Da Lat Countryside Tour: Rose Garden & Minority Village

The Da Lat Countryside tour was an amazing experience worth the $10 per person that we paid for it. The first part of the tour included a quick stop at the rose garden, where we got to see our first avocado tree! After that we visited a very unique minority village that also happened to be home to terrifying looking spiders the size of my palm!

The rest of the tour included a silk farm, Buddhist pagoda, elephant waterfall, cricket farm and a coffee plantation that specializes in “weasel” coffee. But I’ll tell you more about that in detail next time…

The rose garden stop was short and it was the part of the tour that I was least excited about. It turned out to be pretty fascinating because we got to see the rose fields that produced hundreds of thousands of roses that would be making their way all over Vietnam! Turns out that Da Lat is not only famous for their coffee, avocados but also roses.

Growing roses is no easy feat as they require constant care, spraying for pests and they need to be constantly pruned. The fields had the separate areas for roses of different color but the pink ones were the most popular. We watched the employees carefully tend to the plants and the entire place smelled like heaven!

On our way out, the guide pointed out an avocado tree. I had always pictured an avocado tree to look like a small bush growing a handful of fruit. Instead, it was a towering tree weighed down by dozens if not hundreds of ripening avocados! It was beautiful and mouthwatering, that was when our guide told us about Da Lat’s secret delicacy: avocado smoothies!

Next we went to the minority village that is a feminists dream come true. Not in a gender equality way but as proof that there is some balance in the universe… in this village, gender roles are reversed! Women are in charge of working, mostly on coffee plantations, while men stay home and raise children.

The men in this village are only allowed to marry once. Even after their wife dies, they must remain widowed. However if a man dies, his wife is allowed to remarry and have more children that her new husband will be in charge of raising.

We only spent about 15 minutes in the village, taking some photos and listening to the guide translate while a woman showed us a coffee bean bush and explained how we can tell if the bean is ripe. We were all gathered around under a large tree and I lost my focus the second I looked up.

The tree was completely covered in spider webs. It wouldn’t have bothered me if I hadn’t noticed the monstrous spiders, the size of my palm, crawling all over the tree. Above us. I’ve been known to shriek when surprised, but when I’m terrified I go mute. I was mute and wide-eyed when I pulled on my husbands sleeve and pointed up.

Even though he’s been known to scoop up spiders with his bare hand to throw them out of the apartment, even he looked scared. The more we looked around, the more spiders we saw. When we finally moved away from the terrifying tree, I asked the guide about the spiders.

She reassured us that although they are poisonous, they never bite people. She also told us that for some reason, you can only find these gigantic spiders in this one village. During the drive to our next stop, the silkworm farm, the guide pointed out several spots where there were hundreds of spiders. They had spun their webs all along the power lines. *shudders* I’m guessing these villagers have never seen a mosquito in their lives!

Next up: silk factory farm!

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The Second Tallest Building in the World, Shanghai

When we’re not traveling and exploring South East Asia, we’re exploring China and the city we live in, Shanghai. We have now been to the three tallest buildings in Shanghai – the only trifecta of mega-tall skyscrapers in the world! “Mega-tall” isn’t just my way of describing them, it’s the official term for skyscrapers taller than 600 meters.

Second only to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Shanghai Tower towers over Shanghai and adds to the spectacular skyline. Although it isn’t the tallest building in the world, it does boast the world’s highest observatory deck. So even if you’ve been to Burj Khalifa’s spectacular observatory floor, you still haven’t stood as high as you could have while visiting the Shanghai Tower!

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Da Lat Countryside Tour Summary

Our expectations for this very affordable tour weren’t too high. We’ve been on several day tours that were packed with way too many activities to enjoy – this one was NOT like that! The tour started at 8:30 and ended at around 14:30. We were picked up a little late, but our enthusiastic guide completely made up for it.

First we went to the rose garden where we learned all about the rose business in Dalat and saw beautiful fields with thousands of roses. We also saw some avocado trees and the guide told us that we need to try avocado smoothies at the Dalat market (which we did and they were amazing).

