Da Lat, Vietnam (6/30/17 – 7/3/17)

My bus for Da Lat left Quy Nhon around 8pm. I got picked up from my hostel in a van and taken to the bus station to wait for a bit before the bus arrived. When I got on the sleeper bus, it was mostly full, but I saw one empty seat about halfway back and took it. The driver came back and started yelling at me, I couldn’t tell why, but then he made me show him my ticket – apparently it was assigned seating (a first for me on a bus in Asia). He took me to the back of the bus, where my seat actually was… Oh my god. The back of the bus doesn’t have divided sleeper seats like the rest of the bus. Instead, it’s a big open area with 5 spaces, all the same level, for people to lay down in. Since there is no real divider between the seats, it’s kind of a free for all for space. There was one small sliver left for me, between an old man and a family of SIX that was squeezed into 3 seats.

I climbed up the ladder to my space, and the family all openly laughed at me as I struggled to get up into my space between them. Turns out, the old man to my left was also very cranky. His legs were bent so they took up my space, and if I tried to nudge them to get him to move over he loudly groaned at me. The family also took up a lot of my space – I was next to the father with a baby laying down between his legs that kept rolling into me. I was already so cranky just thinking about having to ride this way for 7 hours without even the option of sitting up in a normal way (which at this point I would have preferred since I wouldn’t be sleeping anyway).

At about 1am, the bus broke down. I was probably one of the only people to notice (since I was already awake), but for about 45 minutes, I lay there sweating without the air con, wondering what would happen if the driver couldn’t fix the problem.. Maybe a new bus would come and I would get a new seat? Wishful thinking – we were back on the road pretty quickly.

We finally arrived in Da Lat at about 4am. I was so happy to get off the bus that I didn’t even hesitate to say yes to the first motorcycle taxi to offer a ride (still a no for regular taxis, though). With my backpack between his legs and me on the back of the bike, my driver got me to my hostel in about 10 minutes – and charged me a fair price! Since I was arriving so early in the morning, the hostel was locked and I had to ring the doorbell and wake the poor owner to let me in. He was so groggy he didn’t even ask my name or get me properly checked in – he just took me upstairs to a pitch-black, windowless room and told me to come down to check in once I’d gotten all the sleep I needed. There were two other people in the room – a dutch couple, Florian and Maartje – who had also just arrived. I slept like a BABY until about 9am.

When I went down to check in in the morning, the owner asked me if i’d like to move to the best room – the one with a balcony. Duh! The dutch couple asked if they would be moving too, and he said no – I figured he was being extra nice to me because his cousin from my last hostel had booked the accommodation for me. My new room was WONDERFUL, and it was just me and one other girl – Adele, from England. She was really nice – in her mid-thirties and currently living and teaching English in Beijing. We went down and had breakfast together before she headed out to do an abseiling tour that she’d booked through the hostel. I decided to explore the city a bit and enjoy the first cool weather I’d had since being in Asia (only 75 degrees!). There was a lake nearby that was about 6 miles all the way around, so I decided to walk around that and see what kind of interesting places I could find to stop for coffee/food. Honestly, I was just excited to be able to walk around without being completely uncomfortably hot.

Doha Cafe Da Lat
Inside the colorful DoHa Cafe in Da Lat

On my way to the lake, I passed a big park with a beautiful view of the tall, colorful buildings up on a hill (which I assumed was the main part of the city). I walked for a bit, enjoying how busy but cozy the city felt, and came to a big green glass structure across the street from where I was walking along the lake. It turned out to be a little cafe, so I stopped for a snack and like every kind of liquid on their menu (water, guava juice, diet coke, and iced coffee). It had a nice view of the lake and I used the opportunity to see what was close to me on the offline map. I saw that there was a supermarket called Big C and decided to stock up on emergency peanuts and toiletries.

Once I figured out how to get in, I realized Big C was actually part of a larger mall – shops and stands on the first floor and an arcade on the second floor. I wandered around for awhile, looking for interesting souvenirs as always (I’ve been having a surprisingly hard time finding anything I want to buy on this trip! Maybe I’m just being stingy) and found a place selling bras. For whatever reason, I only brought two with me, and I’ve been finding that it’s not enough. Unfortunately, the sizing isn’t the same as it is at home and they only do bras by sized S – XL. Considering how tiny the average Asian woman is, I went for an XL (the only time THAT will ever be my bra size haha!) and got two (it was buy one get one free). When I finally found Big C, I got my peanuts and some new shampoo, conditioner, etc., and then continued on my walk around the lake.

The side of the lake that I started on was the quieter side – lots of people fishing or selling things, but not much else. Once I got to the other side, it was closer to the city center and there was a lot more action. It was also getting late in the day, so there was lots of traffic and locals walking around after work. I wasn’t hungry yet, so I decided to just go back to my hostel for a bit before finding a place to have dinner.

