Thursday, December 21, 2006

Another format of travelogue--GPS application

Except for keeping notes, there is now a better way to record your journeys in detail. With the help of software programs, a GPS receiver, a digital camera and google earth/map, you can now make your memories traceable.

Kodak, Ricoh, and Nikon manufacture built-in GPS support cameras, e.g. Nikon D200. With the help of programs such as RoboGeo(unregisted versions introduce 1km mismatch; Win only), GPSPhotoLinker(free; Mac only) and Jetphoto Studio(free geocoding for the first 100 photos; Win, Mac & Uni), it's possible to geocode digital photos that were taken with almost any model of digital cameras. By matching the date and time of the digital photos' EXIF and GPS logs, the software syncronizes latitude and longitude into digital photos' EXIF allowing photos to be displayed on Google earth/map or Flickr. Richard Akerman's geocoding photos lists all kinds of software for geocoding with different OS and other useful information.

I purchased a stand-alone track recording GPS WBT-100, NT2990 from Wintecronics Ltd., which can record 25360 points of date, time, latitude, longitude and altitude. The advantage of WBT-100 are: there are four log mode settings (set a certain time or distance log one time or auto log data referring to degree or speed) to make the data recording more flexible. The unit includes a G-Tool program which transfers point records into different formats such as google earth(kmz), GPX and OziExplorer etc. for downstream applications. With a build-in compass, WBT-100 has Compass/GPS inter-calibration feature that makes accurate NMEA-output for GPS. Bluetooth with USB socket enables WBT-100's multi application capacities such as navigation, track recording, and direction indicator(Specifications). However, 25360 points of storage capacity is only good for 3.5 days (10 hr/day) by default setting (5 sec. log per). More over, the data can only be retreived by CP210x USB to UART Bridge Controller and G-Tool installed PC which makes it almost impossible for travellers who travel more than 4 days to download data before the overwrite takes place; not to mention the G-Tool has no function to locate photos with GPS tracking. WBT-100 is an upgradable GPS receiver. I am hoping the storage capacity and the accuracy of GPS info will be upgraded.

Sony's newest GPS receiver Sony GPS-CS1 on the other hand, can record data up to one month (15sec. log one time for 10 hours per day). Softwares GPSImageTracker and Picture Motion Browser, allow users to geocode digital photos and show them on an online map. Even thought the software has no function to convert log data into other formats such as Google earth, the log files can still be converted by GPS Babel (free) then create maps and profiles from GPS data (tracks and waypoints), street addresses, or simple coordinates on Google earth/map via GPS Visualizer, a free, easy-to-use online utility. However,with a fixed logged mode setting, not being upgradable and having a single functional design(it can't be used as a GPS receiver for PPC/Notebook navigation etc.) makes the Sony GPS less desirable.

Richard has an essay about the Sony GPS-CS1 in which SIRF start III chiped GPS receivers were compared with Sony GPS-CS1.


Here are examples of GPS applications.
I took a train to Hualien for a vacation and visited Taroko National Park during my stay. My tracks were recorded with a WBT-100 and then converted to google earth via G-tool. Google maps were created via GPS Visualizer and photos were geocoded with Jetphoto Studio. You'll have to install Google Earth to open the kmz files.

Traveling by train : from Tainan to Hualien
Google Earth; Google Map

Traveling in Hualien: Photos and tracks
Google Earth; Google Map
(Due to the storage capacity, photos in Google map were removed and links to filckr on pics 5, 6, 8, 11, 14, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26 and 27 were added.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Holiday request

To be a desirable company, paid holidays is one of the criteria, but actually how many people can take their holiday without worrying of being given a bad score on the annual performance record which is critical for promotion or even worse being sacked. Basically, bosses in Taiwan are spoiled and they don't like employees taking holidays for three reasons. First, despite the representative system, no one can 100% cover the others' duties especially for those well organized big companies. Everyone is assigned to specific jobs and the overlap is small. Taking a long holiday might jeopardise the process of a project, so it's difficult for them to take a long vacation. Second, even works can be covered 100% by others, taking a holiday would shorten the manpower thus the production rate drops, that's not what big bosses like to see. Third, bosses simply don't like the idea of the paid holiday; why should I pay somebody even if he/she isn't at work? So making a holiday request is an art in Taiwan. I can't help wondering... was Taiwan's economical miracle built on such exploitation? and was the stereotype of Taiwanese as workaholics a factor in this vicious cycle?

