The Wizardess of Oz

An American's Adventures in Australia and Beyond

Tag: Travel Safety

Adventure in Dalat

If you had told me that I’d be caving, trekking, and rappelling down waterfalls during my travels, I would have believed you. I would have said, “Oh yeah, definitely in New Zealand, or maybe even Montenegro.”

If you had said I’d be doing all these things in Vietnam? I would have scoffed.

And yet there I was, in Dalat, dangling over a churning channel of water that promised to chew me up and spit me out if I let go of the rope. Above me, our guide was shouting “Let go!” The whole point was to get chewed up and spit out.

How did I get here?

You want me to do WHAT?!

You want me to do WHAT?!

I had loosely plotted my time in time in Vietnam — I knew I wanted to work my way north to south, and that I wanted to see the best of the best in the three+ weeks I had allotted myself in the country. Dalat was a question mark to me. I was interested in visiting, and the more I heard about the amazing adventures that were possible in this mountain town, the more it appealed.

Irene and I had no idea that we had timed our arrival in Dalat perfectly with one of the biggest holidays in Vietnam: Independence Day. Since Dalat is in close proximity to Saigon, many city dwellers head to the mountain town to get a break from the humidity and heat of the city. As such, we managed to snag one of the very last rooms at Dalat Family Hostel, and we were very lucky we did. The next morning, there were two girls sleeping in the hallway, and SIX people sleeping in the ‘lobby’ living room on the ground floor.

Sometimes, not planning ahead doesn’t go your way. We were just lucky we got in early enough!

We met several other travelers in our Hostel area through our friendly hostesses. One thing is clear: Dalat is absolutely an up-and-coming destination for young travelers. New hostels are opening, old ones are being renovated, and the town is gearing itself toward Western tourism more than ever before.

With our new group of friends, we went to the town center. At the top of the steps that lead down to the fountain and traffic circle, I was gobsmacked by the sheer volume of human beings that swarmed the area.

I also discovered what Independence Day meant in Vietnam: It was the day American soldiers left the country. 

This means different things, depending on where you are in Vietnam. In the north, it was freedom from tyrannical Western forces trying to impose their ideology on a sovereign nation. In the south, it was the day America abandoned them. Either way, it’s an odd time to be an American in the country. Not that any locals made me feel badly. Quite the contrary, I was always treated kindly and with respect. One old man even stopped me while I was drinking a coffee and starting chatting away about his family in California. But knowing that everyone is in the streets to celebrate the day your country lost a war is an odd feeling, nonetheless. Must be how Brits feel at their first Fourth of July!

We joined in the festivities, trying out Vietnamese pizza (more on that in another post) and mingling with the festivities that crowded the city.

Vietnamese Pizza!

Vietnamese Pizza!

The next day was our canyoning tour!

As I write this, I’ve just heard the news of three young travelers who lost their lives while participating in a tour very much like the one I took. Unfortunately, Vietnam’s tourism isn’t heavily regulated, and many people will take advantage of unknowing travelers to try to make a buck. Which is why this cardinal rule of travel is so important:

Always do your research before participating in anything remotely dangerous.

This is especially true in less-developed nations. I consulted TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet, plus did additional research by reading my favorite bloggers and googling the names of companies that offered the tours. I booked directly with the company rather than go through an agent or our hostel hosts. It just isn’t worth the risk.

Irene and I settled on Groovy Gecko, not because it was the cheapest, but because it was the most heavily vetted. When it comes to safety, you get what you pay for. An extra $10 is well worth coming out the other end alive.

There were several other companies operating alongside us as we meandered our way down the Dasar River to the Dantala Waterfalls, and a look at the equipment and group-to-guide ratio assured me that we had made a good choice.

Confident in our safety, there was nothing left to do but have fun and push the limits of our comfort zone! The photos can tell the story better than I can, but we abseiled a total of four times. The first was a ‘practice run’ down a dry canyon, then we floated for a while toward the Big Mama Jama, the Dantala Fall. In addition to the waterfalls, we got to slide down an all natural ‘rock slide’ and cliff jump. It was an exhilarating, full day of adventure, and one I won’t soon forget.

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Til next time, xoxoxo

The Wizardess

When They Say “Be Safe,” I Want to Say…

“Uh, from what?!”

Look, I’m not saying that one should foolhardily rush to another country having done zero research, and then run around with cash falling out of their pockets and not expect anything to happen to them. But I’ve been traveling in Southeast Asia. In many ways, it’s safer than Europe!

The number one admonishment I received from friends and family in the US when I set off for my travels was to “be safe,” as if the Yakuza was going to pop out on any corner and kidnap me for ransom. In stark contrast, my Australian friends and colleagues all said, “Have fun!” In a country where international travel is de riguer, it’s already assumed that one will do the necessary research to understand how best to keep one’s self and belongings in (relatively) the same condition in which you left. The only concern, then, is that you milk that travel for every single drop of fun you can get out of it.

As a woman, I’m already always on the defensive no matter where I am – a dark alley at home in Southern California could have the same perils that one in Hanoi could. Potentially worse, considering how much better-armed Americans are vs. Vietnamese! Acting foolishly in either place could have disastrous consequences, which is something that has been drilled into me from a very early age.

So when everyone tells me to be safe, it’s hard not to occasionally hear: “You haven’t properly prepared.” Which is annoying. But actually, what they’re probably really saying is, “I have never been to that place you’re going, therefore it’s scary and unknown, which means it’s definitely not as safe as where I am at this very moment.” I don’t hear it as much when I visit a ‘Western’ destination, but throw in a vast cultural difference and suddenly danger lurks on every corner.

Here’s a quick tip: That is so not true.

As someone who regularly walks the line between fearlessness and stupidity, I can assure you that your concerns for my safety are unfounded. I have followed travel safety tips and made sure to talk to my hotel staff about scams and common crimes on tourists, and by being smart, aware, and listening to my instincts, I have been completely fine. And I’ve been able to have fun! Traveling alone through Asia is not a 24/7 exercise in hiding in corners, scanning crowds for the potential felon. The only city I heard to be extra vigilant was Phnom Penh, city of the bag snatchers, so I just made sure my bra was my purse. I had to do the exact same thing on Las Ramblas in Barcelona 10 years ago, a place even more notorious for thieves! And a place where my own sister had her purse stolen out from under her just a few years ago.

Of course, I’ll have probably jinxed myself and my next post will be a tearful rant about how all my things have been stolen. But I have a feeling I’m more likely to fall victim to an airline losing my bags than a thief from any place I’ve visited here in Asia.

But don’t listen to me! Come find out for yourself. Come see that the Vietnamese don’t hate Americans at all (even in the North), come see how the Filipinos stare at you because they really want to be your friend but are too shy to say hi, be the guest of a wonderful Muslim family in Thailand, and realize that I am safe. It’s the only way to really know for sure.



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