We are rob & lauren: two professional photographers who love weddings and travel. This is where all of those things come
together for us. Within these pages we hope you discover and sense our deep love for the cultures that we encounter and
experience. Our biggest hope is that you come away from this site with a great understanding, respect and love for them and
their ways. Enjoy!
Visions Of Varanasi
February 25, 2008
So we’ve had a big store of photos all backing up waiting to be blogged. There’s so very very much to see in India and so much to shoot that we find ourselves completely overloading with photos. But we’re taking a nice and relaxing day here in Mumbai to work on getting some edited so that you guys can see some more of India. I hope you enjoy!
We’re going to go back in time here, and show you the last couple of places we’ve visited. Our time in India is rather short when you think about how much this country has to see, so our pace has been quite rapid. We’ve spent incredible numbers of hours on trains and as such haven’t had much time to work on the computer as we stop in a town for just a couple of days. Thus the backtracking!
I’m going to also preface these posts with a note. No amount of photos that we show you could really convey the intensity of India. And I’m not necessarily saying that in a good way. I think we show a very beautiful side of this country, and I’m so glad to see that so many of you are enjoying seeing that. But what we haven’t been showing are photos of urinals in the streets, garbage absolutely filling every crevice, cow droppings making every step a cautious one, and the incredible relentlessness of poverty.
I’ll give you a few statistics to try and give you some perspective on the issue of poverty in India. (These are all taken from the Lonely Planet: India, Published 2007). The last census of 2001 placed the population of India at 1.027 billion, which I believe was up 20% from the decade before. I would guess it’s over 1.1 billion now and is slated to overtake China as the most populous country by 2035 (India is much smaller in land mass than China!). The unemployment rate is 8.6%. Literacy rate is about 54% in women and 75% in men. Families living in one-room homes: 41%. India’s percentage of the world population 16.7%. The worlds highest number of HIV positive cases—greater than South Africa-- with a reported at 5.7 million cases, estimated to reach 12 million by 2010. About 30-40% of India’s population survive on less than 1 US dollar per day. In Mumbai where we are currently staying the population is 16.4 million (about half the population of Canada) and it’s estimated that up to 55% of the population live in slums and shantytowns. It is also home to the largest slum in Asia, known as Dharavi, incorporating 1.7 square kilometers with a population of more than 1 million people (the same population as our home city, Edmonton). But really none of these numbers mean anything until you actually visit this country and see things for yourself.
It’s a side of India that we did not expect. We had been told that India was “dirty, smelly and crowded”. Those words don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what we’ve seen and experienced. It’s been difficult to handle at times, and even more so when every moment outside is punctuated with touts trying to sell us something. We are both quite exhausted many days when we come back, and relish our quite evenings watching a movie on the laptop. It’s a bit of normalcy and stability in a country that seems anything but.
So if you are planning to visit India, I encourage you to do so. But with this warning that I wish we had been given. Prepare yourself for a very tough journey, that will be filled with incredible highs (you will see some in this post) and gut-wrenching lows. As I remarked one day to Rob, India tests your patience. It crosses the line of your limits, then it dances well beyond that line, then it punches you in the face, and goes even further. Harsh words I know, but I do pride myself on being a relatively patient person, and yet have on many occasions felt myself completely and utterly strained, and very ready to lash out. Of course, these are only momentary lapses, and in the very next moment something happens to make me fall in love with India all over again. It’s a rollercoaster ride every day, and I just can’t even begin to fathom what we will encounter with another full month here, but I’m sure it will be just as memorable, both in a good way and bad, as what has happened so far. This is not a holiday, but a life experience and a supreme test.
I thank you for indulging me in this little discussion. I know it’s a lot deeper than our usual style of writing. We do try our best to see some bit of beauty in many of these depressing scenes, and those photos are what we share with you. But we don’t want to paint a false picture, and hope that this little side note helps to prevent that. I promise I won’t launch into these intense essays too frequently. Emotions are much more powerful after traveling these sorts of places, and it is always good to share ☺
The first shot here is of our room in Jorhat. It was more than we ever expected, and likely more luxurious than anything else we will stay in while we’re here. Another huge thank you to Runa’s family for putting us up in such a wonderful place.
And now some shots from Varanasi. This is one of the holiest cities in India, situated on the Ganges River. It is the city of Shiva the destroyer, one of the Hindu gods. To die here is a very desirable fate, since it releases a Hindu from the cycle of birth and death. One of the gentlemen who worked at our hotel had been living in Varanasi for 25 years, as his mother had come to the city that long ago, and was still waiting to die there. It is a city that we both found to be incredibly intense and at times quite overwhelming.
