Does solo travel scare you? I have the solution.

Does solo travel scare you? I have the solution.

Something slightly different

 

From the emails that I get, I know that the thought of solo travel scares a lot of you.

 

And I get that.  It used to scare me too!

 

But I think that I have the perfect solution for you.

Watch the video, click on the links and continue reading to find out all about a super special offer that may be the answer to your fears.  And please feel free to share this post with anyone who you think could do with a holiday or who may need a little support and encouragement to add some sparkle into their lives.

I hate putting myself in front of the camera but I have filmed a video for you.  You can find out what I am going to be up to next and how you can join in.

Click on this link to YouTube to view the short video.  I would love you to let me know in the comments at the end of this post if you would like to see more videos in the future.

And then, after you have watched the video do head on over to Something Slightly Different and see for yourself all the activities that are on offer in Catalunya this autumn/winter and in Malaysia next spring.

 

If you like the idea of this new concept in travel and you would like to visit a particular country or region other than the two which are currently on offer, drop me an email and we can discuss when and where.  And if you would like to purchase a holiday or the self-development course for somebody else as a gift that can be arranged too.  Just ping me an email and that could be someone’s Christmas gift sorted.

So please, please, please share this post around your friends and family – and especially forward it to anybody who would love to travel solo but who doesn’t want to travel alone.  Solo travel is not that scary I promise you, nor is travelling with a group of strangers on an organised tour, but Something Slightly Different brings you the best of both worlds.

****Special Offer****

 

There is a sweet synchronicity between my online self-development course, the Smash the Pumpkin Project and the new concept in holiday planning that is Something Slightly Different. 

You can help to design your own bespoke travel adventure or you can work through a series of challenges which encourage you out of your comfort zone.

Subscribers on the Smash the Pumpkin Project are asking how they can travel some more and I know that adventurers who will travel with me on Something Slightly Different will want to explore and to push their personal boundaries further.

Therefore if you book one of the travel adventures with me – the Catalan Adventure or Beginners Backpacking in Malaysia before the end of October 2016, I will give you an enormous 50% discount off the online course.

If you book one of the travel adventures in the next couple of months you can subscribe to the Smash the Pumpkin Project for half price.  You will pay just £150 for the full ten month course and you can.begin working on the course while you are waiting for your holiday date to come around.

 

Are there any restrictions on this special offer?

 

You need to have paid the deposit for your travel adventure by the end of October 2016 but don’t delay.  Remember, due to the individual nature of Something Slightly Different there are only so many trip dates available.

So head on over to Something Slightly Different and complete one of the two planners.  Email it over to me as per the instructions and let me design your bespoke trip.

You have nothing to lose at this stage because the planning is free, but if you do decide to go ahead and book a trip, once you have paid your deposit I will add you to the Smash the Pumpkin Project for half price.

 

“At first I was quite nervous to risk spending a lot of time with someone that I didn’t know. But my concerns were soon laid to rest when I met her. Jane has a reassuring and confident manner that instantly put me at ease. She is a fun loving companion who enjoys life and brings the best out of the people that we met during our travels.”

“We did have some challenges during our trip but it was great fun working through them with Jane and we have some great stories to tell. I must say that I am looking forward to the possibility of another opportunity to travel with her in the future.”

 

Gosia

Scarlet Jones

Where will you stay?

 

In Catalunya your accommodation may be a villa on the edge of a river, a chalet in the forest, in a traditional Spanish town house or a smart hotel.

Your accommodation in Malaysia will usually be in backpackers hostels (but don’t worry because I know some of the best ones).  We may stay in shared dormitories, in a wooden beach bungalow or even a hammock – it’s all part of the experience with prices starting at just £3 for a bunk bed in a mixed dormitory.

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And if you want the full length version of my YouTube interview you can click on this link.

Don’t forget, if you have any questions, I am only at the end of the internet

Dalat Lake or Lak Lake. What’s the difference?

Dalat Lake or Lak Lake. What’s the difference?

Lakes in the Central Highlands of Vietnam

Vietnam has lakes.  Lots of them!  Two of the most beautiful lakes – Dalat Lake and Lak Lake are in the Central Highlands – yet they couldn’t be more different from each other.

