Exploring Don Khon

After an interesting breakfast watched over by a hawk

(Ok, maybe he was looking in the other direction) Dudley and I rented a bicycle and got ready to explore our island. In the area of the 4000 Islands there are three islands which I found mentioned online and in the guide-book. Don Khong, the largest and the most quiet place, and then two smaller ones, Don Khon and Don Det. Don Det is the backpacker place with cheaper bungalows (and after seeing them I know why) and lots of parties while Don Khon is the place in between in every way.  So the perfect place for us.


Next to the rental place I saw fish hanging outside for drying. I am not sure if I want to eat it though.

Looking at the map we decided to try the Somphamit Waterfalls. It was just a couple of kilometers to get there and after paying our fee to get into the park we walked around following the sound of water. Doesn’t the bamboo bend like this make for a great walkway?

The falls themselves stretched over a large area and were impressive. In some places the river was channeled for electricity.

  
     

There were signs to guide us to a beach area and a bit later we arrived at a small restaurant.


  
  

Once we saw the hammocks we fell into them spent a couple of hours there. It was so comfortable and when I was hungry Dudley just ordered a mix from the menu.

Around 3pm we decided to try out the beach. The park was closing at 5pm and we still had to walk back so no time like the present. The beach was a small sandy cove where I could walk in the first two meters and after that I needed something to hold on to because the current was so strong. We couldn’t swim so much as just getting wet and holding on for dear life. Especially since the current was also constantly shifting.

  

On the way back to the hotel we decided to cross the French Bridge to Don Det and give the train a visit. Both islands had a train during the French colonization. Not much was left of them, especially no tracks but two locomotives were still here for everyone to see.

  
  

Not so much left from the locomotive either, but it was still there as sign of former glory. We left the small museum (around the locomotive were panels with the history of the area and the train) and headed back to the Auberge. Nothing could beat a swim in the pool now. Yours, Pollybert

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Traveling South

My next destination was a small beach town call Quy Nhon. I had heard about it while visiting Sa Pa from a fellow traveler who also wanted just to relax without masses of tourists.

When I woke up that morning I noticed that the electricity was down and later heard that the government shut it down for the day in Hoi An. It didn’t really matter to the people though, life still went on as before.

I took the bicycle and went to the old town, sat down for coffee next to the Japanese covered Bridge with a view on the river. It had something magical to sit on one of the small plastic chairs and watch the locals going about their business. They meet for coffee before going their separate ways to work. It’s something I do at home too but not often enough. The day starts so much better when you see your friends first thing in the morning.

Back at the Homestay I finished packing and around 11 my shuttle came to bring me to the train station. The shuttle turned out to be a private car and we picked up only one more passenger along the way.

This was a woman who needed to go to the airport and while we couldn’t communicate she was super friendly and always touching my hands and my arms. Not in a weird way, more like letting me know that she appreciated my ‘Xin chao’ (hello).

At the train station the usual hustle and bustle awaited me and with only an hour delay I boarded the train. I had booked just a seat since the journey would take about 5 hours, so there was no need for a bed.

The wagon was full of Vietnamese, including a large group of high school teachers who traveled to HCMC (=Saigon). Again I had to find out that the English teacher was not able to communicate (at the Farmstay one of the receptionists was an English teacher and we talked a lot for her to practice; was a slow going I can tell you. But it reminded me of my high school teacher who couldn’t speak and had an appalling pronunciation). Nonetheless with the help of the English teacher I could tell the chemistry teacher what to do with his iPhone. Everyone was lovely, they offered me some lunch and later helped me get off the train. The little blue chair was used by their tour guide. And the man in front with the jeans shorts and I had a good chuckle when someone behind me was snoring so loud that the wagon fell silent.

Once I arrived in Quy Nhon I took a taxi to the Hai Huong Hotel. The first thing I learned about non tourist places was that everything closed early. So after checking in and having a shower I rushed downstairs to ask at reception where I could still get dinner.

I walked a couple of blocks, saw a beauty salon on the way (which I kept in mind) and came to a bigger street leading to the beach. There I saw a small place that looked inviting and had one Western looking guest inside.

Since tourists were rare I asked if I could join him. Hans from Munich was a fountain of information due to his travels in South East Asia the last couple of years.

After an interesting dinner, a duck soup which included all the bones (the duck was cut in small pieces and then cooked; no de-boning here), and a shared pitcher  I called it a day and went back to my home for the next four nights. Yours, Pollybert

Xi’an to Chongqing

After walking around the food market for ages We finally had dinner at the hot pot place next to the hostel. But after my experience with Sylvia in Lhasa I settled on the noodles and a beer. This day had been wonderful and exhausting and it was good for me to see how easy I can find company.