Next up we visited a fascinating minority village where the traditional roles between men and women are reversed. Men raise children and clean the house while women work at the coffee plantations. Women chose the men they want to marry and if the man dies before the woman, the woman can remarry but the opposite isn’t possible. The village is also mysteriously covered in gigantic poisonous spiders the size of your palm! Terrifying.

After that we visited a silk worm farm where we were allowed to wander among the employees and take up close photos. This was one of the highlights of the trip and we learned a lot about the business and silk creation process.

Next came the beautiful Buddhist pagoda and the elephant waterfall. We spent about half an hour at each place – this was a little short but it was doable. After this we ate lunch which cost 90,000 VND each – the cost wasn’t included but it was worth the price. There was a veggie option for just 80,000.

Next came the cricket farm where we got to try some crickets and finally we went to a Weasel Coffee Plantation. The coffee is made by feeding weasels coffee beans (they only eat the biggest ones) and they are cleaned, dried and peeled after they are pooped out. This is the most expensive coffee in the world, although personally, I don’t taste a huge difference between regular and pooped-out coffee. But I’m no coffee expert!

All in all, the trip was great and well worth the 250,000 VND (around $10) that we paid for it! It didn’t include lunch or coffee (60,000 VND per cup) though. I’d definitely recommend this tour to anyone who wants try experience something new!

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Why is Da Lat the Coolest City in Vietnam?

Da Lat is located in the south of Vietnam about 7 hours north of Ho Chi Minh City. I might be biased after living in Prague for 20 years and coming to Da Lat from Mui Ne, a city that I really didn’t like. As soon as I got out of the sleeper bus and absorbed the European vibe of this otherwise typically Vietnamese city, I was hooked!

The narrow houses that can be found all throughout Vietnam have European looking facades in Da Lat. Although you might get run-over by motorcycles when you cross the road to get to the beautiful train fountain in the old part of the city, the view from the lake screams Switzerland, not Vietnam.

Originally, we had only planned on spending two days in the city but we extended our stay the moment we checked into our hostel and saw their tour book. Turns out that Da Lat had a lot more to offer than a European vibe and delicious avocado smoothies. Canyoning, waterfalls and unique Gaudi-esque structures are only a few reasons to visit Da Lat.

Our first day tour was ridiculously cheap and thorough. We visited the rose plantation, silk worm farm, cricket farm, a minority village where male and female roles are reversed, a Buddhist temple and the elephant waterfall. But I’ll tell you more about the half-day tour of Da Lat next time…

The biggest surprise in the tour book, and the reason that so many visitors come to the seemingly remote Vietnamese city, is canyoning. Also known as canyoneering, canyoning is basically a trek through a canyon than involves some cliff jumping and abseiling down waterfalls. Although I’m terrified of heights, we signed up for the tour and I ended up surviving despite lots of sweating, crying and only a little bit of blood shed.

If you hate adventures, Europe and hectic tours, you might still want to come to Da Lat for their coffee and avocados. Turns out that all avocados in Vietnam, and even some neighboring countries, come from Da Lat! July happens to be the season when avocados are being sold everywhere for cheap and we took full advantage of that!

Make sure to take the time to wander through the market in town. If you’re persistent enough, you will stumble upon a small cafe that serves the best avocado smoothie in the world! Unlike the ones I tried in Indonesia and the Philippines, this smoothie included coconut milk and a scoop of durian ice cream that made it unique, delicious and sinfully calorific. But who counts calories on holiday?

Finally, Da Lat is also known for it’s coffee. Just like it’s avocado distribution, coffee from Da Lat is exported all over the world. If you visit the largest Starbucks in the World in Shanghai, you’ll even notice the Da Lat coffee of their signature wall featuring all the delicious coffees from around the world.

Vietnam is also known for its controversial “weasel poop coffee”. The animals who poop out the beans are in fact luwaks, not weasels and many countries in Eastern Asia call luwak coffee their own. We got a chance to try it at a picturesque coffee plantation that overlooked the countryside.

Although it was significantly more delicious than regular coffee, these animals are kept taken out of the wild and kept in cages and are almost exclusively fed coffee beans, which is very questionable if you’re into animal welfare. After doing more research, we wouldn’t drink the coffee again, but it was definitely an interesting cultural and culinary experience.

