We arrived in Dalat just before sunrise. We came on a night bus from Saigon. After a couple of hours in a semi-deserted bus station, a shuttle bus driver took us across town to the Cam Ly Homestay.
The sleeper bus this time around was not nearly as comfortable as the one in Cambodia, so neither of us slept very well. Imagine a seat in a cockpit, feet in a cubby-like holster up to your knees. This very rigid seat keeps you from rolling around but allows for only one position and is molded to the size of the average vietnamese person – small.
So we were both in a sleepless, zombie-like state. The worker asked us if we came from Saigon and my reply was, “nope, the U.S.” He just laughed and gave us the happy news that our room was ready. It was only 7:30 a.m but somebody had an early bus out so they got up and got the room ready for us. Try to get that service in the states, no freaking way.
Although we were zombies, a new town with cool, fresh air and a mountain setting was enough to coax us out for a morning walk. We were quickly on top of a hill and out of town. It didn’t take long to find some nice views on the hilly, less crowded roads of Da Lat. we stumbled across a well cared for, local war memorial. The memorial led through a garden on the way uphill to a well maintained cemetery. It was filled with nice trees and dotted with statues. The center piece was a 60 ft tall, four sided spire with a red star on top.
On our walk back, we found an intereresting little restaurant along a creek to have lunch. We had mystery fried rice and tea. They easily had the largest collection of lawn ornaments I’d ever seen lining the driveway alongside small fountains and ponds. Frogs croaked and we could see small fish swimming in the small pools as small birds flew in and out. Plants grew in any gaps that hadn’t already been claimed by gnomes.
After some much needed rest, we made our way to the Cam Ly waterfall for a sunset walk. The waterfall had been turned into a park of sorts, complete with stone animals, benches and a small bridge crossing over top the waterfall. My highlight was riding a stone elephant at the base of the falls. After all, it was my turn to ride a statue after McKayla’s sweet water buffalo in Sihanoukville.
A walk into town helped us realize just how big DaLat really is. Just like most places in Vietnam, it really comes to life at night. However, still exhausted, we had no desire to enjoy the night life. The plan was to go back to the guesthouse and get some rest. When we got back to our room, though, we were greeted by the whine of loud Vietnamese Karaoke (This country loves their Karaoke. Every other bar is a karaoke bar and these little fellas will serenade you all night if you stay in the wrong room). I decided I’d go get McKayla and me a couple beers, but Tri (the owner) insisted we come down to join them.
They made sure we tried a few different dishes of the rabbit they’d prepared, cracked us a few beers and made sure we didn’t feel left out on karaoke. Within 3 minutes of sitting down, we each had sung a few lines of hotel California. There was one other guest at the table (from the UK) and the rest was Tri, his family and friends. His friends were part of the Easy Riders, spoke very good english, had great senses of humor and didn’t let more than a minute go by without yelling “Yo!” (The local cheers). One of the Easy Riders could change his accent at will; he honestly did the best Trump impression I’ve heard. We knew when Trump was coming out because he’d start combing his hair forward before his next bit. These guys were so great that we decided right there to book an Easy rider tour for the next morning.
We started fairly early in order to fit in a whole day of events. So, we each were on the back of a tour guide’s moto. My guide called himself Michael Jackson and was a younger guy with a quick, loud laugh. McKayla rode on the back of Mr. Hung, a pretty badass old dude. We cruised up mountain roads and out of town. Our first stop they dropped us off at the bars of a hill and said, “go up, enjoy the view and stay left, we’ll pick you up on the other side.”
Our second stop was an up close view of how the flower city earned its name. ‘Greenhouses’ line the hill sides. Most of them are a half acre of flowers, topped with a semi-cleartarp and a drip irrigation system running through. DaLat provides flowers for the whole country we’re told. The Highgarden of Vietnam.
We then went to a somewhat disturbing coffee plantation. I’ve said it before, but the Vietnamese truly love their coffee. So much so that in this region, they’ve taken coffee roasting to the next level. They have weasels eat the coffee cherries, then they gather their shit which is mostly coffee beans, clean it and roast it… boom, weasel shit coffee. Can’t say I approve but when in Rome… A bit nutty for my taste but we enjoyed our coffee with a beautiful view overlooking the plantation, a valley and the mountains beyond.
The whole time, our guides were top notch – allowing us to explore wherever we felt like and providing some great local knowledge. When it was necessary. Our last stop was to a rice ‘wine’ distillery. After giving each of us a taste, Michael poured some on the table and lit it on fire to show us what we already knew – this stuff was strong.
We had a blast with the Easy Riders. But no matter how great they were on their motorcycles, there were still giant trucks passing us on mountain roads around blind corners and no one alive can make me completely comfortable through that.
After a rest and some street food, we hung out at the guesthouse again but this time we had a chance to meet some fellow travelers. We even met a great couple (Dutch and Belgian) doing the same thing as us – same time frame, quit their jobs, have a dog waiting for them back at home, and even had a similar story of a moto crash. If we are crazy – at least we’re not the only ones. Something tells me our paths will cross again.