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Pure bliss (Part IV)

The buffalo boy in the field with red flag.

Just turned off the main road and heading towards Da Lat. Small country road, sun is shining, breeze is flowing as we ride along and are enjoying the road to ourselves. Pure bliss. Simply put. No more trucks and buses and exhaust fumes. Only the sound of our bike humming along the road. This would turn out to be the best part of the trip, and we made sure to enjoy it.

Needless to say, we never made it to Da Lat in time for a late lunch, we got there in time for a late dinner. After traveling on decent country roads, we hit the moon, literally. Several kilometers of craters, deep enough to topple vehicles made me train for a motocross license. The locals did indeed outrun us, but we gave them our best performance and hold our way for awhile. Until we spotted a photo opportunity and let our racing desires subside, as we rather start capturing that something we could keep instead of an imaginary motocross trophy. Never going get to splash with those champagne bottles anyway.

Driving to Da Lat equals scaling mountains. No matter how many times we thought that this would be it, we faced another upward heading curve. Zig zagging our way to the top and just behind a rain shower. Newly wet asphalt on narrow roads that we thought could only hold motorbikes until proven wrong by a car. How they do it is beyond our understanding of driving principles and physics. What we would consider reasonable road space for a car is not what the locals need to have. For instance, when a car takes the motorbike lane on Saigon bridge due to traffic jam, I thought I had seen it all. I was wrong. Never stop learning. In Vietnam, you get surprised everyday.

We caught up with the rain close to Da Lat. It was a very cool encounter. By the time we reached Da Lat, it was already dark. Found a cafe and ordered hot coffee and food. We were a bit worried. Our plan was to ride down from Da Lat after lunch time and still have daylight. Now it was raining outside and dark. I still had to be back for my dental follow up the next day.

Plan B, get some sleep before hitting the road again. First guesthouse we asked was already full. We only needed a room for a few hours we pleaded. A phone call was placed and we were told to follow. Short ride to another guesthouse and we could have a room. A hot shower and two hours sleep later we were again ready for the next stage. Donning the raincoat and heading out in the wet darkness. Cameras already put away. We took our last shot just before the rain hit us on the way up to Da Lat. The cameras stayed stowed away until we reached Saigon.

The ride at night was a once in a lifetime experience and we lived to tell the tale. The story I told in part I sums it up. We kept going from 10 pm until 4 am. We were still not down from the mountain. Instead, we had parked at a pagoda, next to a small waterfall. Somebody was up to serve us coffee and some snack. We drank and ate. Then, we both fell asleep, hugging our backpacks as we sat on the concrete benches facing each other. For the next hour we drifted back and forth from half asleep to asleep to semi awake. At 5 am, the crack of dawn, we mounted our bike again and continued our decent. Our vision vastly improved with the morning rays.

When we came down from the mountain, rows of repair shops on both sides of the road greeted us as well as a petrol station that was open. I forgot to mention that we had been running low on fuel twice and both times we had managed to find a station. This was the second time.

Pushing ahead and seeing the roadside coming alive. People opening their stalls, patrons having their breakfast, children on their way to school. It was strange to emerge from the darkness of the mountains and finding all the hustle and bustle in the sun light. Contrast. Our tiredness replaced with happiness for having survived the night.

The rest of the ride went smoothly and we arrived at 10 am in Saigon. Our faces covered in black grime from the road and I had a sunburned lip that had swollen to three times its normal size, causing laughter among all my friends. Small price to pay for a brilliant trip. Saigon-Hanoi trip is wish listed.

Enjoy the images from the coast until the hills of Da Lat:

View from the road.

Boy along the roadside.

One of many encounters with the herd along the road.

The herd and the herdsman.

Another herd coming up the hill.

The young boy was camera shy. He had been riding until we stopped and photographed.

Ordinary house by the roadside.

One of the few trucks we encountered on the road that day.

Steep hills ahead.

Yet another typical house by the roadside.

The white long ledge is actually a water reservoir.

Perfect riding conditions. Straight road ahead. Not to mention the tall and straight standing trees.

A coffee break is always welcome.

Not to mention a couple of rounds with Tra Da, iced tea.

The view from our table, the motorbike repair shop. A bucket full of tools and an air compressor next to.

A happy boy, his toy car and his herd to follow.

The herd.

The boy and the herd are leaving while a relative of the cafe owner is lounging in the hammock.

View from the road.

Back on the road. View from the bridge.

Collecting stones from the riverbank.

Closer view of the stone collector.

Loading up the cart with stones.

The next bridge we encountered. A walk bridge. Or so we thought.

Until we saw a tractor going across.

Being curious about the small road, we found the entrance, right next to the lush jungle.

Facing the bridge.

 

Detail from the bridge.

Next to the trail, behind a house that had a tree growing up from the inside, we spotted a small child's grave.

A lone tree.

Zig zag. All afternoon we ascended. Curve by curve.

