So I arrived in Hanoi yesterday afternoon, and I've steadily been trying to find all the crap that I wanted to buy for people before I go back. But as to how I got here...

Hue is a nice city, around 60 km north of Danang, which itself is about 30 km north of Hoi An. I wish I'd stayed in Hue longer, but it couldn't be helped. I stayed one night in a little hotel. Across the street was a place called "Cafe on The Wheels," unbeknownst to me a very popular hangout with the backpacker crowd and a good place to arrange a motorbike tour. My guide was quite friendly and drove me around to all the major sites, so I got to see the big things, but I didn't have the chance to enjoy Hue's main claim to fame, its cuisine. Ah well, there's always next year.

I'd tried to book an overnight train after my one night in Hue, but I wasn't able to get a sleeper car. Which meant I had to take an upright seat in a normal car overnight. This was my worst nightmare. I don't think I've ever spent a worse night, not since I got locked out of a hostel in Madrid and had to wander the streets until it opened in the morning. The guy sitting next to me was young Vietnamese soldier who spoke no english, but thought it'd be fun to try and jabber at me periodically and managed to buy the absolute loudest snack possible and eat it once the lights had gone out. I couldn't sleep squashed up against him and because the old lady behind me kicked my seat every time I tried to lean back, I spent about 3 hours trying to sleep sideways with that loud crunching sound in my ear.

Eventually I wandered back a couple cars and came across a couple of university students, neither of whom could speak English. We pantomimed at each other for a bit, then one lent me his foldout chair to set up in the corridor so I could get a couple hours of sleep. I was pretty exhausted by the time I got out at Ninh Binh, only to be assaulted by touts for hotels at the station exit. They wouldn't leave me alone, even following me when I sat down at a cafe to have some coffee and think. Eventually I gave up and rented a motorbike from one to head out to Tam Coc.

Tam Coc is similar to Halong Bay, except that instead of the dramatic rocks jutting up out of the water, they are surrounded by rice paddies and lakes. The drive out there was breathtaking, since the morning mist still hung around and obscured the tops of the karsks. At the park, you can take a boat ride past, between, and even under, via caves, the limestone. It was really amazing, breathtaking, until we got about 3km, at which point you turn around and come back. But before that, another boat will paddle up and then begins the hassling, in the midst of all this natural beauty, for you to buy something. Can of coke? How about some bananas or dragon fruit? It goes on and they're relentless. After little to no sleep and an aggravating morning, this didn't go down well with me. I ended up shelling out for a drink and told the guide to take me back. On the way back he tried to get me to buy embroidered crap, and when I flat out refused, he tried to drop me off 1km from the start and make me walk. All in all, not pleasant. Fortunately, there was a pretty Buddhist temple built in one of the mountains to take my mind off it.

Going through the caves behind the temple, or rather, the caves that house part of the temple, I came across this really strange guy. He refused to speak at all, just showing me particular formations that resembled an old man, and another that looked like an elephant. Then he led me up a small path I would've never found myself to a smaller shrine with a great view of the paddies and karsks from up high. He kept pointing at my Lonely Planet guide to show me that it was there that one of the photos was taken. Suddenly, he put his fingers to his lips and ran quietly and quickly into the brush, disappearing completely. Behind me some guy started yelling at me in Vietnamese. A cop or Party official was up there angrily gesturing for me to get down from there. I quickly followed his directions and went down, while he remained up there slowly looking around. I don't know who my mute guide was or what it was all about, but it was just another bizarre thing to happen to me that day.

