It feels like autumn here in Da Lat, which is strange since its a solid 30 degrees. There are fires crackling on the sides of roads, burning all sorts of toxic plastics and waste, and the smoke engulfs you as you bike through. The smell reminds me of rustic autumn, where the bright hues of shedding tree leaves are illuminated by autumnal fires. I’m reminiscing now, but I can vouch that I don’t miss rainy, bleak November in England. Apparently, it’s even snowing in London at the moment!
Anyway, in the words of Julie Andrews, let’s start at the very beginning. At 4am on Thursday morning the piercing tones of my alarm woke me from my drunken slumber (my alarm’s a duck quacking so that was not very pleasant). I’d decided to go to happy hour and then somehow found my way to Northbridge, but for once the alcohol didn’t agree with me. Thus, dragging myself to the airport on three hours of sleep was made even worse…
We were both convinced that something would go wrong ad so our time at the airport was spent in a rather petrified silence, worsened when the woman announced that my friend’s bag was 2kg overweight. Luckily, she showed us some mercy and let us through. The only other hiccough in the ten hours of travelling was getting our visas, but that’s pretty bog standard. My friend was made to wait for half an hour while she tried to load her visa confirmation email, while I was questioned at security about whether I had a return ticket to prove that I wasn’t illegally staying in the country for longer than fifteen days.
As you can probably guess, we made it into the country, and the heat hit us like a…I can’t think of an appropriate simile (hammer? Door in the face?) but you get the idea. It was bloody boiling, and horribly sticky. We wanted to dive head first into the backpacker’s way of life, and so attempted to take bus instead of being sensible and taking a taxi. This involved wandering aimlessly across the road, looking like typical tourists, and narrowly avoiding getting hit by a multitude of cars. And when we asked anyone where the bus was, they merely replied with ‘taxi?’
We resorted to walking for some absurd reason, and were soon drenched in sweat. Thankfully, we’d only brought 30L bags, as opposed to the 60L bags most of the exchanges at Trinity are currently travelling with. By sheer luck, the elusive bus we’d been searching for pulled up in front of us, and we hopped gladly on. It cost us 30p…gotta love Asia! After a good half an hour during which we only travelled a couple of kilometres (the traffic in Ho Chi Minh city is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced), we arrived at our hostel…or so we thought. It turns out that there are two hostels called ‘Saigon Backpacker’s Hostel’ in the city (it is a pretty obvious name, I guess). The woman at the desk was very amused by us, but gave us room willingly.
Day 1 (or I guess technically 2) was spent receiving our dose of culture. We visited the War Remnants Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels (both highly recommended), before hopping on a seven hour sleeper bus. We were very dubious about this, since the (infallible) Internet had told us never to go on a bus in Vietnam as your death will be imminent. However, we were pleasantly surprised. We finally managed to get on our bus after five tries, and settled comfortably into our sleeper bunk things, which were hideously narrow and rather sticky. I slept horribly, dreaming strange dreams and waking up what felt like every second. It certainly was an experience though, and it definitely wasn’t that bad as we’re taking a 16 hour one tomorrow…
It was 4am by the time we arrived, and also freezing cold. Well, around 25 degrees but I’ve got picky now. We lurked in the bus port for a while, got harassed by some guy offering to drive us on his bike, shooed him away, before promptly changing our minds and returning to him, shamefaced. We then rode off on the back of two bikes ridden by strange men into the darkness…
We got dropped off at a dodgy alleyway which was pitch black, and the man gesticulated into the darkness. The hostel was that way, apparently. We were too tired to be on our guard, and set off. When we reached it, we were greeted by ferocious sounding barks, and I was convinced that we were going to be mauled to death by vietnamese dogs. Instead, a man suddenly appeared out of the darkness, and we attempted to converse with him. We got shown into a dorm, and collapsed onto unmade beds, desperately hoping there weren’t bed bugs but too tired to actually care.
Three hours later we rose, explored the hostel and had breakfast. We met some people- two Australians and a Brit (nice and familiar) and were invited to some waterfall with them. The plan was pretty straightforward- rent bikes and drive to the place, some 50km away. However, we came up against a bit of an obstacle once we’d established that all the bikes had been rented. We’d gone from people harassing us to actually denying us something that we wanted to buy! Very odd. We ended up getting lifts with the same guys, who seemed hugely pleased to see us again.
Driving in Vietnam is crazy. To cross the road in Ho Chi Minh you have to step out in front of cars and bikes heading straight towards you at 40kmph, and just hope that they avoid you. In Da Lat and I assume all the country roads in Asia, cars drive on both sides of the road. People will overtake on a blind bend, blaring their horns and narrowly avoiding cars coming in the other direction. You’ll be driving on the right side of the road and cars will beep at you because they want to pass you, and you have to get out of the way! Every few minutes, gigantic lorries will zoom past in the middle of the road, creating a side wind that threatens to blow you off your bike. It’s utter chaos, and I love it.
We arrived at Pongour Falls a bum-numbing hour later. We struggled to find the actual waterfall, and when we did, we could only view it over an overhanging cliff. We were undeterred, and soon found a tiny path down the rocks and scrambled down. The waterfall was magnificent and drowned out all sound. We stood under it, pretended to take a shower (I actually needed a shower so this was handy!), and posed for some cliché pictures. When we glanced over, we saw that some boys were making fun of us.
Lunch consisted of mango and water melon, eaten on a rock by the water. On the ride back it started raining and my driver gave me a white and green gingham poncho. Effectively, I was wearing an oversized table cloth that billowed out as we drove. Quite a sight, I can imagine.