Our trip to Dalat was very nearly over before it started; the mountain road was blocked by a pile of fallen rocks. Whilst the Chinese girls took lots of photos next to a rock and the Vietnamese drivers just looked around not doing anything, we found a teddy bear balloon to play with and eventually the drivers decided to risk it for a choccie biscuit and go through. The drive was actually very beautiful through the mountains and countryside to get over to Dalat. In true Vietnamese fashion we got dropped in the middle of nowhere, and we hadn’t been given our bus ticket booklet back meaning we wouldn’t be able to get anywhere afterwards. After a rather heated, broken conversation with the bus driver, and a phone shoved in my face to speak to the office, we got pulled back on the bus and taken further out of town to sort our tickets out. That sorted out we jumped in a taxi to get to Family Hostel. This place is out of town but by far the best choice of hostel to go to, and if you want to go to town in the night the taxi isn’t much between a few people. Every day at around 5pm the family that owns the hostel makes everyone dinner. As soon as we arrived in the hostel we were greeted with hugs and food! It was perfect! The temperature had dropped significantly as we were further inland. Luckily we ended up meeting up with most of the people we met in Ninhvana and we ended up going to Maze Bar. This quite literally is a bar in a maze. The maze is similar to a tree house style; you can walk up and down steps, slip through small holes, and sit down in little inlets. I, of course, got ridiculously lost, found everyone else and headed off to find a karaoke bar. The only problem was that one of the boys had told another one about a karaoke bar called Karaoke D’Bar… that didn’t actually exist. So after hopping on a few motorbikes and persuading them to take us somewhere, we got a Bha Me (sandwich) and left the mystery of Karaoke D’Bar for another day.
Dalat day tour
For 250,000vnd you can get a tour of Dalat from the hostel. We usually don’t like doing this kind of thing but to get to all the places in one day, we decided to just let someone else take us there instead of getting lost.
We first went to a flower farm, where they have rows and rows of different types and colours of flowers. It was beautiful but they wouldn’t give me a free flower for my hair so I wasn’t that impressed with it.
We then went to a coffee plantation. They showed us different coffee plants and also showed us how they make their famous weasel poo coffee. This is similar to the cat poo coffee some people drink in England. Personally I didn’t like the taste of it, it was a bit strong and thick for my liking!
The silk factory was up next and that was very informative. I wasn’t aware of how they get silk over here, as they use a lot of it in their clothes. The silk comes from a caterpillar, when it makes the cocoon to grow into a butterfly, the silk is taken from it and then the caterpillar is washed so much to get the silk off that it will die. I most definitely will not be wearing any silk content clothing from now on! Poor baby butterflies!
We went to a rice wine producer as well; this rice wine is made in a concrete shed size building, with one big pot of rice and water steaming away and then pipes going in and out of the building to create the alcohol. It can be made at different strengths.
Our final stop before lunch was Elephant Falls. This is by far one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. It was slightly treacherous to get to but well worth it! There is also a cave with a natural shower inside it which was well appreciated in the hot weather.
Unfortunately we were ripped off at lunch time, our guide tried to make us pay 80,000vnd each for the food we were given in a restaurant he brought us to. The food was terrible so we hardly ate, and the whole place smelled like wet dog, so I refused to pay him, gave him half and got the heck out of there.
Next was a temple, they had several different huge statues of gods that were very impressive and beautiful. Thankfully we didn’t nearly knock any sacred ornaments over this time. On my route outside to the big Buddha, I happened upon a little monkey chained to a tree. Distressed at this sight I decided to try unchain it. I couldn’t figure that out without getting close to the monkey. That would lead to rabies. Plan averted. So I went inside to find some bananas and bumped into a monk sweeping the floor. After a suitable one sided conversation of me telling him off about the monkey I told him I was taking Buddha’s bananas from his shrine and putting them to better use for the monkey. I subsequently got distracted by a very cute, fluffy and tiny puppy, so much so that I missed the bus leaving and the already not too keen on me (because of lunch) tour guide had to come find me. Head count done and still none the wiser to the monkey situation we made it to our final destination, the crazy house!
The Crazy House was built by a Vietnamese architect Dang Viêt Nga. She wanted to create something resembling nature and put it in the middle of the city because she believes that people do not appreciate nature as much anymore and are too sucked into the city life. The government opposed her work at first, possibly because creativity is frowned upon in communist areas. The house is a museum and hotel but it is also her home. She lives in the own area smack bang in the middle of the whole house. The rooms are linked by tunnels or outdoor stairs bridging across the plot so that much of the floor space is still outside and pockets of room space are joined intricately to avoid any similarity to a common house build.