On our first day in Varanasi we took a boat ride at dusk along the river. It was a very interesting experience, at once both calming and eerie.
Kite flying is a common past time here.
Our boat took us to the main ghat. A ghat is an area that slopes down to the river where people bathe, wash clothes, and pray, and there are many of them lining the banks of the river. This main ghat had a nightly aarti ceremony (prayer) to the Ganges. It was quite elaborate, and made for some great photos.
After the aarti was done everyone lit candles and put them into the river, as an offering to the Ganges.
The two candles that you can see in this picture were the ones Rob and I lit.
The next day we took a little walk around town. There are tons of movie posters around, especially for the latest blockbuster, Jodhaa Akbar. We attempted to see if anywhere in Mumbai had English subtitles but apparently not. It was quite disappointing, since this is apparently a fantastic movie! We’ll have to wait until we get home ☹
This intrepid young guy saw that we were going the wrong way to get to the Ganges, so he led us in the right direction (in exchange for a small tip, of course). But his English was excellent, so major props to him.
As I mentioned before, the Ganges is where many people bathe during the day. It’s considered a very holy river, and is capable of washing away bad karma. I love this shot of this young guy in a quiet moment looking over the river after his bath.
There are tons of what I believe to be water buffalo wandering around near the ghats. We thought they were pretty cute indeed.
Now, you recall me mentioning that we found Varanasi to be incredibly intense. This will give a glimpse into that. Two of the ghats along the river are dedicated specifically to cremation. It takes place in public, and you can stand and watch it. After we got back to our room that night I took a moment to try and describe what it felt like to see that, but honestly I could not find the right words. This photo is of some of the piles of wood nearby that are used for the cremations that take place all throughout the day. There are over 200 cremations every day, so you can imagine the amount of wood needed…
It wasn’t all just intensity like that though. It was really neat to see some goats just relaxing on the steps of a ghat.
And there were some very interesting characters along the way. This guy has dreadlocks so long you wouldn’t believe. They were all tied up in his turban, which is why it is so big. I found his face and colours to be just incredible.
Another interesting experience in Varanasi was when Rob got an authentic Indian shave. They whipped out a stool, sat him in an alley in front of a big metal door, and went to it. He said it felt really great, and was a nice close shave!
There were cows all over the streets, just watching the swarms of people go by
And one day we hired a rickshaw driver to take us around to see some of the temples in Varanasi. Many of them aren’t open to non-Hindus, so we only saw a few. This one is one of the many Shiva temples in Varanasi. It was small, but still so ornate that I found it amazing. There are so few things like this in Edmonton!
Then we stopped by the Monkey Temple. We weren’t allowed inside, but one of the guards let us walk a bit closer near a gate to see some of the monkeys eating. It looked like there were dozens of monkeys all around this temple! This little guy jumped up into a tree that jutted out over the fence, so that we were both kind of nervous because he looked ready to jump right on Rob! But he certainly was cute, nonetheless.
Here’s the view from our seat on the rickshaw. The road in this picture is so empty because we were taking a quiet ride around the local University. The rest of the time it was so incredibly busy and harrowing. It was quite interesting to see the shirt of our driver saying "Jesus, I trust in you". I'm not sure if he was actually Christian, or just liked the shirt. Neither is outside the realm of possibility in India.
At the local Benares Hindu University there is a large temple that is actually open to people of all faiths, so we took a look. There was a really fantastic sculpture on the outside, I believe of Shiva.
The temple itself
The next day we ventured out to Sarnath, which is 10km outside of Varanasi. It is where Buddha came to preach his message after he achieved enlightenment.
There is a small deer park in the area, and I just couldn’t believe the antlers on this deer.
There was also a small Jain temple nearby. Many people have probably never heard of the Jain religion, but a very good friend of mine is Jain, so I have a bit of familiarity with it. It started in the 6th century BC as an opposition to the Hindu caste system. Founded by Mahavira, the Jain religion teaches that through ahimsa (non-violence) and achieving complete purity of the soul one can achieve liberation. When we walked into the Jain temple and saw this small alter with a black marble statue, I can honestly tell you that I felt a tangible sense of intensity from it, more so than even the large buddhas that we’ve seen.
We walked along the road and came to another Jain site, with a much larger black marble statue. I felt such a sense of gentleness from the way the hands were carved.
And from the road we got a good glimpse of the Dhanekh Stupa, which was erected to mark the spot where Buddha gave his first sermon to his 5 followers.
