I quickly ate breakfast at my hotel and was in the lobby, ready for a tour of Ba Na Hills. A woman in her 30s arrived to pick me up and explained that we needed to walk a little bit to the bus because traffic prevented them from getting to my hotel. I noticed that she was wearing a jacket and a wide brim hat. Ba Na Hills is at the top of a mountain, so I asked her if it was cold there and if I needed to get a jacket. She replied, “No, it’s very warm. Vietnamese women don’t like tan skin. We like white skin, so we cover-up. But it’s very warm.”
The bus took our large group to a gondola. We boarded in smaller groups so we could fit into the gondola. Our tour guide told us about life in Vietnam as we rode along the thick, green forest. She said the government is all about the money. The French colonists built Ba Na Hills station at the top of the mountain in 1919. They set limits on what could be built so the environment would be protected. Unfortunately, the Vietnamese government continues to build, destroying the landscape on the mountain.
Our tour guide continued to explain life in Vietnam. She said University wouldn’t get you a good job. She had a friend who tried to start a career at a hospital after graduating, and they told him it would cost $500,000,000 dong ($21,000 USD), and he’d have to work for free for two years. He ended up going to the U.S. and now has a good job. She said, “If you get sick here, do not go to a Vietnamese hospital. You don’t know if the doctor was the best student or was just the richest student. Go to a Korean or European hospital.”
The tour guide explained that tourism has really taken off in Vietnam. If someone speaks English or Chinese, they can make a decent salary. She makes $700 USD a month if she works every day. I was told the average salary in Vietnam is $200 USD a month, so she made a lot more money than the average person.
The gondola arrived at the top of the mountain at an amusement park. Our tour guide told us to look at our itinerary because we were assigned lunch in different groups. We all split up because we had an hour to explore the park on our own. At the beginning of the park, there was a large rotating ball like you’d see at Universal Studios, only it said “Sun World.”
There was currently a parade of dancers spinning around the ball and fountain. I stood there confused. They were wearing Disney-like outfits with tennis shoes. There wasn’t a theme and they danced in mismatched pairs before the show ended.
I continued wandering around the park and saw an arcade, a walk-through Jurassic Park full of animatronic dinosaurs, and carnival rides. The arcade was free, so I played The Walking Dead. I didn’t have much time, so I spent most of it walking around. The landscaping was beautiful with well-cared-for flowers. There was some construction going on among buildings that looked like castles. There were also buddha statues, temples, and classic Asian architecture. I didn’t know what theme the park was going for.
For lunch, I went to the giant, two-story buffet that was in a German beer garden. The place was packed, and food stations were everywhere. After getting some food, I looked for a table to sit down and eat. I wandered through the sea of people like I was back in high school, looking for friendly faces. Most of the tables were large and held at least six people, so I figured my best bet would be to join a table at the end because there were not any empty tables.
I searched until I found two tall blonde girls who I knew had been on my tour. There was space at their table, so I joined them. They were from Denmark and around 20 years old. They were both taking a gap year between high school and college (which is very common there), but they were into year two, hoping to do three years. Each year, they’d travel for two to three months.
I asked the girls about their high tax rate because Denmark is often mentioned in U.S. debates regarding government-run programs. The girls admitted that they pay high taxes but said only the rich pay 50+%, and most people pay 27-35%. They like that they’re taken care of by their government. The girls hear horror stories about people not being able to afford healthcare in the U.S. I explained that our healthcare does need a lot of improvement but cautioned them against thinking that the extreme horror stories are the norm because most people have insurance.
The girls told me that Denmark is not a socialist country and pointed out that their Prime Minister hates when people refer to them as such. They asked me why Americans don’t want the government involved, and I explained it’s because we don’t trust the government.
We talked about Venezuela because they recently had blackouts and food shortages. One of the reasons that Venezuela is in a bad situation is because the government started working with Cuba. In exchange for Cuba giving Venezuela an army, they give them oil, which has led to corruption. The U.S. has legal bribes in congress (called lobbying), so we feel they’re already too corrupt. Giving them more power would only make the bribes worse. Our country was founded on freedom, so freedom will always be a big deal for us.
