I mentioned in my previous post that I had briefly considered skipping Dalat. I am so so (yes it deserved 2 so’s) glad that I didn’t as this place turned out to be the highlight of Vietnam for me and probably the best part of my travels so far. In addition to the fact that the area was so nice and there was so much to see, I think a big reason for this was the hostel I stayed in, called Tiny Tigers, had some great staff that worked there and their aim seemed to be to help give you bit of an experience rather than just a bed to sleep in. I also met a great mix of people during my stay here.
I had read up a little about Dalat in my travel guide and apparently it was a mountain based town, built originally by the French during their colonisation of Vietnam, and they started building villas there mainly as a high altitude holiday escape from the oppressive heat and congestion of Saigon and over the years it had just developed from there. When I arrived there, I did actually feel like I had been teleported to some quaint town in the French Alps and it was easy to see their influence here. It was very different to anywhere else I had seen in Vietnam, mainly in terms of the architecture of the buildings.
I took a stroll around the town looking for an ATM and stumbled across a tourist attraction known as “The Crazy House”. This place was indeed pretty crazy and I don’t really have words to describe what it is. Will just let the pictures do the talking.
After my fairly inactive time in Nha Trang due to the rain, I felt like I wanted to do something in Dalat so when I got back to the hostel I signed up for a countryside motorcycle tour the next day which has almost perfect reviews online. Due to this tour, I was intending to take it easy that night but although there were not many people staying at this hostel it was highly social and they have some pretty friendly staff that work there. I went down to the reception intending to go out for dinner and next thing I knew I was having a few beers with some of the local Vietnamese staff that work at the hostel and also on the motorcycle tours. They told me about the “family meals” the hostel do where for US$3 they cook dinner and everyone from the hostel eats together in a group. I agreed and went upstairs where much to my simultaneous delight and despair I discovered that they offered free beer from 6PM – 7PM. Well I got stuck in of course – when in Rome and all. The Vietnamese guys up there were very entertaining and I also met two sound German guys up there who were also eating and were following a similar route to me. They spoke perfect English and were from Hamburg so as always it was great to meet some fellow travellers.
As seems to be the way when socialising with Vietnamese, it wasn’t long before the rice wine came out and shot after shot was poured with shouts of “Hai, Bai, Ma, Yo” before each drink which I think means One, Two, Three, Cheers. After the meal, the two German guys invited me to go with them to a bar called the Maze Bar. This was a strange bar to say the least and well basically you had to walk through, around and up a maze to get to the roof top bar which was actually quite a challenge. At the top, we met an American guy called Brad and then next thing I knew we were at another bar called Woody’s, with about 10 backpackers from various nationalities who were all staying where the American was – Australia, German, Canadians, Brazilians, Israelis and the American. I was having a really good time chatting to everyone but several beers later and one unnecessary cocktail which made my head spin, I suddenly remembered the early motorbike tour I was on and went home shortly after midnight.
I woke up with a headache and met my guide for the private motorcycle tour. As usual, I hadn’t asked all the important questions when booking my tour and I thought I would have my own motorbike and would be following him so at first I was a little disappointed when he parked me on the back of his motorbike but that disappointment faded throughout the day as it turned out to be one of the best days I have had in Vietnam so far or at least in the top 3. I am not going to give a long narrative about the day – I will just show the day with some pictures and captions.
One of the main reasons the day was good apart from the sights and activities was the guide – he called himself Jimmy Bond and he was very informative, enthusiastic and funny and made everything seem pretty interesting. Also the sun was now finally out and shining in all its mighty glory! It was so nice to feel the sun on my arms and back while riding around. It had been nearly 2 weeks since I had last seen it.
Another noteworthy encounter of the day was when we had lunch after the Elephant Falls. Inside the café, my guide got chatting to another guide who was with an American traveller called Miles, so I got chatting to him and he said that he had recently been to Myanmar. I was on the fence about Myanmar but during that half hour lunch he completely sold it to me as he spoke about the place with such enthusiasm that I think I am definitely going to make the place a part of my trip. My cousin had also said it was one of the highlights of their travels. He said I should start in Mandalay and go south to Rangoon. The reason he liked it was because it is the most beautiful country he has ever been in and still untouched by tourism so now is the time to see it. He also said it was like going back in time to the 60’s. I am loving getting tips like this off other travellers and using them to guide me on my travels, I was actually in Dalat due to a tip from a Polish guy from a Russian bar in Nha Trang and having a great time.
After the motorcycling tour, I went up again for the family dinner. There were two new arrivals, a couple of girls from Israel. The rice wine was out again and after a few “Mai, Bai, Mo, Yo’s” and a game or two of pool the German guys told me that the backpackers we met from last night were going to a big Karaoke bar a bit out of the town.
I must say I was expecting this to be a kind of Vietnamese, local Karaoke bar I had seen so many of with plastic stools and a rudimentary sound system. Instead, when we arrived at “King Karaoke”, I saw a very large, modern, highly sophisticated Karaoke bar like you might see in Japan or Hong Kong. We were taken to a private room which had the full works – luxury leather seats, several microphones, very large high-tech looking speakers and an I-pad to select your songs or order drinks from and several ice buckets. I murdered several classics in that room but there was a good crowd and everyone got involved. As well as the ones from last night, there was also an English couple from Nottingham there too. The American guy, Brad, was completely over the top and very funny.
After the Karaoke bar, we made our way to a nightclub and when we went inside we discovered that it was a proper locals club – it was packed and we were the only Western group in there. This attracted a lot of interest, I mean the whole club turned and stared at us for several minutes, and quite a few of the local guys came up and tried to dance with us. For some reason though, there were about 7 security staff surrounding our group though and they seemed to want to keep us separate from the Vietnamese crowd which was a shame. Not sure why they felt the need to do that exactly, anyway it was a good night!
On my very last day in Dalat, I was feeling pretty exhausted so I had a bit of a chill out day and I thought I would skip the family meal that night because I knew it would most likely turn into another drinking session and I needed a night off. I took a walk around the town looking for somewhere to eat when to my surprise, whilst walking quite a bit of distance from the hostel, a motorbike pulled up beside me and I heard “Daniel, come on get on bike please, we go for tour of town and night market”. It was the hotel receptionist who had driven around the town looking for me! Turns out you were not allowed to have a night to yourself when staying at this hostel. Next minute, I was on the back of this bike and on a night tour of Dalat. I am really glad they did come and get me though as I met a sound Canadian couple and a nice French girl who was travelling solo, and had a very enjoyable tour around Dalat which included a night market, stopping for local soup, a visit to a bakery for some nice cakes, a stop for a coffee and then a couple of cheap, cold beers on some steps in the town where all the locals hung out. The guide then asked if we wanted to go to the pub but the other travellers didn’t really fancy it which was probably a good thing because 3 hangovers in a row would have been a bit nasty.
Yeah, Dalat takes the top spot of the trip so far for sure.
Next stop: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).