Back at the hotel, I returned the motorbike and grabbed my stuff. The guy had told me he'd take me to Haiphong, but I guess what he really meant was that he'd take me to a street corner where I'd stand and hope a bus would come by and take me. A crazy local bus screeched to a halt and a guy jumped out, threw all my bags onboard and dragged me up. When I was halfway on, the bus took off and I had to pull myself up to avoid being trapped in the doors. He charged me about $2 to go the 90 km to Haiphong, and I sat down to enjoy the trip. The only memorable thing was watching a full-sized white horse eating garbage in a gutter in the middle of Haiphone city. Not soon afterwards, they stopped, threw my bags out and told me I was here and left. I had absolutely no idea where I was, if I was even in Haiphong, nor what to do now that I was here. I wanted to head to Cat Ba island, so I got some guy on a motorbike who'd been hassling me since I was crapped out the side of the bus, and he took me to the ferry station where I learned all the ferries had left for the day. A woman there told me she knew of a ferry leaving, but it was 3 km away. She charged me a quarter of a million dong (roughly $16) and told me that if I didn't like it I was welcome to pay $25 to stay a night in a hotel and then pay more for a ferry the next morning. Can't argue with that. So after handing over the money and not even getting a receipt, this kid (really, he couldnt've been more than 16) pulls up on a motorbike and she tells me to load all my bags up and get on. Now, vietnamese people tend to have trouble with numbers, especially, it seems, saying the difference between 3, 13 and 30. What she meant to say was that I would have to go 30km at high velocity precariously balanced on the back of a motorbike holding all of my bags (I picked up all my souvenirs in Hoi An). What she said was, "It very close, only 3 km. Thank y' for money. Bye-bye!" Next up, I'll write about Cat Ba.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Frustration Sets In

I've been here for going on 6 days or so now, and I'll be leaving for Hue tomorrow. I really like Hoi An. It has a tiny Old Quarter filled with tailor shops and artist-owned art galleries. I've managed to meet people here, too. The receptionist at my hotel in Dalat is from here and she was coming home to visit her family, so we made plans for her to show me around her hometown and hopefully see things the average tourist doesn't see. I got to visit her grandmother's house, a brand-new construction in a quiet neighborhood. It gave me a nice opportunity to learn more about the people here and for her to practice her English.

The town is lovely. But my biggest complaint is about all the people who want to sell you something and are annoyingly persistent in it. I can rationalize their reasons, economy and all that, and I realize that it's a touristy town, but you think I could walk out of my hotel in the morning without 3 people up and down the street calling out for a motorbike. Then, wherever I go, each street corner has either two or three guys laying on their scooters pestering me to take a ride or a small vendor's cart with old ladies constantly saying, "you buy something!" I don't think even in Saigon there's such a high concentration of touts and solicitors.

So enough whingeing(sp?). I've had almost an entirely new work wardrobe made, definitely a good thing since I've been alternating between two pairs of pants for over a year now and Japanese business shirts never quite seem to reach my wrists. I also got a couple traditional Chinese shirts made, which I was hoping would be cooler, but the one I'm wearing now is soaked through with sweat sitting as I am in a sweltering cafe, but I hope it looks decent.

I moved out of my hotel today and into a beautiful one that for one night costs almost as much as I paid for five in the previous one. But it's gorgeous and I can take some time to hang out and see it properly, and feel like I actually have a lot of money to sit around and sip coffee and eat delicious fruit. The previous hotel is a room with a passable bed and a bathroom that's not too dirty. That's usually enough for me. But every now and then it's nice to splurge a little. My problem is that I've been splurging a little too much, actually I've been splurging all over the city. I don't know if that last phrase came out as intended, but I'm late for lunch so it'll have to stay. Last night walking down the street, I ran into one Ricardo and Laura, the Spanish couple I'd met in Dalat. So I'm showing them a fantastic restaurant here and then heading off for the beach.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Important Things for Travel Update

I guess it behooves me to actually check the comments sections. I had no idea people actually wrote anything there. So for those of you still in total suspense as to whether I'd get things together to continue on, I did get my passport back the next morning, the hotel in Saigon sent it on the next tour bus. Guess that's my insurance bit from the $20 open bus ticket I paid for and will only use once. And Tracey, bless her, transferred my paycheck to my other account. For those of you not in on my absurd drama, I had to get a new bank account along with my new job. The problem is that I have an international ATM card only with my old account, and all attempts to get one for my new account (the one that had my paycheck deposited on the 1st) failed miserably. So my very kind flatmate (she's Scottish and roommate sounds weird to her) had to go and transfer money. What a headache!