Dalat Lake

Dalat is a mountain town famous with honeymooners and romantics. At Dalat Lake manicured grass lawns sweep down to the water where boats shaped like swans float around and couples pose for selfies or drape themselves over each other dressed in beautiful wedding outfits.

Dalat Lake

Dalat Lake

On the hillsides above Dalat Lake you can catch glimpses of luxury villas which hail from another era.  They are painted in subdued pastels and sit safely behind walls and gates.  Dalat is sophistication rising above the chaos of a busy Vietnamese town.

The traffic spoils the peaceful looking views as it circles the main road around the lake.  Lorries heave themselves out of the town coughing grim grey smoke into the air and motorbikes are a constant buzzing nuisance until you get used to them and then you hardly pay them any attention any more.

I had arrived at Dalat Lake on the night bus from Hoi An, breaking for a couple of hours at five in the morning at Nga Trang and switching to a mini van for the journey up into the mountains.

Not long out of Hoi An our bus hit something.  It swerved and rocked violently and I was almost shaken from my precarious perch – top bunk in the centre.  The driver slowed right down but never stopped and I do still wonder what we hit.

on the night bus

night bus experience

There is a problem in many countries in S E Asia with hit and runs.  I am never too sure if it is an urban myth although there is stuff on the internet to support it.  The rule tends to be that if you injure a person you are responsible for their medical fees and for the support of their family which can obviously run into thousands and thousands of pounds whereas if you kill somebody you get a one off fine of maybe five thousand pounds!  Many stories circulate of drivers reversing over bodies to make sure of the fine rather than a lifetime of debt.

At night time the central square below the main market and close to Dalat Lake comes alive with street vendors selling food of all descriptions.  The bars and clubs thump out their beat and spill backpackers and locals alike out onto the pavements and everybody promenades around the town just waiting to be seen

There are rooms here to be had for the taking, from hostels to luxury pads. Many places are advertised as homestays although in reality they are family run hostels.

Dalat Lake in the sun

Dalat Lake in the sunshine

Vietnam is a country with a coffee culture and everywhere vendors serve the best coffee in the world from tiny little shops or street stalls.  People perch on their little plastic chairs while the caramel, smokey flavoured nectar drips tantalisingly slowly through the filter and into their cup.

There are many things to see and to do at Dalat Lake.  There is of course the lake itself, there is the Crazy Hotel which a labyrinth of weird.  Here tourists pay to wander around the grounds, tunnels and passages have been constructed throughout the building and across the roof stairways designed by goblins curl up to tiny little snooks in something that reminded me of Gaudi on acid.   Outside the town there are a riot of waterfalls and beauty spots waiting to be explored.  You can easily pick up a guide from one of the touts or tour operators in town and go off on an organised tour or hire a scooter and ride out yourself.

Dalat Lake, Crazy Hotel

Crazy Hotel

Lak Lake

In total contrast to Dalat Lake, this vast expanse of water at Lak – the largest natural body in Vietnam – is edged by paddy fields, reeds and forest.  The villages that surround Lak Lake are populated by some of the ethnic tribes who still live, for the most part in their traditional communities.

Long wooden communal houses on stilts turned silver in the strong sunshine blend with the trees.  Buffalo and pot bellied pigs live underneath the homes, wandering along the dusty mud street looking for scraps while chickens squawk and chase each other, avoiding the elephants which wander along.

Lak Lake

elephant crossing Lak Lake

Yes, you did read that correctly.  Elephants are owned and worked here – sadly now for tourists to ride, but they have owners who commute on them and who ride them to their homes, tying them under a shady tree while they go and have their lunch.

Here the noise, depending on the season, is of the primitive looking tractors which plough up and down in the gloopy muddy water as the villagers prepare to plant the rice, the wind makes the ears of rice hum and the lake water shiver, the occasional ‘plosh’ as the fisherman quietly throw their nets from their wooden canoes and the grunting of contented, happy animals settling down under the wooden homes to sleep.

Lak Lake sunset

peace and tranquillity at Lak Lake

 

There is a tiny restaurant for when you want your coffee fix, or you could go to the local shop where the owner will drag her little table over to the edge of her patch and you can take your coffee with Lak Lake as a backdrop.

There is a lodge here which offers rooms – private and in a shared dormitory, a small guesthouse and there are homestays. These homestays are in the communal longhouses on their wooden stilts.  You may end up in a large room with simple mattresses on the floor and mosquito nets all by yourself or you may be sharing with 10 other people and with the family sleeping behind a curtain at the other end of the room.

