Unreal natural beauty, good wine, beautifully conserved history, great weather
I came to Heidelberg for work. I think this is how I will be traveling for a while now. The meeting I attended was held at the EMBL, a research center where I hope some day I'll be able to do microscopy (they have all my dream toys). Heidelberg is accessible from the main intl airport in Frankfurt by train or shuttle. And like most European cities, it's very walking friendly. People here are very nice and everyone speaks English. The city itself is a small one, full of trees and parks, and green. There's a nice river and a castle, and the streets resemble what I would imagine houses in Amsterdam would look like (don't ask me why). I'm here for five days, mostly to learn cool and exciting science. And maybe to have a beer or two.Read more
I love this city for the shallowest reasons; it is uber developed; it almost looks like a futuristic movie. The public transportation system is efficient, incredibly easy to use, reliable and cheap. The city is clean. And there are amazing looking buildings, such as the petronas towers along with a few gigantic mesquites. The mix of Muslim, Buddhist and Indian makes it easy to find cultural variety, and amazing food of all kinds, for uber cheap. People are nice. And they recycle. No one hassles you or harrases you to sell you things. Taxi drivers only ask you once if you need a car. They don't keep trying you just in case, out of tiredness, you will suddenly need a ride. And, at least here, most people seem to have a decent quality of life. The social and economical inequalities are not as obvious. There are people sleeping on the streets, and begging, of course. It's not a perfect place. But I haven't seen a single child working on the streets, or starving stray dogs everywhere. In comparison with a lot of south east Asia, Malaysia seems to be doing many things right. My only complaint to this city is that the smog in the air is clearly noticeable, so clearly the efforts to cut down emissions are still insufficient. But with as much visible development going on in this city, hopefully this too will improve.Read more
Siem Reap is home to Angkor Wat and other majestic temples.
There is also a big and unusually organized night market. Instead of nocturnal stands along a long street, Siem reap's night market is distributed mostly in permanent stands across the street from each other, which open mostly only at night, but also during the day. There is also a day market (the "old" market) where you can find almost anything you find at the night market.
I had some wonderful amok here. And lots of fruit shakes for a dollar. I also had a wonderful massage. The city is very much organized around tourism with big fancy hotels, casinos and restaurants.
A tuk tuk took us to Angkor wat for sunset, and for sunrise the next day. To my surprise, the temples weren't horribly crowded in the morning, and we managed to walk and tuk tuk around for about 8 hours without much interference. It was insanely hot, but our sweet tuk tuk driver kept us alive by offering us cold water at the exit of every temple.
Cambodia is without a doubt the poorest of all the countries I've been to is SEA. There are many many children working around the temples, selling postcards, magnets and books about the site's history. Children as your as the age of 3 years old are all alone, or only accompanied by other children trying to survive from tourists. As almost every place I've seen so far in this continent, the beauty of its history and architecture is countered by a very harsh reality. Child labor, extreme animal cruelty, prostitution and complete lack of environmental awareness are widespread and deeply rooted here.
I spent my last three days in Siem Reap, and in Cambodia, and in South East Asia, in a yoga and meditation retreat place called Angkor Zen gardens. It was wonderfully blissful. The perfect closure for a few perfect months of traveling around.
Namaste :)Read more
Ho Chi Minh is the first city I have visited so far where I could see myself living. Perhaps it is because it is so westernized. Perhaps it is because people of this beautiful city walk their dogs on a leash, as opposed to keeping them in tiny cages for eating them later. Ho Chi Minh's people are friendly! I got stopped by students wanting to learn English, and ended up teaching then the basic Salsa dance step in a square in the middle of the city. And while I watched a rehearsal for typical music by a group of women drummers at the same square, I had a nice chat with a different group of college students about environmental awareness in the country. Environmental awareness and well treated dogs. Of course this is my favorite city so far! And since I didn't take many pictures, I'll spare you the "good food" section on this entry. I will only say that I bought lots of coffee before leaving.
Here I visited the Independence palace and the war museum, as well as the Notre dame cathedral and the historical post office. All the tourist attractions are within walking distance from each other, and they can all be seen in one day. The independence palace's bunker is very impressive. Exhibits of the communication equipment and the strategic maps used during the Vietnam war are shown. The war museum was a humbling experience. Granted it shows a very one sided view of what the Vietnam war was and how it came about. But most of it is pictures. And pictures don't lie. I teared up in there and it took me a few hours to overcome the shock of the explicit images shown. The terror in people's faces portrayed in some images will stay with me forever. I left the museum feeling so much admiration for the Vietnamese people. Not because they won the war. But because they were able to forgive and move on after such horrific events. They could have dwelled They could have become a nation of complainers and resentful people. Instead, western tourists walk around the streets of all Vietnamese cities, and they are not only allowed to come vacation here as much as they want, but local people (especially in the south) are kind and welcoming, and striving to learn their language. Amazing!Read more
Da Lat is a vibrant city with a very lively night market that remains quite traditional, and is still mostly meant to supply the locals. One can find very few souvenir stands, which I take as a good sign. As any self respecting night market, there is lots of street food offers. I tried sweet potatoe bread and a grilled snack which is a hybrid between a pizza and a burrito, but Vietnamese style.
The city revolves around a lake. By the lake there is a high end golf course and a sort of flower botanical garden. Da Lat is also home to a prominent University with extensive campus.
As for night life, Da Lat offers the unique "100 roof" bar. This bar is literally a maze inside. I was happy to be in the company of people with a better sense of orientation than mine. Otherwise I would have never found my way out.
To go see Da Lat's attractions in the short time I had available, I hired a tour for 25 USD. First, they took us to a flower farm. Da Lat is known for its specialized crops. Unlike the rest of the country, which mostly lives off of rice crops, Da Lat does flowers, silk and coffee.
Flowers are hand wrapped individually. The women who do this job, get paid 10 dollars a day.
Coffee crops are more or less all over the mountains. We went to a typical house of a family from the Kha people. Kha are 1 of the 53 minorities in Vietnam, with Vietnamese being 86% of the population. Kha people have their own spoken language, although their lifestyle didn't seem so different to me from the lifestyle of monk people in the north. As is the case for most of Vietnam, Kha people function as a matriarchal society in which women own the coffee plantation, and chose their husbands.
I also didn't know that Vietnam is the second largest world producer of coffee, after Brasil and before Colombia. Coffee stays in small pots in the kha people's homes until it is 2 years old. Then it is transferred to the fields where after a few years, it is hand picked from November to January. Vietnamese grow three coffee varieties: Robusta, Arabica and Mocha, in ascending quality.
Old coffee trees are used for low quality silk production. Higher quality silk is extracted from
Silk worms, while the worm itself is sent to the night markets to be eaten. People working at rhe silk farms get paid 15 dollars a day and there is no age minimum to start working.
Da Lat is also home to weasel Coffee, aka coffee from beans pooped by civets, considered the best coffee in the world. Civets (aka Lawaki) are fed the red beans of all the varieties separately to make Lawaki Arabica, robusta and moka respectively, during the coffee harvest months. They consume aprox 200 g coffee beans per day. I paid 60000 dong for a cup of lawaki moka coffee (3 USD). And I have to say, I don't know what all the fuzz is about. Maybe I'm missing something, but the quality of that coffee is nothing special. And, the production of this coffee supports the horrible exploitation of civets, which live in cages way too small for them.
We also visited a cricket farm and exotic animals farms, where everything is raised to be eaten. I did not like this part of the tour much at all.
Finally, we went to the big happy buddah temple and the elephant waterfalls. Both beautiful sightseeing.Read more