Flowers, Snails and Raindrops

On the two and a half days Quoc and Giang were in Đà Lạt they took us to resturants, cafes and bars we would never have found on our own. It made me grateful again about the decision to leave the fancy hotel in Nha Trang and move to their cute one.
On the first evening they left us a note at the hotel’s reception saying they’ve booked a cab to come pick us up at eight and take us to their favorite place. The cab took us to the front of a big loud resturant where they waited for us, and after we got inside and sat they ordered for all four of us a big comforting hot-pot, some soup that comes in a big bowl at the center of the table together with vegetables and meats you can cook inside, and everybody share it. I told them we’ve seen people eating snails but never tried it ourselves, so they ordered a dish for us to try. Aside of the snail itself the shells were filled with chopped pork, and were served with a stem of lemon-grass so you could pull out the shell’s content with it. The snail itself had a texture similar to calamari and a very gentle flavour I could hardly feel, because it was blended with the strong tastes of the pork and lemon-grass. When we sat they told us they have a three years old daughter back home named Sushi, since they like sushi. Quoc tattooed her name on one of his fingers.

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After dinner we went together towards the market. The hotel itself is inside an alley and outside of it there’s a small lake, followed by a steep hill leading to the central square ot the market, a building with four or five floors. We went to a cafe in the area called Windmills and went up to the second floor, where there was a porch viewing the square. Roni and I had tea and Quoc and Giang had green matcha-based coffee drinks, and together we shared a tiramisu and another cake with cheese and berries. We talked about the hotel in Nha Trang. Quoc confessed that when he got our booking and saw we were from Israel he was nervous because they had a bad experience with Israelies before, and asked the receptionist to be extra nice so we won’t have reasons to complain. We said we are aware of it that Israelies can be rude when traveling, and some hotels in the world won’t accept us at all. They told us about customers from different countries they’ve had who complained about strange things, such us not having an elevator even though they knew that when they booked the room, or the place not being fancy enogh, while the price is super cheap. It’s nice you can give a review on Trip Advisor or Yelp, but it can hurt small independent places when people give low ratings for nothing. I said I always check the most negative reviews to see if they are legitimate or just petty.

We really liked the huge marketplace and the area around it. To get there you go down some stairs and reach at the big square with a grass plot in the middle, and lots of resturants and cafes around it. From there you can turn right to a big street where dozens of modern and traditional resturants are under the open skies, together with stalls of jewelries, various hand-made items, souvenirs. Behind the square stands the crowded market building burdened with shoes, clothes, make-up, groceries. Around the building there are more stalls, the merchandise lays right on a rug on the floor in some. From one of the top floors there is another exit to a different, higher street – since the city is so mountainous, it’s built with different levels. In the evening lights are turned on in the square and to the thick crowd thats already there more families are added, dogs, children, young honeymooners, vendors who sells unnecessary items.

On the second day Quoc and Giang took us for lunch at a tiny resturant near the market with two crowded floors and a big grill outside, where we had a delicious meal of rice with grilled meat and small bowls of soup on the side. We went from there for coffee and ice-cream at another place. It began raining heavily, so we sat there for a while and looked at the raindrops from inside. Quoc and Giang are the kind of people you can talk with for hours about anything, and you can also not talk at all.

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In the evening Roni and I walked around by ourselves. We sat at a cafe by the hotel and talked with some friends back home, walked slowly towards the market and stopped for a nice comforting bún bò, and at 8 thirty we met Quoc and Giang for beer. There were some hostels around with young loud American tourists who sat in nearby pubs, and Giang said that Western tourists always seem to her excited and full of energy. Their stories about the Israelies they’ve met before, and tourists from other countries, made me wonder for the millionth time how we are being perceived in this country, and how tourists see Israel.

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In the morning we sat on the colorful couch in the hotel’s loby and had breakfast with Hien, the receptionist we’ve met on the first day. We said goodbye to Quoc and Giang who went back home to Nha-Trang, and went for a walk outside. We walked slowly to the flowers garden – a park that is an attraction in Đà Lạt, which is famous for its flowers and greenhouses. We walked lazily, looking at stores here and there, and got inside a pagoda we’ve seen on the way that was very peacfull and quiet. We almost arrived at a big central lake when a middle-aged man with a blue Eazy Riders jacket approached us and began chatting. He was very welcoming and nice and we were planning to have another motorcycles trip to the next destination anyway, so we walked with him to his office, where we had tea with him and his partner and planned a three days trip and then a bus to Hồ Chí Minh City. They told us that it’s a low season for them since there aren’t many tourists so they lower their prices – they are Buddhist and believe in Karma. What goes around comes around. We took their details, shook hand and went on walking by the lake. We walked on a big grass plot, stopped where two well groomed horses stood and bought a bag of sweet popcorn for snack. The skies got darker and it looked like it was about to rain, so we decided to go back towards the market and visit the flower garden on another day. We arrived at one of the resturants on the market’s square and sat under a big shade right when pouring rain began to fall, and had a spicy Phở bò. A lazy cat took a nap on my bag and covered with my scarf.

