“Kỳ thực trên mặt đất làm gì có đường, người ta đi mãi rồi cũng thành đường mà thôi…”
Lỗ Tấn – Cố Hương
Chủ đề ngày hôm nay là những chuyến đi đầu tiên ✈️ ⛴ 🌴
Chuyến bay lần đầu tiên của mình là một chuyến bay quốc tế, Aeroflot bay từ Hà Nội-Moscow. Hồi đấy học lớp 8, chẳng biết tiếng Nga và cũng chẳng biết sợ nên cũng không thấy sao. Vẫn đi và về và giờ đang ngồi ở nhà gõ cái status này.
Hồi 17 tuổi, lần đầu tiên chính thức xa nhà, cũng một mình sang Úc, lần này biết tiếng Úc nhưng cũng chẳng biết gì hết, nên không biết sợ. Giờ đang ngồi ở đây ngẫm nghĩ về quá khứ ngu si 😛
Đi làm công việc lần đầu tiên, cũng là đi một mình bay hàng loạt các chuyến bay nội địa từ Canberra – Sydney – Brisbane – đảo Hamilton sau đó đi tàu biển Fantasea từ đảo Hamilton đến được chỗ làm việc trên đảo Lindeman. Vẫn không hiểu sao đến được đấy và bây giờ đang ở đây. Hồi đó cũng chẳng biết gì nên cũng không biết sợ.
Giờ biết biết chút xíu, biết thêm chút kinh nghiệm chỗ này chỗ kia và nghĩ lại thấy sợ – chẳng biết hồi đấy mình xoay sở kiểu gì. Giờ rút ra một kinh nghiệm là:
Những người tự tin là những người không biết sợ – nguyên nhân chính là do không biết gì, vì nếu biết thì sẽ bắt đầu biết sợ và có xu hướng né tránh! Mình thấy cái này đúng trong hầu hết các trường hợp 😛
Nói chung là cũng chẳng có gì phải sợ, cuộc sống mà! Cứ có mặt đất là sẽ có con đường. Ngày xưa học lớp 9 lúc nào cũng nhớ câu nói của Lỗ Tấn trong truyện Cố Hương: “Kỳ thực trên mặt đất làm gì có đường, người ta đi mãi rồi cũng thành đường mà thôi…” 🦶
Well trust me, I know, I know, I was supposed to be sitting and writing 2 motivation letters which would need to be urgently sent to Finland by tomorrow for my MBA applications. But since I not yet have any motivation to write that sort of thing (Well I don’t even think that I actually want that MBA but let’s see…) so I am writing a quick post about of of my recent trips to Sapa.
So finally I could sneak out of the office after months and months of not heading to anywhere new. The trip was pretty quick and simple, just like how I wanted it to be.
The only advice that I can tell you all write now is that you don’t have to do what I do because the way I travel pretty much defines who I am so you do what works well for you.
I knew Sapa was not a huge town – even though it is part of Lao Cao province, which is in fact, one of the largest provinces in Vietnam and famous for having hundreds and hundreds of mountains including the Fansipan – the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia – also known as the Roof of Indochina. I know thousands and thousands of young and old people want to get to the top of the mountain for at least once but for me it might not be the case… I have climbed a few high mountains so not that I am weak, lazy nor having Batophobia (A new word that I have just picked up for those who are afraid of height), I just don’t want to do it here…
For those who travel from Hanoi (like me), you could either travel by coach or by train to Sapa. I wanted to do the train but my nephew and many other friends said it is better if we travel by bus because it is faster and will go direct to Sapa. The train would take longer and only get you to Lao Cai City and you will need to take a one-hour bus to Sapa. I heard there have been a few ‘luxury’ tours by train now which have been operated by Victoria Sapa so that the luxury travellers will have the best of everything… which would be pretty nice to try… I have only travelled by train twice in Vietnam but I must say that I was very happy with the train facilities on my last trip, which was almost a year ago compared to how it was back in 2008.
We had purchased the tickets in advance and got onto the coach at 10PM. Think the name of the transport provider was Camel. This reminds me a lot of the time I travelled by Greyhound or Murray from Sydney to Canberra and vice versa. I consider myself as a super easy-to-be-pleased traveller because I slept almost all the way from Hanoi to Sapa. When I woke up, I heard some people talked about how they got panicked that night when the coach was driving up to the mountain. We got their at around 4:30AM and the bus driver was nice enough (I’m sure this is how they operate the tour) to let us sleep for another 1.5 hours after we reached Sapa. We all know this is good because we can rest a little more (there is absolutely nothing to do at 4:30 in a 5 degrees foggy whether) and so that the driver can rest too after a long hours of driving.
