After hearing good things about a town up in the mountains known as Dalat, I decided this would be my next stop, but first I spent a day in Nha Trang as it was kind of on route and thought it’d be a good place to squeeze in some quick beach time.
But when I got there I wasn’t overly impressed. Nha Trang was my least favourite place simply because it didn’t feel like I was in Vietnam. Surrounded by high-rise buildings and overrun by tourists, I could have been on any large beach resort in Europe, so the next day I decided to get up early to catch the first bus to Dalat.
The journey itself was six hours of bumpy roads, but was incredibly scenic, taking us through the mountains of the Central Highlands. The further up we went, the windier the roads got, and the foggier the air grew – it was actually a miracle the driver didn’t drive us off the cliff edge!
Dalat itself is a smallish town, so as I got off the bus I thought this would be a prime opportunity to try and improve my map reading skills, which as I discovered in Hanoi, have so far been pretty shocking! How hard could it be to navigate your way around a smaller town with less road names to contend with?
But true to form, I managed to head 20 minutes in the wrong direction from the hostel I was booked into (which wasn’t ideal with a 15kg rucksack on my back in the blazing heat!). Although I did manage to stumble across some beautiful temples on the way, eventually a very sweet elderly Vietnamese lady, who could clearly see how lost I was, came over to help me out (I can see a reoccurring theme developing here!). She couldn’t speak a word of English but after a bit of pointing here and there, she kindly sent me off in the right direction! Another 20 minutes later, I finally reached my destination, which actually turned out to be a pretty special place in the end, as this was where I would later find out my best friends, Becks and Luke, are expecting a baby (a little shout out to you there guys!).
That evening I had a few drinks with some of the locals but retired to bed quite early as the next morning I was going on an off-the-beaten-track “Easy Rider” motorcycle tour of the Central Highlands. My driver-guide Leo rocked up at about 8am, greeting me with the biggest smile before fitting a rather oversized helmet on my head! As we joked about how small my head was, I knew straight away we were going to get on like a house on fire, and so we set off through the town before descending into the surrounding countryside.
Although I would have been perfectly content just sitting on the back of a motorcycle all day long just taking in the scenic views, we stopped off to do a plethora of fun activities throughout the day. I got to visit a silk worm factory, a flower farm, a cricket farm, as well as some impressive temples and the Elephant Waterfall and Paradise Lake. We also found a spot in the woods where I went off on a short hike to the top of a hill to snap some photos of the breathtaking views of Dalat. We definitely fitted in a lot and I was completely exhausted by the end of the day!
But one of the highlights had to be learning how the notorious “weasel coffee” is made. What’s that you ask? Oh just coffee made from beans that a weasel has eaten and eventually pooped out! Leo kept referring to it as “shit coffee” throughout the tour of the farm, which was a little off-putting at first, but intrigued I did try some and it was actually quite nice! Apparently some kind of “magic” happens when the weasel digests the bean, resulting in a chocolatey flavour when grounded and roasted. Upon discovering this “magic” the Vietnamese have now set up farms to make the coffee and I have to admit I’m not at all envious of the person who has the job of picking out the beans!
The Easy Rider tour was definitely one of my favourite experiences so far (maybe a motorbike for my 30th birthday present, mum and dad?!?) but what made it an unforgettable outing was Leo’s wealth of knowledge, hilarious banter and passion for riding. After a quick lunch of Pho Bo Noodles, he invited me to stay at his newly-opened hostel, Tiny Tigers, which is run by both him and his lovely wife. As I enjoyed his company so much that day, I decided to leave my hostel and take him up on his offer, and it turned out to be one of my best accommodation-related decisions on this trip so far.
Leo’s family were so accommodating and treated their hostel more like a homestay, where they sat down and ate dinner with us every night, their gorgeous 3yr old son Tin Tin providing us with much entertainment! I got to hear so much about Vietnamese culture and history this way, and when it came to leaving, I was very sad to say goodbye. So if you’re reading this and find yourself in Dalat one day, make sure you pay them a visit as I promise it’ll be a worthwhile stay!
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