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When we finished eating we ran in the rain to the covered part of the market and stayed there until the rain stopped, and went back towrds the hotel with the thunders still roaring in the distance. At the evening we went again and had peach-tea at a cafe with a gentle smell of coffee and cigarettes. We wanted to have dinner at that tiny resturant where Quoc and Giang took us but they were closing so Roni said we should get some pizza, something that suddenly we both had a craving for. We ate at a great pizzeria, even though the service was a bit too official for us, and looked at drunk tourists in the street and dogs playing on the road. It was the only time during the trip when we had Western food and it was very comforting, but to be honest I loved the local food so much I hardly missed anything.

In the morning we sat again with Hien for breakfast, ate the yummy soup they served for breakfast and had coffee. Hien told us about her job and life. She chose this job because she loved meeting and talking with people from around the world, so she can practice her English and expand her horizons. Her sister works in the hotel as well but more at the back on the house, maintenance and kitchen. We asked how come the stay there is so cheap yet the hotel is so nice and clean and they serve such delicious breakfast for free, and she said that Ken, the owner of the place, believes in giving as much as possible.

It was a bright sunny day, even warm, so we decided to try our luck again and go to the flowers garden. We passed by the big lake again, where the beautiful horses stood. Poeple paddled in the water in small flamboyant boats shaped like swans. After a long walk we found the beautiful entrance, payed 60,000 Dong (about 2-3 dollars) and went inside. It was quiet, clean and very nurtured. Small pathways meandered between lawns and floral gardens where shrubs were trimmed into shapes of pitchers, kettles, tea cups. A miniature house with a roof made solely out of flowers stood by a lake and wind chimes gently chanted on its entrance, and nearby stood some bonsai trees that with a close look seemed like tiny fairy-kingdoms.

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We sat for coffee at a nice woman with a stall by the lake, and kept on walking. We saw here and there young local couples, and aside from them the place was relatively empty. We went inside a green house with dozens different species of huge orchids, where a Western women talked with the saleswoman about the cultivation of the flowers. We strolled there some more, enjoying the cool fresh air of the ground and vegetationm until the noon rain clouds apeared in the distance again so we went back to the market’s area. We had a tasty lunch at the small resturant with the grill outside, and when the rains stopped we decided to split for a while and travel by ourselves. Roni went to the market, and I put on my headphones and went to explore the city.

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A Journy to Đà Lạt

We began the morning as usual with phở bò nearby the hotel and then checked-out, and sat outside with our backpacks for coffee at the lady with the wagon. Pretty quick the Easy Riders showed up – Mister Lam with flames painted on the front of his heavy motorcycle, and Yen, with a big red motorcycle. They began loading our bags on their bikes as Quoc and his wife Giang were also getting ready for the trip, Quac with a small sports camera attached to his helmet. When we were all ready Roni and I went on the Easy Rider’s bikes – me behind Yen and Roni behind Mister Lam. The bike ignited with a load growl and we started navigating our way outside the city as Quac and Giang driving ahead of us.

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In a few minutes I got used to the motorcycle’s tremblings and its metallic feel, and leaned back on my bag that was tied behind. I took a big orange scarf with me which I bought back then from an old woman in Sapa and covered my mouth and nose with it, and a plastic part of the helmet protected my eyes. We stopped right outside the city by a small shack with a big yard where three middle-aged women sat and weaved rugs in red, yellow and green. Two of them worked on a rug as one adds more strings to the loom with a long hook and the other arranges the interwoven ones, and the third and oldest sat on the side and talked with the two others. They let Roni and I try it in turns, and we managed to slowly weave a clumsy line.

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We drove on narrow roads between fields and small houses in faded colors scattered here and there. We stopped by a rice field and took some of the tall plants growing like  wheat with small tough rice beans inside the leaves. We passed on a long shaky wooden bridge stretching above a green river. Mister Lam said that the rains start at November and the river overflows so the locals break it apart and put it together afterwards, a process that takes three months.

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We made another brief stop in another shack were some women made flat crunchy pastries made of rice and sesame, which goes great with the hot spicy food. They make some kind of a mush out of the ground seeds and pour it on a hot plate which in minutes consolidate it into some kind of a soft pancake, which they then move to a straw surface and take it outside to dry for several hours in the beating sun. Lam said they begin their work at 3 AM and finish at 1 PM, before the rains begin. Quoc and Giang were there with us as well and Giang said she hardly ever sees those rural people, because she doesn’t leave the city much.

