Tuesday, 6 March 2012
Saigon to Da Lat to Nha Trang
We left Saigon quite early - said goodbye to our guesthouse at 7am, and were on the bus by 8am. We struck up a conversation with the guys across the aisle from us, as you do, and talked to them on and off throughout the journey. They were father and son, travelling from south to north like we were. The father picked our accents immediately, he was from Sydney but had moved to Belgium 40 years ago. They'd made several trips to Australia, as well.
The trip started in the heart of the city, travelling outwards. As we headed towards Da Lat, we passed rural areas and drove through several small towns. The view from the bus window was limiting, but it was interesting to look at the towns as we passed them. The buildings varied from newer houses, built the faux-colonial style and brightly painted in every colour from lime green to pale blue to fuschia, to barely-standing shacks made of corrugated iron and tarpaulin.
We gradually climbed higher and higher - high enough for my ears to pop - and reached Da Lat. A minibus drove us from the station to our accom, the Pink House Villa Hotel. Which was definitely pink, a solid cerise, with polished marble floors and lots of timber inside. The room was nice and clean, with a tiny balcony, but given the temperature had dropped to the low twenties.
Furnished with a map from the hotel owner, we set off downhill. Da Lat was apparently one of the few places neither side bombed during the Vietnam (American?) War, and the difference was subtle but clear - the buildings were all real colonial, not the post-war versions. The consistency showed. The streetscapes were classic European spa town, but with Vietnamese language, street-sellers, and most importantly traffic.
The Pink Villa's owner had invited us for dinner with some other guests, to be followed by karaoke. We had our doubts, but went back int time to go along. Dinner was delicious - a hot pot with chicken and tofu (the best tofu I've ever had, and I don't loathe tofu) with lots of greens and ginger - if a little expensive. Then Roc - the owner - took us back up the hill to his karaoke bar.
I say 'his' bar - he didn't own the place, but he used to work there as a professional karaoke singer! The bar was at the top of a hotel, and seemed like the kind of place you'd need local knowledge to find. The Vietnamese take their karaoke very seriously, or these singers were very professional, at least. Roc sang too - all Vietnamese songs, no-one sang anything western. It seemed like an interesting style, very melodramatic, and even the female singers used quite a deep range.
Magnus, another tourist from the hotel, was the only one to come along with us. He was from Manchester, and he and his wife had been travelling in China for 3 months. They'd been in Hoi An, and gave us the name of a tailor they liked!
We left Roc at the karaoke bar; he was going to come home with us, but we were piking pretty early and didn't want to make him leave.
After our early evening, we got up around 5am to check out in time for the minibus to take us to the bus station for our bus to Nha Trang. It was supposed to come at 7; by 7.30, we'd freaked out a little, despite reassurances from the hotel staff to wait just a little longer. We got our stuff, trekked down the hill to the main road, and made it to the bus station only to be told we'd missed our bus! They said there was another bus at 1pm, but then another woman called us back and handed over two tickets for an 8am bus...the one we were supposed to be on all along. So, we decided to go with it, and got on the bus before anyone else could tell us we weren't supposed to be there.
The ride itself was not exciting, but quite picturesque, with lots of farmland and tiny villages. The road wound along the side of the hills, then down across the valley floor. The air got hotter and hotter as we descended.
Nha Trang was hot. We arrived at the bus station, and had to find the tour place to confirm our tickets to Hoi An. The sun was beating down on our heads, so with the "help" of a moto driver, we found a cab (after the ride, we were told to pay the moto driver instead of the cab driver...no idea how that works, but pretty sure we got a little ripped off anyway). But we got our tickets, left our bags, and ventured out into the sun to find...something. Something to do, a place to drink, anything to kill the seven hours until our bus left.
We found the beach, and it is a nice spot on the coast. Nice breeze, trees in the park by the water. They'll charge you $20 for a beach umbrella, though...
We wanted to get out of the sun, so we went inland. The streets were all quite bare of both people and trees. We found a bar for lunch, and I swear we didn't do it deliberately, but the place had Fosters beer on tap. And, oddly enough, Christmas carols on the sound system. After lunch, we walked around, checked out the shops, hit the beach again, and walked along the promenade, checking out families, tourists, shmick hotels. We still had around four hours to deal with, and the sun was still beating down. We went inland again, and found a cafe. That killed maybe an hour - we went for dinner in a very-slightly-dodgy looking place on a tourist alley, then gave up and went back to the tour place to wait.
The sleeper bus arrived around 7, and even though it looked cramped, I hoped it'd be better than trying to sleep on the train.
It wasn't, not for me anyway. My berth was underneath, and also over the engine, which made the whole experience unnecessarily warm. Also, the dude in the berth behind me snored. He was so loud, I wanted to kill him.
A few of the other tourists had moved to different berths, so at about midnight, I was fed up enough to switch to a different berth, on the top level by the window. I didn't sleep that much, but it was at least cooler and less noisy without snoring guy.
Then, at about 5am, someone in the back threw up. Audibly. I closed my mouth and blocked my nose, praying we'd reach Hoi An soon.