The system of job responsibility is a blessing for those whose working hours are irregular, however in Taiwan this system is a punishment for those who do have responsibilities. Because of their sense of responsibility, workers wouldn't take holidays in the middle of a project and projects never stop coming! For those who follow the clock in and out system get compensation if over work is inevitable. Also, because of their regular working hours, they are considered as eligible laborers who are protected by the labors law. By law companies must transfer 6% of employee's salary to their account as retirement pension. However, this system doesn't apply to those whose working hours are irregular, despite the fact that they pay labor insurance every month. Of course, there is no labor day for them either.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Denmark speedbandits

Excerpted from Taipeitimes, 2006/11/21

In less than 30 minutes, the legislature's Transportation Committee passed a resolution yesterday to amend Article 31 of the Road Traffic Management and Punishment Law (道路交通規則管理處罰條例) to require everyone in a passenger car on freeways and expressways to buckle their seat belts. If the amendment is passed by the legislature, drivers of private vehicles could be fined if they or any of their passengers, including those in the back seat, fail to fasten their seat belts before they hit the road.

At present the law only requires the driver and front-seat passengers to wear seat belts. Violators face fines of NT$1,500 if caught without a seatbelt, although the fines rise to between NT$3,000 and NT$6,000 when driving on freeways and expressways.

The committee passed the amendment in the wake of a traffic accident on Saturday that left Shaw Hsiao-ling (邵曉鈴), the wife of Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強), critically injured.

Shit happens everyday but it takes a celebrity to catch everybody's attention to long-existing issues. It doesn't have to be that way though. Controversy is a good way to arouse issues that have been neglected as the new approach implemented in Denmark in order to tackle the speeding problem.

Monday, November 13, 2006


I was supposed to take photos of our new building opening ceremony and I ended up taking macroshots of flowers at the scene. I'd have to say it's much more enjoyable than taking photos of those "big heads'" endless speeches.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


After a 14 year boy/girl friend relationship, Jonglin and Jalin are now husband and wife. The wedding was held on Nov. 4th in Jayi and was orgainzed by Jonglin 6 months ago. Lots of tranditional Chinese wedding customs are considered such as a bamboo sift with spells painted on it covering the bride's head when she is going out of the house as not to offend the gods; discarding a fan when the limousine is heading to the groom's house represents the bad habits of the bride been left behind; crossing over a charcoal fire to keep evils away; and stepping on a tile and breaking it means the past has ended and a new life with new family is starting also brings good luck for having a baby boy.

The wedding was a great success. Send them a congradulatory note here.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Old ways new directions

My Vietnam project progress report is published in NHRI's eletronic newspaper volume 174 Nov. 2, 2006 in which, how the first enterovirus infection case in Children number 1 hospital HCMC has been identified by using molecular biology is discribed (link to the enews). Before I left Vietnam, the director of the hospital told me that there would be a news report in the local paper about how I helped them in setting up a lab for clinical diagnosis. I was certainly happy to hear that and hope the technique I introduced to them can be implemented in their hospital. The road is now paved however would they find the new direction is still waiting to be answered.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Photo Exhibition

I dream about someday when I can have my photos exhibited in an art gallery and receive compliments from people who are really appreciative of my work and of course publishers offer me checks at the end of the exhibition. Well, I did exhibit my photos in public once but the reality was too far from my fantasy. Institut Pasteur France, NHRI and CDC Taiwan, held a symposium on re-emerging virus infections on Sept. 1. On that night I had my photos printed in 5 huge posters, each of them told a different story about the customs of Taiwan or the heritage of Tainan. The posters were hung in the entrance at the college of NCKU Hospital, each of them had 2 lights to create the illusion of being displayed as in an art gallery.