After a day of activities we had our family dinner and I promised myself to have a beer or two and go to bed. Of course I didn’t because I never go for just one beer. A few free shots later, some rather large drinks and a boogy we decided it was time to find the famous, and unknown to us at the time non existent, Karaoke D’Bar. This mission consisted of us being given suspect directions, crashing karaoke parties and getting kicked out without actually being able to sing anything. In the end we decided to give up, to be told the next day the place didn’t actually exist. The hostel security guard gave us about ten baguettes when we asked if there was any place for a sandwich and the family ended up shushing us all to go to sleep like a year six residential.
All in all Dalat was a blast. The tour was definitely worth it for the price and the nights were amazing thanks to the friends we made along the way.
It was a goodbye to all the guys the next day as we embarked on our mammoth journey to Ho Chi Minh and over to Phu Quoc for Christmas.
At around 9am we took a five hour journey to Mui Ne, the bus driver was drinking beer the whole way, swerving around the road like he thought he was in a sports car and we were all crushed into his tiny bus with no air conditioning, sweating our tits off and fearing slightly for both our lives and our sanity if we survived. When we made it to Muy Ne we had another five hour bus to HCM. Ho Chi Minh is the capital of the country and is booming with life, lights and music. We realised we still had a bit of time to catch a bus and decided to book one to get over to the ferry port Rach Gia. By accident in a rush to get the bus ticket from a different place in town we grabbed a taxi and ended up paying 100% more than the price we should have paid, which we noticed when we got an Uber afterwards. Oh well, you can’t be lucky all the time hey.
Finally the bus arrived and it turned out we had the last seats on the sleeping bus, on the bottom row, at the back, a row of five beds stuck together. Not only did I feel like someone being smudgled into the country in the luggage compartment of a bus but not only two more people arrived to make up the seats, but their toddler daughter as well. So six of us were squeezed into this hole with no air and about two meters of width space for 6 people. Six hours to go. Sweaty, oxygen deprived, squished and tired the only thing that made it better was the little girl coming and falling asleep on me when her parents got up. It was rather cute.
We arrived in the town and with a good few hours to go we decided to just sleep in the bus station because our brains were well and truly fried. Aside from being woken up a few times by Vietnamese people wondering what on earth we were doing, and Abbie waking up with a caterpillar nestled into her face, the plastic seats were the best sleep I’d had in a few days!
Finally we got over to Phu Quoc on the ferry and after being harassed by a million taxi men again we went over to our hostel, which we realised when we arrived is actually mainly a restaurant. We had, however, made it through our hectic journey which we estimate to have taken us nearly 30 hours altogether, it was hot and nearly Christmas so we couldn’t complain!
Christmas away from home
When I first told my family I wouldn’t be home for Christmas this year, it seemed so far away that aside from feeling guilty that I wouldn’t be with them, I didn’t feel particularly sad at the prospect of spending it alone. When I say alone I don’t mean without anyone, of course I’d be with my friends but travel plans always change and I could potentially have not known anyone if I was in a new place. I knew that it was a decision I had to make if I wanted to make the most of the rest of the time I wanted to travel for. Luckily I was able to be with my two travel pals for Christmas time. We spent Christmas Eve on the beach, enjoying the sun set and some beers after we got a tattoo. Abbie Jayde and I decided to get a different variations of triangles as tattoos, we had been talking out it for so long that we decided to just do it. The triangles each mean a different thing. Mine means transcend, Abbie’s means transform, and Jayde’s means explore. This was my first ever tattoo so I was bricking it a bit but as I soon found out it didn’t hurt at all I was more than happy to sit there! Unfortunately Phu Quoc is another Russian holiday spot so the vibe of the place wasn’t what we were expecting. There wasn’t much of a backpacker feeling and more of a family and couple vibe. We were in the South West of the island so perhaps we had just chosen the wrong place to be, but we were determined to make the most of it anyway!
We spent Christmas Day morning on the beach, had a chip butty and a beer for lunch and then it started raining… little did we care though, Santa hats on we got some rum from the shop and sat by the pool under a make shift tarp watching the rain fall. It wouldn’t be Christmas without a bit of unwanted rain would it. At least we got the sun in the morning! When I spoke to my family my first reaction was just excitement and joy to see them. But as I watched them opening their presents on FaceTime, doing the same things we always do on Christmas morning, tears wouldn’t stop rolling down my face. The amount that I missed them all struck me at once and I felt horrendous for not being there. I could see that they were happy and enjoying their day which made me happy, and I vowed to myself not to miss another one for a good while!
We decided to treat ourselves to a massage for Boxing Day. I’ve never had a massage done in a place before and I’m extremely ticklish so I was really overcoming a fear! I managed to keep my cool for most of the time with only a few flinches but i definitely spent more time trying not to laugh at the tickles than actually enjoying it. When she started slapping my back and head there was no turning back, I saw Abbie’s face out of the corner of my eye and the laughter exploded from me as freely as the water over northern flood gates. However, I didn’t hit her by accident so I’d say that’s a mission accomplished!
From Phu Quoc we would depart to cross the boarder from Ha Tien across to Cambodia.