So we made it there – my cousin for the second time but me for the first time. I asked if my cousin was so sure that she wanted to go for the second time and she said it was always different when she travels with me – I am not entirely sure about that…
I like to do it my way, I know. Many friends told me that I do not have to worry about accommodation because I can easily find it anywhere. I will never listen to that advice because firstly, I am a hotelier, I need to experience the service so I would choose carefully where I would like to stay and secondly, I am a female travel, I want to make sure I am safe – so that I can sleep well at night. (I had this experience once when I was so new to Sydney and I was ‘brave’ enough to book a budget hotel at King Cross – Oh tell me about it… For me it was absolutely a terrifying experience right in the first moment I got there. Everything in that place reminds me of the video “We found love” by Rihanna… so with no hesitation I immediately book an #AccorHotels right on the next day… Maybe I am just not the right person for that travel style – I would never be ready for be coming a pack pack-backer…
I know I made the right choice to ensure I have everything on the book. I knew that I would stay at the Hill Station when I am in Sapa so I immediately checked with Soeren, the owner of the Hill Station if the rooms were available on my travel date. He told me the only date he had room available was on January 31. I was like… perfect, so I will take my annual leave on January 31 – I would travel on January 30, as soon as I finish work and I can catch the night coach and get there in the morning of January 31, 2015 and celebrate NYE there and leave Sapa on January 01, 2016 in the afternoon. That should be more than enough for a small town like Sapa anyway.
It was more or less, a little different from what I imagined of The Hill Station and its collections but it is overall a very pleasant experience. I got one of the nicest rooms (All rooms are nice and there are only 3 rooms available) so I consider myself lucky.
Although the whether wasn’t that nice but it was definitely not a big deal for me. I know I can always have fun in all whether conditions. Here are a few things that I would like to list for my trips in Sapa:
Hotels – yes plenty – so don’t worry but don’t be so reckless anyway because if you travel in high season and you don’t want to sleep in the mountain then better get yourself a room before you head to Sapa. It is COLD there 🙂
Food – Yes – I never knew Sapa is famous for FISH (especially Salmon) and wild animals (of course – there are trees and forests everywhere) but please don’t eat them. The funny part that I found was that I did not have food on the streets. There is something about me that I did not noticed so much until I have my dinner booked at U-Sapa. I was having dinner with my cousin and suddenly noticed that we were the only 02 Vietnamese in the dining room. The rest are foreign tourists and yes there is a Vietnamese lady too but she was with her foreign boyfriend. Anyway, whether they are foreign or not has never been my issue… Could it be the reason that I entered a dining room with full of foreigners? Have I become one of them? Hmmm Still I am just not into street foods especially on rainy days…
Foot massage: It is quite obvious that you can get a local “Dao Do” foot or body massage for no more than $US 3 per half an hour. I wanted to try but we spent too much time for eating and shopping so we completely run out of time for the massage…
Shopping: This is one of the most fascinating experience. I never worried so much of being ripped of here. Who would and who could RIP ME OFF by the way? Perhaps they can do that on foreigner but please I am Vietnamese. Those Mong kids who try to sell you a 0.5 cent key ring or those ladies (young & old) who try to sell a beautiful necklace for $US 2? And one of the sales lady was just so funny and at the highest level of honesty. She thought that we were students and had no money so just try to lower the prices as much as possible… For that only reason we have come back to her 2 times in a row whenever we need to buy some things and did not bother going to other stores… I must say that I really had good laugh while making a deal with them. I had bought so so many products before I left Sapa but let me guess, it did not cost me more than $US 60 for all the souvenirs, which include 02 of my favourite scarfs; 4 beautiful necklaces; 01 bracelets and over 50 hand embroidery products of all kinds. I don’t know if I should be happy because I’ve got so many products for a good price or I should get upset because what we pay for such beautiful things are so cheap and the human workforce and women are extremely under appreciated and the kids are sent to the market to sell stuff instead of going to school…. Overall, the experience of Sapa was good. I had a great stay thanks to the hospitality of The Hill Station staff and many other people. Hope to go back there again on a sunny day…
After almost a year of following all the tweets, I finally made it to the Ma Maison Boutique Hotel Saigon last year on a business – leisure trip (November 2014). By previously knowing that the hotel address will not be easy to find, I did not get freaked out when the taxi driver didn’t even know about Ma Maison when I asked for the direction.
My first impression was with Tam, a 16-18 !? little boy – hotel staff with a friendly innocent smile which definitely made me feel most welcome. He and another hotel staff greeted me at the entrance. They offered me a glass of cold and super sweet – I must say the sweetest glass of passionfruit juice (not because of the sugar but natural passionfruit) that I have drank in my life (So make sure that you will try when you’re there).
The check-in counter
I have heard of the big black and white cat living at the hotel (the hotel owner is a cat person) but I can’t even remember whether I have seen her… It doesn’t matter so much anyway because I am not very much fond of pets or animals and sometimes – oh no most of the times I even get scared of them – black and white (or black or white) cats especially.
