Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Off to Dalat to start my "Easy Rider" adventure

June 21st. No surprise but up early again today to say goodbye to Ho Chi Minh City and head off to Dalat with Jackie and Dave, my fabulous, new found Canadian pals who i met on our Mekong Delta trip! As usual, Vietnam time is usually a bit off from the expected time of departure so as we hung around to get on the bus at 8am, this obviously meant we set off nearer to 9am....oh yes, and when someone tells you the bus is cheaper and quicker and you ask "hey, why is that".. don't believe the answer. Our bus was supposed to get into Dalat at 2:30pm according to the ticket guy, but when i spoke to Luong, he said it would be more like around 5pm.. lets see who is right!

The views on the way up to Dalat were gorgeous; lush greenery, misty mountains, really beautiful. We also passed a lot of very poor villages, again reminding me of Bolivia and some of Ecuador. There were alot of windy roads and hills on this trip; and we noticed that whenever we hit a hill, the driver's companion (this must be his job!) was to come around and turn off all the air conditioning above everyone sitting on the bus, basically 'cos the bus couldn't make it up the hill otherwise! Hilarious! Bus stopped for lunch at this somewhat questionable cafe/rest stop (let's call it that for want of a better description). When in doubt go for vegetable fried rice.. hmmn glad they made sure that the vegetarian option was ALL vegetables here "fried rice with vegetarian with vegetarian with vegetables"- had to take a pic 'cos it made me laugh!

Got into Dalat - yes around 5pm just as Luong had said!, and decided to make life easy by staying at the hotel right next to where our bus stopped - the Pacific Hotel, which looked quite grand from the outside... and i nicely bargained with the lady for a single room (which did have 2 massive beds in it!) from $7 to $5! Hey - good going eh! Most times hotels will bargain prices with you, but you do find that the difference in price between a single and double room is minimal... so us loser singles have to at least try the sob story and see how we get on and yah! It worked here. Now before you get excited, check out my deluxe view - ha! Actually my room was great and clean and had TV so i was a happy camper!

A little on our new location. A city of the Lam Dong Province, Dalat is located in what's known as the Central Highlands of Vietnam, and is found at 1,500m above sea level, just over 300km from HCM. The Central Highlands area covers the southern part of the Troung Son Mountain Range, and this beautiful region is home to many "Montagnards" (the French name for highlanders that is used to describe the ethnic minority people who live in this area), and renowned for its cool, beautiful mountain scenery and tons of lakes, and waterfalls. Dalat, with a population of around 130,000, is nicknamed the City of Eternal Spring due to its climate, and is well known as Vietnam's top honeymoon destination. It was definitely a big change from HCM with all the greenery around i have to say! There are quite a few kitschy elements to this town for some reason, including a mini-Eiffel Tower that sits near the lake..need to check with Luong on why that's there!!

Anyway, once we checked in, it was off again to meet Luong at the cinema, which according to the lady in the hotel was 200m away! A good half hour later, we stumbled upon it, and let me just say, it was DEF more than 200m away, but we had a great time walking through the streets; the people here are incredibly friendly, all smiles and curious stares even. The children run after you shouting "hello, hello" and "where are you from".. so gorgeous!!! There don't seem to be too many tourists in this town, although a lot of the guide books do say to stop off here, but hey, thats fine by me!
Met Luong and we all went for a coffee to discuss the potential itinerary and find out more about how the trip would work! Luong's testimonials (unlike loser Minh my psycho xy clo driver!) were amazing.. everyone who did a tour with him and the Easy Rider crew, raved about it!! I was sold immediately, well, i also knew from my friend Marieke that it would be an amazing trip; that Luong is the "unofficial i think he calls it" head of the real Easy Rider group (due to their popularity and mention in Lonely Planet, there are more people asking about their trips and other non-Easy Rider folks are jumping on the band wagon, taking tourists on sub-par trips so if anyone wants to do this, ill give you Luong's details cos he is definitely the best!) and that this would be an amazing experience. We all agreed we would set off tomorrow morning at 8am for 5 days (well, Jackie and Dave initially planned for 3 but as we all said, once we started they would want to do all 5 ..hopefully!). So after organizing where we would meet tomorrow we said goodbye to Luong and headed back to the hotel, to find our bus drivers from the trip from HCM, all in the lobby absolutely hammered - on rice wine im sure - and when they saw us they shouted - and i mean not using inside voices here folks -"HEELLLLLLLLLOOOOOOOO"... "YOU LIKE VIETNAM!"..... then after i would stumble in my few words of Vietnamese, all you would hear again was "HELLLLLLLLLLLLLLOOOOOO", YOU LIKE VIETNAM" then tons of giggles all round between them and the hotel staff! Daft as brushes these guys so we headed out for dinner!

A little lacking on the fine dining here in Dalat but no biggie so we found a local place (have to learn to throw things on the floor - bones, napkins etc. .. it's not rude, it's the custom, but i feel bad about it!)...and had a nice chat over dinner! On our way to the restaurant, we had met yet more children, carrying balloons and when they asked where we were from, and we chatted for a bit, they gave Jackie a heart shaped balloon for her and Dave.. Wasn't that lovely!!! Not so lovely was our waitress; who, when i tried my best to order in Vietnamese, she said in English, "if i didn't have the menu, i wouldn't have a clue what you just said, please speak in English" - okay then.. i was only trying! But she wasn't really mean about it, and my Vietnamese is horrible so fair point i suppose -although i was a wee bitty put out at the time!

Anyway, off to bed now! So excited about my trip - yah!! Go Easy Riders, Go!!!


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