It’s really funny how things that remind you of home can get you so excited when you’ve been gone for so long. Rob and I very very very rarely eat at McDonalds (maybe once a year) but when we saw one in Varanasi, we were pumped. Little did we realize that since this is India, and the 82% Hindu majority consider cows to be sacred, there would be absolutely no beef on the menu. Out the window went our dreams of a Big Mac. Instead we got a couple of Chicken Maharaja Macs….Honestly, I couldn’t make something like that up. They were good, but just not the same.
But the soft serve ice cream was just like back home, and so I was happy.
And that’s a slice of Varanasi. It was certainly a place to see, and to experience, but it was anything but relaxing. The city is notorious for touts, and even more so it can be quite scary at night time. They often turn all the power off, including the street lights, which makes carrying a flashlight at all times a necessity. And during the day time the percentage of people on the streets was about 90% male. At night time, it became about 98%, which definitely can make you a bit jumpy. Thus the lack of night time shots! But now here in Mumbai things are quite different, and we’ve had a couple great night time strolls. As usual, India is always a surprise.
First off a long overdue post about our friend Jon. We mentioned him briefly before but he really needs more attention given to him and his greatness. I intended to make this a seperate post, but since fast internet here is tough to come by, and requires us "soft hacking" our way into using the connection, we regretably don't have time to post every day and give him his due in that manner.
So we're starting this post with Jon, and then there will be lots of fun pictures.
But first: the man, the myth, the ninja master legend, Jon.
We met this guy and his amazing fiancee Sarah when they dropped by to talk to us about their upcoming wedding. We had shot a couples session with Jon's older brother Dave, and they liked our work so thought they would stop by and chat with us. In our discussion it came up that Jon was a web developer, and specifically worked with blogs. We had had the Wedding Travelers on our mind for a while at this point, and knew we needed to figure out a way to make a wicked cool blog. It was a match made in heaven.
The work started, we gave Jon a template that we wanted to use, and somehow from that simple Photoshop file he put together the complex and easy to use blog you see before you. It still is in it's beginning stages, and he has a ton more tricks up his sleeve, if you can believe it. I'm sure you all haven't even used half of the cool feautres he has created, and we'll be sure to let you know all the great ways to use the site as they are finished.
In our business we have worked with many many companies, from people who make our websites, to the people who print our business cards, to the people who ship all of our gear to us. I'll tell you right now that dealing with all those people is easily the most frustrating, time-consuming, and difficult part of our job. But this has never ever been the case with Jon, and for that we value him so very very much. Not to mention his incredible talent. I'll tell you right now that when it comes to small businesses working with small businesses, honesty, promptness, and general friendliness is the most valuable thing, and worth much more than saving a few dollars along the way.
So if you have any web related ideas, need someone to consult with, need a website or blog designed, or anything along those lines, Jon is without a doubt the guy you need to talk to. His company is called Streamline, his website is www.streamline-web.com, and he is the man. No questions about it.
If you miss this post later on as you are looking for his link, it's at the bottom of our website, and also on our Photography Resources page, for your convenience :)
But before that, let's finish up with Thailand.
Oh, and by the way, this is Rob writing. I usually prepare pictures for the blog and Lauren writes up the post, but today I bring you both! We’ll start off where we left off, in Krabi, Thailand. Here’s a little video of a temple we climbed close to Krabi:
The thing about this temple was that there were 1237 huge steps (sometimes a single step was greater than 2 feet!) to get to the top. I guess it wasn’t actually a temple on top (the temple was at the bottom) but there was a giant sitting Buddha and what looked like a giant bell and various other smaller ornaments. It was a tough climb but definitely worth it. I’ll let the pictures do the talking!
First picture is unrelated to the above, but right outside our guesthouse was a banana tree. I’ve never seen a banana tree before and it was somehow different from what I expected (it looks like some kind of carnivorous plant!)
On with the temple!
My grandma had asked to see more pictures of what people’s homes looked like (which I thought was a great suggestion!). This is one of the nicer looking places that we came across on our scooter ride to the temple. In the rural areas along the road a lot of people just live in metal corrugated shacks, as well as rickety looking wooden houses. In cities and towns most of the buildings are reinforced cement or cement layered brick.
Cool rock formations (I can’t remember if they are mountainous or karst limestone formations). Anyways they are all around Krabi.
A view from the road of the temple we climbed. You can just barely see the enormous Buddha and Bell on the top of the second peak from the left.