One of the girls told me that the liberal (democratic) party in the U.S. is not what they consider liberal in Denmark. She thought the U.S. seemed to be going in an extreme direction recently. She said, “I would consider myself a feminist as far as equal rights for women, but I wouldn’t dare call myself a feminist because they hate men now. And I don’t hate men.”
She was surprised that Trump won the presidency and thought he never would. She was in the U.S. a month before our 2016 election and thought it was crazy. Politics were everywhere, and she couldn’t understand why Americans can and do spend so much money on our circus-like elections. I agreed with her that there should be caps on the money and time spent on elections. The girl bought a MAGA (Make America Great Again) hat supporting Trump because she thought it was “cool, funny, and that he wouldn’t win anyway.”
I enjoyed talking with the girls and getting their perspective on the world and politics. Once lunch was complete, we went our separate ways. I wandered over to the famous Golden Bridge. The bridge is a 490 feet (150 meters) pedestrian bridge on the side of a mountain. It curves outward, so the views are incredible. In addition to being a scenic overlook, it was designed to connect the cable car station to the gardens.
The bridge almost loops back to itself in a complete circle and has two giant hand sculptures appearing to hold it up. Construction of the bridge began in July 2017 and was complete in June 2018. I had seen pictures of it and didn’t realize it was in Vietnam until shortly before I arrived in Da Nang.
I walked across the bridge, admiring the large sculpted hands. The bridge is 16 feet (5 meters) wide, but there were so many people that I was getting frustrated. Everyone seemed to be doing their best to get the perfect Instagram shot. While I enjoyed seeing the bridge, I prefer to avoid major tourist attractions.
At the end of the bridge, there’s a podium where people can take a picture with the bridge perfectly placed in the background. I met a girl who took my picture and in return, I took a picture of her and her boyfriend. They appeared to be in their late 20s, and they were from Chile. The girl grew up in Torrance, California, not far from where I lived for 15 years. Before her senior year of high school, she moved to Chile. She attended University there and is now an architect. She and her boyfriend decided to quit their jobs and travel for eight months but said it would likely end up being longer. They spent six months living in Sydney, Australia. They planned to be back in Chile by October so they could get jobs before the Christmas season (it was currently the third week of March).
I walked around the park with the couple as we talked. There were some beautiful gardens, statues, and a maze that we walked through. The statue of a white buddha reached into the sky.
The couple told me about Chile and said it’s the country in South America that is doing the best. A lot of people from other countries are moving there, like Columbia and Venezuela. They’ll work for half the pay as native Chilean people. The couple was frustrated because it was devaluing their work and pay.
The grounds were beautiful, but there wasn’t much to do other than walk around. Once our time was up, we met back at the gondola station to ride back down the mountain. The girl told me about foreign investments ruining housing markets for locals. I told her that I saw and heard about that affecting Vancouver, Canada, while I was there. The girl was animated and frustrated about the world’s housing situations by foreign investments, which made our tour guide walk over and ask if everything was ok. We laughed as the girl explained she’s just passionate about the topic. The girl told me that most of her family has moved out of California because while it is pretty, it’s too expensive. She admitted that the schools are better in the U.S. than in Chile.
The gondola ride gave spectacular views of the surrounding area. The lush, thick forest was all around. Once we got to the bottom, I boarded the van that would take me back to my hotel. The seats were so small, I had to turn to the side so my legs were in the aisle. On the way there, they were in tremendous pain because they were smashed by the seat in front. Thankfully, it was just over an hour bus ride.
Once I was back at my hotel, I ate dinner in the rooftop bar while enjoying a drink and the view. I didn’t understand why the rooftop bar was always empty when I went there, but I enjoyed the peace and quiet. I wasn’t feeling too well, so I worked on my blog after dinner and went to bed.
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