10.12.2012 - 17.12.2012 30 °C
We arrived in Dalat about midday after relatively painless 'Open Tour Bus' journey from Nha Trang. Don't think we've mentioned about the open tour buses but they're playing such a big part in our trip through Vietnam, we thought we would. Think the knight bus in Harry Potter, they're literally buses with bunk beds. As well as delivering passengers, they've been described by Lonely Planet as 'milk floats'...one of the ones we traveled on did a spot of egg delivery making us 2 hours late!
Dalat is the honeymoon capital of Vietnam and one of the main attractions to newlyweds is the 'Valley of Love' (Valle D'Amour). Awww! We mentioned in our last blog that we'd heard it was really kitsch... nothing prepared us for the reality! The Valley itself is a beautiful place with rolling green hills surrounding a serene lake. Then there's the sculptures.
The last pic is of lots of padlocks, all inscribed with sentiments. The keys were thrown in a nearby pond by honeymooners.
See? ...they were everywhere.
We wandered round taking cliched posed photos, as well as squeezing in a bit of archery and dodgems, but the highlight for us was definitely propelling ourselves across the lake on a plastic swan pedalo.
After gorging ourselves on romance we made our way to the Crazy House. It's as good as it sounds. An ongoing project of a local designer who has created her own surreal take on a guesthouse. It's as if you've just fallen through the rabbithole. The main design is of a huge Banyan tree and walking through the structure into various rooms, via twisting stairways and tunnels, you can easily find yourself lost in the lairs of animals, glittering grottos or the maze of tree branches and toadstools. The designer's goal is to bring people back to nature. Difficult to describe, so take a look.
We've already talked about how beautiful the food is here in Vietnam, but allow us to reiterate. We had our evening food in the street market stalls that night. Chris ate some very questionable meat in a noodle soup (he'd never tasted anything like it before...), perched with his knees by his ears on a tiny plastic stool by the roadside, and then some even more questionable 'chicken innards' on a stick. Louise discovered barbecued yams, which she has religiously sought out every day, in every town, since.
Bit of a dramatic end to the night when Lu had to remember how to be a nurse again in the middle of the hotel lobby. Difficult after being a lady of leisure for two months! A fellow backpacker had fallen off his motorbike the day before and needed a leg wound patching up. It actually worked out really well for us, because while we were chatting he gave us some great tips on what to see and do in the North of Vietnam.
We were headed to Hoi An next, which required a 60 minute change over in Nha Trang. To kill the time, we headed to the nearest street restaurant and were ready to order, when the head waitress came over to Chris with a mobile phone and said "this is for you" (erm - sorry, what?). It was the owner on the phone, telling Chris the restaurant we were shown in to and about to order from was closed. Chris put the phone down and the waitress asked us if we were ready to order. We were getting quite confused at this point. Chris explained he'd been told on the phone that the restaurant was closed. Anyway to cut a long story short, the guy Chris had spoken to arrived from nowhere and explained the restaurant was closed but would be open tomorrow. We were in fact being waited on by the restaurant next door. The owners were happy for us to stay on their closed premises and be served by their new competitor, but that felt weird, so we moved over a few tables and started again!
One 17 hour bus ride later (inc. TEN delivery stops in the night, a passenger left to sleep in the aisle and some very-near crashes), we were in Hoi An. It was at this point we made a pact to never use the open tour bus service again!
Hoi An reminded us very much of Luang Prabang, and we would have stayed longer if we didn't have so much left to see. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site (the first of three successive ones in our Vietnam itinerary), much of the town is walking and cycling only which immediately gives the town a quieter, more sedate feel. Its streets are made up of Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese architecture, all painted the same shade of yellow and it's really picturesque. We hired bikes and managed to do the whole town in a day (legs and bum killer) and had a welcome break with a row boat ride from a 52 year old flirtatious lady, who was very impressed with Louise's choice of husband.
So after being so productive in Hoi An, we've taken the same enthusiasm to Hue (H'way). Hue is another UNESCO World Heritage Site ('Nam's just showing off now) famed for its inner citadel built during the Chinese N'guyen dynasty when they occupied Vietnam some 200 odd years ago.
We looked about for a day, but being honest after all the many different temples we've seen (specifically the temples of Angkor), we weren't blown away. We hit a bar in the evening to plan a few trips in that would take us off the tourist trail and Louise discovered the B-52 cocktail a flaming combination of Baileys, Kahlua and Triple-Sec, to be drunk (quickly) before the straw melts.
Day 2 in Hue was a group tour around the Demilitarized Zone (the area in the middle of Vietnam where no fighting was supposed to take place, or DMZ to save our fingers). We were asked to be ready at 6am so we could make the drive out to a place called Dong Ha and the guide could jump on board. The tour itself included 'The Rockpile' (a mountain imaginatively named by USA and their main base for surveillance), a stop to look at the Ho Chi Minh trail, a 30 min walk round the now defunct Khe Sanh Combat base (US base with a disused bunker network and a few planes etc) and the undisputed highlight of the trip the chance to walk through the tunnels at Vinh Moc. The tunnels were built by the villagers of Vinh Moc, who were forced to go underground to hide from relentless US bombing. Thankfully, the tunnels were tall and wide enough that we managed the full 1.7km guided tour this time. It was a surreal experience to pass maternity rooms (17 babies born there, 16 of which survived and are alive today and some still remain in the village above ground), meeting rooms and family rooms, 15 METRES underground in a network so hot, the clay walls left fingerprints and left you panting and covered in sweat. The tour itself relied heavily on busing about the region and felt a little bullet pointed, but the experience in the tunnels is one we'll keep forever.
Tomorrow we get the train (HOORAY!) to Dong Hoi, then a quick trip over to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. The highlight of the park is the worlds biggest dry cave which is a part of the same network of caves as the Son Doong Cave, the worlds largest cave. Son Doong Cave was only discovered in 2009 and is still closed to tourists, have a quick look though, its crazy big.