Lak Lake communal home

traditional communal homes at Lak Lake

There are a few bicycles for hire so take yourself off into the surrounding countryside.  You won’t be bored as you cycle through the different villages each with subtle differences in housing and the people, through the rice fields where the workers always jump up and wave a cheery hello, along the forest paths or across the river on one of S E Asia’s floating planks ferries.

Evening entertainment for us was being invited to see a traditional dance and music presentation, sitting on a log by Lak Lake and watching the stars, wandering into the local town for unidentifiable but excellent street food and, on one very blurry night, being dragged into a local wedding party.

Every day a new tent would be erected outside a groom’s family home (or the bride’s, depending on whether the village people were a matriarchal or a patriarchal group). The basic marquee with brightly coloured curtains of fabric would then host a few days of serious drinking and partying and karaoke turned up at full volume which would blast across the lake.

Gosia and I were stood listening to a live band which was playing in one marquee and we were commenting on the numerous plastic water bottles which were on the tables when the drummer broke off his playing and came outside to drag us in.

Lake Lake wedding party

the bride and groom

Sitting us in the thick of the celebrations we then became the attraction with the bride and groom and their family lining up to have photos taken with them, they brought us plates of food and people kept insisting that we drink the water.

Eventually, frustrated by our reluctance to just drink water at a wedding party, one guy on our table grabbed some shot glasses and handed them to us.  Oh well, water shots was a new one on me but not wanting to offend I downed it in one.

Water? Seriously, this was rice whiskey at its roughest. Choking back tears as the liquid burnt my throat the ladies then brought over the gourd from which you drink from a shared straw.  Rice wine, rice whiskey and lao cao, I’m not sure which was which by the time we staggered home but I woke up the next day with a hangover from hell.

Returning to the home with a tin of biscuits as a thank you present, there was no sign that there had been a party; just a family of the hairy black Vietnamese pigs snuffling about where the marquee had stood.

Which lake is the best?

I am going to sit on the fence here and advise you to visit both Dalat Lake and Lak Lake.  They offer totally different experiences and the bus ride from Dalat to Lak is worth it just by itself.

Do stay in one of the communal longhouses in Lak and do go and get your breakfast at the local market. You really should cycle around the countryside and dodge the herds of cows which wander up the main street on their way to and from their grazing and you should certainly sample a Vietnamese pizza from one of the ladies cooking on the steps at the night market in Dalat.

Lak Lake, cows end elephants

bringing the cows (and the elephants) home

The minibus ride to beat all minbus rides

It seemed every minivan ride that we had taken in Laos and then Vietnam was squashed and oversubscribed so when we got into our fifteen-seater for the five hour ride back to Dalat and there were spaces to spare Gosia and I were overjoyed.

Just twenty minutes into our journey we stopped at a local ethnic community where three teenage girls were waiting with, we thought half of of the village gathered to wave them off

The three girls got on – and then the rest of the village until it was physically impossible to push anybody else in through the door.  They were sitting in the foot-well, lying in the aisle and standing behind each row of seats holding on tight, occasionally collapsing onto the knees of the people behind them.

And then we continued, swerving around switchbacks for four and a half hours, my camera was passed around for hundreds of selfies and the plastic bags came out as just about everybody started to vomit.

There were THIRTY ONE people in a minivan for fifteen but not one person complained moaned or was miserable despite the vomiting and the cramped conditions.  It is a lesson to us all – be grateful for what you have.  The alternative was no ride to the town.

There is a transport challenge in the Smash the Pumpkin Project.  I certainly think that this minivan ride would fit the criteria for that challenge.

Check out this page and discover how you can build your self confidence with a series of motivational challenges.  I have also decided to plan my travels a little more so that I can give some of you the opportunity to travel with me (click here for more information).

I would love for you to join me later this year in Spain or early next year in Malaysia, but in the meantime, you can continue to get your travel fix by signing up for regular updates to my blog in the box on my website www.scarletjonestravels.com

I look forward to connecting with you.  Thank you for taking the time to read my article.