I walked through the main part of town, making a mental note where the night market would be, and took a different road back to my hostel than I had to begin with. It took me past a lot of shops and restaurants – I saw one shop selling shoes, so I decided to stop in, still on the search for a casual pair of shoes to replace my stolen Nikes (I admit, the green suede high-tops weren’t the most casual or practical choice). I saw a simple pair of red sneakers and asked if they had a US size 9/European size 40 and she laughed and said “no, we can’t help you here” like she’d never heard of such a large shoe size. FINE.

I also walked past a really interesting looking open-air restaurant that looked like it had a really authentic Vietnamese menu. I made a mental note to return there for dinner, since it was only about 3pm at that time. After relaxing at the hostel for a bit, I decided to go back for dinner; when I got there, it had gone from completely empty to totally full in just 2 hours! I walked inside to see if there were any seats at all, but found nothing. I decided to keep walking back to a spot along the lake that had looked interesting earlier in the day.

After dinner, I walked in the opposite direction of my hostel to get to the night market.. I love me a good night market! It started to rain, but I was so excited for the cool weather

Da Lat Night Market.jpg
I was warned not to eat the street food in Southeast Asia… But how am I supposed to resist?! So far, haven’t gotten sick from it!

that I didn’t even bother putting my hat on. When I got to the night market, though, I found a lot of stalls filled with WINTER clothes! Mittens, sweaters, jackets… I get that Da Lat is cooler than the rest of Vietnam, but good grief. 75 degrees isn’t exactly sweater weather. I did manage to find a gift for a friend back home, but then decided to keep wandering, enjoying the rain. I walked up a hill that had a lot of cute little cafes and shops that I would want to come back to during the day. After about an hour, my legs were finally starting to feel like they would fall off from all the walking I’d done that day, so I went back to my hostel for a good night of sleep.

In the morning when I went down for breakfast, there were a lot of new faces at the table; I met Will, from New Mexico, and Darius from Australia. Darius was also working his way north-to-south in Vietnam, and it turns out he got ripped off in Hanoi in a really similar way that I did! It doesn’t make it any less scary, but it’s comforting to know that I’m not just targeted because I’m a solo female. I know I need to be more careful because of that, but it gets really frustrating being told it’s not safe for me to go places that men can go alone or I can’t be somewhere after dark.

I planned to go to walk to a waterfall that was about a mile from the hostel (you really can tell how excited I was to have tolerable weather by how much walking I chose to do!) and Will asked if he could tag a long. The waterfall was underwhelming, but we met the cutest Vietnamese family that was on holiday – first the dad wanted to take a picture with us, and then by the way the kid was acting we could tell he wanted one too, but was too shy even with his parents’ encouragement. So, we asked if we could have a picture with HIM and his face lit up and he was suddenly full of confidence and poses. So cute!

Will and I decided to walk to the supermarket together – we both needed sunscreen – and on the way, we ran into Darius who was looking for lunch. He joined us on our walk to Big C and then afterward I suggested we all get lunch at the place that had been too busy for me to get dinner at the night before. I was determined to eat there! They both agreed, and when we got there there were (thankfully) tables available. We sat down and realized there was no paper menu, aka no picture menu, and the one printed on the Will and Dariusblackboard was all in Vietnamese. I told Will and Darius that we could eat somewhere else if they wanted to, but they both agreed that it seemed like a really cool place and we decided to give it a try. Since the staff didn’t understand English, we decided the obvious solution was to just point to something on the menu and hope for the best (having no idea if we were order soup, rice, noodles…). I pointed to something first and then went back and sat down. Will and Darius took their sweet time choosing, but eventually joined me back at the table. After awhile, Will’s food came first – fried rice with seafood – and then Darius’s – fried rice with pork. I mentioned how lucky they were that they ended up with normal choices, especially since Darius hates seafood, and they told me that they had actually known what they ordered. After I’d gone back to the table, the server brought out his phone and used the translator app to describe what they were pointing to. Apparently I was the only one who went through with the mystery meal plan.

Will finished his meal and mine still hadn’t come. Then Darius finished his, and then tables that had arrived after us started getting their food. At this point, since both boys were finished eating and we’d waiting a pretty long time for their meals to arrive, I didn’t want them to have to wait for me if I had to re-order, so I asked the server for the bill. If my meal was on there, we would tell them and have it taken off the bill; if it wasn’t, they’d pay for their meals and I would find somewhere to eat close to the hostel. I’m still curious what I actually ended up ordering, though!

The boys went back to their room to rest while I went to find some pho for lunch at a stall nearby. We planned to meet up later for a “family dinner” we and 9 others at the hostel had signed up for for later that night. I relaxed and read my book on the balcony of my room for awhile – Adele was still my only roommate and she was gone for the day on a canyoning tour. Yoann, from Quy Nhon, would be arriving at some point as well and I messaged him about the family dinner and told him I would see him there. Ha had also messaged me saying she was on her way to Da Lat, so I planned on seeing her at some point as well (though she wasn’t staying in the same hostel as us).

