Burned money in Vietnam

I learned why people burn money, bought a Lottery ticket and took a motorcycle tour which ended literally in hell.  Furthermore, I visit the Russian holiday paradise Nha Trang and learned more about egg spas.

Da Lat is the capital of Lam Dong Province and carries the nickname “City of Thousand Flowers”. It is seven hours away from Saigon by bus, although it’s only around 300 km (186 miles) away. I took a sleeping bus overnight. These busses are actually quite comfortable (at least in my size) with padded leather seats which recline to around 80 degrees, on two floors. I was actually happy that I caught a seat on the bottom but there are actually safety belts on every seat as well. The feet go under the chair of the person in front of you which allows you to stretch out your body, just moving around seems a bit difficult. But back to the ride. The next morning at 4.45 we arrived in Da Lat and the driver woke us up by honking and shouting. Oh boy, I really wished I just could stay in my bed – but no chance.

DSCN0308In the beginning, I was actually quite disappointed by Da Lat. All the nice sightseeing spots I heard about were not in the city but in the hinterlands and the public transport is not sufficient. I know many people rent a scooter and drive around. But I never drove a scooter before and didn’t drove a car for a few years. Maybe not the best time to start with it again, Vietnamese traffic is crazy ;).
Funny thing, in the end, I kind of coincidently booked a motorcycle tour. Actually, a man asked me if I’m interested in doing a tour. But it was 30$ for places I didn’t want to see, so he started haggling. I know, here people can be really persistent if they wanna sell you something. But in the end, he actually offered me a really good deal, the places I wanted to see for less money. Perfect!

Just one last thing was difficult. According to him, he was part of a really famous motorcycle company in Vietnam. But his papers looked really unprofessional and to be honest I was really not sure if I should take the ride. But luckily the concierge of my hostel – Tabe – also did some tours for that company and recognised my tour guide. I was thrilled, and the tour could start.

 
 
 
Linh Phuoc Pagoda
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Crazy House
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
What means heaven and hell in Buddhism?

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In the next morning, my driver picked me up from my hostel. Unfortunately,  I don’t know his name, cause when I asked him he just answered with ‘Yes’. I believe his English is as good as my Vietnamese. Our tour started at a tobacco shop on the street where he bought some cigarettes. He asked me a few times in a row if I also want a cigarette and in the end, we were smoking together – I also didn’t want to be rude.

DSCN0186Da Lat has a few nice spots to visit as the different waterfalls, which are definitely one highlight, but also architecture and temples. For me, an absolute must-see is the Linh Phuoc Pagoda. The buildings there are designed with help from little mosaics made of broken pieces of glass and porcelain which make it unique and really pretty. The temple was built in 1949 and finished around three years later. The temple is ornated with different kind of dragons which are everywhere. Some crawl up the pillars, some just sit on the little roofs or frame the temple. The longest dragon is 49m long and is made out of 12,000 bottles.

DSCN0245I took a lot of time to explore all the ways and hidden corners, followed the spiral stairs and walk around the roof, notice all the little details and ornaments, visit the main hall with the golden Buddhas and different monks made out of wax. Next to the Pagoda is a room with different wooden furniture, a souvenir shop and heaven as well as hell. In one room are more wax figures of monks in green light with nature around, in the centre are three statues of Buddha. To complete these idyllic picture music boxes played the sound of wood and the splashing of a stream. But downstairs waits the hell guarded by an ox and horse with red flammed eyes. I and DSCN0255another guy (his girlfriend was too afraid and wanted to wait outside) went the stairs down and followed a small labyrinth which gives an impression of the idea of the Buddhism hell. There were different scary scenarios behind bars which showed skeletons or human figures tortured by demons. The music boxes in the corners played a mixture of human screams and demonic laughter. Even if it was kind of surreal to me and remembered more to a ghost train in a theme park (and I really don’t like ghost trains), the thought that this scenario could mean the reality to believers made it in some ways even worse.