Dalat Lake view

Dalat Lake

 

 

 

I love Nomad Travel & my Osprey Farpoint 55

I love Nomad Travel & my Osprey Farpoint 55

I LOVE my Osprey Farpoint 55 rucksack

After more than a year of travelling with my Osprey Farpoint 55 rucksack I can confirm that I am still head over heels in love with my bag.

Travel companions have come into my life and moved on, cameras and phones have broken but like a fine wine my rucksack just keeps getting better and better with age.

Osprey Farpoint 55

I was introduced to my rucksack by Paul Goodyer who is the CEO of Nomad Travel following a meeting at the Adventure Travel Show in London.  At first I was hesitant, but I knew that I could trust the judgement and advice from Paul who had set up Nomad Travel in 1990.

‘Nomad has been pioneering the art of travel preparation since 1990, combining a kitting out and clinic service that is unique in the UK’.

  • Nomad Travel stores are a fabulous Aladdin’s cave full of everything that you might ever need when you travel. The staff are experienced travellers too so you can be confident that they know what they are talking about and they won’t sell you anything that you won’t need.
  • Nomad Travel clinics offer travel health information and inoculations from expert nurses.
  • Nomad Travel pharmacy can provide a bespoke medical kit for you as well as anti-malarial tablets and other potions and pills for your trip.

Whatever bag I chose had a tough role to play as I was planning some serious travel over the next couple of years, but it was virtually love at first sight with my beautiful petrol blue Osprey Farpoint 55.

The proof of the pudding

The first test was in Vilnius in Lithuania.  I exited the bus station and I turned right.  After walking for 20 minutes I realised that I was lost and I was heading in the wrong direction.  There were the remnants of the previous night’s snow underfoot but there was no way I was going to admit defeat and pay for a cab to the hostel where I had reserved a bed.

Osprey Farpoint 55 Vilnius

Vilnius

I tightened the hip strap pulling the bag snugly against my body and I purposefully marched back the way that I had just come.  As I passed through the Gate of Dawn and entered the narrow streets of the old town I realised how easy it was to walk any distance with this bag.  It was actually a pleasure.

Fast forward a few months from the winter cold of the Baltic States to the steamy heat of South East Asia.  Now it was back to riding buses and trucks where my bag was stowed on the roof, where I fiercely guarded my zip-off day pack that contained my laptop and where the humidity made everything permanently one sweaty mess.

My Osprey Farpoint and my motorbike tour in Vietnam

Osprey Farpoint 55 Hoi An

 

We had been evicted unceremoniously from a bus on our way to Danang and forced to walk a long way in the drizzle.  I have put the bag in a deep freeze to kill any bedbugs that may have attempted to hitch a ride in Cambodia, I have sat on my bag in the aisle of buses, in airports and on street corners and I have toured the Central Highlands of Vietnam with my rucksack tied securely on the back of our motorbike.

It may have been love at first sight but it is a love that has endured; surviving all obstacles which have been thrown at it.  It is a love which has not yet got jaded from boredom or complacency. It is a relationship where I still feel a thrill when I close the strong metal zip, pull the compression straps tight and lift the bag up onto my back.

Adjusting the hip and breast straps, clipping the day sack onto my front and striding out onto my next destination I always send a silent ‘thank you’ to Paul and Nomad Travel for a partnership made in heaven.

Nomad Travel & Osprey Farpoint 55

Nomad Travel & Osprey Farpoint 55

 

Now I just need to find a man with the same capacity to keep a relationship as fresh and exciting as my Osprey rucksack from Nomad Travel!!

Click here if you would like to buy the Osprey rucksack for yourself

(Any purchases made via this Amazon link may earn me a small commission but at no extra cost to you

Central Highlands & Hoi An EasyRiders Tour

Central Highlands & Hoi An EasyRiders Tour

Let me tell you about the Central Highlands and how the Hoi An Easyriders Tour around this region finally made me love Vietnam.

Vietnam is a country of motorbikes.

A population of nearly 90 million people ride 38 million motorbikes and everywhere you can find tours on street corners offering you guided or solo rides.

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

Vietnam is a bike lovers dream

I was missing my own motorbike and the feeling of freedom that you get on two wheels so I approached the Hoi An Easyriders Tour for some information.

That was where I went wrong, because after chatting to Mr Nam Nguyen I was hooked and I simply had to sign up.