That’s it from Thailand, we’ve moved onto India now. Our time so far in Calcutta is actually the reason why I wanted to write today. There is so much about this place that cannot be told in pictures. One reason is that this city stimulates the senses in much more than just a visual way. Even now in the dark recesses of our windowless hotel room I can hear horns honking somewhere. On the street it is a never-ending cacophony of diesel engines, horns and sirens of every frequency, jack hammering, construction of every kind really, and people. People yelling, people laughing, people crying, people whistling, people spitting, belching, and even peeing. Maybe you can’t really hear people peeing but it sure seems like that when you pass open urinals on the side of the street, which brings us to the smells. Walking around is like this: Your baseline is diesel fumes, if you’re outside and on street level then you smell them all the time. If you pass a dark looking alley it usually smells like urine, if you pass an open urinal it definitely smells like urine. You’ll pass a chai stall and the sweet smell permeates the air and you can smell nothing else. We’ll pass sweets stands and spice vendors and their respective smells will sweep over you. You’ll pass garbage dumps and the same will happen. And when you’re not passing near by something that smells (which is rare) you will return to the baseline of diesel fumes. We actually clean our noses out at night and it blackens the Kleenex. I’m really not exaggerating. As far as tastes go we’ve been pretty cautious about what we eat (no fruit or anything unpackaged) but I can tell you right now we’ve had the best Indian food of our lives. Actually it’s pretty much all we’ve had for breakfast, lunch and dinner since we arrived here. It’s all so familiar but at the same time on a different level than the stuff we get at home. And the chai here is fantastic. A typical meal at a restaurant with chai, a couple sodas, a couple pieces of Naan and two or three small dishes usually costs around $5. It’s by far the best value we’ve seen.
Another reason this place cannot be told well in pictures is because of the poverty here. I shouldn’t say that it cannot be photographed, it’s just a really difficult thing to photograph. I’m having a difficult time right now even talking about it. I can’t speak for all of India because we’ve only been to one small part of one city, but when I think about how many people live in India (1.03 billion, 16% of the worlds population) it makes sense to me that the quality of life here can’t be the same as anywhere else. And its not the amount of beggars or homeless people that account for the poverty I’m talking about—though there are many. It’s the standard of living that is so shocking. I wish I could describe this all in more detail but I really feel at a loss for words. We’re going to try really hard to show more in our pictures. I don’t mean we’ll focus on the poverty here, but it really is an intricate part of where we are.
Anyways here are a few pictures from our little walk yesterday:
Like the title of this post suggests, we do attact considerable attention (particularly with our big cameras) and the people here certainly do not mind staring at us!
Old style Ambassador taxies
Crazy motor rickshaw
Street side barber
A cup of chai from a street vendor and the little clay pot they serve it in. We drank our chai by the vendor expecting we needed to return the cup, but it turns out they just throw them out afterwards. Weird.
Where chai comes from...
Good to the last drop
The Indian flag
A busy street scene
Power lines and birds
I’ve done some different processing here on a few photos from today’s post, and I'd really love if you guys would let me know what you think! Leave a comment!
And the way there is fraught with many perils. And is also stinky. Very stinky. But let’s start at the beginning shall we?
As you saw in our last post we spent one of our last days in Ho Chi Minh City at the Cu Chi tunnels. Here’s a video from that experience that you might enjoy.
And finally the time had come for us to say goodbye to Ho Chi Minh City. On our last night in the city our friend Kevin and his dad drove to our hotel and picked us up on their scooters. They took us on a ride so we could get the experience of a scooter journey in HCMC. It was definitely a thrill, but strange things were going down that night. We saw a really, incredibly drunk pair of Vietnamese guys topple their scooter over, fall to the ground with no helmets on, then hop back up and drive off. And while we were enjoying some sugar cane juice with Kevin and Cherie we saw a street brawl between two other Vietnamese guys (I can only assume they were drunk, as that seems to be an important component of such an event). Weird, weird stuff. But at no point did we feel unsafe, so you don’t need to worry about this being a rough town! Here’s a little video Rob took as we were jetting along on our scooters.
And finally the event we had been waiting in Ho Chi Minh City for so long for….the arrival of our Indian visas! We made our way to the consulate early in the morning, had the customary wait that is required when you are doing anything official, and BAM! Two passports complete with visas in hand, and we were ready to hit the road.
And this is where things got interesting.
Days earlier we had found a transit company that offered buses to our next destination, Dalat. With the help of our translator, Kevin, we found out where to go and when to catch the bus. They even gave us a little pamphlet that showed us the times and location to get the bus. However, this pamphlet was entirely in Vietnamese. Not one word in English. This should have been our first clue….
