27.05.2010 - 05.06.2010 28 °C
We arrived in Dalat in the evening and decided to stay at ‘Phong Huong’ guesthouse which is owned by a very friendly and helpful man, is cheap and has big rooms. Dalat is up in the mountains and as such has a very cool climate – exactly what we needed after HCMC! The city of Dalat is renowned for its flowers, fruit, vegetables and wine (which Joy recommends). As our coach had taken two hours longer than anticipated we got there so late we had to just go to whichever restaurant was open. This process was made about 100 times more annoying by an ‘Easy Rider’ (man on motorbike) following us wherever we went trying to get some custom to see the local sights. He had met us off the bus and he seemed to be driving around every corner we turned, stopping to chat every time! Argh! A very pleasant man but no exactly what we needed at that point! We went to a vegetarian restaurant near our hotel which had photos up on the wall of famous faces such as David Duchovny, Gandhi and Ashley Judd. The proprietor must have noticed the perplexed looks on our faces so he explained they are famous people who don’t eat meat! Easy when you think about it - not too many other reasons David Duchovny could be compared to Gandhi, but then Gandhi wouldn't have made a very good Agent Mulder, would he? We had an average dinner and headed off quickly as they began turning all the lights off apart from the one above our heads and wheeling their mopeds inside past our table.
We decided to rent a moped the next day to see the sights on our own as it was a third of the price we were quoted by the Easy Rider. We managed to rent a brand new automatic Yamaha for $6 and had an awesome day going to see a waterfall and a pagoda before stopping for lunch. After lunch we went to the 'Crazy House', a guesthouse and restaurant which is a kind of Vietnamese version of what you'd find down the rabbit hole in 'Alice in Wonderland'. It is made entirely out of concrete (Vietnam's favourite material) and painted in an array of colours. The rooms are really odd shape and tend to be based on an animal - our personal favourite was the kangaroo room, complete with glowing-red-eyed kangaroo in the corner to haunt your dreams. The beds are all kinds of crazy shapes, the mattresses must have been specially made for the house. They wouldn't be much good for anyone over 5ft8 though! The stairs are all spiral, some leading up 30ft in the air and with a flagrant disregard for health and safety they are about a foot wide with a barrier either side which barely reaches above your ankle! Some literally lead to a sheer drop at the moment as they are doing some renovation work and are buiding another structure. Rather than telling you this they like to let you figure it out yourself. We left the Crazy House after Richard stomped on a half full carton of sour milk which sprayed on the ceiling of the house and all over joy's hair, back and legs. (Richard wishes to point out he also got a couple of splashes.)
After we showered and changed to remove the stench from ourselves, we went to see Duy Viet, an 80yr old poet and artist. He served us cherry tea and homemade cake and gave Joy some flowers and fruit from his garden. He was such a lovely man and we had a nice chat and bought a big scroll with one of his own poems on. We even got to meet his grandson who was great fun but got very shy when we tried to take his picture. We decided to cruise further and see some of the Lat villages north of Dalat that night and took in some nice scenery before it got really cold and we had to turn back.
The next day we got picked up from our hotel and headed off to Nha Trang! We had arranged to meet Katie and Freddie (friends from Phnom Penh) and they had already found a great hotel - $7 for a brand new room with air con! We dumped our stuff and went straight to the beach to lounge for a couple of hours before meeting Katie and Freddie at the hotel. We headed out for some beers that night and it turned into quite a big one as we met a few more nice people from London and Scotland. We ended up in the beachside Sailors Club, an expensive but classy joint. Thankfully the proprietor, an Aussie, was in town and he showered us with free drinks! After this we ended up with the obligatory night swimming made more amusing with Katie and Freddie’s waterproof camera. The next day we didn’t really have any plans but as we had woken up early with hangovers and another all day power cut (the norm in Nha Trang) we decided to head to see some local sights and then to the beach to lounge some more. We also booked ourselves onto an island tour (dare we describe it as a booze cruise?) the next day.
We got picked up at 8am and headed off to the first of four islands off the coast of Nha Trang. The first had an Aquarium which we opted not to visit as it wasn’t included in the price and we’d seen lots of marine life in the wild in Australia. At the second island we did some swimming offshore and although there were masks and snorkels to use we opted to jump off the top of the boat and sit in rubber rings chatting to the people we met on the boat. Next on the agenda was lunch and it was an amazing spread with lots of tofu and seafood dishes. Food was followed with a performance by the ‘Nha Trang Boyband’ - our tour leader Mr. Binh was the lead singer and the captain and kitchen staff made up the rest of the band! The captain/guitarist was amazing and the drummer was excellent, especially considering he was using the smallest ricketiest looking drum kit we’ve ever seen! After the performance we went to the ‘floating bar’ – an elderly member of staff who had worn a coconut bra and played the tambourine during the musical performance was now sitting on a big ring in the ocean, tied to the boat with a piece of rope. The tourgoers then sat in our rubber rings and enjoyed our free drinks whilst trying not to be carried off to sea by the current. Within 20 minutes the fun was over as we’d drank the bar dry. We moved onto other islands to continue the theme of jumping off the top of the boat until a storm came in and we headed home in some refreshing cool wind and rain. We had really good trip for $5 including food, cocktails at happy hour, use of snorkels and all the entertainment. That night we headed out for pizza and a few ‘bia hoi’s (7000 Dong for a litre – about 25p, not bad) with Katie Freddie and Tom – another guy who was staying at our hotel. All in all it was a good day!
