This past week I had my Spring break for my study abroad program and I used the opportunity to travel to the Central Highlands in Vietnam. In Michigan if you travel for spring break chances are you’re going to a place that’s warmer. When you’re that far north it’s hard to go farther north and I’ve never known someone from Marquette to go to Canada. However the Central Highlands have a much cooler climate and I readily welcomed the change in temperature. Here are some notes from my journeys.
Before I officially started my spring break I participated in Earth Hour. Part of my program consists of a service learning class where I’m placed with the environmental organization 350. This year they did a lot to promote Earth Hour with bike parades, energy efficient light bulb exchanges, and other events leading up to the a main night event occurred during Earth Hour. I spent most of the Saturday going to businesses in Downtown Sai Gon asking them to participate in Earth Hour. I was even interviewed and made it onto Sai Gon’s news for the event (I was interviewed once in Vietnamese but was too hard to understand so they interviewed me again in English). After that they held a concert in the dark (it was Earth Hour after all) with the only lights coming from solar powered bulbs. The event was very fun and impressive with it’s size and organization.
Signing Earth Hour Pledge
Is it the Rainy Season yet?
No, however that didn’t stop a typhoon from hitting the central region the first night of my break. It was my first tropical storm, and it was quite intimidating. The storm lasted through the night and took out our power as I was packing my bag. However it eased up a bit before I headed to the bus station to go to Buon Ma Thout, and so I made the trip. Once I arrived on the bus I realized that the bus had a small leak next to my window so I got a bit wet but slept incredibly well.
Rain in Vietnam
Buon Ma Thout
Buon Ma Thout isn’t the most common place for tourists however it’s the hometown of my Vietnamese teacher here, cô Hòa, and also my Vietnamese teacher in the US cô Thúy Anh told me it was famous for it’s coffee. Having developed a small addiction to coffee in Vietnam (it’s very good), that seemed like a great place to go. The city is much quieter than Sai Gon and has many interesting parks, statues, and an ethnicity museum. I enjoyed my two days there quite a bit, and yes the coffee was very delicious.
I found that Buon Ma Thuot has many butterflies like this one
Cô Hòa connected me with a senior college student studying to be a tour guide, named Anh, who said he would show me around. On the first day I went straight from the night bus to a village called Buon Don with Anh by motor bike. Little did we know, the storm that had gone through the night with a short break, was going to continue as soon as we started making the 1 hour motor bike journey. Because we went straight to the village I still my backpack with all my clothes. Interestingly enough it never rained on us when we walked around but as soon as we got back on the bike it started to rain harder. By the time returned I only had 1 pair of clothes that were still dry. Day 1 of my 6 day trip and I was short on clothes. Luckily the next day was sunny and all of my clothes dried.
Now if that previous paragraphs sounds like I’m complaining then I apologize because I really enjoyed riding through the rain. It was a good amount of fun, but that’s easier to say when you’re not the driver the bike.
Wet Bridge over a Nice River in Buon Don
Coffee from Buon Ma Thuot
It’s good, it’s strong, it’s good, it comes in small servings, however I really like it. That’s about all that needs to be said.
Da Lat is a city famous for it’s temperate climate, pine trees, and flowers. It was quite a beautiful city and was a place where I could probably spend another week just walking around. It’s also considered to be a romantic city and I found many recently married couples on their honeymoons.
Center of Da Lat near the market
Michigan Pride and my Michigan Hat
My friend Van was showing me around her school, Da Lat University, which is quite a beautiful campus. Half way through our tour we were approached by a teacher who was curious if I was from Michigan as I was wearing my U-M hat. It turns out she teaches at MSU and was teaching English at Da Lat University for 1 year. We talked for a bit and I eventually was asked to speak in an American Culture class that afternoon. I gave a small spiel about Michigan culture (those can point out Ann Arbor, MSU, and Marquette on their hands now), and talked to some students about college life. It was great to meet a fellow Michigander and I’m proud to have been able to share some aspects of Michigan life.
Top of Lang Biang Mountain with my Michigan Hat
My travel book said that you could rent a bicycle in Da Lat. In the US I almost only ride my bike in the summer to get around, and I’ve been missing biking in Vietnam. Da Lat seemed like a perfect opportunity to get some cycling in. There are some mountains to the north of Da Lat and waterfalls and lakes to the south. They’re all about 10-20 km from the city and I figured I could bike to each place in 2 days. The night before my trek I found a place that rented some nice looking tandem bikes but noticed they had no singles (I mentioned Da Lat was a romantic city and not a place for singles), however they said for me they could get me a bike in the morning.
I arrived early ready to start my trek to find my single bike was the old pink bike of one of the girls working at the bike stand. It got me from A to B and although when I sped down some hills I questioned it’s stability, it was fun to ride. When I was in some rural areas if the fact that I was a foreigner didn’t grab peoples attention, the bike did, and I was met with some interesting and fun reactions. It was some of the most fun I’ve had on a bike.
The Bike I Toured Da Lat with
Taking a break on the road
Games and Da Lat
I’ve always been a bit competitive by nature and really enjoy playing games. I’ve also realized that it’s a good way to interact with new people in Vietnam and so have taken the time to learn a few. I often see men playing Chinese chess on the side of the street and so the director of my program, Alyce, recently taught me how to play. This came in handy in Da Lat as I was able to play one time after returning from my most grueling bike ride. It was in nice chance to rest, enjoy some iced coffee with condensed milk (cà fê sữa), and get beaten badly in chess (I’m still learning and getting better). I also learned a couple card games which allowed me to kill time on the bus from Buon Ma Thuot to Da Lat and make some good friends. The best was I didn’t need English to play any of the games and was able to practice my Vietnamese and communication.
If you want to see the rest of the pictures I posted you can look at them on my Facebook.
Here are pictures of flowers in Da Lat – http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.3667130157409.168259.1249456203&type=3&l=8e3cff77bc
Here are pictures of other scenes – http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.3666926552319.168253.1249456203&type=3&l=9b9caf4156
My last comment for now (EDIT)
One of my favorite books when I was younger was the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. A key lesson I learned from the book were two A) don’t panic, and B) always travel with a towel. I’m sad to say that I forgot the second rule this time and really could have used one a few times. I’m still getting over
my angry bed bunk mate stealing misplacing my towel while I was in Hanoi. However I followed the first rule of don’t panic and I think things turned out quite well.