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Burn your money

At my last day in Da Lat I found a 100 US Dollar banknote on the street. Of course, my first thought was that it will be fake money but just in case I had to take it with me. I showed the banknote to the concierge of my hotel. Tabe was in my age. He laughed and said “No one can be that lucky and find a real 100 US Dollar banknote on the street.” (Two weeks later in Cambodia I had a real 100 US Dollar banknote in my hand and had to admit the fake was really obvious). Finally, he explained what the matter about the fake money is. In Vietnam and also other East Asian countries people sell and buy fake money (Joss paper) and burn them after someone dies. It is a way to send money to their ancestors for their afterlife but also to show respect to the dead ones. – And of course, no one would ever burn real money.

Another thing I was really curious about were the little colourful papers which older women sell in the streets. When I asked Tabe about it he didn’t know what I was talking about. So there was no other way than to buy one of the papers. The woman laughed a lot when I bought the little ticket which made me even more curious. When I showed it to Tabe he explained to me that I bought a Vietnamese lottery ticket. The jackpot is 2 billion VND (ca. 86.000 USD) and Tabe meant I could buy two houses and one car from that money – but yeah, of course my ticket didn’t win ;).

Egg spa and Religion – Nha Trang

My stop in Nha Trang was more by accident than really planned. I wanted to go from Da Lat to Hoi An but the bus didn’t go straight. That’s why I decided to stay one night in Nha Trang. The city is full of tourists, especially from Russia. Nha Trang is directly at the seaside and offers large beaches. So, in my opinion, this city offers less cultural spots but more relaxing places, water parks and spa for Tourists. A little bit extraordinary seems the egg spa. But just because of its name it does not mean that one swims actually in eggs. The pools there are filled with all kind of mud and minerals to take a bath in, peelings, tubs full of herbs and essential oils, and jacuzzis.

 
Po Nagar Cham Towers
 
 
 
 
 
 

DSCN0490I arrived in the evening and enjoyed a relaxed night at the rooftop bar at my hostel with backpackers from all over the world and free beer. The next day, I started a sightseeing tour around the city with Dave from Canada. My day in Nha Trang was very hot but cloudy and grey – so not really the perfect beach day. But a little walk along the seaside was still one of our plans. We had a small list of spots we wanted to see, mostly religious buildings. The most famous spot is probably the Po Nagar Cham Towers, a Hinduism memorial site from around the 8th century made of sandstone. At the end of the day, I ended in an inspiring photo gallery with impressive black and white photos of Vietnamese people. And thanks to a translation app I could ask a seamstress on the street to repair my bag. In the evening, my bus was leaving for the next stop – Hoi An.

Lost in Buenos Aires

… or how complicated it can be to take the bus in Argentina – and also with some tips for your vacation. I don’t know when I felt so lost the last time, but I was sure I would laugh about this story afterwards.

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First time in South America

In September 2015 I left Europe for the first time. A friend from Buenos Aires invited me to visit him in his home country. We met circa one and a half year before in Madrid. We were both on vacations and slept in the same room in a hostel with six other strangers. Okay, for me there were only five other people strangers because I was travelling with one of my oldest friends to visit some places in Spain and met another friend during her internship at Teneriffe.

My Argentinian friend Fabi lives in Banfield, it’s really near to Buenos Aires. He picked me up from the airport and brought me to his flat. Unfortunately, he had to leave and go back to work. So I was on my own. After freshen up I planned to go to the city centre. I thought it wouldn’t be a problem … but I’m afraid the bus system is really hard for Europeans.

No timetables and hidden bus stops

DSCN4243Maybe it’s because I’m German. You will know the clichés about us. We’re always very punctual and busy. I wouldn’t sign this for everyone. But yes, our buses have fixed timetables (not all of them are always on time) and routes. Actually, I wasn’t so sure if Buenos Aires also has this. For sure they have no timetables. So sometimes the same bus line comes in a row, sometimes you wait for a really long time. The routes and bus stops were absolutely confusing for me. Most buses stop after every second block. – Argentinians count everything in blocks. However, you will not recognise these stops so easy because most of them don’t look like bus stops and aren’t named. I believe they have a sign, but really not easy to find. 

