Tuesday August 4, 2015 (Asia, Southeast Asia, Vietnam)
Vietnam has been amazing thus far. It’s one of those places that’s so good you don’t want to tell anybody about it. But for whatever reason I’m doing it anyway.
We took a sleeper bus with Joe and Caroline to get ourselves to Dalat, Vietnam. It wasn’t quite what we expected. When initially checking out the seating arrangements, I was slightly perplexed at how the seat maps appeared to have three columns of seats down the length of the bus. Two aisles and three columns of seats. And an upper and lower level. We took what was available and grabbed a 2x2 square grid of seats and hoped for the best. When the bus arrived, we were in for a bit of a surprise. Unlike other buses we’ve ridden which have entirely separate upper and lower levels, the Vietnamese interpretation is to have two levels in one. How, you ask? Well, the seats are arranged such that they’re more like horizontal pods stacked atop one another. The “upper level” is at standing head level, and the “lower level” is at knee height. And now we understood the seating maps – there were indeed three columns of bus-beds stacked two high. Bizarre! We’re a fairly tall bunch, too, so it was a bit of a challenge to stuff our feet into the ends of the sleeping pods. Not a ton of extra room, but the novelty of the bus ride made it enjoyable. As a bonus, upon arrival at Dalat we were informed that everybody riding on buses from Phuong Trang bus lines was offered a free taxi to wherever they were staying in the city. Amazing!
Dalat is in the highlands of Vietnam at an altitude of 1500m. We spent our nights at the Hai Long Vuong, which was a well-priced and highly reviewed hotel. The breakfasts were very tasty and included wonderfully fresh rolls. Kind of like a footlong baguette. They’re very common in Vietnam and they’re all delicious. We believe the recipes might be a legacy left by the French, but the Vietnamese continue to make fantastic bread!
Speaking of food, we had an interesting meal our first night. Joe and I decided to get experimental and split a meal of frog and pigeon. You can spot both in the pictures above. Tasty. The pigeon was actually super fatty (and somewhat disturbing to take apart given the presence of a full bird face and beak) so we didn’t eat too much of it. The frog was cheap and relatively tasty! Maybe you should try it?
The general idea for tourist activities in the region of Dalat involves abseiling down waterfalls, cliff diving, hiking, and mountain biking. Our crew wasn’t too into the canyoning option, so with our three night stay we opted to hike on our first full day and (drumroll, please) cycle to Nha Trang on the next. An impressive itinerary, if I do say so myself.
The hike was called “Trek in Paradise”, and we had a nice time exploring the hills around Dalat with our guide Nguyen (surprisingly pronounced much like the word “win”). The hike had us marching up to a peak overlooking Paradise Lake, and at times desperately avoiding leaches attempting to crawl into our hiking boots. We also had a visit to the Truc Lam Zen Monastery. The monastery had some lovely gardens and was quite a peaceful place to visit.
Our next excursion was an ambitious plan to cycle ourselves from Dalat to Nha Trang – the next port of call on our trip through Vietnam. The tour we selected with Dalat Passion Tours included a support vehicle to bring us to a starting location and accompany us along the approximately 70km ride. The condition of the bikes was reasonable, although Sandra had some trouble with her rear brake not really being up to par. The ride itself was spectacular, though. I’d highly recommend doing the ride if you get a chance. The scenery was the best we’ve seen on our entire trip outside of Bolivia. Hopefully the pictures give you some impression of the natural beauty of the area. And it’s great: the ride has huge downhill sections, some as long as 30km. So you get to blow through these hills without really pedalling; just admiring the surrounding hills passing by.
Shortly after getting some group portraits taken by our guide, the rain began falling. Within a few minutes, the weather continued to degrade. After about ten minutes, our group was flying downhill in rain that might best be described as apocalyptic. We were all soaked to the bone within half a minute or so, but with huge smiles on our faces. Although it was pretty chilly when the rain began, as we continued to lose altitude the rain eased up and the temperatures returned to the warmth we’ve been accustomed to in this country. By the end of the ride, our entire group was definitely ready for it to be over. Sore butts, sore backs, sore necks and arms. But absolutely a worthwhile trip – we had a blast! And hey, we didn’t have to pay for a bus to take us to Nha Trang. We just biked there instead!
Since arriving in Nha Trang we’ve had a lovely time visiting the beaches. Really, we’ve just hung out on the beach all day. Playing around with a takraw ball, frisbees, swimming competitions, audiobooks, and tanning. Beach stuff. We’re staying at the Rex Hotel Nha Trang and have been impressed. The quality of accommodation that you get for your dollar in Vietnam is spectacular. I think it’s the best we’ve seen on our entire trip. We’re staying at lovely hotels for cheap hostel prices. It’s the traveller’s dream! Nha Trang itself is mildly overrun by Russian tourists, but it’s still a beautiful place to visit even if you can’t quite read the Russian food menus.
Sandra and I celebrated our two year wedding anniversary yesterday with the help of our travel companions Joe and Caroline. They very kindly bought us gifts to mark the occasion, including a great Nha Trang-themed tote bag and some celebratory bubbly drink. We capped off the evening by watching Good Morning Vietnam with our friends. Not too shabby for an anniversary abroad!
Before we go, I have two things to discuss about Vietnam. The first is smoking. It is incredibly popular here, much to our dismay. Tons of ladies are out wandering the streets trying to sell you cigarettes, and TONS of locals smoke like chimneys. This includes both our hiking and cycling guides. Fix this, Vietnam! Smoking ain’t cool no more!
The second thing we should chat about is the names of places. Restaurants, cafes… everything really. They’re incredibly entertaining from an English perspective. To start with, you only really need to examine the local currency. The Vietnamese Dong. Take a good, long look at the Dong. Then go spend your dong at a restaurant. How does Trong Dong Restaurant strike you? Let’s all eat there. But you know what, before we head over there let’s just stop by My Dung. And for an after-dinner coffee, we’ll chill out at Phuc Long. Smoke a cigarette once we’re done. No joke: these are all genuine, unadulterated names of locations we’ve encountered. The entertainment is endless here!
Another day, another dong!