The room is super cute – all I can say and I did feel like I was a princess in a Proven style building (I’m talking like I know what I’m talking about… Provence… France… French… :). And the princess was super easy on that day. She stayed in a small little room and in a tiny little bed but since she’s full of vanity so she enjoyed every single moment of that as well as every single piece of furniture and artwork hanging on walls…
Waking up at Ma Maison was another pleasant part. Of course, there are neither American breakfast nor club benefits. In here I was offered in a super simple way with a very simple breakfast menu of 2-3 items. Well at least they asked me how I would like the egg to be cooked and the egg was much better than many other places that I have been too. I’m sure my Aussie dad Graeme would love it to – He hardly ever complains about anything except for his infamous laptop which takes half an hour to get started. Perhaps the princess was super easy on that day – I do feel there’s more than plenty. If there’s a word to describe my feeling I would say “deja vu” is the one. This is the exact same feeling that I got when I was at Zen Valley Dalat which I don’t often get…
By the time having breakfast, I spent some time chatting with Tam, the little boy that I met the day before. I asked if he could tell me the reason that he worked here whilst he is still so young. He said his family is from the South-Western Vietnam or “Mien Tay” is where it is called. His family could not afford to send him to college. Tam said he was lucky because he was the nephew of this hotel owner who brought him here and gave him this job opportunity so that he could work and save money to go to college in the future. His eyes got sparked when I said I was from Hanoi. He said he wanted to work for a hotel in Hanoi one day then greeted me politely before getting back to work. I was looking at his honest face and did not say much. At the end I could only wish him all the best for his future endeavours…
I know this is just the beginning of 2015 but I’ve just had one of my best moments of the year catching up with some amazing friends and people, this includes the Sajus…
I met Saju in back in 2010 when we were at the Hyatt Hotel Canberra. He was ‘the Chef’ and I worked in Food and Beverage as well as Sales and Marketing department. Except for the fact that he is Indian and he cannot swim – he admitted in front of everybody when we were playing the ‘Who’s Who game’ at the hotel – we knew nothing about each other until we both came back to Vietnam…
In 2012, he got a job promotion at a five star hotel in Saigon and by that time I also left Australia for home in Hanoi. I took the occasion to meet my old colleguage again in one of my trips to Saigon and got to know his family, his beautiful Croatian wife Mirjana and his gorgeous daughter plus personal assistant Kylie.
We met again in Hanoi yesterday and the day before as they went for a trip in Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. Oh my god, Kylie surprised me as she is a lot taller than she was before… Kylie loves winter so she seemed to enjoy it very much. However, the Hanoi weather has not been very pleasant as we’ve been experiencing to the extreme of the unpleasant days with cold wind air and too much of winter rain.
I enjoyed my time spending with them as well to get to know the ‘insights’ of how it’s like to get married with a Chef and got to know a bit of here and there… Europe, India, Australia and Vietnam… We literally include almost everything in our conversions and sometimes they even went up into becoming some ‘big’ husband & wife arguments but I guess this is just how life’s supposed to be. Mirjana was like: “Camellia, don’t get married and don’t have kids”. I just can’t help smiling looking at how happy they are and I could not see anything which is more lively and more beautiful than that…
I had one of the best Indian meals in my life at Namaste Restaurant in Hanoi… I just tried everything that I was advised by ‘the Chef’ and they were all so good.
It must have been not so difficult for Indians to become vegetarians they have such a wide variety of choices when it comes to vegetarian or vegan food. I told the family that I wanted to become a vegetarian. Just got this feeling recently… And perhaps 80% vegetarian is a better target as it is not easy to be a vegetarian when you are part of the food and service industry and especially when you live in the society where people show absolutely no respect for animals as many of them still think dog meat is a type of food to eat…
Despite of the cold and rain, the Hanoi trip was good for us, I still feel like I am a ‘tourist’ sometimes – it happens when you travel with people coming from different cultures who look at your culture in a different perspective…
Life is full of coincidences. And I think I must have made Mirjana super happy as well. She might probably thought that she was the only Croatian in Vietnam. We were walking along Nha Tho street where the St Joeseph’s is and I suddenly realised that I knew someone also from Croatia who lives in Hanoi. Coincidentally, they were all at the same place at a perfect timing and just good enough for me to get everyone from the small little Croatian ‘community’ to get introduced to each other in a short period of time. Mirjana was so happy that she couldn’t speak a word after the encounter with not only one Croatian guy but also another one and another guy who is Croatian’ son-in-law. She asked me as if I knew everyone in this city which just made me smile… I took a step back to think of another coincidence, it was about an Austrian man who I’ve got to know for quite some time and once we went for dinner together at Da Paolo Westlake, he was so surprised that he could hear the ‘Austrian’ sound from another man who was dining in the table right next to us…
I said to the Chef: “Hey Saju, I think just maybe, if someone thinks he/she is the only person who has ‘unique’ nationality in this city, they should come and see me as I will be able to help them find a friend who comes from their own state of origin…”
Ước mơ đầu tiên của mình là trở thành ca sĩ. Từ năm khoảng 7, 8 tuổi gì đấy thì mỗi năm thay đổi ước mơ một lần. Bây giờ thì mình biết mình đang làm gì và muốn gì nhưng mà chẳng biết phải đặt tên cho cái nghề đấy là gì nữa. Nhưng dù làm nghề gì đi nữa thì cũng chẳng hiểu sao cứ mỗi lần gần đến sinh nhật là lại muốn… làm ca sĩ, thực ra hơn cả việc muốn làm ca sĩ thì mình muốn hiểu về nhạc lý, muốn có người hướng dẫn luyện thanh và muốn có thể chơi giỏi một loại nhạc cụ nào đấy hơn. Hy vọng là không phải đợi đến già mới có cơ hội học... 🙂
Ngày xưa hồi mình làm cho một resort (khu nghỉ dưỡng) ở bên Úc tên là Club Med, nếu ai đã từng làm việc cho Club Med thì sẽ rất quen thuộc với mấy từ G.O; G.E hay G.M. Mấy đứa như mình được gọi là G.O, viết tắt của từ (Gentil Organisateur) được coi là các nhân viên đại diện của Club Med; G.E (Gentil Employé) thường là các nhân viên có thể hoặc là người bản xứ và thường tập trung ở khu vực ‘back of the house’ (khu vực phía sau) và G.M (Gentil Membre) là để chỉ các vị khách đến nghĩ dưỡng.