Lantern Festival
Lantern Festival, also known as Yuan Shang Festival, takes place on the fifteenth day of the first month of lunar calendar. Being the last festival in a series of celebrations for lunar new year, it is widely celebrated by families all around Taiwan. On the night of the festival, decorative lanterns depicting birds, beasts and historical figures can be seen in almost every city. The night sky on Lantern Festival is also illuminated by the Tainan Yanshui fireworks and Taipei Pinghsi sky lanterns-known together as "Fireworks in the South, sky Lanterns in the North". Other folk activities such as the customary lantern riddle parties enrich this night even further. In addition to dispalying and appreciating lanterns, Lantern Festival is also celebrated by eating Tang Yuan which is an important custom symbolizing family unity and indispensable to the day's festivities.

Mysterious and mighty street dancer
There are 5 theories for the origination of these dancers. Despite the diversity of origination theories, many people are convinced that these dancers are subordinates of Wu FU Da Di, the five luck deities. The number of the group varies from 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 16 up to 32. A group of 8 are often seen in folk activities doing their special dance. The theme of the dance is 'arresting'; a team of 13 is a better number to organize such a performance.
It starts when a deity gives an order to his subordinate and then this order is passed on to two generals, Fan and Xie, by a messenger. General Fan and Xie arrest and hand over criminals to general Gan and Liu for punishment. After that, 4 seasonal deities start their investigation then a clerk files the record and it ends up with a guard putting criminals in custody.

ChihKan Tower
This was originally the site of Fort Provintia built by the Dutch in the 1650s as they outgrew Zeelandia. It included two bastions, one at the northeastern corner and one at the southestern corner. On top of each stood a watchtower. It has undergone changes from the Ming Dynasty through the Ching Dynasty to the Japanese occupation period and Taiwan's Retrocession. Fujienese-style building were built on the site during the Ching Dynasty, followed by a temple during the Japanese occupation period. When the temple was destroyed in a typhoon, excavations revealed a corner of the original northeastern bastion. Today, Chihkan tower is a multi-storied temple, similar in apperance to a traditional Chinese shrine or temple.
Scattered around the complex's garden are stone tablets, a stone horse, stone camels and a row of nine turtle-borne steles with texts inscribed in both the Chinese and Manchu languages. Inside, Chihkan Tower contains exhibits relating to Koxinga, and an altar for worshipping the god of literature. This is where students come to pray for a good performance on examinations. (text copy from net)

Tainan Confucius Temple
The Confucius Temple is an embodiment of Confucian culture in architecture. The largest and oldest Confucius Temple in China is
located in Confucius' hometown in present day Chufu, Shantung Province. For over 2000 years, this temple has gradually evolved into its current magnificence and size and serves as the blueprint for all other Confucian temples.
Of the approximately thirty confucian temples of varying sizes in Taiwan, the Tainan Confucius Temple is one of the most breathtaking and representative. This temple was founded in the Ming dynasty and converted into a prefectural school during the Ching dynasty. A plaque hangs in the temple from that period on which it is written, " the Head School of Taiwan".
The confucian temple in Talungtung in Taipei was founded during the Ching dynasty and renovated in 1927. Its main structures include the Ta Cheng Hall, Ten Thousand Fathom Wall, Pan Pond Ling Hsing Gate, Gate of Rites, Sage Worship Altar, Ming Kun Hall, Chu Tu Alter, Kui Hsing gate (after the God of Literature), and the Wu Sheng Shrine.
Every year on teachers' day, a solemn ceremony is held according to ancient rites called the " Confucius Memorial Service," and is attended by Chinese and foreign visitors. (text copy from net)

Anping Tree House
The tree House is not a mere deserted house. Since what was the warehouse of a trade company left it alone, it was covered by trees. the root has been growing from the wall so that water may ooze out from brick wall, the difference between a wall and a trunk could not be clarified. It is plausible story that all the things are not destructed but transition from one to another. It is a beautiful dilapidated house like its name. (text copy from net)

This was the first public exhibit of my work. I hope to have many more occasions to show my work in public and that you will like it so much that you want to send me a check.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Google maps in blog

Before we start, symbol < and > are replaced with { and } in this post because of the limitation of html acceptance in blogger.