The next morning I stayed at the hostel until check-out time and then tried to find the Bell Tower again. I had seen it the night before and wanted another impression at daylight. Maybe even try for the mosque again.IMG_2045
But walking around with a map proved too difficult for me (I should have trusted my instincts) and I ended up somewhere completely foreign to me. Which should not have been a problem but it started to rain and I had left the umbrella at the hostel. So I turned around and ended up in a restaurant that had a picture menu. Something I loath in Vienna but in China I glad for it.
I tried some green soup and fried aubergine. Both were delicious as I find the food overall very good.IMG_2111 IMG_2112

If the soup bowl looks big to you, it was. More the size of a large salad bowl.

After I had finished my meal it had started to rain in earnest and I was not in the mood to get back in the rain. I had ample of time and just stayed at the restaurant, drank the included tea (there is free refill) and used my dictionary to find the bathroom. Two hours reading and preparing the blog posts were  a well spent afternoon for me.

When the rain finally let off I walked back to the hostel, got my stuff and waited for the ordered driver. I was told that I should be a minimum of an hour before the departure at the train station and since I assumed it was a huge one I wanted to leave myself ample time to find everything. So three hours before the train was due I left the hostel. It took one hour to get to the train station (thank God I knew that before otherwise I would have thought the driver wanted to abduct me). But once there it turned out that it was a super small provincial train station. And that should say something in China.

I got my ticket without a problem since it had been booked by the cruise agency and they charged an extra 17 U$ for it. So I got my ticket with minimal trouble since the girl at the register spoke English (and well to the boot at that) and I went through security.

The train station consisted of a waiting hall and a bathroom. The people were only let on the platforms once the train came in. I looked in vain for a seat and eventually asked a young man to move his bags for which he only had a blank look and eyes that said “I don’t give a damn”.

But it turned out I had been noticed by the only other westerner in this hall. I don’t know his name but he was from Denmark and seemed like a very seasoned traveler. One of his train mates (they met when comparing tickets) made room for me and I could put my backpack down. The Danish guy laughed when he heard I was in for a two hour wait but gave me an assortment of English tea to keep me company on the train. 10 minutes later he was on his train to the border of Kazakhstan.
More waiting resulted in eventually visiting the bathroom. The Chinese girls next to me signed me that they would look out for my bags (but in any case I don’t think anything could happen in there. The police is stationed right inside, only travelers are allowed into the waiting hall, so basically everyone is in the same boat).

And then another kindness in the bathroom. Of the two stalls one was unusable (I spare you again the details) and for the other was a line up. And the girl in front of me let me go ahead. No word was exchanged but I felt really taken care of.

Then finally the train had arrived and since I couldn’t read my ticket, I followed the masses. I knew at least that I had a bed waiting for me. I just didn’t know if I would have to fight for it. And then another angel, this time in the form of a young man helped me to find my wagon.

It took still a bit of looking to get to the right compartment which I shared with three guys. But now I know that on the ticket it only says the wagon and the bed number. I had an upper bunk, the guy from below helped me to heave the backpack up and I stored it over the door. Two of the three guys could even speak English and I was interviewed where I came from and where I was heading to.

When the conductor came to take my ticket, which was exchanged for a card with the wagon and bunk number I had a puzzled look on my face. But as I was told “No problem. In China, no problem” and they were right. Everything works just fine here. Yours, Pollybert

Girls on tour

A breakfast in September birthed the idea of a weekend together and it all came to life last Saturday. Cat and I met Susi and Tici at the train station (Cat well prepared with a bottle of pink sparkling wine and some plastic cups) and we were on our way to Budapest.IMG_9013.JPG

After the first round we were ready for a selfie and some more sparkling (not to mention the three packs of chips…).
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And one more picture because we had so much fun!IMG_9042.JPG

We arrived right on time at the Keleti train station (gone are the times when you had to wait at the border) in Budapest which is a beautiful old building.IMG_8686.JPGIMG_9047.JPG

After a brief discussion with a local cab driver we decided on taking the metro to our hotel. The Palazzo Zichy was only two metro stations from Keleti away. The M4 line was opened this year and it looked brand new and shiny.
The stop at the hotel was only used to freshen up and get ready to meet with Sylvia and Eva at St. Stephen’s Basilica. The name alone made us feel at home but we found out the hard way that we were all strangers in this city. With ill-founded confidence we walked out of the hotel, immediately going in the wrong direction. When we ended up next to the Danube instead of the Basilica we asked some locals and were guided to the nearest metro station. The M3 turned out to be one of the oldest lines and of course we had to take some pictures