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They took us to a workshop of a sculptor that works with wood. He lives in a tiny house with a huge yard where four barking puppies are tied. On the bare ground tools and wood chips with a strong smell of rain were scattered, and the place was full of statues in different levels of finishings. The ready sculptures were smooth and covered in wax and were mostly of fat laughing Buddhas with big earlobes – a sign for luck, long lives, riches, fertility. Other and smaller ones were of gods actually coming out of the logs, which is a part of their bodies. An impressive furniture was standing on one corner – a big tree lying on its side with bare roots, forming into a long bench, and on the other side there’s a smiling Buddha sitting, all made out of one piece. The sculptor said it’s a very expensive furniture which only rich people with a big house can afford.

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We stopped by a local village and Roni and I explored the place by foot while the bikers waited on the other side. Some curious children looked at us, and small pigs and poultry strolled around at the sides of the trail. We were accompanied by two dogs who barked at us from a safe distance, and a black puppy was playing in one of the yards. At the village’s entrance there were stalls with diagonal tables, where dozens of yellow hand-like bamboo leaves were placed.

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Outside of that village we passed by a sugar cane field and Yen chopped us small branch from one of the plants and told us to chew. It’s tough and fibrous, but after you work on it a sweet fresh juice come out. We moved on, now on open and free highways, driving much faster. I felt my feet vibrating near the motor and the scarf flapping behind me. The longer we drove, the higher the mountains around us became and the air was chiller, and the wind felt like tiny tinglings on the skin. It was freshening to finally feel a cool breeze after weeks on the humid shoreline.

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After about 45 minutes of consecutive ride we stopped on a bridge towering above a big waterfall, and went off the bikes. Aside from us there were only a couple of locals with big straw hats. We walked across the bridge until we reached at a small path with lots of stingy vegetation, and after we passed it and climbed over some black rocks we found the chill waterfall. We dipped our hands and feet in the freezing water. It was dead silence there, the plants absorbed every little rustle from the highway.

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We went back to the motorcycles and started climbing over the mountains. White clouds cruised around us like steam, sliding amongst the mountains and covering us here and there. The skies got darker and it began raining – light at first and then fast and heavily, the raindrops stinging like hailstones because of the bike’s speed. We stopped by the side of the road to cover our backpacks and wear some sort of blue plastic overalls that protect from the rain, and moved on. We reached at a tiny village in the middle of nowhere and stopped by a wooden house with a tall straw roof, and went up inside with a small ladder. It was empty aside of a few long wooden benches. Mister Lam said this was where the locals gather up for discussions or special occasions, and such a building is a sign of a strong community. There were similar buildings nearby, their roofs not as tall, and the only living soul around was a chicken picking in the moist ground with its chicks hiding between its legs.

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it was noon and we were getting hungry. We stopped at a small place on the sides of the road where a local woman served rice with fried pork and small bowls of soup, and sliced persimmon for dessert. We gave the bones to a pregnant cat who was meowing under the table and moved on. We passed by a strawberries farm and tasted the fruits straight from the ground. We talked with the farmer, a laughing bearded man, who said he was also growing potatoes and persimmons. Not far from there we stopped again at a coffee farm and tried the red coffee beans – they grow on bushes, like berries. The bikers told us that the coffee came with the French who saw Vietnam has the optimal conditions for growing it, and before that they used to drink only tea. They said there are some kind of squirrels (later on it turned out they meant weasels) that eat the beans and then take them out whole, and it’s used to make high quality coffee because of a chemical process the beans go through in their stomach. Light rain was falling and somehow the conversation rolled onto our country, and we tried to explain them the Israeli – Palestinian conflict in simple words, a thing we do not really understand ourselves.

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Towards the late noon we arrived at the city, which was surrounded with greenhouses and homes in various colors. We stopped at a colorful pagoda which was heavily decorated with loads of sculptures of flowers and small animals, and walked inside. There was a small garden in the center that had a pool with big orange fish swimming in it, and statues of dragons and people with three or four faces holding swords. The place had a few temples we’ve felt a bit uncomfortable getting into, where severe women with blue clothes sat by their entrance. We went up to the second floor, where huge Buddha sculptures were placed, and wandered in there for a bit. After we explored the whole place we went downstairs and sat with our drivers, Yen and Mister Lam, for coffee while they talked about the Buddhist beliefs. Its symbol looks like a swastika but much more ancient and stands for Karma – what goes around comes around. After dying one can reincarnate as different creatures, depending on what the soul deserves basing on its actions in previous lives – animal, human, something higher than human or lower than animal. It reminded me of a book I’ve read before the trip, Life and Death are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan, about a man who dies in his village and reincarnate as various animals until he learns his lesson.