Despite missing my own bike I opted to ride pillion – that way I would be free to snap off photos on the move and I could totally concentrate on the scenery – as well as having a running commentary about the places that we passed.

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

I am pleased to report that I wasn’t disappointed with the tour either.  And thanks to that journey and Nam’s insight into the country, Vietnam was finally beginning to grown on me.

The Hoi An Easyriders Tour

At 8.30 in the morning I was met at my hostel by Nam on his maroon and black Honda Chapter (custom) 250 motorbike. His possessions were already stowed in the panniers and after my bag was sealed in heavy duty plastic and lashed down on the back rack I hopped on behind him and we set off.

Central Highlands and Hoi An Easyriders Tour

Paddy fields

We passed rice fields being ploughed by buffalo and the village women squatting over cooking fires outside their wooden homes.  Fields of morning glory (a type of spinach) and of course rice were everywhere as the town gave way to the countryside.  The enterprising villagers had even dug up the grass verges in front of their houses along the roadside to plant vegetables and peanuts.

Cranes lazily took flight, launching themselves heavily from the land with long legs trailing and groups of school children shouted and waved as we passed.

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

a communal round house

A tiny cotton ‘mill’ in the country side which was like something out of a Dickensian film had one dainty lady running around in the cotton dust, changing bobbins and tying off broken threads.  I half expected to see grimy little children crawling around on the floor collecting the lint.   After our brief look around here we then rode on to our first proper stop of our day.

My Son

This was My Son which is one of the most important archaeological sites in Vietnam and it didn’t disappoint either.  More than 70 Hindu temples and tombs are dotted around this large site.

They were constructed for the kings of Champa between the 4th and the `14th century.  They were already falling into disrepair but during just one week of the American/Vietnamese war the majority were carpet bombed.  Now giant blocks lie all over the place like scattered jigsaw pieces among the overgrown bomb craters.

I bumped into a guy from Argentina who was on his own motorbike tour and together we wandered around the site and eavesdropped on a tour guide from a large group of tourists.  There is still an awful lot of mystery surrounding the whys and wherefores of this site, but with the saplings and brambles creeping right up to each dilapidated building there was a sense of nature trying to reclaim its own.

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

My Son

After visiting My Son Nam and I continued along dusty lanes to the wide, slow flowing river and the ferry.  This was not much more than a punt with an engine that precariously putt-putted across the river – although it had an ingenious loading system.  The motorbikes are driven on sideways as the ferry slowly moves along the river bank alongside the wobbly wooden jetty and then this procedure is reversed when you reach the other side which the boat going backwards.  The riders have to be quick not to miss the jetty when it is their turn to ride off.

Central Highlands

The ferry approaches

We stopped for lunch in a roadside restaurant which was run by people from one of the 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam.  The restaurant was extremely primitive.  The ladies cooked in blackened pots over charcoal and wood-burning open fires and they prepared the food on the floor.  The toilet was nothing but a hole in a shed where chickens crowded around below waiting for lunch, but despite the basic surroundings the food was delicious.

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

yep! This is the loo

We were riding west from Hoi An and going deep into the Central Highlands where there was little traffic and even less tourists.  This was the Vietnam that I wanted to see.  I had wanted to jump off the organised backpackers’ route and find out what the Vietnamese people were really like and this adventure with the Hoi An Easyriders Tour was ticking all the boxes.

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

the scenery supplied the wow factor

We travelled deep in the mountains close to the border with Laos, criss-crossing the iconic Ho Chi Minh Trail where Nam stopped often to explain the history of many of the places that we passed through; such as Rockpile which was an observation post for the Americans during the war.

It was hard to believe as we rested high above a river-filled valley that the site had been a major battle site during the war because it is all so tranquil now, although the signs were there once you knew where to look.

Tangled trees and weeds struggled for space in the old bomb craters and entire swathes of mountainsides had a sad, dead look.  I asked Nam why Vietnam was deforesting the countryside but he explained to me that I wasn’t looking at deforestation but the on-going after effects of the war with America

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

Nam sits and explains Vietnam’s history to me

Agent Orange and napalm.

In order to prevent goods and arms being transported along the Ho Chi Minh Trail the US sprayed Agent Orange from helicopters and they bombed the region with napalm.  Agent Orange is a defoliant herbicide which causes leaves and trees to die back quickly and napalm is a chemical mix which makes things burn longer and hotter.  The Americans wanted the tree cover in the jungles to be gone and quickly so that they could target the Vietnamese troops moving and living beneath, no matter that innocent people were suffering from horrific burns and are still now getting cancers and birth defects.