But of course we went along our merry way, caught a taxi, and they dropped us off at this bus station. We were expecting to see a ton of huge tour buses, but in fact it was a small, little place, with rows of chairs, and no buses to be seen. That’s okay, thought we. We marched inside, and Rob set out to get us a couple of tickets. As I’m sitting with the bags I notice that it’s taking him an incredibly long time to just pick up a couple of tickets. I also look around and see only Vietnamese people. Not a single tourist in sight. Hmm….
Rob comes back and says that it seems like we’re on a bus at 2:00PM (it was around 12:00PM now and we were hoping to leave at 1:00PM) and it was a 16-seater bus (we were wanting a big 45-seater). But apparently the girls at the counter didn’t speak a lick of English and Rob had a tough time getting what we wanted across to them. He went back to try to figure it all out, and one of the staff members came up to me and basically made it clear that it was our turn to go. I was quite puzzled, since it was only around noon, and apparently we weren’t leaving until 2:00PM. I waved Rob back over, and we grabbed our bags and were loaded into a little van. I honestly had no clue whether this was to be our transport to Dalat. The seats were old and worn, and our driver swerved in and out of traffic like a slalom skier. Little did I know that after finding out how we were actually going to be traveling, I would have happily chosen the little van over it!
So we bump along in our transport, with no clue where we are off to. And when we finally got there, we really wish we hadn’t. There may as well have been sign that said “Welcome to the Urinal Depot”, because that’s what we’ll forever remember it as. It reeked. Badly. Like urine. Just in case you didn’t get that from the “Urinal” part.
Add to that the smell of about 100 buses coughing fumes, and you can see why we weren’t too pleased to be there. We get out of the van, grab our bags, and stand helplessly amidst the buses. Thankfully our driver sensed our confusion, and said a bunch of things in Vietnamese, then led us to the café.
In case you’ve never been to Vietnam, a café can very easily consist of some tiny plastic chairs (think of the ones designed as lawn chairs for children), tiny plastic tables, and some umbrellas. Out in the middle of the pavement.
He motions for us to sit down. I do so with little problem. Rob, who is very much not of normal Vietnamese stature, sits down in his chair, then laughs, and stands back up to demonstrate the fact that the chair sticks to his bottom, because it is so desperately small for him.
We whip out our books and begin to pass the time by reading. And also by inhaling the fumes of the running van a meter behind us. This is Ho Chi Minh City, and it is sweltering, so we weren’t too pleased to be blasted with hot, stinky air. We weren’t too pleased with anything at this point. But this is what traveling can be like, and we’ve had a very similar experience waiting for a ferry in Greece, so we just sit and read and hope that whenever we’re supposed to get on our bus someone will tell us.
Well, eventually someone finds us and motions for us to follow him. We go through the motions of putting our books away, getting our bags ready, stand up, and….Where did he go? We peer around, start to slowly walk through the vans, and generally look like some lost, baby deer. Then he suddenly appears again, and waves to us to follow him. So we start walking through the buses again, and have to take a little detour because the bag won’t fit between two of them. By the time we get out into an opening where we was standing but moments before, he has once again disappeared.
I’m starting to feel like Alice chasing the white rabbit.
We wander again, many Vietnamese men motion at varying buses and at us and seem to have very important things to tell us, but it’s all in Vietnamese, and our grasp of the language doesn’t extend beyond pho bo (beef soup) and sinh to (fruit shake). And they were using neither of those phrases, so we were out of luck.
We stand for a while, then suddenly he pops up out of nowhere and motions us towards a small little bus that here is known as a 16-seater.
Please note that this means 16 Vietnamese people, traveling in Vietnamese style (i.e. crammed in like sardines).
At least the sign on the front says Dalat. We’re getting somewhere.
We bring our bags around back to put them away. Two of them get in there alright, but our large camera bag doesn’t look like it is going to fit, and we’d rather not watch him slam the door on it, as we’re sure it would be accompanied by the crashing both of our cameras and our dreams, so Rob holds on to it. We walk around to the door, and it opens to reveal…
A damn tiny bus.
And luckily for us, our seats are in the very back, crammed with two other people in our row. Wait, make that three other people, because the woman was holding her young son on her lap. We literally barely even fit in our seats, and had three bags between the two of us to hold. The leg room was so scarce that neither of us could sit with our knees straight forward, as they would bump into the seat in front of us. And we needed to contort our limbs into pretzels in order to actually fit in some way that didn’t involve Rob’s elbow in my ribs, or my kneecap in his thigh.
I sat there and knew that this was going to be a very very long ride.