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The last stop was an old train station, that according to what they told us all the hipsters in Vietnam go there to take artistic photos.
Eventually they took us to Ken’s House – the hotel where we stayed together with Quoc and Giang from Nha Trang. We thanked the bikers and said goodbye, and went inside. It’s a small place, very colorful and clean, with wall-to-wall carpets in every room and a worm homey feeling which fits well in the cold city on the mountains. We checked-in with Hien, a beautiful receptionist who said her name means “Gentle”, and after taking off our shoes and leaving them in a cupboard by the entrance we went up to our room. It was charming, tiny with a floral painting on one of the walls and colorful sheets. We were wet and muddy from the long ride and while we showered in turns Hien showed up by the door with a tray of tea and spring rolls, which was right on time.
We rested for a while and got ready for the evening, since we scheduled that Quoc and Giang would take us to their favorite restaurant.

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Alone in Nha Trang

I went on wandering by myself in Nha Trang. Black clouds appeared in the distance and I was getting hungry, but I had to find an ATM first. Right as it began raining I went inside a touristic restaurant with an English and Russian menu and ordered beer and spring rolls, looked at the rain from inside and read. People ran outside in attempt of avoiding the rain and some employees tried to turn on a wet grill under a shade. When I got bored I went back to the rain and muddy streets and looked at the shops. salesmen tried to speak Russian with me. Eventually I went back to the room.

 This whole time Roni was sleeping and reading – he bought The Queit American by Graham Greene at a second-hand book store back in Hội An. It was about 4 PM and the rain seemed to stop, so we took our raincaots and went outside. We had hot soup at a small booth in a wet  street corner and then got back again for a hot shower, and as evening came we went to have some beer. We sat at one of those places where you get a small grill and skewers which you fry yourself. The waitresses tapped around with miny-dresses and high heels and once in a while renewed the ice in our beer glasses, and an older woman sat on some corner and gave them comments. On the way back to the hotel we stopped for some yummy ice-cream at a cute small place, and then fell asleep while staring at the TV.

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The next morning, after having coffee, we strolled around the city with no particular aim. After we got some tea for the room at a minimarket Roni went back to the room to rest, and I was looking for something to eat. It was 11 and most places that served breakfast were already closed, and it was somewhat sad looking for food by myself while Roni is sick in the room. Eventually I got to a tiny department store with a grandma who served soup, so I sat there to eat and read Lollita. A man with a Chinese look who spoke English with a heavy Russian accent stopped by to get cigarettes, and talked with me about the book. He said that in Russia they read it in high school, which seemed strange and impressive for me since it’s such a serious and provocative story.

I walked back to the hotel. Roni was sleeping and I sat on the bed and wrote a strange dream about the army I had that night. I fell asleep for 20 minutes and towards 1 PM I woke Roni up and we went to sit on the shore. The waves were huge, and I was feeling a bit blue because I worried for Roni who still felt pretty bad.

Afterwards, back in the hotel, we talked with Quoc about the Easy Riders – a national company of motorcyclists who arrange trips, mostly in the center and South, and you can ride with them on their motorcycles or join with your own. Quoc called his friend, Mister Lam, who arrived in a few minutes and sat with us to plan a day trip to Đà Lạt. Quac said he and his wife might join us and go on a vacation in Đà Lạt, and recommended on a hotel over there. We walked outside for dinner a bit faraway from the hotel, at a buzzing and crowded place that served meats with rice and beer. Just as a bunch of ten grumpy Chinese sat a pouring rain began to fall, and in mere minutes the restaurant – which was completely open under the night sky – shut down as if it was never open. It happened as we were finishing so we paid and waited under a shade together with the rest of the people, and as the rain weakened we went back to the room.

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The next day Roni was feeling much better. We had phở bò for breakfast at a small place where a young woman fried fat worms in lemon-grass and snacked on them like nuts, and after coffee we went to the beach. It was sunny outside but not too hot and the sea was blue and clear, and we spent a few chill hours there, swimming, walking on the shore, drinking fresh coconut juice. Back in the room we showered and napped for an hour, and by three thirty went for another coffee and lunch of soup and rice with meat, morning-glory and loads of ginger. Afterwards we sat at a cafe for spicy ginger-tea and booked that hotel in Đà Lạt Quoc talked about, and talked about what was left back home – memories of us being students together, the jobs we left, friends.

Roni felt weak again so we went back to the room and he fell asleep, and around 7 I went for a walk by myself. I walked on the boardwalk and got into an embroidery gallery, which was beautiful with a small garden where a few women sat and weaved and local music was played. I walked in the rooms and looked at pictures made solely out of threads, some huge and realistic, very impressive. I walked out and kept on wandering around the city, in places we haven’t seen before and didn’t show up on the small map they gave us in the hotel. I looked for a place to sit by myself. Eventually I went into a bar called First Contact, that was a bit empty but had a nice vibe, and ordered crab-soup and a drink they served of vodka with apples. I sat with my book and when I got bored I paid and went back outside. I didn’t really know where I was so I walked around until I saw familiar buildings again. There was a big fight in the street – a small dog was bugging a man so he tried to beat it up with a sandal, and another woman went out of a house and held him so he wouldn’t hit the dog, which seemed amused. There were many yellings and people got involved and separated them. The man left angry with his wife, leaving one sandal on the road behind him and walking with one bare foot. I bought hot corn for Roni at a small booth with a vendor who talked Russian with me even though I knew some basic Vietnamese, and went back to the room. I woke Roni up and we sat in front of the TV as he ate the corn, and then went to sleep.