But everything's all good now, and I'm set to blow this month's pay on cheap tailored clothes.

PS - thanks for the encouragement, Nancy! I wish I'd kept a better diary in Europe and Japan to compile stories better. Oh, well, guess I'll have to go back and do it again, darn!

Out of Touch, Into Hoi An

The one problem with a weblog is that if you're out in the middle of nowhere and want to post something, it can be rather difficult. So I end up with about 5 days of backlog to write about. But that'd be too long, so I'll have to summarize, I guess.
I took off from Dalat in the Central Highlands with my Easyrider guide, Trung Pagoda (I swear he told me that's his name, though I think these guys pick an alias for one part). Trung's a very knowledgeable guy, he learned English from his father, who was a South Vietnamese pilot shot down and captured during the war. He'd hoped to be a commercial pilot after the war, but due to his political feelings he can't hold any job beyond farmer. Trung spent 3 years as a lay person studying in a Buddhist monastery, one he took us to on a day trip around Dalat.
I did a 3 day tour from Dalat north to Buon Me Thout, then east to Nha Trang on the coast where we parted ways. Along the way, he took me to spend the night in a traditional Manong hilltribe longhouse, where I was awakened at 4:30 am when the sun came up and all the animals and people started making noise. The animals all sleep under the house, so my wake-up call was the pig 2 feet beneath me grunting for breakfast. The Manong tribe don't rely much on tourism, and what money comes in from tourists spending the night in local houses goes to the headman, who distributes it for the education of the children. For me, it seems a noble purpose; and a heck of a lot better than having kids pursue you up the road trying to sell you gum or photocopied books.
My guide's main interest is in showing people the Vietnam you don't see when you take a package tour, and he delights in showing off the local industries, such as the silk, bamboo, and rice wine-makers I saw on my day trips. I got to see a tea factory, coffee bean processing factory - both family-owned - and a pair of septagenarian (sp?) widowed sisters who make rice paper snacks to feed the neighborhood children breakfast. Quite a remarkable thing.
I arrived in Nha Trang on the 8th. It's a very touristy city with a very nice beach and boat trips out to the islands for snorkelling, diving and fun in the sun. I signed up for one, not really realizing that it's more of a drinking boat tour than one focused on nature. They can be fun, but when it's just you sitting there and everyone else with their friends, it can get a bit lonely. I eventually met the people around there and went snorkelling (where I realized my dream of getting certified for diving won't happen if I can't see anything underwater without glasses). We had a bit of excitement when a Korean girl panicked and inhaled seawater through her snorkel, briefly passing out. Fortunately, a Dutchman proficient in CPR was there and prevented the crew from severely damaging her when they attempted to rescucitate her. She recovered and was more embarrassed than hurt, but they still took her off for an examination. A fun part was the floating bar, which is what it sounds like, a small raft with wine and everybody has a rescue donut and floats/drinks.
Nha Trang is fun if you're on a honeymoon or part of a group of partiers, so I didn't stay entertained long, and caught a night train to Danang. I met (another) Spanish couple, Gerard and Marta, while looking for a fruit stand near the station. We decided to pool resources and split a taxi to Hoi An, a small, well-preserved town 30km south of Danang. They wanted to stop off at the Marble Mountains, which I'd not heard of, not being interested at all in Danang. I'm lucky I met them, since it turned out the be quite a nice sidetrip. There's a huge marble-carving industry, and as the Lonely Planet guide says, they'd make great souvenirs if they didn't weigh so much. I don't quite comprehend how the showrooms make any money, but they've made quite a lot of statues ranging from Christ to the Fat Buddha.
We arrived in Hoi An on the 10th ready for a shower and lunch. I stopped a random couple walking down the street to ask for a hotel recommendation. They, surprise-surprise, turned out to be Spanish also. Exhibiting that typical inclusive Spanish spirit, they offered to show us where they were I can't believe how many I've met on this trip. My first day in Hoi An I must've met at least 15, including 4 older ladies from Barcelona I'd met on my Mekong Delta tour. Small world.
I haven't seen too much of Hoi An yet, we spent yesterday just wandering and soaking up the culture. Marta's been having problems with the malaria prevention pills she's taking, which makes her skin photosensitive. I'm glad I didn't take anything, since the side-effects can be so severe for such a low-risk problem. Well, low-risk if you use mosquito spray and don't get bitten often, something I haven't managed to do yet.
Well, it seems to have stopped raining for the moment, so I'm off to see about having some clothes made. This is THE place for tailored clothes in Vietnam, so I'm going to see about a suit and maybe a few traditional Vietnamese shirts. Actually, what I really need are more pants. Both pairs I have are filthy, and I can only have one pair washed at a time, obviously. I'm planning on staying here for 4 or 5 days since the small-city atmosphere is so pleasant, and I got a good deal on a hotel room, so I'll post more on books and thoughts. I finished Robert S. McNamara's book, "In Retrospect," a must-read for anyone with a tangential interest in the Vietnam War or foreign policy. His conclusions are also extremely relevant for today, discussing limited war, involving the US in a politically unstable country, and being incapable of understanding the enemy. Next up is Graham Greene's "The Quiet American."