The mountains in the Central Highlands just go on and on, marching right across the landscape to the horizon which just brings home to you the scale of the devastation.  People have claimed the land back and they plant small trees to feed the paper mills, pineapple plants line along the hillsides and farmers scratch out a living on their terraces; however the worry is that the dangerous chemicals are still in the land and are still causing many problems.

Central Highlands and Hoi An Easyriders Tour

Scratching a living selling pineapples

Weasel balls

After a day on the road Nam stopped at a little workshop to get the tension on the bike chain checked and then we checked into our first hotel in the small mountain town of Kham Duc.

For somebody who usually stays in hostels this was quite luxurious and my room actually had a bathtub.  We ate dinner in the hotel and we met with other people who were touring the region on motorbikes.

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

the bikes come inside at night. Even into the foyer of a 3* hotel

After dinner there was much excitement among the guides as it turned out that earlier that day one of the hotel staff had caught a weasel and a porcupine which were both trussed up on the bottom of a trolley in the kitchen, waiting for their fate.

Weasel balls allegedly give you strength and power and the guides were deciding how much they would pay for this delicacy.  After we had trooped through to the kitchen to see the poor animals (no health and safety rules here), Noel and Fergie from Ireland, Alex from Germany, me and our guides all sat around a large table drinking beer and we swapped stories from our day.

Out on the open road in the Central Highlands.

The next day we woke to a damp drizzle and the mountaintops were hidden by low grey clouds but at least it was warm.  Nam checked the bike over and then he burnt his customary incense stick (which he stuck in the headlight casing) for protection on the road, we dressed in waterproof trousers and capes and we set off on our second full day of adventure.

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

stopping for a break

As a bike rider (I own a Suzuki Bandit 650) I have to admit to being a little apprehensive about riding as pillion.  I am usually the one in control but I have to say that Nam was brilliant.

From the off, I felt totally safe and confident behind him.  He handled the bike, even on the poor road surfaces far more confidently than I ever could on horrible loose gravel and although we rode fast (WHOOP WHOOP!) he rode defensively (bikers will understand this terminology).

We soared up along twisting mountain roads, we swooped down into deep valleys and we clattered across very dubious narrow wooden suspension bridges with missing slats.  We growled past isolated cemeteries and memorials to the war dead and we stopped to buy fruit from villagers on the side of the road.

Central Highlands and Hoi An Easyriders Tour

war memorial

I had a permanent grin on my face for the entire duration of the trip.

Nam slowed and pulled over to allow an ambulance to pass us with its emergency lights flashing and then a hand came out of the window and numerous small bits of paper rained down on us like confetti.  Nam explained that somebody had died and was in the ambulance and the papers were printed with blessings for luck and safety for our own journey.

We stopped for some fruit and Nam bought four large iguanas.  He loosened the elastic bands which were cutting into their legs and he handed me the carrier bag to hold on my lap, until he could get to a town and find a box which he would later strap to the petrol tank.  He said that they would be pets but I suspect that they would be dinner for somebody!

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

dinner?

We were detained at a police road block where Nam had to pay some money in order for our journey to continue and we stopped to look around a communal round house where meetings are held and the villagers spend their evenings.

We also stopped at one of the tiny villages to which Nam’s company donates money, food and time via the Co Tu Childrens’ Foundation.  We witnessed the arrival of the man from the electricity company who handed out his bills to the kids that gathered around him and a lady graciously allowed me to peep inside her sparsely furnished home.

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

getting the electricity bills

At a small roadside cafe we were joined by a young couple who were CYCLING the length of Vietnam.  They puffed up the hill and we chatted for a while and as we were talking about the rarity of long distance cyclists, blow me, a lone man also struggled up the hill from the opposite direction.  He was cycling Vietnam too, but the other way around.  We left the cyclists swapping notes about the routes that each other had covered and we continued to our hotel in the town of Prao.

Central Highlands

swapping travel notes in the middle of the mountains

There was no bath in this one but we were again joined by other people on their own tours and as darkness fell, all the motor bikes were wheeled inside to the reception hall/dining area/bar.

