Sunday, April 28, 2013

Da Lat is for lovers!

*Warning: This post has a picture of snake in it!*

Sometimes Courtney and I have a great plan for our next few days. Sometimes we make it up as we go. Da Lat has definitely been the latter. We stumbled off of our bus from Ho Chi Minh City at 5:15am. We had no map, no plan, no hotel, no idea where we were, no exit strategy, and very little sleep. We strapped on our backpacks and stumbled down the street just as the sky was beginning to brighten. We asked a few strangers which direction to the center of town, and we got a few confused looks before they pointed out the way. We found the middle of town just as the sun was coming up, and stopped to watch the sunrise over the lake.

As we sat there, we borrowed the wifi signal from the cafe next door and found an open hotel near the center of town. We strapped our backpacks back on, and after viewing one of the rooms and being satisfied, we booked our next few nights. Step one, complete.

Step two was to pass out and sleep til early afternoon. Eventually we woke up and wandered from our hotel in search of food. We found a little bar in the basement of a nearby hotel that we had heard about, and sat   down to dinner and a few drinks. Just what the doctor ordered.

On our way home, we stopped in the local market and found a candy vendor for dessert. We walked away with a bag full of sugar coated dried fruit and little cubes made of aloe vera. They were delicious. 

As we were getting ready for bed, we heard muffled singing coming from somewhere nearby, but we couldn't figure out where. We listened out the window, opened our door and listened down the hall, but it never seemed to get louder. Then it dawned on us. Our hotel is right next to a large karaoke place. The singing was coming from slightly intoxicated Asians singing their favorite songs on the other side of our wall. Thankfully, the place closes around 11:30, so its been mildly amusing/irritating instead of terrible. 

We got up the next day and checked the weather forecast. Afternoon showers were on the way, so we decided to stick around town and see what we could find that morning. What we found was the Hang Nga Guesthouse, also known as the "Crazy House." 

This place was wild. It was filled with winding tunnels and towering staircases linking the rooms of this guesthouse. We spent forever exploring every nook and cranny of this insane hotel. 

We grabbed a bite to eat and then headed back to our hotel just as the rain clouds were rolling in.

The skies opened up, and stayed that way for most of the day. Courtney and I took the opportunity for a relaxing dinner and a movie night in at our hotel. 

We were up early the next morning. We had booked a day tour with the Da Lat Easy Rider Club. The Easy Riders are a group of motorcycle enthusiasts turned tour guides. You can book them for just a day, or even for a multi-day journey around Vietnam. Our guides, Phuong and Bom, met us at their office and we were off. 

Our first stop was at a nearby pagoda. Before a long journey, Vietnamese people come here to pray for good luck, so that's exactly what we did. They also have a giant dragon statue!

We stopped at a few places along the way with great views of the surrounding countryside. The central highlands of Vietnam are beautiful.

Our next stop was at a local coffee plantation. They grow a number of different coffee beans here, and as of last year, Vietnam was the world's number one exporter of coffee.

From there, we went to the Elephant Waterfall. We followed our guide down a very treacherous path down the rocks to the bottom of the waterfall, but we're so glad we did. The views were amazing!

On our way back up, Bom took us across a few precariously placed rocks that lead to a cave behind the waterfall. It was so intense to be behind that much falling water.

We walked back up the hill to the pagoda at the top, and were rewarded with a picture with the giant happy Buddha.

After that, we sat down to a traditional Vietnamese lunch with our guides. Before we knew it, our table was full of rice, vegetables, pork, beef meatballs, tofu, chicken, and spring rolls. I was also offered a shot of interesting looking "rice wine'. Game for anything, I counted down with our two guides "Mot, Hai, Ba, YO!" (One, Two, Three, Cheers!) and downed the glass. Not bad, I thought. Then they showed me the jar it came from.

Snake wine is a traditional Vietnamese drink. They take wine made from rice and yeast, and shove a few snakes, head and all, into the jar. They let it sit for about 6 months, and then its ready to serve at about 30% alcohol. Our guides informed us that the people drink it as a local remedy, especially as a cure for gout.  A few more Mot Hai Ba YO's later and I had a snake wine buzz.

After lunch, we stopped at the rice winery to see how the rice wine is made. Turns out, its just like making moonshine in the hills of North Carolina.

As we started heading back, the skies were growing darker. Sure enough, about halfway back to town, it started pouring. Not just raining, but pouring. Our guides were great, and managed to avoid most of the streets-turned-rivers by snaking (no pun intended) their way along canals and through alleyways.

We made it safely back to our hotel, and even managed to dry out a little before dinner. We went to the same guesthouse for dinner as the night before, as it was lots of good food for cheap (dinner and drinks came to around $5). While we were waiting on our food, we struck up a conversation with a fellow American sitting at the table across from us. She was from Washington, and had just arrived that day. As we were talking, the 9-year-old Vietnamese boy next to her interrupted us. "Excuse me, I don't want to interrupt, but I would like to practice my English with you." How could we say no!?! The four of us proceeded to talk all through dinner about everything from his favorite subject in school (he likes math and recess, but history is boring! Too many wars.) to the places he wants to visit in America (The big bridge in California) to why there are people on earth (I kid you not, he asked me who the first human was and where the rest of us came from, and then sat there, interested, and listened while I gave him the evolutionary history of mankind). His mother sat next to him the whole time, smiled, and looked very proud. After saying goodbye to our new friend and encouraging him to always ask questions, we headed back to the market.

The market was crazy thanks to all of the Vietnamese toursists on holiday for Reunification Day, or the day the Americans left Vietnam (ironic, no?). We managed to find what we were looking for. A few limes and a bag of sugar. We got back to our hotel and made freshly squeezed, all local limeade. We added a little vodka, and sat back to relax after an amazing three days in Da Lat.

1 comment:

  1. Rice wine, eh? Sounds suspiciously like snake oil. But proud of you for stomaching it! And what a fun hotel and beautiful waterfall! So glad Vietnam is working out so well for you thus far. Cheers, yo!