We leave the grumpy old man behind in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and head for the hill town of Dalat (Đà Lạt) via the infamous “sleeper bus”. Take your shoes off at the bus entrance, place them in the plastic bag provided by the driver and squirm your way down the narrow hall to either your reclining bunk on the floor or snuggled up towards the ceiling. This trip in particular teaches us an important lesson – get a bunk towards the middle or back of the bus to avoid listening to the blaring horn which brings out the incredible urge to slash our wrists.
Dalat is a cozy, cute little hill town. The roads twist and turn, and go up and down making for a fun place to meander and try to get lost in. Dalat is known for its wine, a nice walkway around a large lake, an outdoor market filled with delicious vegetables such as artichokes, strawberries, some awesome tasting places to eat and the Hang Nga Crazy House built by a Vietnamese architect Mrs. Dang Viet Nga. The horns continue to honk in conjunction with blink reflexes, but this is only 200,000+ people vs 8.2million in HCMC.
We spend a couple of days chilling in Dalat and working out the Fitbit. A favorite activity includes sitting in a local coffee/tea house and enjoying a warm cup of Matcha tea while watching city life pass us by. We hike to the “crazy house”. It is something we picture built in North America by Disney or by Gaudi in Spain. Buildings are attached by walkways unrealistically suspended in the air, colorful tiles create an illusion of walking in a magical forest and the continuous stairwells leading to fairy tale rooms (ant, termite, pheasant) provide the illusion of being in a children’s story book.
From Dalat, we take a brake-smoking (literally) bus trip down from the hills to the beachside resort of Mui Ne. We had high hopes for fun in the sun, turquoise water and sand between our toes. Alas, Mui Ne is not as advertised. Human environmental abuse a is taking a serious toll. Garbage is everywhere, sewage appears to line the shore during high tide, discards from fishing rot in the sun and shells lay broken and sharp waiting to pierce skin. The road through town is literally just the width of two vehicles. No sidewalks exist. Since scooters, cars, buses and trucks drive it like they are on a drag strip, we often chose to walk along the beach and sneak illegally through more expensive resorts to get to the roadway once we reached our destination. We get run out of one of the resorts by an over eager security guard wanting to get the riffraff roaming two off their property.
Although the water was dirty and the beach riddled with garbage, we can never dismiss the powerful feeling of complete bliss while looking out at the sea and marveling at mother nature’s beauty. Mui Ne is home to thousands of postcard perfect traditional basket/round fishing boats. Our $22USD room came with a million-dollar view and we purchased fresh mangoes and bananas right from the tree for less than $2Cdn. The homemade banana loaf for 40,000 Dong was the icing on the cake (simple pleasures). We discovered a fantastic Vietnamese family-run place to eat and we enjoyed copious amounts of vegetarian food for under $1.50Cdn each. One evening, the power went out to the town and we lent our headlamps to the family. They belly laughed and giggled as they made us dinner by AAA battery powered LED light. In the evening, nothing could beat a walk along the beach under radiant stars and a bright half moon. As beautiful as it was to look at, it was too frustrating not being able to go in the water, we paid for five nights but left after four.
We took a “sleeper bus” from Mui Ne to Nha Trang, Vietnam. I do not really know why they call them sleeper buses. Christine gets some rest, but I cannot sleep. Laying not quite horizontal with my feet squeezed into a tiny cubby hole, day pack between my legs and water bottle trying to roll off and bonk the person below me may be better than sitting upright, but then my neck is sore from trying to hold it up while I type or look out at the scenery. The strange man beside me is wearing white socks, but in reality, they are black from dirt. He has his feet all over the chair where we would be sitting and the blanket we would use for warmth. There is a nice “eau du feet”, or is that body odor? I can’t tell. The man in front of him doesn’t look like he has showered in quite awhile.
Check out this Vietnam sleeper bus video.
Always thrilled to reach the end of a sleeper bus trip, we arrive in Russia … Oops, I mean Nha Trang. Russians and Russian signs are everywhere. It seriously felt like we had landed in a different country. Very odd.
Nha Trang is Vietnam’s version of Waikiki beach; however, this beach clearly states “no indiscriminate defecation” – huh?
We walked to the disappointing Cham ruins, but at least they had a great view.
More walking amongst scooter tooting racket took us to the Long Son Pagoda built to honor the seven Buddhist monks who self-immolated in 1963 to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. It was hard to imagine what it must have been like to believe so strongly in protesting the government by taking your own life. Best memories will be the incredibly friendly Homestay manager (Ni), having to phone down in the morning to get our hot water turned on (such a funny concept) and getting ripped off by a really old lady selling mangoes on the side of the road (100,000Dong for 3 mangoes and 4 bananas – Christine shakes her head and never lets me go shopping by myself again). Finally, we took an ice cold shower after spending the day on the beach and before boarding a 10-hour sleeper bus trip to the next destination – not quite the “save water, bathe with a friend” experience I was looking for, but at least we were kind enough to shower and put on a clean pair of socks before getting on the bus.
…Mark and Christine
Sample Expenses (all in Vietnamese Dong)
Da Lat, Vietnam
- 90,000 breakfast (2 fruit, museli, yogurt)
- 68000 for 2 icey drinks
- 142000 dinner (2 beer, curry and a hotpot)
- 70,000 Vietnamese Veggie Curry
- 75,000 Vietnamese Cashew Chicken
- 35,000 ginger honey teapot
- 10000 1.5L water
- 32,000 Cappuccino
- 80,000 2 smoothies
- 40,000 Crazy House admission
- 215,000 each for bus to Da Lat
- $51 USD for 3 nights at Hoang Gia hotel, 2 queen beds, attached bath and window that opens
Mui Ne, Vietnam
- 40,000 for 2 ice cream bars
- 100,000 dinner (2 noodle dishes, 2 Cokes, 1 smoothie)
- 145,000 lunch, Phat burger veggie burger and giant chocolate mint milkshake
- 115,000 Dinner, spring rolls, pho, veg curry and 2 smoothies
- 14 USD bus to Mui Ne
- 30 cdn per night, Bach Duong Hotel on the ocean
Nah Trang, Vietnam
- 155,000 Breakfast, green tea lattes and overpriced baking
- 50,000 fruit on beach
- 6,000 big water
- 100,000 dinner, 2 chicken kebabs
- 154,000 Lotteria, chicken burger meals
- 84,000 2 Bubble Teas
- 50,000 Gyro
- 300,000 dinner (Indian deliciousness, samosas, butter chicken, garlic and butter Naan, 2 beer… So stuffed!)
- 70,000 beach chairs with umbrella
- 4,000 beach toilet
- 178,000 bus ticket to Nha Trang
- 14 USD An Hoa hotel