First you would have to apply an API key that is registered to your web URL. You can make your application at After you get the key, on the same page, google map API will give you an example web page to get you started on your way to mapping glory. You can copy and patste the html code to your web page, however the blogger template won't accept a few html tags such as the {head} tag, so you would have to do some modifications to make it work in your blog. Also, trying to copy and paste the code to a post in blog is futile: an error message pops up when you click the Publish icon telling you that "Your HTML cannot be accepted: Tag is not allowed..."

A few steps involve in the code adaptation:

First, find the {head} tag in your blog template and copy/paste the following code right after the {head} tag:

{script src=' API key' type='text/javascript'/}

remember to replace your API key to your own API key receiced from Google.

Second, find the {/body} tag in your blogger template and copy/paste the following code before the {/body} tag:

{script type="text/javascript"}


if (GBrowserIsCompatible()) {

var map = new GMap2(document.getElementById("map"));
map.addControl(new GSmallMapControl());
map.addControl(new GMapTypeControl(1));
map.setCenter(new GLatLng(15.15697371337768, 106.787109375), 5, G_HYBRID_MAP);



the map.addControl(new GSmallMapcontrol()) gives you the scale control (you can replace Small to Large if you like) and map.addControl(new GMaptype control()) gives you 3 icons on map to switch 3 map types (put number in the () gives you a smaller icon). Both codes can be taken off.

map.setCenter(new GLatLng(15.15697371337768, 106.787109375), 5, G_HYBRID_MAP); controls the center position of your map (by designating the
Latitude and Longitude), the zoom in factor, and your default map type. You can set your map as normal map, satellite photos map or a combination of both by changing the code with G_NORMAL_MAP, G_SATELLITE_MAP, G_HYBRID_MAP respectively. Using the following website to get the info of Latitude, Longitude:

Third, put the following code to the place you want it to be

{div id="map" style="width:210px; height:350px"} map loading...{/div}

you can adjust the map size by changing the number in red.


To hide controls on the map when the mouse is out of the frame and to show them when the mouse is over the map, copy and paste the code below.

// Hide Controls

GEvent.addListener(map, "mouseover", function(){map.showControls(); });

GEvent.addListener(map, "mouseout", function(){map.hideControls(); });

Markers and info windows on the map copy and paste the following code:
      function createMarker(point,html) {
var marker = new GMarker(point);
GEvent.addListener(marker, "click", function() {
return marker;

var point = new GLatLng(43.91892,-78.89231);
var marker = createMarker(point,'Some stuff to display in the Info Window')
For advance control of google map API you can refer to the following website:

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Eating in Vietnam

I am amazed by the diversity of rice products in the Vietnamese diet; from the most popular rice noodle (pho) to rice paper rolls (all kinds of rolls use steamed rice paper as the skin of the roll, the most popular one contains lots of different fresh vegetables and sea food/pork, all ingredients then rolled in a sheet of steamed rice paper and dip it with fish sauce) or the royal food (all kinds of Hue style rice dishes served in a small portions; raw chili and garlic are provided and expected to go with the food), it's a guarantee that you would have at least one dish made by rice if you are having Vietnamese food.

Sea food is another "staple" in Vietnam, at least in HCMC. Shrimp , fish, clam, crab, squid ... anything, you name it, you can have as many as you want till a gout attacks without having your wallet slimmed.

Restaurant in HCMC

Tau Ben Nghe, the restaurant itself is a 3 level boat docked at the port near the majesty hotel. Neon lights decorate the boat with fish shapes. Departing at 8:00PM daily for a 1.5 hour cruise on the Ben Nghe river, the boat opens for boarding at 6:00PM. Karaoke (on the first and the second levels) and traditional Vietnamese music (on the third level) provides entertainments before the voyage. The menu on board is written in 3 languages which are Vietnamese, English and Chinese. We ordered BBQ squid, fried beef with onion, water spinach, seafood hotpot, steamed rice and 4 colas for about 490,000VND (less than 1,000NTD). Hot girls dancing with fire brings the cruise to a climax on the way back at the end.

