In order to get from Ho Chi Minh to our second destination, Da Lat, we had to take the night bus. Waiting outside in the humid April heat was an experience in itself, and I won’t lie to you, I was afraid that each bus that pulled up would be ours.
Feet stuck out at every angle in the buses that stopped to pick up unsuspecting passengers. Some buses looked as though they had bunk beds, with thin metal rungs leading up to the top bunks that looked like they’d slice your toes off if they got the chance. Others were bathed in red, appearing like Amsterdam’s red lights on wheels.
When our own bus finally pulled up I breathed a sigh of relief. This one seemed to have sci-fi pods, their own mini mattress, a pillow, a curtain, and a fully working seatbelt.
I belted myself up, closed my curtain and stared out into the black and orange glow of the night. We sped past cars on the motorway. It seemed our bus driver was adamant to get his shift over and done with. Either that or he’d had one too many Red Bulls and was taking his own personal trip.
We’d been promised that we could get a good night’s kip on this bus by our friend, who takes it regularly when he heads off to Da Lat for business. He lied. I got precisely no minutes of sleep on our 5 hour journey. If it wasn’t the sheer adrenaline of ‘what the hell are we doing on this bus?’, it was the panic inducing rate at which our driver could, and would, take corners. He drove so fast that he managed to shave an impressive 90 minutes off our journey time, dropping us off, quite abruptly, and angrily (the Red Bull must have worn off) in the centre of Da Lat.
We’d arrived at 4am, instead of 6am, and of course, that meant that our hotel was by all intents and purposes, closed for business.
Luckily, the porter allowed us in, took our names and cases, and told us we could wait in the foyer and have a rest, so naturally we cracked open the beers and put on Netflix while we waited for the sun to rise.
Look, you don’t need me to tell you what little sleep does to a person. Nor do you have to tell me how much of a shit idea drinking Tiger beers at 4:30 is. All you need to know is, we paid for it the following day.
After what I can only describe as 30 minutes of Tiger induced sleep, we were awoken by the sun pouring through the hotel’s glass doors. 6am, lovely. Only another 8 hours until we could check into our hotel rooms.
Luckily, there was a breakfast establishment close by, where we could hopefully brush the cobwebs from our eyes and take in the beauty of this new city. Afterwards, we would go to the gardens of Da Lat, a beautifully manicured space where we could wander through the flowerbeds and take in the scents of spring. Apparently.
Unfortunately, the reality turned out quite different.
What follows are the snaps of a 29 year old woman who has had so little sleep that she fell asleep in a quiet corner of the garden.
In the gardens defense, I was delirious. It really was stunning, and butterflies were swarming around every plant on display. I just couldn’t do any more than this, and for some reason, I thought a plastic corn on the cob was something worth photographing.
The Korean BBQ
During our time in Da Lat, we headed to a cool Korean BBQ restaurant, where you would quite literally order BBQ meats and cook them yourself on the BBQ that sat in the middle of the table.
We piled in, and I found myself snug between two others, in the centre of one side of the table. Perfect, I thought to myself – every single piece of food is within arm’s reach (don’t tell me you never think this when you’re at a restaurant).
Everything was perfect. Sizzling BBQ foods, gigantic glasses of Cola, the works. But yeah, you know something’s gotta go wrong when everything’s going so right, right?
I stretched my legs out. I may have been perfectly in the middle for prime food action, but man that table was quite snug for 6 adults, and I found myself needing a little bit of space. I also suddenly found the searing hot underside of the BBQ against my palid and sticky leg, and accidentally tried to char grill myself.
That’s right, I pushed my leg against a hot metal BBQ and severely burnt it. I squealed. Those milliseconds are always enough to have done some damage, aren’t they.
I excused myself from the table and darted for the loos for some instant cold-and-wet-toilet-tissue-against-the-wound-relief. There was already a blister forming, and it looked like a slug.
My squeal had caused some alarm in the restaurant I assume, as no sooner did I leave the loos, one of the waitresses ran over with a tiny glass bottle and pipette and basically threw herself to her knees before me. She pippetted a few bright yellow drops of – I have no idea what – onto the red blister, which was growing larger by the minute. I can only assume it was some sort of anti-bacterial solution with added something-or-other in it because the pain immediately went away. I was left with an angry yellow blister on my leg and not much of an appetite.
