On the way to Lake Baikal

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Our journey starts out of Ulan Ude, and like much of the rest of our trip, in involves a local bus. First of course, we annoyed the ticket seller lady by changing tickets not just once but twice, due to mistakes of language and Natalie’s illness.

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Loaded up and off we go!

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We got to see a bit more of Ulan Ude, the parts where most of the people lived. The public transit system is fairly extensive in the city.

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One of the grannies sitting next to us had taken a liking to us and started pointing things out along the path. This is a fairly famous women’s only monastery in the forests between Ulan Ude and our target, Goryachinsk.

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The bus stops at this rest stop on every trip. There’s a small restaurant, a bathroom (both free and paid, with differing qualities of smell). Otherwise there’s a little river that runs by there. Not really much to see but boy is it great to uncramp.

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The bus dropped us off pretty unceremoniously on the edge of Goryachinsk. There’s a grocery store there that supplies the holidayers and not much else.

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Old vehicles and older houses populate the town – there’s a lakeside section that has some nicer, newer houses, but the main of the village is old ‘dachas’ – village or summer homes that almost all Russian families have.

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‘For sale’ says the angry barrel.

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A row of lakeside houses we passed one the way to the lake. These are much nicer than the rest of the town.

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We made it!! Natalie holds a victorious bottle of kvas on the shore of Lake Baikal. This has been a lifelong dream for her, and she’s finally there!

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There are waves on the lake surface. They’re not super strong or large, but they do tear up the otherwise placid surface.

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So there we are, walking along the shore when suddenly..

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What’s that in the distance?

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It’s people! People swimming in the lake! For us as visitors this is insanity. The lake is freezing cold and the sun is setting. But for the locals this is not entirely normal, but somewhat usual. Young men in particular seem prone to jumping and swimming in the lake on a dare, especially when alcohol is involved.

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Somewhere around this time we met a family from Ulan Ude on vacation at their dacha. With my broken russian and their daughter’s perfectly fine english we traded stories. When they asked us where we were going to sleep, we told them of our tents and pointed somewhat vaguely to the lake shore. Their response was, of course you’re not, you’re going to sleep in our house, we have a spare bed. We gratefully accepted and spent an evening eating, drinking, and playing games with the family.

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Saying goodbye the next morning. These ladies were badass. Their grandma had lived through the worst of the various revolutions, economic crises, and societal upheavals of the last half century, and here she was calmly chopping up wood for their sauna.

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Next time : the hiking begins!

Day trip out to Tuyen Lam Lake

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Incense sticks burn at Thien Vien Truc Lam Temple.

We’ve been longing to get out to nearby Tuyen Lam Lake to see some nature, but Stoytcho has staunchly vetoed the idea of renting a motorbike. “What, come on!” I say, “It’ll be fine.” But Vietnam does have some absurdly high motor vehicle death rates, so I’m not terribly convincing. We also promised our travel nurse we wouldn’t do this. As we were getting shots for yellow fever and Japanese Encephalitis and goodness-knows-what-else, we told her about our travel plans in Southeast Asia. “Just promise me you won’t rent a motorbike there. That is more likely to kill you than any of these diseases combined.”

But thanks to a cable car, there is one bit of Tuyen Lam Lake we can reach without a vehicle. So on our last day in Da Lat, we caught a cab up to the cable car entrance, bought tickets, and soared over pine tree forests and farms for fifteen minutes. We arrived at Thien Vien Truc Lam Temple, walked through its grounds, and had a lovely stroll by the lake. In one cluster of buildings by the shore, we found a restaurant and had lunch and I survived a near-concussive experience as a lumber beam perched over their bathroom door came crashing down an inch from me. The cook’s wife came running in horror, assuming she’d killed a foreigner, but I managed to communicate that I was ok. And to celebreate the near brush with death (even in absence of renting a motorbike), we took a swan boat out onto the lake. That’s as good a celebration of life as any, right?

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Men weld steel outside the cable care ticket office–probably not for the cable car.

 

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Riding the cable car.

 

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A man photographs his family at Thien Vient Truc Lam Temple.

 

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People enter and exit the prayer space in the temple.

 

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A Buddha statue gestures toward the sky.

 

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An inchworm raises up to find branch to crawl on.

 

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Visitors take photographs around Tuyen Lam Lake.

 

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A man walks through flowers planted in the arc of a rainbow.

 

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Tourist boats line lake shore, Vietnam flags waving proudly.

 

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We paddle our swan boat out onto the lake.

 

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A lamprey surfaces in our boat wake. I could see the ring of its jawless mouth.

 

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An abandoned swanboat in the middle of the lake.

 

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A tower at the end of a path on the lake.

Delightful Da Lat

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If you want to visit Vietnam without the rote tourism, overcrowded cities, and tropical humidity, Da Lat is your city. Situated in the 1,500 m above sea level on the Langbian Plateau, Da Lat (or Dalat) is a year-round temperate getaway for people looking to relax, take in the mountain air, and drink coffee. The primary tourism market here is domestic and the foreign tourists that do make it here are primarily Russian, so don’t expect many English speakers. But several places offer English menus, and paper, a pen, and a smile are all you need to barter in the city’s markets. So pull up a chair and order a coffee, visit the city’s flower garden, or explore Da Lat’s bizarre architectural wonderland.

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A view of the city; red-roofed French villas from the colonial era sprawl across the countryside, a reminder that this was once a getaway for the French-colonial elite.

 

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A rain-kissed flower grows in a planter in Da Lat. The city is also known as “the city of a thousand flowers” and its temperate climate produces flowers for export.

 

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A man fishes in Xuan Huong Lake. I personally would not eat anything from this lake (see below).

 

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A woman uses a net and pole to fish waste out of Xuan Huong Lake after a storm. Heavy rainfall washes everything from plant debris to plastic bottles to dead fish down into the lake, so people like the above keep Da Lat beautiful.

 

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A military officer looks around at stalls in an indoor market.

 

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Plastic tables double as chairs, set out in preparation for an evening concert.

 

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Not someone’s home, but the interior of a local coffee shop. The city is filled with dozens of cozy cafes like this one.

 

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The branch of a bonsai tree on the shore of Xuan Huong Lake.

 

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A view over the night market in the city center.

 

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Vendors display wares to potential customers in the night market.

 

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Looking lost in the night market.

 

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Toys posed (by someone else) in a mall in Da Lat.

 

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A woman poses for a photo while riding as an advertisement for Yamaha motorbikes.

 

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A woman takes a selfie (left) while tourists wander by below (lower center) in the confusing architecture of the Hang Nga Crazy House.

 

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A bubbling cauldron of stew in the local market. IT WAS DELICIOUS.

 

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An offerings table for deceased ancestors in front of a local business.

 

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A truck-sized lotus lantern awaits deployment onto Xuan Huong Lake, part of a celebration of Buddha’s birthday.

 

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The night skyline of Da Lat, reflected into the lake.