15.01.2009 - 20.01.2009
We have finally found the time (and internet access) to write another entry! I'm writing this from Hanoi, where it is overcast and a little chilly - our journey into winter has begun. Hanoi is for another day though. This little entry is about our time in the Central Highlands, then making our way to the coast. We left HCMC on the 15th and caught a day bus to Dalat, the 'capital' of the Central Highlands. It was our first experience on the highways in Vietnam, but it was a smooth enough bus trip (with the standard honking, swerving and regularly avoiding death by a split second...). Dalat was a really pretty place, one of our favourites in Vietnam. It is a well looked after mountain town, surrounding a great lake. Kind of reminds you of a place like Queenstown or Jindabyne I guess. We had some great market food there, took a walking tour of the town (which included the 'Crazy House' - this really bizarre house an artist had created with great architecture, art and sculptures) and even broke our budget ways and had high tea at a fancy hotel.
The true highlight of Dalat, though, was meeting the Easy Riders. When we arrived in Dalat, we were dumped at the bus station not knowing where our hotel was or how to get there. Waiting there though were two guys with motorbikes who introduced themselves as 'Easy Riders', and offered us a free lift to our hotel if we would sit down with them and hear about the tours they offer. We were a little hesistant because nothing comes free in Vietnam without strings attached, but it turned out to be the best decision. After our free lift they convinced us to take a two night motorbike tour through the Central Highlands (Mark didn't need muich convincing...). There is a great little story behind the Easy Riders - they were formed by a bunch of ex-South Vietnamese soldiers in Dalat, who after going through 're-education' camp at the end of the war started scrimping a living as motorbike taxi drivers. This spawned into doing day tours, and eventually week long trips - they will even take you all the way to Hanoi if you want! There are about 80 of them now (and many imitators and copycats). The genuine guys are loosely organised, but they all operate by three principles - good english, good heart, and good motorbiek skills. We had two guides of the next generation, Thien and another guy whose name we could never pronounce. The time we spent with them was fantastic. They were really funny guys, extremely knowledgable about the area and seemed to know everyone, everywhere we went. So we got access to some places I think we wouldn't have seen otherwise - people's homes and farms, seeing how they lived and earned a living, visiting ethnic minority villages and being swamped by kids, eating great food etc. Plus the scenery and road trip from the back of a bike was great.
We were tempted to keep on going with them after the two nights (we reached Buon Ma Thuot, a nice city without many tourists, so lots of 'hello!' from kids on the streets), but our bums were a bit sore, and it is a bit expensive (though definitely worth it). So on the 19th we bussed it back to the coast to Nha Trang, a Gold Coast like resort town. It wasn't too bad a place - lots of bars, good markets and an ok beach, but very touristy (Australians everywhere). The lowlight of Nha Trang was getting pee'd on (!) by this guy near the beach who did not account for the wind...horrible hehe. Nicola did get to go diving, which she really liked, and it was nice to relax near the beach, but one night was enough so on the 20th we took a bus to Hoi An, the clothes tailor capital of Vietnam.
The trip to Hoi An was our first experience with sleeper busses. Instead of seats there are three rows of bunk beds. It is a little cramped, but you can almost lie flat. Although it did take 12 hours to do 600kms!
Stay tuned for next thrilling installment - Hoi An to Hanoi!