Điểm khác nhau chính giữa G.O và G.E là các bạn G.O mặc đến 7 bộ đồng phục khác nhau cho 7 ngày và mỗi tối lại được yêu cầu mặc trang phục theo mỗi chủ đề khác nhau. Các G.Os thường làm việc vất vả hơn và cũng đồng nghĩa với nhiều quyền lợi hơn. Ngoài 8 tiếng làm việc (vất vả theo từng bộ phận) thì thông thường các G.Os sẽ có khá nhiều các nhiệm vụ khác nhau. Nếu như các G.Es chỉ làm việc hết giờ rồi đi về thì G.Os làm việc xong rồi thì còn có rất nhiều các hoạt động khác nữa. Một trong những đặc điểm rất đặc biệt của Club Med so với tất cả các khu nghỉ dưỡng khác đó là văn hóa của Club Med. Các G.Os của Club Med ngoài những công việc chính ở các bộ phận như thể thao, ẩm thực, spa, buồng phòng, lễ tân thì ai cũng sẽ có chung một “công việc” buổi tối đó là chia sẻ các trải nghiệm trực tiếp cùng các G.Ms.
Club Med theo mình được biết là khu nghỉ dưỡng duy nhất trên thế giới để nhân viên ngồi ăn trực tiếp cùng khách hàng và tìm hiểu về trải nghiệm của khách hàng khi nghỉ dưỡng tại đây. Vào 8h tối thì gần như tất cả các G.Os sẽ trở thành ngôi sao trên sân khấu vì tối nào cũng sẽ có các buổi biểu diễn khác nhau theo từng chủ đề. Nói là gần như tất cả tức là có một số G.Os không thể tham gia trực tiếp vì làm ở bộ phận ẩm thực nên thường phải ở lại nhà hàng khá muộn và rất hiếm khi tham dự các buổi biểu diễn. Mình thích các buổi biểu diễn từ đầu đến …gần cuối. Nói vậy vì kết thúc buổi biểu diễn đã từng là nỗi ám ảnh của mình vì ai cũng phải nhảy theo một vũ điệu kỳ quoái mà được gọi là “crazy sign”, mỗi người có thể nghĩ ra một “crazy sign” khác nhau và mọi người sẽ thực hiện theo điệu nhảy đấy. Hồi đấy mình ghét trò này vì thấy cứ ngớ ngẩn sao ấy, bây giờ thì đỡ hơn một tí vì nghĩ lại nhiều lúc cũng thấy vui. Có một lần mình không phải làm tối nên ngồi xem biểu diễn, xong đến giờ có cái “crazy sign” đấy, mình không kịp trốn nên cứ bị kéo lại, nhưng mình cố gắng từ chối vụ nhảy nhót đấy thế là bị hai bạn G.Os khác phê bình là mình không làm việc hết mình.
Nói chung là mình hơi bị bực mình vì cái lời phê bình đấy vì mình biết mình là một trong những đứa làm việc vất vả hơn ai hết, chỉ có điều là hình như đây không hẳn là văn hóa của mình. Thôi chẳng cãi nhau với họ nữa, dù sao họ cũng chẳng phải sếp của mình, nhưng mà vẫn bực. Chắc tại khác văn hóa.
