We heard good things about sleeper buses in Vietnam. Just like the Bed Bus we had in Laos. Therefore, we were quite looking forward to the overnight bus journey from Saigon to Da Lat. But when it arrived, it was slightly different. It was basically three rows of bunk bed seats. They would recline almost flat for a good nights sleep – if you we 5’5” and had size 6 shoes. What restricted the size was a rectangular wooden box at your feet that meant I would have to try and sleep with my heels together in the lower half with my toes jammed into each corner. This caused my legs to be bent outwards in a 45 degree angle leaving 5mm between my shins and the corner of the wooden edge. Obviously both my shins and wooden edge were acquainted with every bump. I did not sleep. Sarah did fit, due to there being no place to put her backpack, meant that she was woken with every bump when the bag would be sent mid air before being acquainted with her upper torso.
Once in Da Lat we were dropped of at Backpackers’ Paradise, where the staff kindly gave us a spare bed for a few hours shut eye. We woke around 8am, were given a breakfast of an egg baguette with Vietnamese chilli sauce, before jumping in a van for a tour of the area.
Da lat is a former hill station and is now the biggest producer of roses in Vietnam – for the Chinese. We stopped there first, wandered amongst the thorny perennials before heading out to a small local village. There, they explained how they lived and grew coffee, all under the watchful eye of a monkey on a rope. Anyone who knows us, would know we do not care for coffee, so we instead focused on the cute puppies running around.
We moved on to a local silk factory where we learned all about the process of manufacturing silk. What was really interesting is how delicate the worm is. If someone walked into the room where the worms were growing and was wearing perfume, the worm will die. Thanks Joop!
As per usual, nothing goes to waste, when they have extracted all the silk from the worm – they eat it. It was clearly an important industry in the area as we saw loads of people dropping by to sell their little amounts.
Next up was something we dreaded – a coffee tasting – Yum! We stopped at the coffee plantation in such a great location it should have been used a vineyard, as all that view called out for was a cold glass of wine – not a hot cup of coffee. Nevertheless, we paid attention (there were no puppies this time) and watched in amusement as the fellow passenger constantly nodded in agreement every time our guide said something funny, like Arabica Bean. They were most excited about Kopi Luwak, which is the one everyone has now heard of but invented in either Vietnam, or from what ever country you are in at the time. It’s the coffee eaten by a weasel, pooped out in front of someone who thought That Looks Delicious! They had a few weasels on site who were fed beans for later cultivation. The weasels acted as if, well, as if they were overdosing on coffee, hanging in the corner of the cage staring out wide-eyed and hissing.
But, we are intrepid nomads (is that a double negative or just two tour companies?), so we sucked it up and bought our first ever cups of coffee. One of them was the stock standard Arabica Beans and one of the stock standard Arabica Beans that has been pooped out by a caffeine addicted mammal. After all, we had to let our discerning palates work out if the poop coffee was worth the extra cost. We ordered it Vietnamese style and sat out on the deck, overlooking the valley and lake. It soon arrived, as all Vietnamese coffees do, in a small metal canister above a tiny glass so it could slowly filter through. In anticipation of our coffee’s tasting like coffee, we ordered condensed milk and lots and lots of sugar. Only fifteen minutes of slowly filtered drips later, our coffee was ready. We took a sip each and swapped glasses. We tried the second, looked at each other, passed it back and tried again. To us, they tasted exactly the same… We will sum it up as if we are connoisseurs – Yucky! We filled it with condensed milk and split the entire pot of sugar between each glass – delicious but with a hint of coffee.
We pushed onwards throughout the beautiful landscape until we arrived at another farm, one that farms, of all things, crickets. I through out a couple of cricket jokes, but due to our fellow passengers originating from Germany, France and Russia, plus Sarah’s look of displeasure, they did not go down as well as I hoped. We sat around a large table where we were served up some fried crickets with a chilli sauce. People squeeled, convulsed and refused, but we thought they were quite tasty, especially with the chilli kick. We were surprised people that would happily drink poo coffee would find it difficult to eat a fried insect.
We stopped for lunch in another town. The food was all pretty tasty but enormous. We could barely fit the first beer in! We wandered to a beautiful temple where the highlight, Happy Buddha, awaited us around the corner. You hear Happy Buddha, but you do not fully comprehend it until you see him.
We headed back towards to town via one last stop at a small farm that produced rice wine. Only three of us tried it, so when the owner walked away, we thought it necessary to try some more. It was good, but definitely had a kick. We felt a little hyperactive after a few mouthfuls but figured it was probably the caffeine (not sugar) that perked us up and made the remainder of the time there amusing. The owners other marketing ploy was to keep some exotic animals for the visitors to look at. It was all a little bizarre but we enjoyed it when the caged monkey stole the owners water bottle. That’s karma for keeping a monkey in a cage – dehydration for him!
We had the afternoon in Da Lat free, so on the advice of others, we wandered to the inventively named Crazy House. There were tour buses everywhere but we ventured on. When we saw it, we decided it probably wasn’t the most cultural of adventures and the entrance fee could easily buy a few drinks – or even dinner – so skipped it. We wandered towards another of the cities highlights – Cock Church – yes, there is a rooster on the top and walked down to the iridescent green lake (I was adamant it was green, but the below image proves otherwise!). Over a couple of sundowners, we found a few places that were recommended to eat. We wandered to one place grilling up fresh seafood, but didn’t crave it so wandered back towards the main market area.
On the way up a hill we spotted a pot of bubbling broth with bobbing pork balls. The sign said Bahn Mi, so we grabbed one. Fantastic! It was a chilli laced broth that the little balls of pork had kindly soaked up. Placed in between the best thing since sliced bread – Vietnamese Bread – it took out the Número Uno spot of Best Banh Mi To Date (BBMTD)
We did the only thing one can do after eating dinner, we went and got a second dinner. It was in a recommended restaurant, that we will not recommend as it was not that good so we went and did the only thing one does after two dinners, we went and got a third dinner and some dessert. I opted for another Banh Mi that was spicy and delicious, yet did not live up to the earlier BBMTD. Sarah got some cakes before we did the only thing one does after three dinners and dessert. We went to the pub.