Mui Ne was a lot more developed than I’d been expecting it to be. I mean, I was expecting hotels, obviously, but not quite so many.
Every bloody shop was catering for these kite surfer dudes, full of arsome stuff, and you can buy an entire crocodile skin.
If that’s a bit big to roll up and cram in your rucksack, they sell tiny baby crocodile skins. They’re very cute.
I was really really tempted by a python skin wallet, or a belt, but I resisted. It’s not really nice at all killing animals to service the tourist novelty market.
And Mui Ne was just too hot. I think it was the hottest place yet.
I’d have thought, before I’d been subjected to these ungodly extremes, that your skin blistering at 35 degrees would be no less uncomfortable than your skin melting at 38, say, or 39C. And yet somehow it is. I’d thought Phnom Penh was probably the most sweaty place on earth, but Mui Ne was sweatier.
It’s got to be hotter than Death Valley, and much much hotter than the surface of the sun, and I don’t care what I said in earlier posts.
Dalat, we’d heard, is cool.
When we booked the bus through a booking agent just next to the Duy Vu guesthouse, whose name I can’t recall, we specifically asked if it was a big bus, one with aircon. Yes, he lied, the lying lier. Be here 6.30 in the morning he said. I set my alarm for 5.30, had a crap night’s sleep, and we were out for 6.30.
A van pulled up. A van. Well, not really a van but a tiny tiny bus. Not a big aircon bus like the lying lier at the booking agents had lied about.
We assumed it was just gonna take us to the bus station where we’d be boarding a big aircon bus. The big bloody lying lier!
Five hours in a sodding van with my face crammed into the back of the seat in front. Nel was cramped with her little legs and my arse was numb within twenty minutes. Within an hour the numbness gave way to a dully throbbing ache in my legs, which, in time was supplanted by a fiery agonising pain, which lasted for the rest of the journey and then for hours after we arrived.
Cool, cool Dalat
Dalat is cool. Cool cool cool. So cool the people walk around in wooly sweaters and quilted jackets. Honestly, its only in the mid twenties and it’s heavenly.
We arrived sort of early afternoon at a sort of bus company officewhere there was a cafe that served lovely refreshing tea, and where, over the space of an hour or so, my many many pains gradually subsided until I could walk again.
While we were drinking lovely refreshments, a young and very personable Vietnamese man wearing a jacket and blue tabard came to sit with us, enquiring politely if we’d be interested in doing the Easy Rider®
These blokes are a well established and reputable company who take you where you want to go on the back of their motorbike.
We’d first heard of them when we met a bloke on Koh Samet who’d done it for three days and had an amazing time so we were interested and agreed to a day tour with them. They took us to our hotel free of charge and negotiated a good price for us. Excellent blokes, and this morning came to pick us up at 8.30 as arranged.
Dalat was a bit chilly. Chilly, can you believe it? I’d forgotten what a bit chilly feels like and we were keen to be reminded.
Shortly after we remembered what a bit chilly feels like, we were keen to buy warmer clothes.
We tried the market first. There were loads of clothes stalls there and every time we stopped to look at something, the lady proprietor would come and start pointing at things, and fetching things down and avoiding telling us how much things cost.
The first price we got, for a wooly sweater for Nel, was 400,000 dongs. That’s twenty dollars! You can get that cheaper at home, so we declined. She came down to eighteen dollars, we said we still ain’t interested, so then she asks how much we’ll pay.
We said maybe ten, she said fifteen, we said no and eventually tried walking away but were followed by this woman who wants to negotiate, and you say you’re going to look around, walking with her following you saying fifteen fifteen.
It’s hard work and it’s a load of hassle and if there was a price marked on it you’d trust that it was a fair price.
After this same scene was repeated a couple or three times, ladies showing you stuff you have no interest in at all, we left for the shops, where they have prices marked on the goods and you don’t get followed around. We were allowed to browse at our leisure, which was nice, and as it happened, cheaper than the market too. Nel bought a sweater and I bought a jacket I don’t like, with a label that says Nature Patrol. I might have just got a job by buying a jacket.
At night Dalat gets noisy. Maybe it’s because it’s the weekend, I don’t know, but the market place is crazy. There’s hardly any traffic and there are thousands of carousing people around.
This means that you get accosted by restaurant staff who try to cajole you into going into their restaurant.
Vietnam food isn’t my favourite, maybe we’ve not found good stuff yet, I don’t know, but it seems quite bland. They surpass themselves in the drinks though, but I’ll keep that til later.
Anyway, I was saying Dalat is busy. It has a population of 215,000 and was another town built by the French as a resort. They intended to create a Vietnamese Paris, and it has a big boating lake, and wide streets and, because of the cool climate, it has a clean refreshing feel to it. Right now as I write, its about 19C, which is colder than I’ve felt for bloody months now and we’re sat here in shirts and jackets and long trousers feeling really swaddled and padded after all these weeks and weeks of wearing shorts and t shirts. My skin feels hot and tight from walking down the beach with no shirt on in Mui Ne, it’s painful to carry the day pack on my shoulder.
So as I was saying, we were picked up by two Dalat Easy Riders® at 8.30 from a little cafe across the road where we’d been drinking coffee and eating baguettes and runny eggs. Coffee. I’ll never think of it the same again after drinking some made from coffee beans that have been shat out by a weasel.