If you’re in Vietnam, make sure not to miss this unique city! Check out the videos on my YouTube Channel of the tours, paddle boats, cafes and other things you can experience in Da Lat.

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Bali 2018: Seawalker Experience

For the underwater sea walker experience, our driver took us to a small beach on Turtle Island. This area is generally pretty controversial because of their treatment of turtles and other animals, so we skipped the animal experiences and went straight for the Sea Walking.

Upon arrival, we were sat down and shown a list of water activities and prices. The Seawalker experience was listed at $90 per person which is more than double what we’d read about online. We showed him a post on our phone with a much lower price, and he agreed to let us go for $40 each.

Remember, in Bali you can bargain anywhere! This whole setup reminded me of buying a used car, complete with the guy going to a back room to talk to his boss every time we asked for a lower price… In summary, don’t go for the listed price or you will get RIPPED OFF!

Next we were given a key to a locker, changed into swimsuits, and hopped on a 5-minute boat ride. We were a bit nervous to begin with but our guides reassured us and gave us a briefing on how the experience works. There were just a few simple rules: keep your head level, only look up, and don’t look down or your helmet will fill with water.

Even if that happened though, they said we could just look up again and the helmet would fill with air. Oh, and remember that a thumbs-up gesture doesn’t mean everything’s good, it means TAKE ME UP NOW I’M FREAKING OUT! If you want to say you’re OK, use the OK symbol.

After putting on water shoes and getting in the water, they lowered huge weighted helmets onto our heads. They must have weighed 50 pounds each because we immediately were immediately pulled down.

Climbing down slowly, we kept having to pop our ears to equalize the pressure. If you’ve never been deep under water before, it’s easy. Just stick your hand inside the helmet, plug your nose, and blow out. This should do the trick.

When we got to the bottom we had a few minutes to get used to breathing in the helmet, walking without looking down, and just the sheer craziness of the whole situation. From there we were free to roam around a bit, taking selfies with the thpousands of fish surrounding us.

I said earlier that we avoided the controversial animal activities, but it turned out that this experience wasn’t exactly environmentally friendly either. The guide took out fish food and let us hand-feed it to the fish, which was cool, but we couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty for intruding on their environment. But on a scale of seeing animals in the wild to exploiting animals in the circus, this was closer to the former.

After being hand-fed for a while by humans, these fish have been domesticated and probably wouldn’t survive without us, but at least they’re not caged in at an aquarium. It was a lot of fun, but we probably wouldn’t do it again because of the impact on the fish.

After 10 minutes of Ooooing and Ahhhhing at the fish and coral, the guide signaled that it was time to go up. I was starting to feel a bit like Darth Vader in the helmet, so that was enough time for me.

This was a once in a lifetime experience, and we’re still on the fence about the impact on the environment. If you decide to go on a sea walk, just keep in mind that you’re guests in the fish’s home, try not to disturb their surroundings.

For more adventures in Bali and around the world, follow The Travel Bug Bite!

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Worst Bus Ride Ever: Mui Ne to Da Lat “Sleeper Bus”

After having an amazing experience taking a Sleeper Bus from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne, we expected another great bus ride from Mui Ne to Da Lat. We could not have been more disappointed.

We had booked the bus with Vietnam Bus Tickets over a month in advance but decided to leave Mui Ne earlier than planned. Although the website claims that tickets are not refundable and changing them is not guaranteed, we had no problem calling the company and changing to an earlier time.

This was the second time we successfully changed our reservation with the company that was nothing but amazing until this very moment. When we arrived at the agreed-upon pick up location, the staff knew about the change we made over the phone and the bus arrived on time. Since we changed our tickets last minute, we expected to get bad seats so we wouldn’t have complained about being stuck in the back, if only it had been the sleeper bus we paid for…

The road from Mui Ne to Da Lat is full of twists, turns and endless bumps. Unlike the previous bus we had taken with this company, this one was old and extra rickety. I still don’t know how it made it up the steep hills but I can’t forget the bruises the ride left on my arms. There was also no free water on this bus, which we expected, so we were thirsty for over two hours until we came to a rest stop.

