Almost like driving to Tahoe
We bought our tickets to leave Mui Ne last night, though this morning we both probably could have been convinced to stay. But the wind was not on our side and we could not convince ourselves to stay without the chance to get out on the water. (Later before we would board our bus we got to see what kite boarding instructors do when there is no wind – set up a volleyball net and get sandy!) We branched away from our banana pancakes and Lipton tea for something a bit different at the Mellow Guesthouse down the street – well, at least I branched out with fruit and muesli. Sabina and Felix were enjoying a relaxed breakfast, giving us one last chance to say goodbye. After breakfast, we packed up (in less than 20 minutes, which still impresses us), sent a few important emails, went for a quick swim and then were ready to go. With one last spicy beef fried rice at the Wax Beach Bar, we said goodbye to the beach.
It was a bumpy, windy and hot ride up into the Central Highlands. Our multi-passenger van promised a speedy 4 hour ride to Da Lat, so we tried not to complain. For anyone who has been on the roads in Vietnam – you will already know the driving practice that involves honking the horn at every turn and at the sight of any other moving object (van, truck, bus, bike, moto, car or cow) in order to make your presence known. The deafening honk of our van kept us constant company as we wound through the curvy roads, away from the sea. This practice is popular in Laos and Cambodia as well, so you would think that our ears would have acclimatized but that is not the case.
As the sea air turned more humid and the landscape became dry and brown, we wondered when the “French Alp” feel of the Central Highlands would start. Slowly the earth showed signs of greenery and dense foliage. And at one point, as the road inclined, a forest of pine trees appeared and there was a crispness in the air. It was like the drive from San Francisco to Tahoe – from the sea through the dry and hot central valley to the crisp and fresh pine covered mountains of Tahoe. We arrived in Dalat, the “City of Eternal Spring” and easily checked into the Dreams Hotel, a family run guesthouse that will be very hard to leave.
Happy New Year
After a breakfast spread that included avocado, peanut butter and of course La Vache Qui Rit (the soft, spreadable cheese from France can be found everywhere in Vietnam), we spent a bit of time at the computer finalizing the flights needed for the remainder of our trip. Somehow it was almost noon before we left our lovely little guesthouse, so we found a place to eat a quick lunch and then we started the walk to the old train station.
At 2pm the one cabin train lurched out of this restored station, taking a hand full of tourists to the town of Trai Mat. The 20 minute train ride took us through the agricultural fields surrounding Da Lat, including abundant fields of artichokes, lettuce, strawberries, tomatoes, mint and many other crops. In Trai Mat, the short walk to the Dragon Pagoda makes the funny little trip worth it. We awere rewarded with a façade decorated in thousands of mosaic tiles, made of old pottery and ceramics. The scaly skin of the dragon in the garden is made of finely carved glass bottles. The whole thing is one big recycled piece of art – it was fascinating. Walking back to the train, a local man tapped Patrick’s shoulder, asking to switch hats. We quickly heard the laughs and hollers from his friends at the bar – we’re glad we can provide some entertainment. As the train pulled from the station, they waved and cheered and Patrick tilted his hat. Keeping up foreign relations can be as easy as that.
On the train ride home we meet a lovely German family who are currently living in Bangkok and we found a place to enjoy an afternoon drink. We exchanged emails and looked forward to meeting up with them in a few short weeks. When we returned back to the Dreams, Sung, the proprietress here, was again kind and willing to help with any and all travel needs. She arranged our bus for the morning, as we have decided against travelling with the Easy Riders (the famous motorcycle tour guides) and with that we could rest in our peaceful room before venturing out for dinner.
Dalat is the place where the Vietnamese come on honeymoon and the swan-boats on the lake, the Eiffel ‘electrical’ tower and the nearby Valley of Love all seem to add to this flavor. But the intimate village in the mountains feeling is missing. I wondered why this city was considered the kitsch capital of Vietnam, and tonight while walking through the market I saw why. Stalls were filled with kitsch like crocheted dolls, key-chains and pot holders or pieces of carved pine painted with quotes in Vietnamese. On the weekends, the streets around the market are closed to car traffic, and with the glowing lights of the Eiffel Tower in the back-ground, you can almost feel the love in the air. The locals are adorned as well, with crocheted scarves and hats, though the mild temperature at the moment does not seem to require such things. It is a funny, sweet little place.
On our way back to the same restaurant in which we dined last night, a tour guide stops to ask us if we would like to book a tour with him tomorrow. Before I can get out that we are leaving tomorrow, Patrick asks him if he wants the bag of peanuts in his hand, that he has been trying to get rid of for a few minutes. Without blinking he says yes and the bag drops into his hand – but this has not stopped his elevator speech about his services. When I get out that we are leaving tomorrow, he losses interest and disappears with the peanuts, just after wishing us a good trip. It is these little interactions that are priceless.
A few feet later, a well dressed young man gets Patrick attention somehow and after the kind “hello”, said “Happy New Year”. Of course Patrick replied the same back to him – though the time of year did not make sense. The man’s blank stare told us the response did not make sense to him either. He kept repeating it and somehow, on attempt number 3, I managed to decipher “Have you had dinner yet?” Oh, that is what he said. He was about to invite us to his restaurant, to which we were already headed. Again, a priceless moment.