Mà đúng là khác văn hóa ấy. Hồi đấy cứ khoảng 3 tuần hoặc 1 tháng một lần là ở đấy lại tổ chức một cái “G.O meeting”, lúc đấy tất cả các G.Os mới sẽ đứng lên giới thiệu bản thân xong lại bị yêu cầu…nhảy nhót 😦 Hôm đấy đến lượt mình, mình nói với bạn Chief of Village (General Manager) là mình hát có được không và may quá bạn ấy đồng ý. Hồi đấy mình vẫn xì-teen nên mình hỏi các bạn ấy có biết “High School Musical” không. Sau đó mình bắt đầu:
“Na na na na
Na na na na yeah
You are the music in me
You know the words “Once upon a time”
Make you listen
There’s a reason…”
Rồi có một buổi tối đến vụ phải hát thì các bạn G.Os kia có vẻ ít người hào hứng, lúc đấy thì sao không có ai thể hiện hết mình đi. Thế là mình lên hát, mình nhớ mình lên hát vài lần. Một trong những lần mình nhớ nhất là hôm đấy hát “Oops I did it again” – Britney Spears. Thực ra đấy là lần đầu tiên hát bài đấy nên chẳng hiểu hát hò như thế nào, chỉ biết lúc hát xong cái bạn hôm trước kỳ thị mình chạy ra ôm mình chặt một cái nói là “Well done darling, I’m so proud of you”. Mình chỉ nói là không có gì đâu, chỉ là mỗi người có một cách thể hiện khác nhau thôi. Nhất định sẽ có một lần nào đấy mình sẽ viết một bài tiếng Anh về chủ đề này, để nói cho bọn Tây nó hiểu là ngôn ngữ cơ thể không phải sở trường của người châu Á.
Ước gì hồi đấy có ai quay phim chụp ảnh cảnh đấy, thế mới biết nó vô giá như thế nào. Thôi hôm nay quyết định sẽ ngồi nghe mình hát, kỉ niệm lần đầu tiên đi thu âm khoảng 10 tháng trước. Bài hát này lấy cảm xúc từ chuyến đi công tác Đà Nẵng. Hôm đấy đứng ở bờ biển một mình đợi chị đồng nghiệp xong nhìn thấy cảnh hai bác lớn lớn tuổi ngồi với nhau rất tình cảm thế là bị ám ảnh đến hôm về đến Hà Nội. Sau đấy nhân dịp cậu bạn mở phòng thu thế là thu âm thử luôn. Bài này vẫn còn nhiều lỗi nhưng mặc kệ đi, hy vọng nếu đi thi Vietnam Idol chắc vẫn được đi gửi xe.
Lately I’ve found that my mind has not been very quiet. I can’t stop my mind from spinning with different sources of ideas and thoughts. On the one hand, I have so much to write about but I also know I should put an end to my recent Dalat trip. I need to end this ‘relationship’ before getting into a new one – I think that’s the right way to do as I can’t love two guys at once. Wait a minute, did I just say that “I have so much to write about?”. It doesn’t even sound like me…Uhm… Is this like a sign of aging? 😦
So on my very last days of the trip in Dalat, I had the chance to meet a friend’s friend of mine. Hung is a vegetarian, super skinny from what I see but what I remember the most from this person is the eyes – he’s got bright eyes. He is in his 30 something, at the age people should get mature in all aspects. I’m not sure if in English people have an expression for this, but I think he is a ‘time’ billionaire. It doesn’t mean that he’s jobless or having nothing to do. He owns a garden, a fish pond, a coffee field, a small town house and a reading tent in the garden. I guess that should be enough to keep him busy, especially during the coffee harvest seasons, but it only happens once per year. Hung told me once: People usually tend to think of all the ‘big’ things that matter to them in life, which is to work; to study; to earn money; to get a career; to get married or to have kids and/or to get more and more money but then, every so often they forget one of the most important activities to keep them alive: TO BREATH. Sometimes it is simply important for us to take a deep breath and give yourself a break. I could never thank him enough for everything. Thank you for taking me to the Elephant Water Fall, for all your lessons and thank you for the wonderful meals that you cooked for me.
So after Axel, Mai Dung then Hung, my trip would not be completed without Sydney (but not Australia) and Alex, my new and BFF American friends.
I was sitting in the office yesterday and got a text message: “Hey Camellia! This is Alex and Sydney from ZEN Cafe! We are in Hanoi for about 3.5 hours. Are you in town? I am definitely am! Let’s catch up! 🙂
After Dalat, it was a great catch up with Sydney and Alex at Hanoi Km0 – The Note Coffee. He spent the rest of the 3.5 hours on Hanoi Old Quater’s Streets; had some of Hanoi’s favorite street food near St. Joseph’s Catheral. We finished our trip by having the best Italian Gelato from Casa Italia Hanoi before rushing to the train station for Alex and Sydney to make their way to Sapa. I seriously love these beautiful friends and cannot wait for my next trip to Ho Chi Minh city as we still have lots of promises for the future.
Good morning pillow! I love the feeling of waking up in a brand new place and knowing that I am going to learn something I never knew before. On my third day of the trip, I decided the ‘Crazy House’ to be the first place to visit. Axel told me something like if I didn’t go to the Crazy House then I had not been to Dalat. As soon as I finished my brief greetings with my white pillows and the comfy bed, I made my way up to Zen Cafe for breakfast. Sun was out beautifully and I found myself so lucky as I got dad on the phone telling me that back home, it was thunderstorming and lighting all night the night before. I must have done something good I thought. In order to make it sound a bit crazier, I decided to walk to the Crazy House instead of taking a taxi or a shuttle bus from Zen Cafe. I seriously don’t mind walking and never had any problem with it. And since I am not a sporty person, at least I am not lazy sitting or lying in bed all day. Well, I just thought, I had the map with me, and except the fact I am not really a good map reader, the city of Dalat is not a huge one so I should be fine. And I proved it, I made it to the Crazy House and it was totally worth a visit. Seriously, I had had no clue what the Crazy House was until I got there and learned that it was, in fact one of World’s most unusual hotels. The idea of the Crazy House is absolutely mind-blowing.
