Another catch-up post on the destinations we visited and our impressions over the past three weeks in Vietnam 🙂
Dalat – Cheeky, cheeky…
A moderate sized French colonial city tucked away high up in the mountains, Dalat is a popular getaway for local Vietnamese seeking a respite from the summer heat. This was to be our next stop from Saigon and after our bus chugged its way up the winding, hilly roads for seven hours, we were finally delivered into the manicured hands of Dalat’s city center.
The first thing we noticed was the temperature – it did indeed drop significantly from hot and sticky Saigon. And instead of peeling off our sweaty clothes at every chance, we found ourselves eagerly reaching into the depths of our bags for the sweatpants and jackets we had almost forgotten about.
But despite the relief of cooler weather and the breathtaking scenery on the ride there, Dalat left us with mixed feelings. The local vendors seemed to have a penchant for ripping off the foreign tourists, quoting inflated prices for water, food and any basic amenities. Bikes were suddenly illegal to rent because everyone wanted us to buy a guided bike tour instead. And what we found the most confusing was that any successful business was replicated by several impostor companies in the same neighborhood, all flashing identical brand logos and storefronts. We would read good reviews of a certain place to stay or eat, and then find 2 or 3 places on the same street claiming to be the original! Everyone claimed to be the original Easy Rider bike tour company, the original Peace Guest House, the original Art Cafe. For us, this cheekiness suddenly made basic decision making unnecessarily tenuous.
Still, we did manage to rent a bike and enjoyed a pleasant day exploring the surrounding areas, and we did find some cute cafes to post up at.
Sleeper Bus from Nha Trang to Hoi An – Cubby Holes & Hunger Games
From Dalat, our next stop was Hoi An, located a whopping 670 km away. We would have much preferred to take our time and travel at a slower pace through the breathtaking central highlands, but two and a half months of travel across four countries had nearly depleted our ambitiously low budget for this leg of the trip. And hence, after transiting at a beachside resort town called Nha Trang, we booked ourselves on a sleeper bus for the remaining 11 hour journey to Hoi An.
Sleeper buses in Vietnam consist of three rows of narrow bunk beds that recline from an upright position to an almost flat position. Leg space is very limited and at 5’2, my feet were just about touching the end of my cubby hole. Most of the other foreigners including Charlie had to use more ingenious yogic methods to fit in.
What made the ride all the more interesting was that despite leaving at 7pm, there was no dinner stop typical of most sleepers. Thankfully we had brought some snacks but peanuts and chips didn’t make for an entirely filling meal. Still, despite the broken sleep and food cravings, we managed to reach Hoi An safely and on time.
Hoi An – Lanterns Galore!
Hoi An is a small town on the central coast known for its old quarter – a UNESCO world heritage site featuring colonial architecture and historic buildings. Though we came primarily for the old quarter, what we loved most was the natural beauty of the town itself. Palm trees dotted narrow streets, streams snaked through the residential areas and after months of anticipation, we finally saw the open fields of green rice paddies that we missed so much in Laos and Cambodia.
The Old Quarter itself we felt was a tad too touristy, with more souvenir and trinket stores than historic monuments. But one thing Hoi An really got right was its night-time lighting. Colorful lanterns are symbolic of the city and every storefront, restaurant and street in the old quarter lit up with loft glows – a truly beautiful sight and a popular spot for wedding photoshoots.
We also loved Hoi An for its warmth and hospitality. After Dalat, the people of Hoi An felt much more friendly, helpful and generous. And often meals came with free treats like desserts or appetizers – always a wonderful surprise 😉
Sadly though, our attempt to find short term work ended unsuccessfully – unlike Otres in Cambodia, we were realizing that in Vietnam, most places were locally owned and locally run with no need for foreign volunteers. This is, of course, how it should be, and we were happy to see places not overrun by expats. But at the same time, not being able to work meant more expenses, less savings and an earlier departure for us. And so it was off to the next stop…
Train Ride from Da Nang to Hue – The Ocean-Cloud Pass
Vietnam has a pretty good railway network running from the north to the south of the country. Many claim that the section between Danang (a major city just north of Hoi An) and Hue is the most scenic, and after reading this several times, we decided to take a train for our onward journey. It didn’t disappoint, and rather than bore you with long, descriptive prose, I’ll jump straight to the pictures. Needless to say, we thoroughly enjoyed this short two hour journey.
Hue – More than an Imperial City
Hue was a last-minute addition to our itinerary and a pleasant surprise. Neither of us being much into imperial architecture and monuments, we only added in Hue because our project host at Otres had a friend in Hue who could show us around and give us ideas on finding work in Vietnam. We were glad for the stopover – not only did we have a pleasant dinner with a new acquaintance, we also loved the cool climate, green spaces and the lovely couple at our guest house who treated us to a variety of homemade jams. We also thoroughly enjoyed a day on a motorbike exploring the outskirts and a nearby national park.