Worker repairing the generator for the jack hammer.

Sitting on a rock, flip flops on, no googles and jack hammer in hand, the young boy is working.

Below the excavator is digging under the direction of the pink shirted supervisor.

The road at its narrowest. Buses still go through.

Reaching the roadside stalls at a popular viewing spot. The bus has just past the narrow road stretch.

Another bus heading downwards. Further up we encountered guarded barrier. The road closes at night as it has no road lights.

The stalls, awaiting customers.

Sign indicating bathroom. Climb over the ledge and do your bidding. Mind your foothold.

Tools of the trade.

Tradition still prevails.

 

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Why nine lives are not enough for a copycat…

Dalat train station

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, however as a visitor to Dalat’s old train station, my enticement to buy a souvenir for my son, who happens to love Thomas the tank engine, vanished as hot steam in the air as I walked into the shop.

I could have been in Saigon, Hanoi, Nha Trang or even Bangkok. They had the same inventory. The same. “Same same” as they sometimes say. This time “same same” was “same same”. It was not “same same but different”. It was not being told that the Polo shirt from the street stall was exactly the same Polo shirt that retails for x amounts more. It looks the same, but is not the same.

Railway carriage.

Here I was at a train station and the only souvenir I could find depicting a train was a white t-shirt with a black silhouette train. I could get wooden cyclo’s, the usual t-shirts and lacquer ware and all the other items I would find elsewhere. I was at loss. You’ve got a good location that attracts new tourists on a regular basis. They all come to see the old station and the old train. They also want to take a train ride.

The old train.

Recap. So you have a good location and you have a steady stream of potential customers and you want to sell them souvenirs. So far so good. Then you look at what others offers of souvenirs and you fill your store with exactly the same goods. Something just derailed. Back on track. Filled with exactly the same goods? So when your customer arrive in Bangkok and see something of interest and purchase it, do you really think the same customer wants to purchase the very same goods from you? How far down the food chain is Dalat?

I am amazed that the shop was not filled with trains. People come to see trains. It is a train station. It is in the guidebooks. It got something that is different and you don’t sell train souvenirs? Except for a lousy t-shirt. Low quality. Almost like an afterthought.

Almost needless to say, we did not buy anything except for water bottles and ice-cream and that was from the other kiosk.

It is always easy to copy what you see others are doing and thinking it will be a successful business, but it will never be the same. The souvenir shop will go through their “nine lives” unless they start innovating.

Quoting from Vietnam Talking Points:

“Now, despite being very entrepreneurial in one of the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia, Vietnamese folks are not very innovative, especially in the fields of sciences and technologies. The 2009 Global Innovation Index ranks Vietnam as #73 out of 110 countries with scores of -1.09 and -0.16 for Innovation Input and Innovation Performance.”

It is clearly room for improvement as copycats are everywhere and copying has been here for a long time, including the art museums and institutions.

VietNamNet posted an article about: Learning or imitating? and the WildWildEastdallies recently posted: Stealing ads? Let’s shoot somebody’!

Photocopied Esquire edition.

Finally, via Mr 720’s tweets, I had to see it before my own eyes to believe it, a copied magazine! Elle and Esquire got photocopied. In colour. Only to run a full ad for Bobby Brewers, the very place that have them available for their patrons to read. I guess it is cheaper to get the local shop to do a colour copy of the magazine than to actual purchase the advertising space. Back covers are not cheap. German Elle rates outside back cover at Euro 37,000.

Photocopied Elle magazine.

At an average price of 50,000 VND or roughly Euro 1,90 per cup of coffee, over 20,000 cups sold are needed to cover a real ad. That’s a lot of coffee. With the imminent launch of Elle Vietnam (October 21st 2010), I believe Bobby Brewers would prefer to sell more coffee and buy the real deal.

Magazine copied completely with ads intact.

Photocopied fashion spread.

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Invitation to travel – a wedding in Dalat, Vietnam

Ben and Trinh got married last weekend in beautiful Dalat city and we were invited. Tian and I boarded the early morning flight to Dalat just after 6 am in the morning. We got the window seats next to the wing, beautiful view as you can see below.

View from the plane on the way to Dalat

The wedding ceremony took place in Dalat’s church and afterwards we all headed back to Ana Mandara Villas for the evening dinner by the poolside, however Tian, being up so early, ran out of energy and we ended up having an early night in. (More info on the Ana Mandara experience by The Final Word can be found here)

We received our reward by being up early the next day and watching the sunrise before heading for the breakfast buffet in one of the villas.

Morning at Ana Mandara Villas

Morning cobweb

Detail of wild growing mushroom

Detail

After breakfast we decided to take a trip with Dalat’s cable car. It was Tian’s first trip ever with a cable car, and he loved it, quite fortunate as we had bought a return ticket.

Tian enjoying the cable car ride

The view is great and the ride went smoothly.

View from the cable car

View of Dalat city

A great weekend indeed.

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