Bo Tung Xeo (31 D Ly Tu Trong) is one of the Vietnamese restaurants recommended by lonely planet. I tried the speciality of this restaurant which is tender marinated beef (75,000VND). As you can see in the picture, salad is served with a plate full of beef soaking in a mixture of soya sauce, oil, and garlic. When grilling over the charcoal, the oil brings up the fire and smoke giving the BBQ beef a final touch of flavor (I know it has lots of carcinogens but that's what makes the BBQ delicious). The menu is written in Vietnamese and English, only one man speaks English in the whole restaurant.

Another lonely planet recommendation is the Lemon Grass (4 D Nguyen Thiep) located in a small alley near the grand hotel. Female staff dress in traditional costume and according to the book two women play musical instruments while you eat, which didn't happen to me while I was there. The photo menu makes ordering easy, however the price is relatively much higher than other restaurants. I ordered a seafood noodle in clay and a cola for 110,000VND, 10% of service charge and 5% tax included. It tasted almost the same in Uncle Long, where you can get the same product for half price. You can find Uncle Long, a franchise in Vietnam, on the top floor of big supermakets or department stores such as the Parkson mall. The advertising of Uncle Long, 'good rice' is in many languages, tells you what's best to order from its variety of dishes. My personal favorite is the seafood rice in clay, 32,000VND.

Vuon Pho (93 D Nguyen Du, District 1) serves all kinds of Vietnamese delicacies for a very good price. I was looking for a nice restaurant as a treat on moon festival and my choice was Quan An Ngon(138 D Nam Ky Khoi Nghia). Before I made it to that restaurant a suddent rain soaked me instantly in front of the Vuon pho restaurant. I was worried, being the only foreigner in the restaurant, it seemed nobody could speak English at all. With help of body language and an English menu, I orded french fries (a dip with butter and sugar), seafood salad in Thai style, steamed shell-fish and a pineapple juice for 107,000VND. The food was delicious. I was too full to have more dishes in the menu. One special dish served here is made by sticky rice in a ball shape(see photo), when serving, the waiter first flattens the rice ball then cuts it into small pieces with scissors. The deep fried fish with scales is another Vietnamese delicacy that you can order here.

Restaurant in HCMC on Google Map

Tau Ben Nghe, Bo Tung Xeo, Lemon Grass, Uncle Long, Vuon Pho

Restaurant in Dalat

The Blue Water Restaurant is situated on Xuan Huong Lake. Customers can choose to sit indoors or outdoors, both providing a spectacular view. I felt like I was disconnected from reality by Xuan Huong Lake and everything moved in slow motion on the other side of the lake. This surreal perspective unveiled the secret of how French influences and local cultures blend in harmony. The menu is written in 3 languages with nearly one hundred dishes of Vietnamese, western or Chinese cuisine to choose from. I ordered a seafood spaghetti, deep fried onion rings, a coke and a plate of seasonal fruit for 110,000VND, 220NTD. Unlike the onion rings I have had, they use whole onions coated with a layer of flour and taste fresh.

Check the article posted ealier Vietnam-Tourism for more restaurant information in HCMC and Hanoi.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Golf 3 hotel, a 4 star hotel in Dalat

Readers are about to read this article that cost me 50USD and the precious 20 hours of my life. I hope you enjoy it.

I haven’t had a good sleep for the past two days so I decided to indulge myself by accommodating at the golf 3 hotel which according to the lonely planet has the best steam bath in town and a rooftop sky view café. At the reception I asked the staff for information regarding the schedule of the Vietnam Airlines shuttle bus from Dalat City to the airport, and she replied “you have to be in the airport one hour before departure”. Obviously there was a misunderstanding, I asked her again this time I spoke slower and she answered “oh, it takes about 40 min from the city to the airport”. I felt frustrated and asked again this time with body language and she finally understood what I was talking about, but she answered “I don’t know!” So I asked her to call Vietnam Airlines office for the information, she agreed and said she would give me the information later. I went to my room, well the room looked elegant like a 4 star hotel, they even had a safety deposit built in the closet and the water in the bathroom was hot and strong, I was so happy to take a hot shower because I was soaked by the pouring afternoon rain.