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Endless Blue

 We got up early in the morning and had phở bò at a street restaurant for breakfast, and came back for coffee at a woman with a small wagon under the hotel. By nine thirty the tour guide came and led us to the van, which was already full with Asian and Australian tourists, and we drove towards the port. The ride was short and pretty quickly we got to a pier with lots of small motor boats and a huge cable railway stretching above the port’s buildings and cranes towards distant mountains. The guide, who said his name was Tea “Like the drink”, helped us one by one to get on a small boat with charts of sea creatures. We put on the life vests while Tea went through safety instructions and asked the Asian tourists if they can swim – apparently people from that side of the world do not swim. After about thirty minutes we came by shallow rocky water and got inside with the fins and snorkels we got earlier.

The first touch with the water was amazing and scary. I kept trying to rearrange my diving mask since water came through the left lens and driped into the nose, but I just lost balance and swallowed lots of water. I swam to a rock I could stand on and tried again. I was curious and determined to dive but water kept seeping through the mask, so I swam back to the boat and Tea threw me another one which was better.
I swam alone in the silence, hearing only my breath underwater through the snorkel. I found Roni and we swam holding hands, showing each other the colorful fish – some huge and peaceful and some tiny with bright colors, hiding amongst the corals.

When it was time to get back we swam back to the boat’s ladder and went up, comparing the marks the diving masks left on our foreheads. We sailed by big cliffs with small green houses built on, while Tea talked about the environment and about the birds who build their nests on the tall cliffs. A few minutes later we stopped where the water were about 20 meters deep, and we got an hour to dive there.

When I got my head underwater I found myself lost in a blue void, only my fins floating in the nothingness and sunlight cutting through the water like huge drapes. I moved forward towards some rocks Tea pointed at, starting to see small fish and corals peeking out of the blue. Eventually I reached at a big rock that was peeking out of the water and big colorful fish were grazing on it. I was a bit lost, not seeing Roni or recognizing anyone else around. A huge red starfish was glued to a rock deep down, and scuba divers swam inside the tunnels the rocks created. I had to stop to rearrange my diving mask and catch my breath a little, so I found a relatively stable rock to rest on. I’ve felt small itches on the skin here and there, probably because of small jellyfish, and a slight headache from the pressure the mask created, but it was so beautiful there and I wanted to keep swimming with the fish forever. Eventually I heard Tea calling everyone somewhere in the distance and saw the girls who could not swim with their bright orange floats returning to the boat, so I began swimming again into the blue void, losing myself from time to time, until I reached at the boat and went up dizzy and tired.

I sat next to Roni, who returned earlier to the boat, and we exchanged stories. Tea began breaking apart the wooden benches we sat on so they turned into one long table with benches on both sides. Roni and I sat next to a family of Australians, who began a conversation. While Tea and another man spread different kinds of food on the table an Australian girl told us that they’ve been traveling in Vietnam for three weeks and been in Hội An and Saigon, and they will also go to Bangkok for a week. The children have already been in seven different countries, and were very open and self-assured. The girl told me that she’d learned that the Vietnamese do not like the Russian tourists that get food at groceries stores and eat it in the hotel instead of eating outside, and said it seems funny to her to go all the way here and not try the local food. I couldn’t agree more, as I remembered the Burger-King in Bangkok and the Israeli restaurants on the Khaosan.

We ate the seafood, rice and vegetables they served us and drank beer, and Tea gave us another hour to dive where the boat stood. I was going to wait for a while and not swim right after eating, but I was so curious so I ate fast and dived again into the blue void, swimming towards some rocks. I followed some big schools of blue and yellow fish and some seahorses, among tiny yellow snake-like creature with brown spots like giraffes, and small underwater structures with lots of seashells glued on. A small blue fish scared away anyone around it and tried to attack my fins, but was too scared to get close to me. Once again I couldn’t see anyone and realize I was too far away from the boat as I saw it tiny in the distance, so I swam back, seeing the corals disappear again into the blue as the water got deeper. Roni waited there for me and helped me get up, and turned my mask and fins back to their place while I recovered from the long swim.