We decided to move on to Hoi An after Nha Trang so we spent the day on the beach before catching the night bus there. On boarding the bus Richard looked across and to our surprise Heidi was on one of the beds (this was the first of many unexpected meetings we had with Heidi). It was a relatively easy journey until we were woken up at 6am by loud Vengaboys style music, with a strange interlude of ‘2 Become 1’ by the Spice Girls. We headed to a hotel near the market which was cheap if not cheerful and proceeded to doze ‘til midday! After that we headed for lunch, opting for Cao Lau – a Hoi An specialty. It is another noodle soup but with thicker noodles and less sauce. We dare say it was tastier than our Pho in HCMC! We then went out and spent a lot of money (relatively speaking) getting some fabric for our mums from the cloth market and ordering a tailor-made suit for Hussey and a nice coat for Joy!
We spent a few days in Hoi An as we had to make sure our clothes fitted properly. It was also a good place to pick up some cheap souvenirs such as lanterns and a set of chopsticks (for all the Pho we're going to make at home). We rented a moped one day and headed to the Cua Dai beach before we realised a big storm was coming and had to ride home in the driving rain! We spent other days just wandering up and down the river and having a relaxed time after the busy few days we’d spent so far in Nam. While wandering we again bumped into Heidi so we had a chat and decided to meet up for dinner. Heidi also brought her friend Choo a South Korean girl who was sharing her dorm. We tried some other local delicacies, White Roses (open wontons with prawns) and some pancake things we forget the name of which you roll up in rice paper with prawns and salad which were again very tasty! The next day all our clothes were ready so we sent them home via Seamail, as with all our souvenirs and gifts for people airmail would have cost $120! Expect your presents some time in September, folks!
We moved onto Hué the next morning, arriving in the afternoon. We decided to stay at Phuong Nha guesthouse for a reasonable $10 – the room was lovely and the fridge was stocked with beer! Dangerous. Once we had sorted ourselves out we went for a walk around, heading to the Perfume River which looked a bit of a non-event in the daylight but came to life at dusk when the floating lanterns were turned on and the many boats cruising up and down turned their lights on. We had a little wander down the riverbank where we met a gentleman selling some paintings on silk. We swatted him away initially (not really – we smiled and said ‘no thank you’) but when he said they were only a dollar each he had caught our attention so we bought 3 as he offered us a discount! He was very friendly and told us he painted them himself which we enjoyed – later discovering one of the three paintings had a different signature to the other two. Oh well!
We next walked towards the citadel for which Hué is famed – we were approached by many tuk-tuk drivers who simply couldn’t fathom why we would want to walk there! We got chatting to one of them about English football for a while and he only followed us shouting prices for about ten minutes after that which was very decent of him. The citadel was lovely at sunset and was made even better by the fact they were setting up for the Hué festival which would start a couple of days after we left! Many people were in the main area flying kites, playing football and generally having a look at how the preparations were coming on. We were about to get a sugar-cane juice from a streetside vendor but just as we approached the police came and ushered them off, confiscating their plastic chairs! We left the citadel and managed to catch some drummers practising on the walls. We managed to sit down and get a sugar cane juice this time without police intervention.
We walked back over the bridge over the perfume river and met two lovely Hue University students (of English and Japanese) who we chatted to for a good while as they were keen to practise their English! We have found the people in Hue to be some of the friendliest in the country despite the general preconception that people get a little less friendly to tourists the more North you get.
We hopped off to the backpacker district as we had spotted some cheap restaurants there earlier. We sat upstairs in an empty looking restaurant (as ever choosing it because it had the cheapest beer) and had a decent meal but were most chuffed when a 10 piece band turned up at the hotel directly opposite and after a few minutes faffing around started to play! They also seemed to have some breakdancers as part of the act, by the end the whole staff of the restaurant were upstairs looking through the windows and we had the prime seats! An enjoyable moment was when a Vietnamese onlooker started joining in with a strange floaty dance of his own creation! After a couple of beers we started discussing staying for a few days of the festival, but in the morning realised this was somewhat foolish as we were running out of pennies once again. In the end we moved on by another night bus to Hanoi, arriving in the manic city at 7am...