Note: We are woefully behind on our blog. This our last ditch effort to get somewhat caught up. We will be posting piecemeal for the next several days.

From the Mekong Delta, we made our way to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). We don’t have much to report from our stay in Saigon. We mostly just wandered through the streets and ran our usual big city errands (laundry, onward travel arrangements, and internet).

After finishing up our errands, we headed to Dalat. Serving as the gateway to the central highlands, Dalat sits amongst pine forests and beautiful waterfalls. It is also full of totally kitschy tourist traps. In most guidebooks, it is touted as the Vietnamese honeymoon spot, but I wonder if that wasn’t back in its heyday—kind of like the Niagara Falls for my parent’s generation. Honeymooners can visit the “Valley of Love” and get their picture taken with gun toting cowboys, or head on over to Chicken village to snap pictures of an oversized cement chicken. Yes, Dalat offers it all in terms of attempts to get your tourist dollar.

For most of our journey to Dalat, we enjoyed nice vistas of rolling hills and pastures. During the final hours of the ride, pine forests surrounded us. The smell of pine overwhelmed our senses, and I closed my eyes for a moment and pretended I was home.

We experienced nice weather on the ride, but upon reaching Dalat a storm unleashed. In a matter of minutes, the streets flooded. Of course, we didn’t have any lodging prearranged. Chris’ packed his poncho deep within his backpack, so guess who got to go foraging for lodging… Heading out into the rain, I didn’t want to cross the road for fear it was too deep. But after being turned down by all the guesthouses on my side of the street, I was forced to cross. Wading calf deep with motorbikes threatening to hit me for moving slowly, I crossed the flood and ran toward the closest guesthouse. Luckily, I was rewarded for my efforts; I found a place for just US$6 per night! For the price of a sandwich back home, we found ourselves in a huge room with three double beds, air conditioning, hot water, TV, and balcony! It didn’t beat our cheapest Vietnam room of US$5 in Chau Doc, but it was pretty close.

Being Valentines Day, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice meal. We headed next door to the V Cafe and enjoyed one of the best meals since we started traveling. I ordered a fully Western meal of roasted pork and mashed potatoes, while Chris stuck to spicy tofu and vegetables. Both meals were delicious. We watched the table next to us as a group of foreigners treated their guides to pizza for the first time. The faces on the guides were classic. Contorting their faces in lopsided grimaces, they clearly disliked our favorite comfort food. Apparently, pizza is an acquired taste.

The next morning we wandered around Dalat with no real agenda. We walked through its central market where baskets of fresh fruit and vegetables lined the stalls. Live fish, shrimp, eels, frogs, and lobsters bathed in fresh water bowls awaiting their sale. Motorbikes overloaded with greens crowded the street. This market is no different than any other in Vietnam, but we still walked through it as though it was the first time we had seen one. I don’t think we could ever tire of Asia’s open air markets. They are alive with bustling traffic, colorful displays, and bartering locals.

We eventually found ourselves at a little restaurant sipping on a cafe sua (coffee with condensed milk–out of this world!) when a Vietnamese fellow next to us started chatting me  up. Instead of the usual Western greeting of “Hello” or “How are you”, conversations with us always start off with “where you from?”. This encounter was no different and was quickly followed with the next predictable nicety of “where you going?”. Over the next few hours, we spoke with the man (now known to us as Mr. Quang) about seeing the central highlands in a unique way–by motorbike. We initially planned to bus each leg of the journey, but Mr. Quang’s description and pictures convinced us to do it differently.

Negotiations in Vietnam take some time. We spent a good portion of our morning talking to Mr. Quang while intermittently discussing the trip price. Finally reaching an agreement hours later, we forked over our deposit and Mr. Quang gave us his motorbike to use for the day. It wasn’t until I was sitting behind Chris on the motorbike and getting last minute tips from Mr. Quang that I really wondered what we got ourselves into. Chris had never been on a motorbike (still up for debate is whether a scooter counts), and setting off on our own for the day terrified me. But, he managed to get us around Dalat without too much trouble. 

We figured we should visit a least one tourist trap while in Dalat, so we headed to the Hang Nga Crazy House. For less than a dollar, we wandered around a concrete maze designed and built by a former President’s daughter. We learned from Mr Quang that it is in a constant flux of improvement. Huge sections will be built only to be torn down if they are not to the architects standards. Crazy indeed.

After navigating our way through the crazy house, we zoomed around Xuan Huong Lake before returning to our guesthouse and resting up for the next day’s big ride.

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