As tempted as we were to buy some fresh bananas to curb our hunger, we were too worried about throwing up on the bus and stuck to water. It was impossible to read on the bus or even rest our heads against anything since the vibration and constant jerking was felt even through my neck pillow. It was a horrible five hours full of “are we there yet”s and loud music that we played in attempt to distract us and make time go faster.

We used this company one more time on the trip and had a much better experience so overall, Vietnam Bus was a good and reliable way to get around. I’d recommend it to others with the warning that not all of their buses are comfortable.

It’s best to call ahead and find out if the bus you’re on really is the VIP sleeper bus that you’re expecting and change to a different bus if they can guarantee comfort. I’m the type of person who stays at hostels and will sleep on the floor of an airport without complaint, so believe me when I say that a bus ride was the worst bus ride of my life and absolutely unbearable.

Check out the mixed reviews of Vietnam Bus on TripAdviser.

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Cebu 2018: Bus from Cebu City to Dalaguete

To get from Cebu City to Dalaguete, we had to take a 3 hour bus from the Cebu South Bus Station. We weren’t given too much information, except that the buses leave all the time and the internet didn’t give us any useful details either. Luckily, our taxi driver pointed us in the right direction.

We got there just as a bus to Dalaguete was boarding. The seats of the old, not air-conditioned bus were already full but people kept getting on. Once the bus was stuffed to the brim, it departed. The line we were in was already long enough to fill another two buses. After half an hour of waiting, sweating and waving away people selling bottled water and snacks, we decided to see if there was a different bus.

I stayed in the constantly growing line while my friend walked around the bus station looking for some nicer air-conditioned buses. We had watched several drive by, teasing us by slowing down right in front of us giving us just enough time to peek in at all the comfortable people relaxing in large seats, some watching a movie on large HD screens.

My friend returned with exciting news of a different line that will guarantee a set on a nice bus to Dalaguete! We grabbed our luggage and shuffled out of the sweaty line to get to a waiting area with a row of seats zigzagging towards the entrance of the building. Every few seconds people got up and shuffled down a few seats – a sitting line was already an improvement!

We spent about an hour in the sitting line that seemed to lead to three different buses. When Dalaguete was called, we followed other people and got onto a bus. With three seats squeezed into what should have been two, no TV, no air con and hundreds of people piling on, we sadly realized that we spent an extra hour waiting for exactly the same bus we would have been on if we had stayed in the previous line.

The next four hours, that should have been three, were spent squished among locals with the window cranked open to let in pollution which was still better than suffocating if the windows were closed. The bus spent ages in traffic, while the driver let on sellers who shook their products in our faces to try to get us to buy something.

The moment we left the traffic of Cebu City the driver drove at ridiculous speeds down dangerous roads dodging motorcycles and stray dogs! Once again, we laughed through the continuous fails that seemed to haunt us on the trip. It’ll get better once we’re in Dalaguete, we said to each other naively. There will be no fails in paradise…

To be continued…

For info about the buses at Cebu South Bus Station, check out their official website. If you don’t find what you need, ask your hostel or Airbnb hosts for tips. Otherwise, the people at the bus station do speak English and will be more than happy to help you!

http://www.cebu.gov.ph/cebu-south-bus-terminal-bus-schedules/

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Inspiring Stories: David Roosa & the Beach Cleaning Dogs

David Roosa has lived on Block Island, Rhode Island for more than 40 years now. 10 years ago in 2008 he completed his first clean up of the entire island’s perimeter. Since then, he’s gone out every morning with his pack of dogs to clean the beach! His King Charles Spaniel helpers are Finnegan, Albie, Henley and last but not least Rosie, who died a few weeks after this was filmed.

You can read more about David Roosa’s cleanups on the Block Island Times:

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10 Tips for Travelling to Bali

Bali is a wonderful place to visit from anywhere in the world, at any time of year. To get you ready for your trip, here are some tips for travelling to Bali. The first 5 are tips for preparing to go, and the last 5 are things to keep in mind after you’ve arrived.

1. Visas

Great news! Citizens of over 140 countries in the world no longer need visas to enter Bali. Click here to see if you’re eligible! If you’ve read that there’s a Visa fee, that information is outdated. The 30-day stamp is free. The only thing you need is a copy of your itinerary for your flight leaving Bali, and you’re good to go for up to 30 days. Bear in mind that this free visa is NOT extendable. To get an extendable visa you need to pay $35.