And it was. It was about seven hours to get to Dalat, including a pit stop where I had my first encounter with a squat toilet (not as fun as you’d think), and we watched kittens playing (way more fun than you’d think). We both attempted to sleep, though that definitely didn’t happen.
And we became intimately aware of the poor condition of the roads in Vietnam, as we bumped along, and upon many occasions became completely airborne, sometimes by about a foot.
We said a silent thank you to Steve Jobs, and those awesome folk at Apple for inventing the iPhone, as we spent the last two hours of the ride watching The Matrix, which helped time pass better than counting black shapes in the darkness. Did I mention that twilight here lasts about 30 seconds? One moment I’m reading my book, and by the time I’ve flipped the page it’s pitch black and I’m SOL.
As we got closer to the ETA that we calculated when we left HCMC (I’m in an acronym mood right now, it appears) the bus started pulling over, and people started getting out. At very very random places in the middle of seemingly nowhere, without saying a word to the driver. At least I don’t think they said anything…It was incredibly strange, and we were starting to wonder how we were to know that we were supposed to get off.
Well, the way to know when you’ve arrived at your final destination in Vietnam is precisely when the driver hops out and throws your stuff onto the street.
He jets off and leaves us there around 9:00PM in a bus station, which we desperately hope is in Dalat. The only other person we immediately see is a very intrepid motorcycle driver who wants to take us into town. This tiny man on his tiny bike wants to take me, Rob, and our 6 larges bags into town. We chuckle at his optimism and tell him “No, we need a taxi”. “No more taxi” he tells us. Did I mention it was raining?
So we start to walking towards a building with lights on, in hopes of figuring out what to do next when a little green van driving by stops, and some Vietnamese guys inside yell at us “Where are you going?”. “Hotel”, we reply. “Yes, get in”.
They may as well have said “Yes get in and I’ll tell you all about how you just won the lottery”, for as good as it sounded to us at the moment.
So we pile into the van, and pick a hotel from the Lonely Planet and say we want to go there. They convey this to the driver, and off we go. Before they get out they let us know that we don’t have to pay for this ride, it’s complimentary from our bus company. People here can be genuinely, incredibly nice, and we were very glad to have met some of them.
Then we met the other taxi driver.
After the local guys had piled out, and it was just the two of us foreigners left (read: easy marks) another taxi driver came up to the window and told us about a very nice hotel room for very cheap. “No thanks, we want to go here”.
”No, it’s closed”
“It’s not closed”
“Yes, it’s closed. I have a very nice room for very cheap.”
“No, we want to go here.”
“No, it’s not closed”
“You say it’s not closed. Okaaaayyyyyyyy” Like he thought we were crazy.
It wasn’t closed.
Remember that if you’re ever traveling. As I hear it, it can be pretty bad in India. Just stick to your guns, and if you get there and it really is closed, you can still find somewhere else.
So, it wasn’t closed. We were proven right. But it was, in fact, full for the night.
Did I mention it was raining?
And though that could have been a wee little disaster right there, luckily in Vietnam you can’t spit and miss a hotel (or however that saying is meant to go) so a two minute walk down the street brought us to a two star hotel (they were very proud of that fact) for $20/night that only smelled mildly of sewage, and so we took it.
And that was our journey to Dalat.
Since it was pitch black there when we arrived we had no idea what to expect. When we checked in to the hotel they asked if we wanted to partake in the breakfast buffet. “Sure!” we said. (Mistake).
The girl at the desk happily informs us that she can give us a wake-up call at 7:30AM so we can get breakfast. Our happy faces turn into sad faces. But we figured we’d wake up, sleepily walk downstairs, have breakfast and walk back upstairs back into bed.
So 7:30AM rolls around and we are woken up by knocking at the door. Apparently our line was busy so she came to the room (in all fairness, the staff there were super awesome, and totally helped us out a lot while we were there!). We trudge downstairs, expecting to see a restaurant somewhere full of people. We saw nothing of the sort. With confused looks, we go to her, and she tells us that the restaurant is actually 100m down the street. So we take off, walk quite a ways down the street, see absolutely nothing, so we walk back. One of the security guys springs to action when we say that we can’t find it, and says he’ll take us on his scooter. So he and another guy rev up their engines, and take us right back the way we just walked. Only difference, they went about 10m further around a corner, and there it was.
So we’re finally here, we figure we might as well enjoy it. We burst through the doors expecting to be welcomed with the smell of waffles and eggs. And instead the smells of noodles, fried rice, dumplings and “fish gruel” (as Rob describes it) meet our nostrils. Mmmm, breakfast of champions.
