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!”