After the shower, I lay on my bed and turned on the TV. To my surprise, there were only 3 channels in English which are HBO, Star Movies, and CNN. The rest were local TV programs or dubbed in Vietnamese. Usually hotel stars tell you how many foreign channels they get in Vietnam, but obviously this wasn’t the case here in Dalat. Anyhow, I watched a movie on star movie channel and in the middle of the movie the channel switched to a soccer game, the star movie channel disappeared ever since. I gave up searching for a better movie and headed down to the reception for my information. Unbelievable! I had to go through the whole process to let her understand what I was asking for, and she still hadn’t made the phone call! I asked her to call right away and a few min later she told me nobody picked up the phone. I would have to wait till the next day to get that information. I wasn’t pleased with the answer, because there is an airport hotel run by Vietnam Airlines, so they must know the schedule of the shuttle bus. Well, she didn’t know what I was saying and I gave up trying. “Tomorrow it is” I said to her. I was surprised by the ability of English comprehension and speaking of the staff at reception of a 4 star hotel. Actually, I asked a receptionist one day before I made my choice of staying in this hotel about their facilities and he didn’t know what I was asking for. I also asked if a swimming suit is required for taking a steam bath since I didn’t have mine with me. And he answered “no, we don’t have a swimming pool”. I expected that I would have a better understanding with another receptionist when I was checking into the hotel, obviously not.

After, I went to the 7th floor where the steam bath and sky view café located. I felt disappointed when I saw the sign: 20000VND for Steam bath/ 20min; 30000VND for Sauna/20min. I wasn’t expecting costumers of the hotel having to pay to use facilities in the hotel; they didn’t even have any discount for those staying in the hotel overnight. I paid the money and felt like I was being fooled by lonely planet; the steam room was just mediocre and of course there was no Jacuzzi for a relaxing bath after 20 min steaming. Moreover, the sky view café isn’t on the rooftop, the only view from the café is the bustling street that leads to the central market.

I was awakened by the noise of people talking and laughing around 1:00AM. I thought it was just some tourists coming back to their room late and wasn’t paying attention to it but the noise on and off didn’t seem to end shortly. I woke up and knocked at the door of the noise from, nobody answered. I kept banging on the door, still nobody answered the door and I could hear people having a great time in the room. I waited until the noise level went down and banged on the door, this time they finally heard me and 3 guys, naked with only a towel on their waist and a woman opened the door; it looked like I was interrupting their “home party”. After telling them to keep their voices down, I went back to my room and looked at the clock, it was around 2:00AM.

The next morning I went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast (included in the room rate). A housekeeping staff asked me something in Vietnamese when I was waiting for the elevator. I told her I don’t understand Vietnamese. Still, she kept speaking Vietnamese to me. I was grumpy for not having a good sleep for a couple days, I told her: hey, you would have to speak English or I don’t understand a single word you said.” Finally, she said “how long would you stay here?” I told her “I am leaving today.” and went down for my breakfast.

I didn’t trust the schedule that the receptionist gave me, so after breakfast I went to the Vietnam Airlines booking office to get the schedule myself. Back to my room, I found the housekeeping had my room cleaned. I felt no guilt for messing up my room again. I took the elevator to the lobby to check out but the elevator wouldn’t stop on that floor, so I took the stairs from the 2nd floor to the lobby. Just when I thought nothing in this hotel could surprise me in any way, a live band was playing music in the lobby and tables were packed. Occupying the whole lobby, a wedding was being held, in the hotel lobby! I had to squeeze myself through the band and tables to get to the reception. I waited at the reception desk but there was nobody at the counter. About 3min later, a security guard found me standing in front of the counter for checking out and he guided me to a garage on the basement level where receptionists set up a table on which keys were spread as a temporary reception counter. I returned my key and paid 50USD for my room, however my passport was still in the lobby witnessing the wedding ceremony. I waited another 5 min to get my passport back and fled from this madness.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Trip to Dalat, Vietnam