But we eat, get back to the hotel, and arrange to rent a scooter for the day. About 10 mintues later a very friendly guy who says he loves the snow but has never seen it (that’s why he loves it, he doesn’t know how freakin’ cold it is) shows up and gives us a scooter for the day.
Scooter rental: 100,000 Dong (around $6) Filling it up with gas: 50,000 Dong (around $3) Total freedom: Priceless
We found a map, brought along our handy Lonely Plant, and took off down the road. Some of our best memories of our trip to Europe involved jetting around the Greek Islands on a scooter, and we were very glad to be doing it again. And we sure got our monies worth with some breathtaking scenery. Let’s get to some visuals shall we?
Our first stop was a cable car that promised breathtaking views of the area. I think it came through.
The cable car took us to this little area with some pagodas and whatnot. We just wandered around, avoiding the legions of small schoolchildren who were visiting that day. One thing you don’t see at home, bamboo growing all over the place!
We followed a path that took us down to the water. The skies were just fantastic, sometimes a clear blue sky isn’t always the best.
The ubiquitous motorcycle, everywhere you go.
The steps leading back up
And after we made our way back across the cable car we stopped for a little snack. These have become our favorite treats, and it’s funny because we’ve actually had them back at home in Edmonton, from the local Asian grocery store. They are ice cream bars that taste just like honeydew melons. Rob bought two and had both of them finished before I had finished my one…. I have sensitive teeth….
The entrance to the cable car had some really interesting trees and Rob grabbed this awesome shot of one of them.
The view of the city from where we caught the cable car.
Then it was back on the scooter, a quick look at the map, and off we went again. This time we were heading a bit further out of town, but we were up for the adventure. The Lonely Planet had mentioned that you would be taking a dirt road. What they should have called it was “the crappiest road you’ve ever encountered”. There were two tiny paths on the very shoulders of the road where people tried to avoid all the bumps. Didn’t work that well. Every jolt sent a shockwave of pain into my brain. It definitely wasn’t too fun. But that’s the price you pay for independence ☺
And I would say the views we got were worth the pain. Here’s a little video of some of the scenery.
Finally we made our way to our destination: Tiger Falls. And because we made our own way out there, we were the only tourists in the whole place, so we were able to enjoy the scenery all alone, without any kids tearing around, or people screaming in 20 different languages, and the tour guide herding you back to the bus before you are ready. Just peace and quiet and a ton of water.
I sat and read the guidebook while Rob took some shots
He took some really really amazing shots.
Then when we were hiking back up we had the option to go left, the way we came, or right, a brand new way. Naturally, we went right. And came across the bridge that crossed over the falls. It certainly wasn’t like any bridge you’d encounter in Canada.
It was a bit scary
And we had to walk very cautiously
But it was definitely fun. Here’s a little video just to get you even more scared
And then it was back home. Here’s our trusty stallion, our scooter
And a sign that we saw as we were driving along. Apparently the Vietnamese don’t care for the sound of trumpets. Who knew?
And a final shot, as we were driving around looking for some place to eat dinner. One of the strange features of Dalat is a radio tower shaped like the Eiffel Tower. I had to get a shot of it, because who would really believe that this was here, in the middle of Vietnam? But it is, and it was really funny to drive through the streets with this huge thing looming in front of you.
And that about sums up Dalat! We left the next morning, bright and early. A mini-bus picked us up from our hotel at 7:15AM and we were just praying that we weren’t in for a repeat of our last journey. When we pulled up beside a big huge tour bus, and saw lots of white people standing around, we knew we were safe. 7 hours later, and we find ourselves in Nah Trang, a beach town. We’re in a room that costs $15/night, has WIFI, and we can see the ocean from our room.
And it smells nothing at all like sewage. We’re very happy.
Well, well, well here we are! Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Formerly known as Saigon. And honestly an insanely cool place to go. Like I mentioned before, neither of us really knew what to expect from Vietnam, but I’ve gotta say that I’m so glad we made our way here! Within moments of driving through the streets on our way to the hotel we got a sense of the charm and character of this place. The photos will really tell you more than I can with words, so lets get started!
Our airplane from Singapore to Vietnam.
A shot from the balcony in our hotel room of the typical street scene
Many of the women here actually wear the conical hats that you see in movies. It adds such a dimension of authenticity, it’s fantastic. They all ride around carrying whatever it is they sell. I believe this woman was selling strawberries.
The street that our hotel is on. Sure it looks crowded and crazy, but it’s so simple and real at the same time.
