Day 2 and 3 of bike touring were not spent so much on a bike, as off it. Our desired destination, Dalat, a French inspired mountain town in the midst of the countryside, was 200km away, and a far stretch to reach, given the chaotic roads and steep hills. We asked Thanh about the possibility of throwing our bikes on a bus to get there and she got right to arranging for it.
After our morning bowl of Phó, we were once again escorted on our bikes, this time to the bus station. Thanh continued to look after us like a mother hen, and made sure we got on safe. Although it was 11am, we had a sleeper bus, and we spent the next 5 hours on its reclining seats watching it almost run over every vehicle in its way, glad to not be one of them. When we finally reached Dalat, we hopped back into the saddle, and rode into town a few kms away. This time, I asked for directions like a pro and we were able to get to our hotel without any major incident. The hotel was a splurge by backpacker standards, but included free bike parking and a steam room, sauna and jacuzzi. Of course, this was where I spent the rest of my evening.
The next morning, not eager to ride for a third day in a row, I befriended our hotel receptionist, Dyeng, and asked him for recommendations on what to do around Dalat. I indicated that I was interested in a local experience, and something that would give me a taste of the beauty of the surrounding areas I had heard so much about. He was quick to suggest his cousin, Thu, take me around – I’d get the local experience I was looking for, helping somebody, and it’d be half the cost of regular tours. “Ok, great. I’ll take it.”
Thu came in on her motorbike 15 minutes later and I knew I’d have a great day right away. She was sweet, spoke reasonable english and was born and raised in Dalat so knew it like the back of her hand.
Our first stop of the day was Pinhatt Mountain, in the outskirts of the city. I knew I was getting the local experience when we parked her bike 10 minutes away and walked to an obscure path, obsctructed by barbed wire, and slipped under it. There are clearly no trespassing laws in Vietnam. As we continued a 45 minute secluded hike up, I learnt more about Thu – her background, her family, her aspirations. She dreams of visiting the US someday to experience it’s beauty and it’s culture, while I’m trying to do the same in her country. At the top, we were rewarded with stunning views, had a filling lunch of Vu Sua (Star Apple or Milk fruit) and raisin bread, and headed back down, while I practised some newly acquired Vietnamese skills.
Over the course of the day, Thu showed me around through the rest of Dalat – some touristy stuff like the “Crazy House” and the “XQ Traditional Village” – a handicraft village where women embroider awe-inspiring scenes on silk , and some amazing stuff like coffee plantations and strawberry farms, a hidden coffee shop that overlooked the valley, and her home, where I was greeted by the rest of her family and offered home-grown avocadoes!
In the evening, left to my own devices, I strolled around the little town and it’s beautiful, but busy market, people watching. All in all, Dalat was a fantastic and relaxing experience. Next leg: Biking to Nha Trang, coastal beach town!