Meanwhile the long table and benches were back in their previous settings. Light rain began to fall as we sailed back to the port, eating some fresh fruits they served us. Pretty fast we arrived at the beach and went on the van that brought us back to the hotel, where we showered and fell asleep until the evening. When we woke up we went downstairs and met Quoc, who ran the hotel with his wife, Giang. He sat in the lobby with his glasses and hair that was cut into some kind of a mohawk and tied into a ponytail, and build a tiny house out of toothpicks and glue. We talked with him about the city and the trip we had that morning, and after he gave us a small umbrella we went outside to the pouring rain. We had black hot coffee and moved on to an Indian restaurant. Roni was not feeling well, and I was still exhausted and dizzy from the boat. We had a delicious lemony Caipirinha and ordered shrimp with a spicy cashew sauce and fried fish with white rice. The appetite came with the food. It was all very tasty but the sauce was too heavy and spiced for me, and I realized that perhaps I’m just not that into Indian food. We had spiced tea with milk for dessert, and went back to the hotel. Roni fell asleep immediately because he getting sick and I watched some movies on TV, still feeling the gentle swings of the boat and the blue surrounding me.

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The next day we got up at eight thirty and went to the woman with the coffee wagon under our hotel. It turned out that on the bottom of the wagon, inside a stainless steel cabinet, she had a small fire and a pan where she made noodles with meat and kale, so we ordered two of those for breakfast. From there we began walking towards the marine museum. About halfway there Roni felt bad again so we took a cab to the museum, which was very close to the port where we were the day before. We bought tickets for 30,000 Dong each (about a Dollar and a half) and got inside. We were greeted by aquariums and big pools, filled with huge fish, small sharks and sea turtles. There was also a part with seals, which looked kind of sad because it seemed too small. A group of teenagers on a field trip sat on the edge of the pool with the turtles and played with their smartphones. We passed in a dark hall with lots of blue aquariums with big colorful fish, corals, fish that look like rocks, multicolored shrips, big crabs and octopuses. From the ceiling of another hall a huge whale’s skeleton was hanged, and next to it was a smaller one in an aquarium.

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We went back to a room with sculptures of mermaids and went into another hall with aquariums filled with strange lobsters, and a pool with a sea turtle who played with an oxygen bubble stream. We went to the second floor, where there was some sort of a whole library of wooden cabinets with small jars with a yellow liquid inside where skeleton, small sea animals, corals and seashells were conserved. At the end of the room were different kinds of taxidermied seals and turtle – armors, closed in glass cages.

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We sat outside for a while a curious turtle peeked at us from time to time, and then we took a cab back to the hotel and napped for about 20 minutes. For some reason I remembered when my mom used to take me swimming when I was a toddler, and the mermaid doll I had with pink hair that I used to take to the pool and play with in the water.

Roni, who was getting really sick, stayed to rest in the hotel and I went for a walk outside. I walked along the boardwalk and listened to music, until I sat at a cafe next to a young man who did math exercises and muttered to himself. Everybody was watching a dubbed Indian film on a small TV set, and I had coffee and wrote about the last few days in my journal.

We Are All Brothers

We had a hard time finding dinner on our first night in Nha-Trang since the area where we stayed was a bit desolate, but after walking around we found a busy place that served good phở. After we ate we saw a woman who sold those yummy dumplings with the meat and quail eggs like the ones we ate sometimes in the North, but they had a slightly different flavour which I didn’t really like. Eventually we found a place in an alley that appeared to have a happy vibe so we sat there and had two beers that came with glasses full of huge ice blocks. Aside from us there were a few more couples that ordered meat which came on a hot plate and they fried it themselves, and since we weren’t hungry anymore we decided to come back the next day for dinner.

In the morning we ate breakfast at the strange and fancy hotel’s restaurant together with severe oligarchs from Russia and China. The chairs were wrapped in a white cloth that hadn’t been washed in months, and on the side there were leftovers from a wedding that took place there god-knows-when. We had coffee outside and went to the beach, the one with only pale tourists, and after a long stay there we came back to the hotel for a brief shower and then back outside to look for food. Everything was beginning to close for the noon but we found a place that seemed open and two mama’s were sitting by the entrance, and when they saw us they woke up a girl who worked there and was getting ready for her nap. We’ve felt a bit uncomfortable about it but they insisted that the place is open, and anyway the soup she served was great.