The Maze Bar
Once I’d been sedated with ice cream following the Korean BBQ burning incident, we headed to The Maze Bar, which I’d stumbled onto through Trip Advisor when we’d been planning the trip months earlier.
The premise is simple and either fun or horrifying depending on your state of mind. A complex route of tunnels that lead to 3 different bars. All you’ve got to do is find them.
These underground passageways are lit up in neon, and covered in carved out stone sculptures. It was not built with Dutch people in mind either because even I bumped my head a couple of times. The trick seemed to be to follow the undulating beat of the DJ’s music, which would lead you to each bar.
Whereas the ‘being stuck underground in the neon darkness’ was fun, arriving at the bars was less so. They were crowded and super loud, so everyone was shouting at each other and that ain’t my scene, which meant the Maze Bar was a pretty short lived experience.
After finding our way out surprisingly quicker than expected we found ourselves on the streets of Da Lat after hours. It was quiet, and eerie, and oh my god, so hot.
As intoxicated people usually do, we found ourselves at a food establishment, that just so happened to be a Vietnamese woman cooking up Vietnamese Pancakes on the street. We took our places on tiny plastic stools, ordered our treats and watched her create them before our very eyes.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you, I’m not a fan of eating things when I’m unsure of the contents. Although I eat like a starving horse, I am particularly fussy when it comes to odd textures, flavours, or hidden ingredients. Watching everyone tucking into their Vietnamese pizza got me drooling though, so I couldn’t help but help myself to the tiniest slice. I’ve got zero recollection of what was in it, apart from a lot of egg, but it was kinda salty and delicious, and I guess my half drunk, slug-blister developing self didn’t really care at that point.
The Alpine Coaster
Ok, so our final foray into the heart of Da Lat had us racing down a mountain in a self-driven rollercoaster. It was amazing and simultaneously white-knuckle, if you get me.
The premise is simple: you ride the coaster to the bottom where you’ll find a little park full of nature. I mean I love the idea, but I know plenty of people who would think this was their worst nightmare, and SURELY, it can’t be 100% safe. Think about everyone you know, and think about the last person you’d want to be strapped to in a tiny two-person carriage, hurtling down a hill. Yes, even they would be allowed to get in and go.
Luckily for me, my partner in crime found the brake handle to be his favourite tool when hurtling down said mountain, and obviously I’m still here to tell the tale so we made it in one piece.
We spent an hour or so wandering around the lower mountain side, where I felt like Lara Croft exploring new territory. It was honestly that amazing. Ancient trees curlicued upwardes, half hanging out of rocks, and completely taking over pathways (I wore flip flops, was I trying to break my own ankle?). We even took a hair raising ride in a battered and old cable car which I failed to take photos of because I was too focused on deep breathing and not looking over the sides. It was old school, it was beautiful, it was Vietnamese nature in full bloom.
Then we had to go back up the mountain.
I’m not sure if you can see it quite as clearly as I hoped when I took the photo, but that’s almost a 90 degree angle. It’s the final degree of angle that two adult humans can be safely winched uphill without brake failure occurring at least.
And it was like that all the way back up the mountain. You know what they say: what goes down really speedily, must go back up really slowly and painfully, and that’s certainly what happened here. I formed fully developed abdominal muscles on the way back to the top of the mountain as I tried in vain not to crush my poor boyfriend who sat directly behind me. It was wild. And naturally, we’d earned our ice creams by the time we got to the top.
Part 3: up next
Because we were only spending a few days in Da Lat, our time for numerous activities was limited, so this is pretty much the gist of this part of our journey. The following day, we left for Nha Trang, and as seemed to be the rolling theme in Vietnam, our transport was nothing short of adventurous.
Catch you next time for our ‘limousine’ journey to the famed home of seafood in Vietnam, where I was accosted by a rat, and ate crocodile and frogs legs from a BBQ where I did NOT burn any section of my body.2