The family dinner was cooked by the owner’s wife. Everyone who signed up met down in

Family Dinner Da Lat
I later recommended this to a friend I made in another city. When he went to book a room online, he found this as the main picture! Embarrassing picture of me, but here’s our family dinner group

the common area around 6pm; it was Adele and I, the dutch couple, Will, Darius, Yoann, a Belgian guy named Artur, and three British girls – Lucy, Antonia, and Jane. The meal was AMAZING – heaps of stir-fried morning glories and lady-fingers, tofu, pork ribs, cucumber/pasta, salad, and a few other side dishes, all cooked and seasoned to perfection. We all had a great time getting to enjoy each other over a nice meal, and Win (the owner) and his wife were so excited and happy to see their guests enjoying themselves and the meal that they couldn’t stop smiling. They even took a picture of our family dinner to use as the picture that shows up when you book the hostel online.

During dinner, Darius mentioned a book that he had read that I wanted to make a note of to read when I get home. I’ve been keeping a list of things – books, movies, music, etc. – people I meet while traveling have told me about that I want to remember to look into when I get home in the “notes” app on my phone. I opened the app, and scrolled through the various other lists

I was keeping on there to find it. Darius saw something and said “wait! go back, what was that list?” He pointed to my list called “ULYSSES BUCKET LIST” that I had created a couple days before. It was based on a true story I’d read about on Reddit; it boils down to a guy who met a girl on a train. Before they parted ways, she asked him to add something to a bucket list she had: “Tell me something you have done, or want to do, that you think I should do? It can be anything, as challenging as you want it to be, or as easy. As long as you give me the rest of my life to complete it, I promise I will do it.” I loved the idea, especially because when I’m traveling I meet so many people who manage to impact me in one way or another in the short time that I know them. I decided to start a list of my own, asking people back home and that I meet while traveling – people I feel have impacted my life in some way. I wanted these important people to give me a piece of what makes them who they are to shape a piece of my own life. Darius had a apparently also read the same story and started his own list. We decided to give each other things for our lists; he gave me two of his favorite documentaries to watch, and I gave him my favorite book, Shantaram, to read (because he doesn’t like to read and has been to India, where the book takes place, three times already). Here’s the rest of my list so far:

Erik: Do the Inca Trail

Jordan: Travel the entire Trans-Siberian Railway

Mom: Go on an African safari

Allison: Go skydiving

Cole: Visit Japan

Dad: Find someone to love

Debbie: Find your peace and happiness

Erik P: Drive from Seattle to Seward, AK, while taking the Old Seward Highways between Anchorage and Seward

Darius: Watch Baraka and Samsara

Adele: Teach someone to read

Sean: Go 10 days without speaking

After dinner, we all decided to go to Maze Bar together. Several people in our new group had been recommended this bar by people they knew that had already visited, and Darius had gone the night before and said it was great. The bar is 8 stories, all of them with different hidden passages, stairways, and tiny spaces to sit and enjoy drinks in. For whatever reason, we all went to the very top and stayed up there until the end of the night when they told us we had to go back downstairs. The upstairs was relatively uninteresting, but once we went back downstairs we  decided to go down to the basement area and it was amazing! The amount of work that had to go into all of the structures and passageways is insane. I even ran into a few girls that I’d met all the way back in Phong Nha.

Will, Darius and I weren’t drinking and had found ourselves surrounded by drunk British people, so we decided it was time to find some street food and head back to the hostel.

I had originally planned to do an Easy Rider tour the next day – Easy Riders are local men who know the area well and take passengers on the back of their motorbikes to see the most popular sights in a given city, as well as whatever hidden gems the particular guide knows about. It’s a perfect way to get an actual feel for the culture and enjoy being on a motorbike without being an idiot. When I went down for breakfast in the morning, I talked to the guy on the front desk about it, as well as about how I planned to go to Mui Ne the next day, and he told me I could take an Easy Rider all the way to Mui Ne if I wanted to. Apparently, I would see all of the same things I would see in the Easy Rider tour of Da Lat, as well as a scenic ride through the mountain pass and the white sand dunes that Mui Ne is known for. It sounded perfect to me, so I signed up for the following day, but that meant I now had nothing to do for the rest of the day.

I took my time getting ready and then decided to go to one of the cute coffee shops near the night market that I had walked past a couple nights before. I spent a good portion of my day bouncing around coffee shops that had good views of different parts of the city before heading back to the hostel. On my way back to the hostel, I walked past a lady selling eggs on the side of the road. She was selling the little quail eggs that I’ve come to love – the kind the little old lady had given me on the train in Myanmar – so I bought 10. I figured I could take them as snacks on my long ride to Mui Ne the next day (it would be about 8 hours in total).

Once I got back to the hostel, I just lounged around, reading my book. I decided to have on of the eggs, and when I went to peel it, it burst open all over my bed… I’m not sure why I expected them to be cooked, but it took me by surprise and I panicked and threw all the eggs in the trash. Darius later made a good point – I could have just asked the hostel owner’s wife to boil them for me, she would have been more than happy to do it. Oh well.

One thought on “Da Lat, Vietnam (6/30/17 – 7/3/17)

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