So we got on the bikes and headed out of town to a temple, where our guide, whose name is unspellable and sounds like when you sneeze and fart at the same time told us a bit about Vietnamese Buddhism and we took pictures.
Then we headed out of the hills to see a flower farm. But that wasn’t the interesting bit. What was interesting was that a Dutchman on holiday had wondered why, with the climate they have in Dalat, nobody had ever thought of growing flowers as a business. Now they export them and the Dutchman is rich and married to a Vietnamese woman. Nice one.
The beautiful highlands outside Dalat
After this we went to see a coffee plantation where we were told all about the different types of beans and what they’re used for and how they’re blended and how the beans are roasted, and how one man came to the realisation one day that beans he’d found on the ground tasted better than beans he’d picked off the tree.
He noticed that weasels eat coffee beans. Only they’re not what we call weasels, they’re actually Asian Palm Civet Cats, a bit like raccoons and they’re very sweet. We know this because later we were shown caged animals that are fed only on coffee beans, and whose turds are then collected in bags. They looked a lot like the nutty bars that you can buy.
These beautiful little animals don’t lead a rewarding life really, caged in a turd farm eating only coffee beans. They actually eat the pulpy bit on the outside of the bean see, the bean itself goes all the way through and the gimmick is that the digestive system improves the flavour of the coffee, although some say that the weasels select the best beans, and that therefore farmed turds are inferior to turds collected from the forest floor. I can’t say, having only drank coffee made from farmed turds.
I remember Stephen Fry saying on tv (television) that he’d bought some weasel shat coffee beans for Prince Charles for Christmas.
Weasel turds are not to be sniffed at, although honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference between coffee shat out by a weasel and coffee bought in the cafe such as that im drinking right now and I certainly wouldn’t pay the thousands of dollars our guide reckons the beans fetch per kilo.
(can I just ask that should anybody comment on this post, please avoid the obvious jokes)
We were taken to the Elephant waterfall, which was wet and slippy and magnificent. There is a climb down to the bottom which nobody would be allowed to descend in Britain due to the very high risk of slipping and dying, and there’s a gap in the rocks that you can slide down to the very base of the fall, where you can get very wet indeed and take pictures until your camera packs up. It was spectacular and noisy.
We had lunch at the Elephant waterfall where the food was very cheap and very fatty. I don’t think they use the choicest cuts of meat, but guide boy told us a bit about the communist days, when people were allocated a bowl of rice and a few grams of meat per day. People survived by eating what they could, like the grub I ate later. Of course they did. Who wouldn’t? Happily the government recanted in 1968 and allowed people to keep the produce that they had grown, and some people, the ones who could, became rich, while some people, those without land, got poor.
Has communism ever worked?
Guide boy with the unpronounceable name went to get me a drink made from rice spirit and snakes. It was slightly yellowish, perhaps dissolved snake and when you put the snake in it, it has to left for sufficient time for the venom to become impotent.
Many Vietnamese men drink this stuff every evening to improve vigour, and perhaps it works, I don’t know but it tasted quite good I thought, probably because the tree roots in the jar disguise the taste of dissolving snake.
We’d also seen crow rice spirit, which had a crow dissolving in it as you on doubt guessed. I didn’t get to try that one.
Somehow a crow dissolving in a jar of alcohol looks less appealing than a snake dissolving in a jar of alcohol. Snakes look somehow cleaner, less feathery. And I say that like it’s a good thing.
A refreshing glass off snake. Chin chin.
We next went to a silk factory, only a little place in a village out in the highlands somewhere where guide boy showed us the whole process.
Local people collect the cocoons from mullberry bushes and sell them. Each cocoon is spun from one thread of silk which might be a kilometer long! A kilometer!
The cocoons are softened in hot water, which of course kills the caterpillar inside, and cooks it. Guide boy gave me one to eat and god only knows why, but I ate it, expecting it to taste like chicken like everything does, or scrambled eggs like the Wichity grubs are said to.
I thought it tasted like a peanut. It would probably be good with beer.
The silk farm was fascinating, seeing women picking threads from the cocoons in the hot water and threading them onto a spindle, the cocoons spinning and jumping about and clean white silk thread growing thicker on the spindle.
The looms were ancient things, powered by belts with punch cards determining the pattern on the cloth. Nel bought a scarf for about a hundred and thirty thousand dongs, about four quid.
All along the way, and we must have done about fifty miles on these bikes, we stopped to take pictures of valleys, and beautiful stepped hillside coffee plantations, and our guides told us about how the plants are grown and a bit about the history of the area.
It’s their job to know what they’re talking about, and they’re very trustworthy jokey personable blokes who enjoy their work. Well it’s better than working in a factory or a shop ain’t it.
The Elephant waterfall where you can be soaked
You can take a tour with them for as far as you like, you can go the whole length of Vietnam with them if you have the time and the money, it’ll cost you about sixty five dollars a day, with accommodation included, stopping wherever you want and at places of interest en route.
We’re seriously thinking of coming back some time to do a longer tour, maybe a week or something.
And the blokes will help you out as much as they can.
They took us to the offices of the bus company to book our sleeper to Hoi An for tomorrow evening. It’s a twelve to fourteen hour drive and they took us to the best company, they’re really glad to help you out and great blokes to hang around with.
Look online and you’ll see how highly rated they are. We can endorse that.
Our two motorcyclist guide blokes
A lion thing, might be a lion, might be a dragon thing.