2. Flights

When we book a trip, we usually book the flights and accommodation WELL in advance and worry about the details later. For flights, we always use Skyscanner.com. If your dates are somewhat flexible, you can get a great deal. We paid around $400 for a round-trip from Shanghai and my mother paid about $800 for a round-trip from JFK in New York. We flew during the Chinese New Year holiday, which should have made it super expensive, but we booked nearly a year in advance. The earlier you book, the cheaper the flight (generally). If you’re coming from the States, expect to have a layover if you want a cheap flight. With a layover, a trip from JFK takes around 24 hours. But it’s worth the wait!

3. Accommodation

Some people like to more spontaneous, but we tend to book accommodation in advance. In Bali, AirBnB is a great way to find a place to stay on a budget. We stayed at several places for as low as $5 a night per person and had no complaints. You can get hotels for much more, or hostels for even less, but we find AirBnB to be a great middle-ground, and it’s easy to use in Bali. Make sure you get the AirBnB app so you can stay in contact with the hosts.

4. Transport

Uber and Grab both work in Bali, but be careful. The local taxi operators absolutely HATE Uber because it drives out their business, and we’ve heard some stories about Uber drivers actually being physically assaulted by local taxi drivers in certain areas. It’s very likely you’ll find an Uber connection and then get a message from your driver asking for your WhatsApp info so you can arrange pickup outside of the app… This is kind of annoying, but it’s still cheaper than a local taxi. When we were travelling from Ubud to Sanur, the official Uber price was 90,000 Rupiah, but the driver wanted 200,000 in cash without using the app. We settled on 150,000 but had to walk a bit and meet him outside the center of the city because he was afraid of conflicts with the local taxi drivers.

Instead of battling with Uber in the sometimes unforgiving Balinese heat, we opted to have a private driver for the day any time we wanted to go to multiple destinations. Almost any local taxi driver will offer these 8-12 hour tours and many of them even have brochures in their back seats. Expect to pay around 500,000 Rupiah, or about $35 USD, for an entire day of driving you around. The drivers are trustworthy and don’t expect payment until the end of the day, and the best part is that you can leave your bags in the car and go sightseeing without being weighed down. We used this kind of service at least four full days on our trip and believe us, it’s worth the money!

5. Internet

Planning on the go is the best way to enjoy Bali. Don’t bother making a detailed itinerary and booking tours in advance because it’s much easier and cheaper to be flexible, and the unpredictable weather can unexpectedly change your plans in a heartbeat. To be this flexible, it’s MUCH easier if you have an Indonesian SIM card. Call your carrier in advance to make sure your phone is unlocked, get a SIM card at the airport when you arrive, and you’re good to go for the whole trip. A 7-day plan with 4.5 gigs of data cost us a whopping 45,000 Rupiah, or just over $3 USD.

Now that we’ve covered the planning phase, here are some tips for after your arrival in Bali!

6. Food

The food in Bali is great! It’s not too spicy like some other areas of Asia (I’m look at YOU, Thailand), and you can get a variety of different options, both meat and vegetarian. We didn’t cook much because the food is so cheap, and because our AirBnBs didn’t have kitchens. Specifically in Ubud, there are some great buffets for only 50,000 Rupiah ($3.50) for all you can eat vegan food. They even had vegan cakes and ice cream! Even if you’re not a vegan, this is hands down the best option. Other places we went for vegan food include Happy Buddha and Loving Hut in Denpasar. Aside from that, there’s always good old street food which is both incredibly cheap and delicious. Just bring a few extra Tupperware boxes, because if you eat on the street a lot it tends to create a LOT of plastic waste… In short, you won’t go hungry in Bali, there are plenty of options, and it won’t break the bank even if you eat out for literally every meal and never cook yourself.

