For the first time in our trip I was cold. Combine the early hour of 4.30am with the fact that we were now in the Vietnamese highlands and we had the most refreshing morning we’d had in a week.
Upon arrival, most of the other bleary eyed folk and bundled themselves into taxi’s and had made the short trip into town. Sarah and I however sat ourselves down and assessed our options. The sky was gradually getting lighter, but it was still early enough that not much would be open, so given the time that we had to kill, we eventually decided to walk the few kilometres into town.
Laden with our packs, before long we were most definitely no longer cool and our reward was a most beautiful sunrise.
As locals started to stir and utilise the cool morning for a leisurely stroll, it all began to feel a bit French with old men in berets, pleasant temperature and a huge radio tower looking very much like the Dalat’s own version of the Eiffel (for this reason it is know as “Le Petit Paris”).
The snaked around the Xuan Huong Lake before taking us into the town proper where with all of the hostels and hotels still closing for another hour or so, we decided to find somewhere for breakfast.
Our Lonely Planet guidebook again offered us a suggestion which we took as far as lodgings went and in a carbon copy of our time in Saigon, it too was full, so they found us a room at their 2nd guesthouse further up the road!
Dalat and its surrounds are very hilly, so the best way to see them is by motorbike or scooter. Given that neither of us felt that confident riding, we opted to take a tour with the famous “Easy Riders”. Whether the riders we chose were original “Easy Riders” or copycats I’ll never know, but their English was decent enough as was their proposed tour route for the day, so after heading back to our room for a shower and change of clothes, off we rode.
With a tour that took in a cable car ride with great views of the hills and towns, a visit to the Datania falls (where bizarrely you can toboggan down to the falls, we chose to walk), a coffee plantation, more temples as well as the old colonial railway station, it was certainly a great way of squeezing a lot into our one day in town.
Our last stop was the Hang Nha guesthouse, otherwise known as the “Crazy House”. This creation of a Vietnamese architect (trained in Moscow back in the soviet era), this place is like something you’d imagine from Salvador Dali with a twisted, almost organic design.
Our biggest failing of the day was in our application of sunscreen. This is something that I am very diligent about, as getting burnt is something I see as so easily avoided. I’d done the usual slopping of sunscreen, however it was the unexpected exposure of the underside of my arms that caught me out (gripping the back of the bike left them exposed to the sun & the wind chill meant I never really noticed the sun).
The afternoon saw us indulge in more food, however this proved to be our worst meal of the trip, with 2 very below par bowls of Pho delivered to our table.
We roamed the night market that evening just soaking it all in as we like to do. Here, it really had a much more local than tourist feel, so rather than the usual stalls of trinkets, we were presented with stall after stall selling cheap plastic sandals and plenty of childrens clothing.
One of the souvenirs I like to try and find my dad when we travel is some local coffee (if at all possible) and it was here that i sought some Chon. This so called ‘Weasel Coffee’ is supposedly ingested by the Weasel where its stomach acid does something magical to the beans, improving the flavour. As I was to learn 3 weeks later coming home through Australian customs, the coffee I’d bought was not authentic (fortuitously, as had it been, it would not have been cleared because of the chance of fecal matter).
The next morning it was time to depart, Nha Trang our destination where we were looking to catch an overnight bus further north to Hoi An. There was to be a short delay however, as perhaps 3km out of town we pulled over to meet a truck with several sacks in its tray. Through bulging seams we could see raw chicken and within minutes, this extra bounty was added to our un-refrigerated cargo hold for the 3 and a half hour trip to Nha Trang (in 30 degree plus weather)!
I wish I could advise its destination so as to forewarn people to never eat there, but alas we were never privy to that information.
En route, our bus also managed to pick up some more additional passengers in the form of local school children. With all of the seats full, they seemed more than comfortable sat in the aisle.
We only spent a few hours in Nha Trang, down time waiting for our night bus, and for me that was enough. It is very much a resort town, popular with partying backpackers & Vietnamese tourists alike, but for me it was soulless.
It was all long white beaches full of bars, the water full of jet skis and the skyline dominated by big concrete and glass apartment blocks. Reminiscent of the Gold Coast in Australia, both lack charm, and this place also has it’s own tacky amusement park, Vinpearl Island with its very own Hollywood style sign.
That evening, I was very happy to board our sleeper bus, this time with sacks of bananas for company instead of chicken, and finish the journey to Hoi An. There were quite a few nervous glances towards that extra luggage as I had visions of large spiders crawling about in the night…