Dalat, one of the central highlands of Vietnam, is 300km away from Ho Chi Minh City. Can’t stand 7 to 8 hours stuck in a bus so I chose to fly to the land of honeymoons, 53USD for a return ticket. Everybody looked at me and asked “are you traveling Dalat alone?” every time someone heard about my trip. The altitude of the Dalat airport is 1000 meters above sea level. Vietnam Airlines shuttle bus takes passengers to the center of Dalat City, which is 30km away, climbing up to the altitude of around 1500 meters for 20000VND or about 1.25USD for a one way ticket. I checked-in at the crazy house, Hang Nga Gallery & Guesthouse, and started my journey at Xuan Huong Lake which can be circumnavigated along a 7km path. My first impression of Dalat is the French influences on architecture here, they even have a miniature Eiffel Tower in the center of the city. Without the bustling traffic of HCMC I was almost convinced that I was in one of the European countries, plus horses can be seen along the lake path. However, the honking from motorcycles gave it away that I was just in a less trafficked city of Vietnam.

Although paddle boats can be rented at the edge of the lake near Thanh Thuy restaurant, I haven’t seen any tourists paddling the giant swan looking boats on the water during my stay. Along the way, the Dalat flower garden was the first sightseeing that ruined the reputation of the flower city. Obviously, it was the wrong time to pay a visit; it was like a deserted garden just not too long ago, flowers in the garden looked lifeless even the fountains had been drained out, leaving only one pumping water helplessly at the entrance. The road next to the garden leads to a golf course and Dalat University. I was hoping the university would be worthy of a hike up the hill, well no comment here.

I gave up my breakfast to catch my flight in the morning and I got lost finding the road to Dalat University which made the 7 km path along the lake much farther then I expected. By the time I got back to the center of the city it was 15:00 already. I was hungry and tired. Luckily I made it to a restaurant next to the lake before the pouring rain hit. The restaurant, called blue water restaurant, even thought the water was yellow, has all kinds of cuisine you can choose from. I ordered seafood spaghetti, deep fried onion rings, coke and a plate of seasonal fruit for 110000VND, 220NTD. How was the food? Well, when one’s hungry everything tastes good, although the noodles of the spaghetti weren’t real spaghetti noodles.

Back at my room, I was excited for the first 10 min then I felt regretful for staying over night in the crazy house. I had Kangaroo room for a night which is in an irregular shape with a small living room, fireplace in kangaroo shape, bathroom and bedroom in about 4 meter squares. Outside the room, a long bench and a small space with one tea table and two chairs for a nice afternoon tea time. Sounds great? Well, the mattress and blanket were damp because of the humidity; mosquitoes in the room because the room was opened for tour before anyone checked in; no TV in the room, it would be odd if there was a TV in the room though, and the light in the room was just too dark to read without feeling sleepy. I was the only guest there that night, no TV, books, not even a person to talk to for killing time. I even let tourists come into my room for a tour just to be able to talk to someone! Moreover, the shower water was small and not to mention caged turkeys in this complex making this surreal sound all night long as the house wasn’t crazy enough. The good thing of staying in Crazy House was no tourists showed up at 7:30AM. I got up and explored every room without having tourists taken in my photos. There are honeymoon, ant, tiger, eagle, termite, bamboo, kangaroo, bear, gourd, and phoenix rooms in this complex; each room was named after the shape of the fireplace in the room. Due to not enough guests accommodating, the crazy house now only opens the bamboo room, 19USD, kangaroo room, 24USD, bear room, 39USD, and gourd room, 45USD, for rent. New construction is being conducted now and new rooms are only for visiting.

My knees hurt from too much walking on hilly terraces, the wound I got from last year traveling in SiChuan wasn’t really healed and waterfalls, tribal villages are spread out in Dalat so I rented a motorbike, 5USD per day, and hired a guide leaving navigation to someone else, 10USD, from the state run travel agency Dalat travel bureau which is located across the road of a 4 stars hotel, the golf 3. There is something about golf 3 hotel that is worth another blog entry later. I had the guide pick me up at the crazy house, and we drove down through a green pine tree forest to the Dambri waterfalls (10000VND). There is a cable car, 5000VND, right after the entrance, although the waterfall itself is easily accessible. Horseback and elephant riding photos can be taken as well as dressing in a tribal costume can be arranged, which lots of Vietnamese tourists have some kind of obsession about. You can rent a paddle boat for drifting down the river, however 20 meters is as far as you can go. Up the hill, there is a mini zoo filled with monkeys and some furious animals living in captivity behind bars.