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The day passed by calmingly. We bought some clothes at a small market on the street and had more coffee, went to the beach again by sunset and watched as the sky darkened, and by evening we came back to the place where we had beer the night before. The menu was in Vietnamese only and the owner of the place was a smiling middle-aged man who didn’t speak a word in English. We decided to be spontaneous and just pointed at a few things from the menu without knowing what we’re ordering, and aside from some fried meats we also got fish parts (mostly fins) cooked in tin foils with a boiling sauce. Everything was delicious even though the fish had a lot of small bones in it, and generally I like the idea of not exactly knowing what we’re gonna get. The man tried to speak with us via Google Translate – he asked about Roni’s tattoo of a fisherman and a fish, and wrote through google “You are not intelligent”. Later on we found out that the words “Fisherman” and “Stupid” are written the same way, so I guess he was trying to ask Roni whether he was a fisherman. He called his friend, who spoke a little English, and they both sat with us. We talked about politics. The guy who spoke English said he thought politicians are like children, just messing around with their stuff, while us, the simple people, looking from outside and not knowing what they are doing. He told us that now they have problems with the neighboring countries – the relationships between Vietnam and Russia are very close, like brothers, but Vietnam has problems with China which affects the relationship with Russia. He said that there is tension on the North border of Vietnam and that sometimes people in South China disconnect their electricity (as some sort of vandalism) and I remembered that there really were many power outrages in the North. He went back to his friends, and we paid and began walking towards the hotel. We saw him again on the way back, sitting by a plastic table in the street together with three more men and a woman, and he said they are his brothers and invited us to sit with them. As we sat he explained that sometimes very close friends define themselves as brothers, and that they know each other since school and now they are 55 years old. On my left one of the men poured beer for us and on the other side a skinny man asked us where we came from, and said that the only thing he knows about Israel is that people used to blow themselves up in public places as a terror activity. They asked us what we thought about Vietnam, and we said that we don’t know if it’s just us but people in the South seem much friendlier than in the North. They said it was impressive we noticed that, and those differences are because people in the North tend to be more poor and hard-working, so it’s harder to “get” to them. We said goodbye and they wished us goodnight while winking, and we strolled drunk back to the room.

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By morning we packed, checked out and took a cab. It took me a while to figure out why the driver was blushing and saying again and again “Madam beautiful”, until I noticed my blouse was open… The cab took us to the area we saw when we just arrived at the city, a bustling area with a long boardwalk, busy roads, street-food, people. We booked the night before a small humble place right at the center. A young woman with glasses welcomed us and gave us the room key, and when we came back outside she explained about the area and helped us book a snorkeling trip for the day after.

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It was very refreshing to move from that bombastic hotel into a much more intimate and cute place, not to mention the area – which was also touristic, but had a much younger vibe. We took another cab to the marketplace. We entered a big packed building with lots of booths and people calling us “Sir” and “Madam” from every direction, and after I bought a phone charger we went outside and walked between jewelry , swimwear and pendants made of dried sea horses and star-fish. We looked at swimwear at a shop where a bellied man napped on a hammock, and sat somewhere for tasty Bún bò. We got back to the hotel to change clothes and went to the beach, which was minutes away. The yellow sand, the green trees and the turquoise water. We spread our sheets under coconut trees and drank out of two cold and juicy coconuts that a passing woman sold us, reading and swimming.

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By evening we went to look for a place that could fix my phone, which wouldn’t connect to any charger. After we booked another night from the sweet receptionist with the glasses we asked her where you can fix phones, and she showed us on a map how to get to a main street with many mobile-phone shops. When we entered a big store all the employees stood in a line by the entrance to greet us, and a man with yellow teeth led us to a technician and helped us  communicate with him. We had 30 minutes to wait so we went to eat Bánh xèo, some sort of a crispy pancake made of rice and filled with shrimps, sprouts and greens. We collected the phone after they changed some tiny part in it and came back to the hotel. We passed by the night market, a colorful and lit place where they sold mostly jewelry and souvenirs, and when we were nearby the hotel heavy rain began to fall. We ran from building to building, store to store, and eventually sat in a French cafe and ordered two whiskeys on ice. When the rain stopped we strolled on the boardwalk, and went to bed since we had wo get up early the next day.

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Light of my life; Fire of my Loin

We passed our last full day at Hội An as usual by the beach. on the way back to the hotel we stopped by a small shack by the side of the road where they served Cao lầu and cold beer. A dip in the pool and a nap at the hot hours, and Bánh mì at the Bánh mì Queen – a shrunk old lady who makes the best Bánh mì in Vietnam. Just a while ago I remembered her and wondered how she’s doing, and thought it’s funny that I’m concerned about the health of a woman I met just a few times in my life at a faraway land. The marketplace that night was humming and bustling since it was the peak of the Mid-Autumn festival. We walked for hours  with the crowds and the street shows, stopping here and there for some beer or spring rolles, and eventually ended the evening with fresh coconut juice.

Walking in a city’s streets knowing it’s for the last time everything seems a bit distance, like behind glass.

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The next morning we woke up hungry and went for soup for breakfast by the hotel, and then had coffee at a place where many local men sat and played some kind of a board game. I told Roni about strange dreams I had for the last nights while a yellow lizard was watching us from above with its blank stare. We went back to the hotel and packed our bags because it was check-out time, but since the bus to the next destination was leaving only by noon we left our stuff at the reception and got outside again for Bánh mì. There were four obese and friendly Australians sitting there, the lady’s’ elbows seem to drown inside their arms, and they told us it’s their second time in Vietnam – they were also there three years ago, and missed it so much they had to come back. On the path outside a young woman parked her bike and took off her jeans jacket as she walked inside, and the Australians asked her what I wanted to ask all along – how come they wear such long clothes in this heat. She answered kindly with a broken English that light skin is considered as beautiful for their standards, but sunscreen is too expensive. It made me wonder how they see us, the Western tourists, who try to catch as much sun as possible.