In what could be seen as an homage to either Antonio Gaudí or mental illness, this trippy hotel by Vietnamese architect Dang Viet Nga has become a popular attraction. Mushrooms, spiderwebs, portholes, and tree roots are sculpted into the organic concrete form, and each of the 10 guest rooms at “The Crazy House” is named for an animal. Choose wisely; those burning-bright eyes in the tiger suite will surely keep you awake. —Adam McCulloch
For me, one of the most fascitinating parts about this project is the fact that this famous building was designed by one of World’s most talented female architects – Dr Dang Viet Nga, which made me – a young Vietnamese lady feel simply proud. There was a history lesson too as I did not know Ms Viet Nga was the daughter of Mr Truong Trinh, who was Vietnam’s second-ranked communist leader (after Ho Chi Minh) for a period of time. I left the building with some strange and mixed feelings that I did not know how to explain. There are so much what I need to learn from my country…
I visited Bao Dai’s Palace afterwards as it was very close to the Crazy House. It was also interesting to know a bit deeper about the last Royal family of Vietnam. Nevertheless, this place did not impress me so much, not to mention it was a bit noisy and I was disturbed by a tour guide whom I think he was just in the wrong job because there was too much nonsense from his speech to the tourists.
My next destination was Truc Lam meditation centre – the largest meditation centre in Vietnam. It was on my top list of my must-see destinations in Dalat from the very beginning. I started my walking journey again from Bao Dai’s Palace to where I believed was not so far away. It was…one straight line on the map to get there and about 3km from the city centre, I thought I could always catch a taxi if I don’t know how to get there. All what I needed was to find Tuyen Lam lake then I can find the meditation centre. But it was not as easy as I thought. So I kept walking…More than 45 minutes and still did not see the Lake. I got a bit scared really as I could not find a taxi and there were fewer and fewer people passing by on that road. Besides, I was sure that I definitely looked like a tourist, yes, a crazy tourist. And it was when it started to rain. What to do? Seriously? I could not believe I was about to get wet…like that? No… 😦 I put on my hood and hoped it would keep me dry for a little while and hope the rain would stop soon. But it didn’t. There was no taxi available too. I was imagining myself as an character in the Story of Tam and Cam, an ancient Vietnamese tale, which is also known as the Vietnamese version of Cinderella. It was about Tam, the ‘Vietnamese’ Cinderella after realising she was tricked by the step-mother, she did not know what to do but to cry. Then the Buddha appeared to her and comforted her…
Well, I knew I was not Cinderella in that case as nobody tricked me, I was only suffering from my stupidity. But guess what? The Buddha appeared like for real. There was a bike stopped next to me within seconds and a man in his 60s stopped right there and he started to talk. The old man: Hello! I saw you from start walking from up there far away. Where are you going? Me: I’m going to Tuyen Lam Lake. I wanted to get to the Meditation centre. The old man: Is that so? I am going to Tuyen Lam too. I will give you a ride there and wear this raincoat on. I guessed, well, the rain just got heavier, he looked harmless and I did not want to get wet. I didn’t even know where Tuyen Lam Lake was. We stopped by a village shop to wait for the rain to stop. From the moment I talked to the guy who just saved me, I could see he was a bit abnormal from the way he spoke. Telling me he was a lawyer, I asked if being a lawyer was a tough job. He told me yes as you had to know all the tricks and gimmicks. I shared a bit information of what I do and where I work too.
He then drove me to Tuyen Lam Lake and invited me for lunch after learning I hadn’t got lunch in a restaurant near by. Well, okay then. I thanked him for having given me the ride. I told him this could be some sort of destiny as I could not imagine what was going to happen if he did not show up right at that moment. He asked to exchange our mobile numbers so we could keep in touch. He started talking about his purpose of visiting Dalat this time. It means he has been to Dalat many times before. He even knew the people from the restaurant and some of the very big ‘key’ people in town and without hesitating he introduced me as I was his niece. Talking about his purpose of visiting Dalat this time, “I’m here to do some good” he said. Then in order to make me understand, he showed me a Buddhist magazine and started telling me the story of a monk. “This monk is about 70 something now who had spent his whole life learning about Buddhism. Now he is old and he wants to lay back here in Dalat. He also wishes to build a pagoda here for himself. But it is not easy to I am here to help…” Right from this moment, I started to talk more, but to myself instead… Wait a minute, did you just talk about building a pagoda? There are more than 15 pagodas here in this small city. If he really wanted to rest in peace, he can just stay in one of those. Building a pagoda is not a joking matter. And a pagoda appears to me as a long term political and economical interest to a number of people including the guy sitting in front of me, I realised. And the respected monk is no better than any of ordinary people, he simply fell into the trap of fame. Pity! At the restaurant I heard there is a famous type of ginseng wine so I decided to get two bottles for dad. He paid for lunch and offered to pay for the wine. I let him pay as he wanted to act like he was my uncle and gave him money back later, trying to show a nice manner. I don’t like to owe anybody anything, especially this to this man.