But these are not the only problems you will have as a tourist – like me. When you first take money from a cashpoint, you will only have paper money. But you can pay for the bus only with coins or a bus card. I had this problem. So I had to ask someone to pay for the bus for me because I couldn’t pay for it with my money. I think it’s not so hard to find someone who will pay for your ride. All Argentinians I met were so friendly and really helpful. The bigger problem will be to find someone who will understand English (if you speak Spanish, you won’t have a problem). After I asked five persons I met a girl, who spoke English. But she had to go in the other direction. However, she asked another girl to help me. It was really complicated because she didn’t understand a word and I had forgotten every word in Spanish I ever learned. We stand there and waited for the right bus – over 30 minutes. She stopped a few buses and asked them something, I only understand something like “Inglesa” (English) and “chica” (girl) and recognised she was talking about me. But the bus driver always shook his head and she came back to me. I was really afraid she had to wait for another bus because of me. 

Shaking busses and no “Inglesa”
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Obelisco, Buenos Aires

Finally, one bus was coming which we could take. In Buenos Aires, you have to stop the buses by showing them the palm of your hand. They won’t stop automatically when they see passengers waiting and when the buses are too full, the driver won’t stop. Public transport is really cheap in Buenos Aires. Maybe that’s why the Argentinian girl didn’t even want to have some money back (I tried), but I believe also because Argentinians are so friendly. The girl went off the bus just a few stops later. Before she left, she introduced the bus driver to tell me when to get off (she explained it to me with the help of a translating app). But of course, the driver also didn’t speak English. I sat in the first seat next to the bus driver and observed all the people and places I saw. The bus was so fast, it gave me a really good shaking. The doors were already open when the bus stopped and the bus started after the last passenger was on the bus even if he hadn’t paid yet. 

I sat for more than one hour on this bus. I felt so lost because I really had no idea, where I was and also not sure how to get to the place, I wanted to meet Fabi. I just hoped the bus driver would drop me off the bus at an alive place. I saw everything, from really bad streets with deep potholes to narrow alleys and multi-lane roads with pompous buildings. Nonetheless, for one second I forgot all of my problems because for sure I saw one of the prettiest sundowns on the highway. 

The dangerous city

After thousands of stops, the bus driver found a woman who spoke a little bit of English. She explained to me, that I had to change the bus two times. When I showed her my map of Buenos Aires and asked her, where I was, she said it wasn’t on the map. This is the moment when you believe you will never find the right way. The woman helped me to find the next bus, I had to catch. She called her mother to explain to me everything in English because she had some problems with the language. I was so thankful. After a few stops, we went to the next bus, and after a long time, we changed again. She paid for the bus for me and went out. So I was alone again and had no idea at which bus stop I had to leave the bus. Another woman appealed to me. She asked me in English if I were a tourist and where I’m from. I explained everything to her and asked her if she could tell me, where I have to leave. She said I should leave the bus at the last bus stop, but it won’t be so safe there. She said if I wouldn’t find my friend, I should take a taxi, it would be too dangerous for me to walk. That wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear. It reminded me of my sister who told me I should send her a message every second day so she will know I’m okay (later she said every fourth day would be also enough). The woman left the bus a few stops before me. Actually, the bus driver told me when I had to leave the bus.

Happy End and my résumé
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Torre Monumental, Retiro in Buenos Aires

The main streets of Buenos Aires are really big with many traffic and thousands of people (it was a Friday evening). I was so confused with the thousands of streets, that I had no idea in which direction I should go. I was at Retiro station. There are many different stops and stations for buses and trains. I was looking for some trains if probably one would bring me back to Banfield. But in the end, I was lucky. I finally caught Fabi on his cell phone and we met at the big clock near Retiro. I was so happy to find him. 

So my résumé: If you are for the first time in Buenos Aires it’s really difficult to find the right buses and to know where to get out. Friends of mine were also in Buenos Aires and told me, they tried to take the bus, but the left at the wrong stop, because they couldn’t count the stops so easily. I think I took only two bus lines until the end of my vacation because these lines were the only ones I knew where to get off. It’s so much easier to use trains and metros because they have names for every station and will stop at every station, so, it’s kind of the same as in every other big city. So my advice would be to take trains and metros. To take public transport you need a Sube-card. You can buy a card in most of the drugstores (kioskos) and load money on that card to pay.   

By the way, Argentinians have a special word for buses, they call them “Bondi”.