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We got back to the hotel’s pool as it got too hot outside, accidentally falling asleep for thirty minutes on the pool chairs, and then had a brief shower and went to the Coffee Bean at the main street. A young man sat outside on such an old and graceless motorcycle that it seemed almost vintage, drank cold beer and shooshed a lazy dog who sat in his shop entrance. From there we went to a travel agency and booked a flight back to Bangkok on November 4th – about five weeks from that day. It was something I knew we had to do, since the flight back  home departed from Bangkok, but I remembered with longing the day back home when I looked for flights to Hanoi, and chose gleefully one-way tickets. I remembered how we organized parts of the trip, how we ordered visa for Vietnam and bought backpacks, and the realization that we are almost halfway through suddenly fell on me.

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By five PM the minibus arrived, so we said goodbye to the hotel employees and joined a young German woman who was already in the vehicle. The driver drove around other hotels in the area and collected three girls from Hong Kong, a few locals and a French couple, and then drove to a main street and stopped by a big theater. The bus was already there, a two-story sleeping bus like the one we took from Bắc Hà to Hanoi, and we waited there for about twenty minutes while it was cleaned from its last ride. We got to get on it first which was good, since the bus was completely full and I didn’t want a bed in the pathway.

The ride was long and strange. The girls from Hong Kong complained about the air-conditioner, which couldn’t be turned off or modified, and after everybody was tired from listening to them one of the conductors gave them old newspapers and scotch tape to shut the air-con holes. At 11 PM we had a break at a refreshment stop which had a small restaurant, and a long line to the toilets. Some French girls were shaken since the toilets were just a hole in the floor. We thought about getting some snacks at the resturant but gave it up and went outside, to the utter darkness outside. When we moved again they turned off the lights, so I could read only with my phone’s light and pray it will have enough battery – I was done with Paul Theroux’s Great Railway Bazar and finally began reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I tried to sleep but the girl behind me kept messing with the scotch tape that shut the air-con and made a lot of noise, so I listened to music. I listened to Gorillaz’s Demon Days from the beginning to the end, which was something I didn’t do since I was 17, and when the song Feel Good Inc played we passed by a dark blue sea with fisher boat’s lights, and darker skies from above dotted with stars. At 3 AM we had another stop in the middle of nowhere and I went outside with some other people to pee by the bus, since there was no other place for it, while the driver was waiting impatiently. They left two passengers behind and had to drive backwards for a few minutes to pick them up. I was very uncomfortable because I couldn’t turn around in the bed/sit but only lay on my back, and could actually feel my muscles cramp under the air-con. By 5 PM we finally saw Nha-Trang in front of us, with its boardwalks and beaches and hotels, as the sun began shining on everything.

When we got off the bus some bikers approached us to offer rides, but we needed a few minutes to recover from the night and figure out what to do next. Eventually we took a cab, and arrived at the hotel by 6 AM. The ride was longer than we expected – apparently the hotel was too faraway from the city center. It was very fancy, way more than we thought, which was strange since it wasn’t that expensive. There was a printed menu in the room which showed what you can order from the room service, translated to English and Russian. Many people from Russia and China travel to Nha-Trang for vacations and business trips. We slept for a while and went outside again by 8 – I was tired and had a headache, and the coffee we had by the hotel was well-needed. We got outside feeling refreshed and went to look for food, and found a chubby shirtless man who coughed a lot but made delicious food, and at this point I didn’t really care who cooks for us.\

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We changed to swimwear and went to the beach. Blue sky, torques water and green mountains in the distance, and aside from us there were only a few retired tourists with swimming suits straight from the 80’s. I thought about the city center, about the nice boardwalk and the streets we saw from the bus, and about this dozy area and the way-too-fancy hotel. We booked three nights in advance and couldn’t get a refund, but we decided to give up one night anyway and look for a smaller place in the center, which a appeared as a smart decision later on.

Routine Break

Cities have two faces – one turning inside, for the locals, and one turning outside, for the tourists.

As the soft sand squeaks under the feet in Platis Gialos beach in Sifnos, I look envious at the locals and wonder what I am missing. Back home some tourists must be jealous of me for living in a sunny place, 10 minutes away from the beach. Go tell them about how expensive the living is, about gentrification, violence, corruptions. So what is it that I don’t see in this country? And what I didn’t see in Thailand? Vietnam? Portugal? Israel…?

When I was little and we used to go on family vacations it was a crisis for me to go back home, and it still is. The difference is that now I can deal with sadness.

That now I now that if your heart is broken, it means you loved.

And that traveling is lonely.