Any words that came after from my life “savior’ suddenly became meaningless. He took me to Truc Lam meditation centre and showed me around. I wanted to visit the library but it was closed. There was a bookstore next to the library. The bookseller was a nice lady, and she also knows the old man who was standing right next to me. She told me that the library was closed because the Head Monk doesn’t like to keep the door open while he works (I sighed, deep deep inside). He old man was nice enough to give me a Buddhist book named “Quiet Mind” as a gift. I thanked him again and already started to have a gut feeling – I am not going to have a quiet mind today. We left Truc Lam Meditation Centre, despite how beautiful the flowers and the view could get, I would never return to this place again. This meditation has lost its peace and spririt and no longer appears to me as a solemn place. Earlier on before I went to the trip, I had tried to find if they offered any meditation courses but the travel agent told me that the courses are only offered for foreigners? I asked a friend of mine with hope that she would know better. She told me only some certain types of ‘insiders’ will be able to attend the course. I wanted to know what it takes to be an ‘insider’ and why do people even bother trusting this religion if they insist on the thought of distinguishing an insider versus an outsider.
I just wanted to go back to Zen Cafe at that stage to meet with Axel and Mai Dung and tell them how my day was. Unfortunately, I was kind of stuck with the old guy for a while. At least I did not show him any of my disinterest in him, I remained calm and I think it wouldn’t take me long until I got back to the resort. He dropped me at ‘my home’ the Zen Valley and again, I was not so sure if this was another stupid moment of mine to invite him to have some tea with me. Just for a reason that he was old and he gave me a long ride. He looked around the bungalow where I was staying and kept telling me what exactly-I-did-not-want-to-hear: “Oh this resort is good but too far, you should blah blah blah…” Thanks, would you like to have a look at the room? I asked. “Why not?” he replied and went upstairs to check out my room and all of sudden he lied on my bed! I was not happy obviously but I asked if he was tired after riding the bike for long. He said yes and I let him rest for 10 minutes while I could not stop counting down the time for him to leave. At least, he should have asked for my permission and if he was a decent guy he should stay in my living room. He got up afterwards, greeted me goodbye and asked me if I wanted to join him for dinner. At that time I think I was sure that I would get in some serious trouble as he got my phone number. He texted me in about half an hour after he left and the second text he said he would come back to pick me up and obviously without waiting me to say yes. Unfortunately he knew where I was so he just came and pick me up. Thanks to this interesting encounter, I was invited to one of the most disgusting ‘fine dining’ restaurants, owned by one of the richest families in town. After giving a brief introduction of who they were, I found out that all of these people are also…like me, Northern Vietnamese, except for the fact that I don’t want to be one of them. Obviously they don’t just own a restaurant business but a number of forrests and other businesses. The lady – the owner of the restaurant’s wife showed me a cosmetic and perfume brand under her name that she, with all proudness called it “Queen PT” – PT is the abbreviation of her name. The queen’s golden son appeared as a poor kid to me. He is about 10 years old. Meanwhile the mother was trying to force him to answer her question about what he would do if he became a Prime Minister one day? Godness me. I have no idea why I was there talking to these people. There were some rich, some poor dining on the same table but they were just as the same to me. To conclude, I thanked him anyway for his perfect timing ‘rescue’ and the entertaining dinner. The guy gave me a ride back to the resort and did not forget to show me a very big land that he said to me “That’s our land!” I was not so sure what he meant by using the word “our” but it was definitely not mine, nor his, nor the government, it belongs to my country.
Earlier on, I said it was a destiny that I had a chance to meet him, I would not take it back, but I would like to add something in. It was a destiny, but it was too short as it only lasted for one day and I have just ended it. I came back to the room, safe and sound and quite unsure how tomorrow going to be…
I guess Mai Dung, the owner of Zen Cafe would never get bored of telling us her stories about Dalat. Mai Dung is originally from Hanoi. It had come to a certain point of time when she realised she had got enough of all the unnecessary stress , headache and attachment of the chaotic city, Dung sold her house and moved to Dalat. I didn’t bother to ask how did she ended up living with Axel up here but I think I can easily tell the reason why. Axel fell in love with Mai Dung and with Dalat too – the reason he decided to book a ticket to come back to Dalat for the second time, but this time was a straight one-way ticket. I heard Axel’s sister will come all the way from Austria as well to help them manage Zen Cafe and Zen Valley.
I spent half of my day wandering around the “Zen Valley”. There were flowers everywhere obviously and many beautiful houses. I love how they painted their houses in different colours which made me feel like I was in Venice. But what surprised me the most was the number of pagodas in this floral city. I was told that there are about 5 or 6 different pagodas all kinds just near by the resort where I stayed. I kept wondering but I think I know why – and perhaps I will explain the reason in the next chapter.
