Sunday, May 25, 2014

PLACES: The countryside and center of Da Lat, Vietnam

Da Lat, I miss you and your cool weather! Visiting Da Lat and it's highlands out of town is a wonderful experience. It's easy to fall in love in the amazing coffee shops in the center of Da Lat. Once you've taken a seat you just don't want to leave. To see where the coffee comes from it's a must-to-do to visit the highlands of coffee plantations surrounding Da Lat town center. It's the easiest to book a tour or to rent a motorbike and get around alone. The landscape is beautiful! Also visit a cricket farm on your way. In this area of Vietnam it's common to have insects as a snack. Crickets are the most seen "snacks" here. You can order them fried, BBQ or boiled with chili sauce. Better stick to the crispy fried ones and just imagine you're eating chips and they actually taste quite good! Da Lat is also the only place in Vietnam where pine trees grow due to the cool climate while the rest of Vietnam is obviously suffering from 40 degrees in summer. When you visit Da Lat during this time of the year expect fresh 18-25 degrees and bring some warm clothes to wear when it gets cold in the evening. An amazing place as well is the silk factory in the country side where you can watch Vietnamese women separating the worms from their cocoons from which they make silk from. The cocoons are collected by hand at the nearby strawberry fields. Other highlights is the Elephant Waterfall and a visit at the local market in the morning.

- AJ -

Saturday, May 17, 2014

DESIGN: Bi.cycle.up coffee & bar - Da Lat, Vietnam

This is really a special place in Da Lat, Vietnam which you shouldn't miss out. Da Lat (population: 188,500) is a town in the highlands of south Vietnam with a lovely influence by the French who brought the coffee culture to Vietnam which has now become the second largest coffee exporter next to Brazil. Da Lat is surrounded by coffee plantations and so is the town full of wonderful coffee shops. If you want to try the amazing local coffee beans you should visit my favorite coffee shop on this entire planet called "Bi.cycle.up".
Bi.cycle.up was opened 1,5 years ago by Indy and Bi who discovered this hidden shop. This lovely Vietnamese couple decided to open Bi.cycle.up after having asked by their friends why they don't open a coffee shop. So that's exactly what they did. Bi studied architecture and Indy studied business so they have the best combination together to open up a coffee shop. They love to recycle old material such as vintage furniture, old LPs, books, bicycles or an old bathtub. They use the local coffee from the nearby coffee plantations and also sell smoothies made of fresh local fruits from the market. Try their delicious hot chocolate and if you're lucky they will also have banana cake sometimes.
The name Bi.cycle.up comes from Bi's name and cycle because they like to recycle and up stands for uprising, like the sun. They like bicycles so they combined the words together to Bi.cycle.up.

Bi.cycle.up coffee & bar
82 Truong Cong Dinh
Da Lat


-AJ -

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

PLACES: Roadtrip day 3 - Bokor Hill Station, Cambodia

This was my absolutely favorite place in Cambodia, probably even one of my favorite places since I've been traveling. I've never even heard or read anything about this place until few days before heading to Kampot. The Bokor Hill Station is a French ghost town in the Preah Monivong National Park about 20 km west of KampotColonial French settlers came here to built a resort to escape the insalubrity of Phnom Penh, the hot climate and humidity. The Grand Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino was the centre of the Bokor Hill Station which is now a ruin. Visiting this place will give you an impression of how the colonial settlers spent their free time. 
Today the site is under a 99-year lease of the Sokimex group and is owned by the government. The company is involved in petroleum, product import, infrastructure development, hotel management and an airline. The Sokimex group announced their 21 billion USD project in 2008 of relaying the road, constructing new buildings such as hotels, hospitals and restaurants and repairing the old hotel and casino. So if you're visiting the Bokor Hill Station you will be riding through the Preah Monivong National Park expecting some amazing nature sites and suddenly you will be surprised by modern construction sites in the middle of nowhere. Try not to be bothered by this western place in the middle of an amazing national park full of rain forests but see it as an opportunity for many Cambodians to find a job and to improve tourism and employment in Cambodia. There's still enough beauty to discover on your way through the Bokor Hill anyway.
The best way to get there is by motorbike on your own. The road is amazing and it's so much fun riding through the curves. Heading west from Kampot on National Highway 3, around 8km out look for signs for Bokor Hill Station on the right. Sign in at the checkpoint and follow the road to the peak for about 40 km. I recommend you to leave Kampot in the early afternoon so you will have enough time to discover the national park before watching the sun set from the Bokor Hill Station.
In the beginning you will pass by a huge Buddha which I think isn't really the most beautiful one I've seen but still worth taking pictures of. You can also discover the Povokvil Waterfall in the northeast and climb it down when there's not much water during low season.
When you get to the old Grand Bokor Palace Hotel and Casino you can go inside and climb up the stairs to the balcony or go to the back of the garden to enjoy the amazing view over the rain forest. About 8 km further you can see the Gulf of Thailand and even the Phu Quoc Island of Vietnam. If you keep still you will hear the amazing sounds of the rain forest beneath you and will be surprised by how loud all the animals together can sound like. During sun set you will be standing over the clouds which will slowly rise over you. Don't wait too long though for the sun to set because riding back down the hill will take you more time than the sun to slowly disappear so try to get back down to the checkpoint before it gets dark.
One of the biggest adventures during the road trip began when we were heading back to our hostel in Kampot. While riding down the hill the motorbike stopped and it was impossible to start the engine again. The reason why was just a stupid lack of oil in the engine which we should have refilled before leaving but as naive we sometimes were we thought we could reach back to town. Well, after a short panic attack we decided to roll down the hill for the last 20 km and luckily got the engine filled up with oil again at a nearby petrol station and figure out what to do next with the damaged engine. We just thought positive and decided to actually do nothing. Well, we actually made our way back to the hotel after somehow making the engine start again. It didn't sound like it was supposed to but lucky as we were all the time we were even able to ride back the 120 km to Sihanoukville the next morning without having problems with the motorbike. That definitely made me believe in karma in some way.

So if ever you're going to the Bokor Hill Station on your own be sure to check your motorbike properly before leaving!

Think positive,

- AJ -

Add caption

Monday, May 12, 2014

PLACES: Road trip day 2 - Kep, Cambodia

To get an idea of how Cambodia was like during the French colony it's the best to get to Kep. I would call it the posh Cambodia. You will be surprised of the cleanliness and the European influence in architecture and infrastructure. You'll even see trash bins and fancy cars everywhere. It's just 30 km away from Kampot and easy to get there. If you just follow Rd 33 towards Vietnam you'll get there in just 40 min. Take a ride through the paved road by the beach and enjoy the cool breezy weather of the south coast. There's not that much to do in Kep that you have to stay there overnight. Just do a day trip from Kampot and you'll be fine. Arriving from Kampot you'll notice various restaurants by the beach selling fresh sea fruits from the Gulf of Thailand. Have a seat by the water and watch the fishermen do their job. The main dish of Kep which you really have to try is crab. There's nothing more delicious than fresh crab from Kep with Kampot pepper. Mmmh... yummi!
If you plan to stay in Kampot overnight then you should better get back before it will become dark. The road is good though but you don't want to get stuck in the dark if something happens to your motorbike. Trust me!

- AJ -