Meeting a tribal chief

Our third and final day was a quieter affair.

I simply wanted to absorb the beauty of the scenery and to enjoy the open road.  Nam’s iguanas were now travelling in a box tied to his petrol tank and the sun had come out.

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

The mountains stretch for ever

We stopped for coffee (did I ever tell you that the Vietnamese coffee is truly the tastiest coffee in the world?) and I got very excited because it turned out that we were in a village of one of the ethnic tribes that I had read about who store their coffins underneath their houses.

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

a collection of coffins

Two gentlemen were sat chatting over coffee and fondling a small python (the enormous mummy python was safely in her cage) and  I walked over to talk to the men with the help of Nam who translated.  The older man who was in his pyjamas and had an impressive long grey beard radiated calmness.

His name was Y Cong and was one of the leaders of the Co Tu tribe.  He was sad that he was recovering from an illness and that he had been unable to greet me dressed in his normal clothes – those of a tribal leader – but he showed me photographs and he played a strange one-stringed violin for us.

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

an impromptu music session with a tribal chief in his pyjamas

When a man from the Co Tu people marries and sets up a home, one of his duties it to prepare for the death of himself and his family.  He will carve out coffins for himself his wife and any subsequent children and these are then stored underneath the home.

I saw these coffins stored on their racks.  It was interesting because you could also tell how big the family was from the number of coffins.

Y Cong kept his own coffin inside the entrance of his home and whereas his people had simple rustic coffins, his had beautiful carvings and the wood was far grander.

And then after our final meal inside the home of another tribal member we were on the homeward leg of our journey.  We looped and switch-backed down from the mountains and back down to the coast and the town of Hoi An.

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

Y Cong

We had time to stop for a quick coffee and I thanked Nam again for a wonderful experience, before he hopped on his bike and roared off into the distance.

Finally I understand Vietnam

It wasn’t just the motorbike ride that I loved. it was the chance to see a region of Vietnam that few tourists visit and the chance to learn so much about the history and culture of such a diverse country.

I had begun to understand what made the Vietnamese people so different from the people in Laos.

When I first crossed over the border after a month in the quiet of Laos I struggled.  The differences between the countries, their cultures and the people seemed huge and I wasn’t too sure if I liked the mad, brash Vietnam but here in the Central Highlands I remembered that people are all different and there are reasons why a society and a culture develops as it does.

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

adorable

As with anything in this world – and this is something that is so very relevant and topical in these troubled times – with education and taking the time to learn what makes something different we can understand and respect differences – and then we can embrace and enjoy them.

So if you are going to Vietnam, I certainly do recommend you contact Nam and visit the Central Highlands.  You can find out more about him and his tours here – Hoi An Easyriders Tour.  And if you doing what hundreds of backpackers do each year and riding your own motorbike through Vietnam, be sure to take in some of the route along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Central Highlands.

Mr Nguyễn Quang Năm:  Ho An Easyriders Tour,  132 Huyền Trân Công Chúa, Phường Hòa Hải, Quận Ngủ Hành Sơn, Thành Phố Đà Nẵng / Việt Nam Mobiphone : + 84 903 538 421

The one thing that I couldn’t get my head around in Vietnam was the copyright laws.  It seems that anybody can open any business with any name and claim to be somebody else with no consequences.  One problem for genuine traders is that once they are successful, people jump onto their bandwagon and claim to be them, so be very careful when you book or buy anything in S E Asia.

Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

The one and only Mr Nam

You will be told point blank to your face that somebody is somebody else, so if you want a specific person or tour operator, check and check again that you are not being sold something inferior. Caveat emptor!

Transport and the Smash the Pumpkin Project

There is a transport challenge in the Smash the Pumpkin Project.  The Smash the Pumpkin Project is an online course which can help you to develop your self confidence via a series of challenges which are loosely based around the medium of travel.

Click here for more information or email me at info@scarletjonestravels.com

Smash the Pumpkin
Central Highlands & Hoi An Easyriders Tour

one of THOSE bridges!

 

Escaleras Electricas: things to do in Medellin

Escaleras Electricas: things to do in Medellin

…or the giant urban escalators of Medellin

A system of outdoor escalators has been built in what was once one of the poorest parts of the city of Medellin.  The escaleras electricas: fun things in Medellin are educational  interesting and functional.

