Thursday, 14 August 2014

Vietnam - Dalat

The journey to Dalat was a relatively quick four hours, however the beautiful winding mountain road was causing someone (Amy) some anguish who I think was convinced we would plough over the edge.  At least she wasn't throwing up like our other passengers.  Turns out the Vietnamese get very travel sick.  At one point we swerved and screeched to a halt, we had run into a herd of cows. No casualties though.  Each time something like that happens you do wonder if the drivers are very skilled or just very lucky.

We arrived and got a free minibus to our hotel, it turns out that the bus company we'd been religiously travelling with do free transfers to your hotel from the bus station and it's a trick we have definitely been missing!  Setting out to explore, we hadn't done much research and didn't know where the centre of town was.  We headed the wrong direction and it started to pour it down. 

A bit miserable and wet we recouped in a local cafe with WiFi and did some research.  For any travellers and holiday makers I highly recommend the app "Triposo".  When you have WiFi you download the country you're visiting and it has a whole host of info- exchange rate, weather, phrases, an offline map, plus all the top attractions you'd find on TripAdvisor.  It's very useful!

Clued up on the main sights, we headed into the main town and took a wander.  Dalat is a small town in the mountains between Ho Chi Minh and the coast.  The French settled here as it made a nice change from the heat the rest of the south faces, and it is very beautiful.  The architecture reminded me of the Swiss Alps (just realised I have never been to any Alps let alone the Swiss bit but you get my drift) and I liked it.  The town itself is nothing of beauty but the surrounding scenery is stunning.

Arrival sunset

Lake in the town

Many florists as flowers grow in the microclimate

The next day was my birthday, yay! We decided to celebrate by FINALLY getting round to a hike, we had failed in all other places due to low season/guide illness/expense.  The hike was a trek through the surrounding jungle, up a mountain (I use this term loosely, maybe let's call it a big hill) and down again the other side.

It started off promising, we began at a beautiful lake at the foot of the big hill surrounded by forest.  It really was very picturesque, rich holiday makers agreed and had built large mansions overlooking the water. 

The hike was 12km and took around five hours with a break for a picnic lunch.  With Amy's lack of balance and my habit of tripping up a lot (I made myself bleed in the first five minutes from tripping on bracken) I am pretty sure our guide was thinking "how did I get lumbered with these two?".  He was a sweet guy, confusingly a Vietnamese man called " Thai" who led us through streams, over tree stumps and up the hill.

First booboo

Afternoon picnic spot

We had both taken our shoes off at the first stream to cross but I managed to get very muddy very soon after and resorted to wading through the next streams we crossed, Amy valiantly removing shoes and socks for each.  Every 5 minutes we'd stop and search for leeches - I became very paranoid and squealed every time a leaf was on my leg.  Amy got a huge leech on her, we didn't know if it was huge because it had been feeing on her leg a while.  My leeches luckily stayed contained on my trainers and a quick squirt of insect repellent killed them right off - a good trick to know!

The hike was a little disappointing, I was expecting brilliant views when we reached the peak, but we reached the top surrounded by jungle, and descended surrounded by jungle, and jungle all looks the same.   It was good to get out into the wilderness though,as well as a bit of much needed exercise!!

After napping and having well needed showers we headed out for a birthday dinner in a lovely little restaurant - we're suckers for fairy lights and candles.  We then went to a bakery which had the most amazing looking cakes for amazing prices, 25000 dong (65p) for a fairly large individual cake.  We bought a few things and headed to the hotel for a feast.

beautiful views but poor service, wouldn't recommend

cosy atmosphere and lovely service!

amazing and so cheap!!! but not as nice as they loook

The following day we went on a tour of Dalat, we hadn't intended on booking anything but the guide in our hotel was SO enthusiastic that we couldn't refuse.  He will go far in life!  (He also persuaded Amy to travel 200km on the back of his bike back to Nha Trang when she could have got the cheaper bus back!)

The tour was AMAZING and the best thing I have ever done ever.  I think, as that's a grand statement to make.  We hopped on the back of motorbikes (this was an achievement in itself, the last time I was properly on a bike was Loomsey's (rest in peace xxx) at uni and I nearly pooed myself I was so scared) and headed out on a crazy trip around Dalat.

We stopped at:

  • A weasel coffee plantation and sampled the produce (coffee made from beans that weasels have eaten then pooped out.  Verdict: earthy taste but not liking coffee much anyway I am not able to give an educated opinion)
view from the factory

weasel poo coffee

  • A silk making factory (very interesting to see the process from silk worms to silk scarves, the factory smelt of mashed potatoes)

  • A village with a giant chicken statue, apparently built by the government to day thanks for the war effort (I think they would have preferred money) where we bought some candy for the poor kids (again, they would probably have preferred money)

  • A flower garden where they grew roses and gerberas on an industrial scale (quite interesting and our guides, Tien and Anh, gave us roses that then got ruined on the back of bikes)

    With Tien and our roses
  • A cricket factory where there were hundreds of crickets living in tarpaulin nests ready to be fried for consumption.  I couldn't bring myself to eat one, even looking at them made me feel queasy, but Amy gobbled them down. She might have even enjoyed it...

stopped for a delicious snack, some sort of papaya salad

But the most fun was had at the two waterfalls we were taken to.  The first, Elephant Falls, was a treacherous climb down to the base where we stood on a rock and got pounded by spray.  Neither of us had worn sensible shoes and so went bare foot which was slippery,muddy and painful!  Our guides were like cats, springing about all over the place and providing a steady hand when we needed it, which was a lot! We also headed down a pathway to be behind the waterfall, I gave up by this a point as too much water was in my eyes and I was worried my contacts were going to come out but Amy stood with Tien, screaming like mad men at the spray and getting drenched.  (Amy was the brave one on this trip,!)

I didn't poop myself....

We dried quickly on the bikes in the warm breeze and headed to Pongour Falls, probably the most amazing and beautiful place I have been in Asia.  The falls are wide rather than steep and the limestone has made shelves for the water to pour down.  We jumped in (OK, tentatively slid in) to the lake at the base and swam across to the base of the fall.  From here we climbed up the levels of the fall, it was so exhilarating!  And a bit scary and probably a bit dangerous.  At one point we went to the largest shelf where the water was most powerful and walked right underneath the shower.  I'm embarrassed to admit but I froze in panic and couldn't go any further, it's actually not much fun having heavy water pounding on top of you and not being able to see properly because there's so much water in your eyes and not breathing properly because of the water spray.  I was being a baby - anyone could water board me and I would sing like a canary!!  

Anyway once I got over the panic and Tien rescued me from the fiercest part I started to enjoy myself and we played on the water shelves striking silly poses and generally being silly.  It was amazing and one of the best experiences of my life!!  Travelling on the back of the bike was great too, it's so organic - you feel like part of the scenery rather than being cooped behind glass window of a minibus.  Plus we dried really quickly in the sun!

The trip was knackering so we napped when we got in then joined Tien for some beers in the evening.

Mine and Amy's final day together was spent chilling out in Dalat.  We had a huge lie in then headed down to the lake where we had a romantic pedalo ride.  We walked to 'the crazy house " but it's shut on weekends and so we rested and had tea in a nearby cafe (note to self - must do better research!)

Farewell sunset

The next day we parted ways, me to make my way slowly home and Amy to Nha Trang, where she will beach  bum for a week while waiting for Rob.

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