So when I ordered a coconut juice at a local café I definitely wasn’t expecting this! To be honest I wasn’t a huge fan, but it sure looked cool.
There are street side markets all over the place, and our hotel room is a short walk to Ben Thanh, one of the big ones. Here are some of the fruits they are selling. I really don’t know what they are! But they look interesting ☺
The Ben Thanh market caters not only to tourists, but also the locals to come here to buy their meat and produce. We were quite shocked to find that all of this seafood is actually still alive!
The market is crammed with hundreds of booths selling everything from shoes, to handbags, souvenirs, dried shrimp, coffee, tea…you name it! Most of the booths look like this, completely packed!
We’ve grabbed a couple meals at the market. This fried rice surely had some sort of addictive substance in it, because there was just no way to stop eating it.
And of course when in Vietnam you have to have a bowl of pho. It’s pretty much the staple here, and is eaten at any time of day. It’s a simple soup, with rice noodles, onions, and meat. But it’s just incredibly good, and we enjoy it immensely.
Here’s Rob getting right into it!
A shot from our seats where we were eating. This was all the meat for the dishes that they were preparing.
And a very typical street scene. The women carry so much on their shoulders, I can’t even believe it. And they always, always do it with a smile.
A shot from our walk home. The walls here all have the most incredible texture and character to them, Rob is loving getting shots of it all.
And this is what the roads look like. As you saw in the videos below, crossing the street is a bit of a gongshow. There are an insane number of scooters here, like they comprise 90% of the vehicles on the road. And from the outside the traffic looks like complete chaos. But somehow they manage to get by with out ever colliding. Honestly, there have been times when we were in a cab where we simply couldn’t believe that we would get through it all, but somehow the scooters magically part and you just sneak on through. It’s beyond impressive. If only Edmonton drivers were this good ;)
All the drivers on their scooters wear face masks because the pollution here is so bad. We literally have not seen the sun yet!
At all the intersections the power lines look like this. It’s beyond nuts! Our power was out yesterday, and I think they just routinely shut down different parts of the city. All the restaurants and shops had generators out on the sidewalk so that they could keep business going.
So as you can see this place is really incredible. There’s such a different feel to it than Singapore. Yes, here you are constantly berated with calls of “What you looking for, madame?” and “Let me help you, madame!”. I definitely get it worse since I’m so obviously white, and Rob’s just an enigma to everyone. I think people who have trouble with personal space might have a hard time here, as I’ve been gently grabbed on the shoulder quite a few times by over-eager shop keepers, but I’ve learned to just keep going, and stay chilled.
Same thing with the street crossing. It may have looked incredibly scary on the video, but after doing it once you really get the hang of it.
For any of you planning on visiting Ho Chi Minh City in the future, and are worried about the crossings, I’ll give you the scoop. All you need to do is understand how it works, and it’s easy as pie.
First, you check the road, and which way the traffic is flowing, and at what point it changes direction (for when you are crossing traffic going in both ways) so you know when to switch and start looking the other way. Do not step out if a bus is just about to come your way. They have the rule of the road, and don’t really stop for anyone. You stop for them.
Then you slowly step out into the road. Yes, there will be scooters careening at you from every which way. But the key to is to walk slowly. That way they know where you are going, so they can swerve around. Don’t start to run, that would pretty much be the worst thing you could do! Just walk nice and slow, small steps, and don’t be afraid to just stop and wait for cars or buses to go by.
It’s quite the experience, and I know things are similar in Dehli, so I’m glad we’ve earned our wings with street crossings!
So that’s the scoop so far. We’ll be posting again soon with something different, so stay tuned!
P.S. Just a couple of house-keeping things! We just wanted to let everyone know that they can feel free to post about us on their own blogs, and grab a few pictures (keeping the logo on of course!). We think it’s so awesome that people are spreading the word about what we’re doing! Just make sure you drop us the link so we can check it out! And HUGE thanks to all that have done so so far, we totally love you guys!
And also, sometimes when we’re working on pictures or surfing the net we’ll have our Skype open. You can feel free to add us and chat with us if you wish! Our username is “robnlauren” so say hi!
Since we've been here a couple days now and haven't shown you anything, we thought we'd give you a little teaser. There's more to come later!
At the end of that second video you can hear Rob saying "I thought he was going to charge me 600,000 Dong for that..."
The currency here in Vietnam is the Dong, and 15,000 is roughly $1 Canadian. Rob was talking about some sunglasses that he bought, and how he thought the guy was going to make some ridiculously high offer!
But we'll tell you more about our adventures later. We had a very busy morning (with tons of photos taken) and we need a nap!