In the barrio (district) of Las Independencias, la Comuna 13 de Medellin sprawls down the impossibly steep mountainside.  Its residents – twelve thousand citizens – have benefited enormously from this public transport installation.

Escaleras electrica: fun things to do in Medellin

Comune 13 from the escaleras electricas

Not so long ago Comune 13 was considered dangerous and off limits to most people. Steeped in poverty, crime was rife among the narrow little streets and the inhabitants felt disengaged and forgotten by the government.  The area was little more than a slum or a shanty town until 2011 when everything changed.

Social impact of the urban escalators

The building of this new transport system has had several benefits.

  • It makes the residents feel a part of the city of Medellin; that the government does care about them enough to invest money in their run down area and now includes them in the modern transport systems that serves the city.
  • It makes day to day living a whole lot easier for the residents who no longer have to drag everything up and down hundreds of steps.
    • It opens the area up, enabling police and security forces easier access and the ability to respond more quickly to crime and troubles
    • It has provided a canvas for some astounding graffiti and street art and a space for community exhibits, performances and events which builds a more cohesive community among the residents.
    • It has opened the area up to tourists and visitors who are attracted by the street art and the views over the city. Some property prices have began to rise as new residents are attracted to this area and judging by the lovingly painted houses and tiny little gardens and terraces there is a pride in this area.
Escaleras electricas: fun things to do in Medellin

colourful houses scramble up the mountainside

1500 journeys are taken on these escalators daily, some by visitors or tourists but the majority are made by the local inhabitants of this area just going about their day to day business.  They travel to school or work, visit friends and family and get their post delivered.

Escaleras electricas: fun things to do in Medellin

Escaleras electricas: fun things to do in Medellin

Prior to the installation of this system the only way to reach the majority of the houses here was on foot.  People had to heave children, food and everything else up the 350 concrete steps and along the narrow alleyways which cling to the side of the incredibly steep hillside which is inaccessible to cars or busses.

The area became a no-go area for law enforcement because gangs and criminals could quickly and easily hide and escape from the police among the narrow alleyways because it could take so long for help to arrive; if anybody bothered to notify the authorities at all.

Escaleras electricas: fun things to do in Medellin

Street art

Comune 13 still has a reputation for danger and crime so be careful when you visit – but no more than in any city that you visit. Don’t wear expensive jewellery or flash your camera around – although you will want certainly want to bring your camera here. Check out the latest prices for the compact Panasonic Lumix camera here.  It is small enough to slip into your pocket when you are walking around but has a great zoom and is easy to use.

Colourful murals are everywhere. Even the tin roofs of the houses have not escaped the paint brushes and spray cans and they are adorned with flowers and birds which shine in the sun. University students, artists and local people have all contributed to the art which covers walls, doors and alleyways.

Escaleras Electricas: Fun things in Medellin

Obviously riding the escalators and peeping into people’s yards is fun.  Take your picture with some of the fantastic murals that are everywhere or you can take a slide down a part of the mountainside.  The architect obviously had a sense of fun with these slides.

The staff at the information centre were very helpful when we visited the area and as it was quiet, one lady joined us on our trip back down, pointing out some of the interesting art and even riding the slides with us.

Hopefully, the barrio will continue to be a safer place and vandalism, crime and disconnection will not set in again.  Medellin has an amazing city metro system which includes cable cars as well as the escalators and the city planners have been working hard to lift the city out of its shady past by opening up the previous dangerous spaces.

How to get there.  Take the Metro train to San Javier station. Cross the road outside the station at San Javier and wait for the bus # 221. Tell your driver that you want to get out at the escaleras eléctricas. You will be on the bus for about fifteen minutes. Leaving the bus you need to continue to climb, bearing slightly to the right. You will emerge at the top of the system of escalators where you will find the offices and administration centre for the transport system housed in a large concrete building. From here, its all downhill, although my friend Lisa (Girl about the Globe) and I went around a couple of times so that we could take it all in.

If you are looking for somewhere to stay in Medellin, there are plenty of places to choose from here at Hotels Combined

Medellin is a crowded sprawling city but it is relatively easy to navigate around and there are countless hotels to suit all budgets.

Escaleras electricas: fun things to do in Medellin

Street art

N.B.  At the time of writing the number of the bus was correct.

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