After having passed by a few pagoda, I made my way up to my all time favorite spot – the Zen Cafe again for my late lunch. It was all decided for that day: my lazy day and that I will just do whatever I feel like doing.
That was how I spent my second day in Dalat. Getting back to the Valley for a hot shower in the evening, I watched again “Now you see me” for the 4th time of my life – I just can’t help watching it over and over again every single time I see the film on StarMovies. I guess it was him Jesse Eisenberg – the main reason that I am so particularly obsessed with this film. And then the only option on TV for me was StarWorld Asia where I can watch American Idol, U.S MasterChef, the Rachel Zoe Project and later on Styled to Rock. That night was the first time in my life I paid attention to “How I met your mother” and fell it love with it. The episode was about Robin & Barney’s wedding and it belongs to Season 9 – the last season of the entire series. When it comes to this, I am not even sure whether I have missed all interesting parts of the series or the fact I have saved lots of my time for not following it from the very beginning? Because it didn’t take me 9 years and 9 seasons to give the answer to that question: “How Ted met the Mother” but only a few of the very last episodes.
I had taken the below picture before putting a happy ending for another peaceful day in Dalat. I think that probably was a mulberry farm. I could see the farmers kept the light on during the night for which I didn’t quite catch the reason. I enjoyed the view pretty much then later on, I figured out something different. Obviously the beautiful light down there was not there to entertain me, it is to maintain a suitable light and temperature condition to speed up the growing process of the mulberry trees. In other words, these trees are forced to grow up 27/4 so the harvest season will come faster. Poor trees! I thought. but I guess this is just LIFE. Goodnight!
I picked Dalat, after having thought of some possible destinations where I can go for a quick getaway and without having to worry about getting a visa. (Yes it is not easy at all for Vietnamese when you need to travel overseas). All what I wanted was to have some peace and quiet. I guess I had enough of stress from work, home, relationships and myself these days. Dalat was simply a perfect choice for me at that point because 1) It was a place that I had never been and noone knew me; 2) A place which is absolutely peaceful and quiet; 3) It offers the best weather in Vietnam (for me); 4) Vietnam Airlines offered me a great deal for my round trip tickets. I purchased the tickets right away, 10 days before the trip and it was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. So welcome to Camellia to the City of Eternal Spring.
I took a Vietnam Airlines’ regular flight from Hanoi – Dalat at 01:45PM on a Wednesday afternoon. I know this is not very relevant but I am quite impressed with the fact that we have free wifi and free drinking water at Noibai airport now. I think they might probably need better recycling and trash station but it will take time to improve anyway. It didn’t take me so long on the 1.5 hours flight, just in time I finished reading the Buddhist Tales: The Price Goodspeaker, one of the most recent books I’ve read. I’ve been reading quite a bit of Buddhist tales lately and I must say that I have learned so many good lessons. Yeah I was so excited. Not the first time I travel alone but this time was a bit different…
I took a taxi from Lien Khuong Airport to Zen Cafe. It took me about 45 minutes to get there and just like what I had imagined, I did not get disappointed at all. I found Zen Cafe on TripAdvisor. I am sure many people would easily fall into the ‘trap’ just by hearing the name and also a very good rating too. But I must admit that Zen Cafe was a real good trap though so I do consider myself very lucky. The cafe is managed by Axel, a native German and Mai Dung, Vietnamese, obviously. They were and are simply one of the best couples that I have met in my entire life.
A few days before my trip, I sent an email to Axel to ask if they still have accomodation available. I know it would not be easy for such location to have room available for me at that stage, considering they don’t have many rooms (like 3 guest rooms?) and it was very close to public holiday. I was looking for alternatives at the same time and almost made my booking at another resort. It was an absolutely stroke of luck for me I must say, I left my wallet with my credit card at somewhere I can’t remember (Yeah I know, I’m talking about my wallet and my credit card) so it was not possible for me to make the transaction. Axel got back to me with an email and just like what I had thought, his rooms were sold out! But, yes, but, “we have since some weeks new and nice bungalows nearby in a quiet valley with a wonderful view. We offer you this accommodation for a special rate for these days… Take a look please to the pictures and let me know your idea…”
I was like, YES. Yes. yes please! Axel dropped me at the Zen Valley, after about half an hour spending on a quick chat at Zen Cafe. Amongst all the beautiful bungalows that they have, Axel was too nice to let me decide ANY room that I feel most comfortable with. So I chose this one, not necessarily the most spacious one which I didn’t really need but it was the most suitable accommodation for me on this vacation:
The sun was going down very quickly and I managed to head up to Zen Cafe after having my shower. At Zen Cafe I met couples of new people with all different nationalities: German; American; one mixed Chinese – Vietnamese and myself 100% Vietnamese. We decided to share a cab and make our way to the night market. Although I never liked going to the markets but come on, I told myself : “You’re on holiday so let’s just enjoy!”