7. Money

Indonesia uses the Indonesian Rupiah. At the time of this recording, there were about 13,000 Rupiah in one US dollar. This can get pretty confusing when you withdraw a million Rupiah from the ATM and the machine spits out 20 blue 50,000 Rupiah notes… To save your head some pain, keep the magic number 7 in mind. The biggest bank note is 100,000 Rupiah, which is almost exactly $7. From there, it’s pretty easy to work out prices. 10,000 is 70 cents, 100,000 is $7, and a million is $70. We found ourselves going to the ATM almost every day because there is often a one million rupiah limit per transaction, but don’t let that get you down. With such high numbers and low value notes, it can start to feel like you’re spending a lot of money. Keep reminding yourself that 100,000 is only $7, and you’ll marvel at how cheap everything is in Bali!

8. Language

Generally we recommended learning a bit of the local language before travelling to a new place, but to be honest, we found that almost everyone we interacted with was very happy to speak English. Go ahead and learn some Indonesian phrases if you want to, but English will get you through just fine. Just don’t be too rude about expecting everyone to speak perfect English =)

9. Monkeys

Yes, that’s right, a whole segment on these little devils. Monkeys are everywhere in Bali. From the high cliffs of Uluwatu Temple to the streets of Ubud, these very cute and photogenic creatures can be tricky little things. They won’t physically harm you, but if you have food on you they WILL seek it out and they WILL take it. At Uluwatu Temple, they are notorious for taking sunglasses and hats straight off people’s heads and holding them ransom until you give them food. Believe me, it happened with my own glasses. Just keep your stuff out of reach, don’t get too close, take some photos and everyone should get along just fine. Remember, you’re guests in THEIR house, not the other way around.

10. Where to go?

Again, you want to be pretty flexible because of weather and energy levels. Some days you might decide you just want to relax on the beach after several long days of sightseeing. We’re pretty ambitious travelers and always try to see as much as possible in the amount of time we have. To give you an idea of what you could see on a ten day trip, check out our 10 Day Bali Itinerary.

Those are our tips for planning a trip to Bali! If you have any other tips or experiences, please post them in the comments below!

 

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Visiting Cebu in 2018: El Gecko Resto Bar Fair

Scrolling through Facebook the other day I found a great video featuring the 10 suggested places to travel in 2018. The number one place on the list was Cebu, Philippines where I happened to spend five days in February. Unlike most places in the world, a trip to Cebu has to be planned well and in advance.

I was traveling with a friend who was happy to be spontaneous with me… which was where the road downhill began. Absolutely nothing on our trip went as we had hoped and no one but us were to blame. We somehow managed to laugh through all the hardships knowing that we’d have amazing stories to tell. So here I am, telling our story!

The only plans we made concerning Cebu were the flights, two un-researched Airbnb reservations: one night in Cebu City and the rest in Dalaguete. After getting ripped off by a yellow taxi in Manila, I was happy to spend 30 minutes in line for a fair-metered white taxi. While I figured out how to get to the Airbnb, my friend, who had arrived several hours before me, searched for a bar for us to go to.

Google results came up with many suggestions, including El Gecko Resto Bar. The bar had great reviews and was described as having cheap beer, great food and being a hub for expats. It sounded perfect. Plus after getting dropped off at the wrong address and having to walk a kilometer on roads lacking side walks, I really needed a beer!

One hour and two taxis later we found ourselves sitting at the bar, sipping on beers listening to live music waiting for our food to arrive. We caught up, shared our experiences flying in and chatted to the friendly waitresses. Once our food came we finally got a chance to look around us at this place that we came to.

I almost chocked on my french fries when I saw a 50 year old man motor-boating a beautiful young girl in stilettos. At his table was an even older man talking to an even younger girl. I tapped my friend and pointed to the door, that a group of elderly expats just walked through. They were immediately swarmed by voluptuous, scantily dressed Filipino women.

Maybe it was the beers that made us laugh so hard we almost cried at how we unknowingly ended up in a whorehouse in the Philippines. The ladies were all nice and friendly but left us alone when we made it clear that we were not potential clients. After a few more beers and laughs, we caught another taxi home. Vowing to look through photos of bars instead of just reading the reviews. After all, photos speak a thousand words and in our case, we only needed to hear one.

Despite the mix-up, we had a great time at the place and got to try cheap delicious beers. We should have known from the results of the first night that the rest of the trip would end up in sun poisoning, deleted video files, lying tour guides and no door in our bathroom. Stay tuned for more Cebu fails and adventures!

 

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