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A day in Da Lat

Well, today was my first full day in Da Lat. We'd met the Easy Riders, a group of independent guides who offer motorbike tours around the region, the day before and made an appointment to take a tour today. So we met up with them early in the morning and headed off for a day of fun in the off-and-on rain. The first stop was at the aptly-named Crazy House. It's a Gaudi-esque construction built by the daughter of a former Premier of Vietnam. The whole building seems to be organic and alive. It's actually designed as a hotel, with about 10 rooms now, and more under construction. It should be completed in another five years. Each room has a different name, which pertains to the fireplace in the room. My favorite was the Kangaroo Room with a giant, kangaroo-shaped fireplace and the opening for wood below where the pouch would be. The glowing red eyes kind of freaked me out, though. The garden around the hotel is straight out of Alice in Wonderland, with iron rebar spiderwebs and giant toadstools. All in all, it was a spectacular departure from the square, unimaginative buildings around Saigon. About this point, I realized that my camera wouldn't work, so I wasn't able to take any pictures today. I learned after the tour that it was the cheap knockoff batteries I'd purchsed that made it not work. Fortunately, the Spaniards I was with, Ricardo and Laura, and Inyaki and Pilar, took plenty of photos. I just hope they send them to me.

Afterwards, we headed out of town to get an idea of the economy of the region. The Da Lat area was populated by the Lat people, a hilltribe not related to the Vietnamese. In the 19th century the French discovered the area and found that not only was it a pleasant temperature year-round and a welcome respite from the mosquitos and heat of Saigon, but it was also ideal for growing flowers and coffee. So the major crops grown here are various flowers and coffee plantations, with each rural house having a small garden to grow squash, corn, cabbage and various other temperate vegetables they sell at market to supplement their income.

Really, the people around here have several small enterprises they run out of their homes, and they're all intertwined. The major industries here are silk, mushrooms, and bamboo. Some people weave bamboo baskets and lattices. They sell these to various locals who feed silkworms mulberry leaves in the bamboo baskets. When they're ready to spin their coccoons, the worms are put on the bamboo lattice. Once they've spun the coccoons, they're put back in the baskets and taken to the factory where they're processed to make silk, and the worms are boiled and taken to market to be sold as food.

Other people grow coffee on their land. They also tend to grow mushrooms, which use as a growth medium quite a bit of rubber tree sawdust. This sawdust is recycled after growing mushrooms as a fertilizer for the coffee plants. This ties with the silk in that the dried coffee bean skins are used as tinder for everything from the boilers in silk factories to the the small one-man rice wine distilleries.

I guess it's normal that everything has a purpose and a use, and poor rural folks won't waste anything, but I'm amazed by the complexity of the economy here that seems so simple on the surface, but seems to involve a very complex balance.

We also visited the Koho (sp?) hilltribe, one of the 50-odd ethnic tribes that populate the mountains of Vietnam. They have a fairly modernized way of life, in that they no londer wear their own style of clothes, live in their own style of houses, and are currently learning to speak Vietnamese more. We also visited a rather impressive waterfall, the Elephant Falls, which since we're in the rainy season was very strong and large. I'm thinking of doing a longer trip later that will see the 3 largest falls in the region.