Thien Vien Truc Lam is one of the largest Zen Meditation study centers in Vietnam, with an equally large numbers of nuns and monks. The pagoda situated in a green pine tree forest overlooking the Quand Trung reservoir (Tuyen Lam Lake) was built in 1980 for local agriculture. Motor boats can be hired for a tour around the lake. Picnicking under the forest of green pine trees between the pagoda and the reservoir is a great escape from traffic and tourists.

To get to the Datanla falls, 5000VND, I chose to walk down the path through a rainforest and took a slide up the hill. The slide was adopted from Germany; a round trip ticket for one person is 30000VND. Unlike the scale and muddy water of Dambri falls, Dantanla falls’ clear water makes it friendly for the public to get into it. Village of Love, Thung Lung Tinh Yeu, or Vallee D’Amour, had its name changed in 1972, the year Da Thien Lake was created, by students from Dalat University. It’s about 5km away from the center of Dalat City. Along the way, shops sell Dalat’s specialties: strawberry jam, dried fruits. Of course the prices are much higher than food stalls in the center market area west of Xuan Huong Lake. Like every other tourist attractions in Dalat, tribal costumes, horses and paddle boats can be rented. Except for a few statues symbolizing love and a sign of Vallee D’Amour, I really couldn’t see any love in this village.

After visiting the Village of Love, I asked my guide to take me to the Cremaillere railway station where an old Russian steam train is on display. You can’t get a train that takes you to other Cities such as HCMC at this station. The only train commutes between Trai Mat Village, 8km down, and Dalat City departing at 6:30, 8:00, 9:30, 11:00, 14:00, and 15:30 from Cremaillere railway station and coming back from Trai Mat at 8:00, 9:30, 11:00, 12:30, 15:30 and 17:00. From the front gate of the station, it looked like an abandoned giant French style house. The afternoon rain leaving small puddles on the unpaved square intensifies the desolate atmosphere even further.

Advice: The best time to travel to Dalat is around Xmas till the end of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. At that time, with no afternoon showers to shortening your journey and all kinds of flowers blossoming, the city becomes not only very colorful but worth visiting.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Crazy House in Dalat

Crazy house, Hang Nga Gallery and Guesthouse (Admission: 80000VND; tel: 882070; fax: 831480; 3 D Huynh Thuc Khang) is about 1 km southwest of Xuan Huong Lake. The Architecture is something straight out of Alice in Wonderland and can't easily be described: there are caves, giant spider webs made of wire, concrete tree trunks, a nude female statue, a concrete giraffe with a tea room built inside and caged turkeys providing the surreal soundtrack.

The gallery's designer, Mrs Dang Viet Nga, is from Hanoi and lived in Moscow for 14 years, where she earned a PhD in architecture. She dresses in pure 1960s hippie garb, burns incense and has something of an air of mystery about her. Hang Nga, as she's known locally, has designed a number of other buildings, which dot the landscape around Dalat, including the Children'd Cultural Palace and the Catholic church in Lien Khuong.

The Dalat People's Committee has not always appreciated such innovative designs. An earlier Dalat architectural masterpiece, the House with 100 roofs, was torn down as a "fire hazard" because the People's Committee thought it looked "antisocialist". However, there is little chance that Hang Nga will have such trouble with the authorities (her father, Truong Chinh, was Ho Chi Minh's successor). He served as Cietnam's second president from 1981 until his death in 1988.

Kangaroo Room, left; Gourd Room, right

Phoenix Room, left; Bamboo Room, right

Honeymoon Room, left; Ant Room, right

Tiger Room

Eagle Room

Bear Room

Termite Room

Reference: lonely planet: Vietnam