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IMG_8691.JPG (the pics which look as if done by “David Hamilton” are from Susi’s camera which adds a permanent grey veil over everything)

So with only 15 minutes delay we arrived in front of the Basilica where one of many Christmas markets was held.IMG_8694IMG_8704IMG_8697IMG_8702IMG_8706Lots of food stalls but also a fair amount of craft stalls which really offered something new compared to the stalls in Vienna. Just noticed though that I didn’t take a single picture of a craft stall (I wonder why?).

The apple punsch we tried left us disappointed but decidedly warmer on the inside and we were ready to search for a place to eat. This turned into an odyssey since a group of six is not easily accommodated and it was Saturday evening. We walked a lot that first evening in a constant drizzle of rain (rain wise this was the best evening) and saw already a lot from the city.IMG_8709IMG_8710IMG_8711IMG_8712

We also passed the Alexandra bookstore which has a beautiful café on top.IMG_8713IMG_8714IMG_8716

While walking and trying to find a nice place (we already got turned down by one place and I as usual was picky at where to eat) we arrived in front of Menza, a place we had seen in the Wallpaper City Guide for Budapest and deemed as visitable. The place was packed, but looked exactly like the spot where we wanted to spend a great evening. We set up camp at the bar and waited for a table.IMG_8717IMG_9015IMG_8735

When we finally got one, it was well worth the wait. The food was delicious, giving a twist to traditional Hungarian dishes. Check it out yourself and take a closer look at the garlic soup with Lángos.

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As you can see afterwards we all looked happy.IMG_8745

Sylvia and Eva went home after dinner, but we girls were ready for one more drink. The nightlife of Budapest has an excellent reputation and we wanted to try that ourselves. Madame Noi was supposedly right around the corner but after passing the address twice we gave up. Later we learned that it was closed, so Wallpaper City Guide needs to update its books. At least there was another place (also in the Guide book) on the way so we walked to kolor. Which was definitely not worth the visit. The service was slow and inattentive, furthermore we had to pay right away although we set at a table and the lemon in the G&T tasted moldy. Not a classy ending for an otherwise fantastic evening.IMG_8747
Upon leaving the bar it was raining harder, so we were glad to catch a cab almost right away. A cab which had a taximeter, something essential in this city!
Yours, Pollybert

Salzburg for a day

Two weeks ago I decided to go to Salzburg for day. Salzburg is about three hours by train from Vienna. Not really a day-travel distance, but Friday was a national holiday here in Austria and I had the feeling I needed to get out of the city. Plus I love taking the train. So, enough reasons for going. Just sitting on the train, reading and enjoying the view, makes this kind of transportion very enjoyable. I used the trainride to read a couple of magazines, but started also reading a new book called “In the Country of Men” by Hisham Matar. It is beautifully written but not a “feel-good” read. Needed to mix it with some trivial magazines, otherwise would have been super depressed all day. Especially in this kind of weather.

Since a year or so we have a second railway company and since then prices have been quite competitive. So if you book early enough, you get a good deal.

I have been to Salzburg before, but I never really took the time to go up and see the “Festung Hohensalzburg”. So this time I made sure to see it. After arriving in Salzburg I needed a coffee first. I went to the Café Tomaselli and enjoyed two cups and also some Apfelstrudel. After this little repast I was ready for the fortress. I took the elevator up to the Mönchsberg and had this gorgeous view.

A grey day in Salzburg

The fog didn’t take anything away from this breathtaking scenery. Maybe made it even better, a bit more mysterious. I walked for about 20 minutes from the Mönchsberg to the fortress and then took the tour. But honestly, it is a lot more impressive from the outside. I think in summer it might be even better to just take a coffee up the restaurant on the Mönchsberg and enjoy the view. But nevermind… been there, done that.

And the walk was invigorating, especially after the long train ride. The leaves had already changed colours, so beautiful! And the view from the fortress down, exceptional!

View from the fortress on Salzburg

After the tour there was just time for a late lunch and then I already had to rush to get my train. I made it back to Vienna on time to get ready for a night out with my friends. We went to a party called “Singles in the City”. Sounded a lot better than it actually was. Nevermind if you were not there, you have not missed anything.

On Friday I am leaving for Venice. Have heard the city is already flooded, but have a new pair of Hunters and am looking forward to wearing them.

Until later, Pollybert