Tomorrow we're off again on another trip, but minus Inyaki and Pilar who I think are ready to move on. So the younger couple, Ricardo and Laura, and I will head out with the same guides on motorbike to see some of the sights around town. We were thinking of doing an elephant ride, but that may have to wait. I have to say that at first I didn't want to see the hilltribes and the Mekong Delta tour wore out my patience for visiting various types of factories and such, but today I was fascinated by everything. We also got to view a bit of the Ho Chi Min Trail that was bombed heavily with napalm, and is just starting to regrow trees now. Incidentally, because of the use of Agent Orange around here, a Danish NGO has built of the first water treatment plants in the country here in Da Lat. So I suppose the water should be safe to drink, but I don't really want to risk it.

I found out there's also a university here with some American professors who teach English. I can't imagine what it would be like to live here and work in a university in this country. It seems rather crazy. Anyway, I'm off to sleep so I can be alert tomorrow on the tour. Hopefully I can post again tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Out of Saigon, into Dalat

The Mekong Delta in the southwest of the country was rather interesting, though the 3-day tour I took wasn't. It was nice because I got to meet plenty of people, though nobody who was going my way. The first day I met a group of 5 Spaniards from Madrid who invited me to spend time with them. It felt good to practice my Spanish even though I know I've lost a lot of it. The first night we had a variety of new foods, including fried frogs, grilled turtle still in its shell, and grilled mudfish. The frogs and mudfish were pretty good, but the turtle was awful. It smelled like sewage and I could hardly find any meat on it worth eating. Definitely don't want to try that again. I got to be pretty good friends with the people, and one of the girls wants to do an apartment exchange next summer, so I may have a place to stay if I want to head to Madrid for a month or so.

The Mekong tour felt like we were being herded from one place to another. Most of the things we saw were interesting, such as how they processed rice into noodles or paper for spring rolls, but after a while of that and floating up and down the river without having much context to put it in, I got bored and spent my time sleeping or reading. The last day was nice because we headed to a nice pagoda on a mountain that jutted up out of the delta and gave us a great view all around. The guide pointed out the Cambodian border, but that's as close as I got to it. Then we had to head back, which was a 2.5 hour trip by boat and then a 6 hour bus ride back to Saigon. I was exhausted by the time we got back, at nearly 9:00. I grabbed some dinner and rested up for another grueling ride to Dalat in the central highlands.

The ride left at 8 am and was supposed to be only 6 hours. With a stop for lunch and a gas break it took us 8 hours, plus another 45 minutes driving around looking for a hotel. The bus we took was from a tourist company, so they took us around to the various minihotels around the city. The problem is that everyone wants to see every one and decide, then they want to go to the next one and stay there. I wanted to just go to the one recommended by my place in Saigon, but it was at the end of the route. So I had to wait forever to find out that it was full and I'd have to find another. There were 4 Spaniards still on the bus by this point, so we all deliberated and decided to head back to the very first place. It turned out to be quite nice, except for the gutwrenching realization about that time that I'd never picked up my passport from the front counter in Saigon. So I had to call there and hopefully (cross your fingers) they'll send it to my hotel tomorrow by the same tourist bus I took. It sucks not having it because I think I'll be in very big trouble if I can't get it.

Off to sleep now so I can be fresh for my motorbike ride all over the place tomorrow. The 5 of us are meeting tomorrow to haggle with the 'Easy Riders,' a gang of motorbike tour guides that prowl around looking for fares. We'll take a tour around to see the waterfalls that dot the area around Dalat, plus maybe take in an ethnic village or two. Then tool around to see the sights here, which are rather numerous since it escaped damage during the Vietnam/American War, and off to Yok Don National Park where I want to ride an elephant. I'll try to write before I go and see what's happened. Brr, Dalat's actually chilly tonight since it's at a high altitude, which is a big change from the humid Mekong Delta and sweaty Saigon.