Travel through the misty highlands to Da Lat
Days 813 – 814
Two days travelling from Hoi An to Da Lat by 10 hours on the train then 5 hours with Mr Vu, visiting Po Nagar and learning about Birds Nest.
We were sad to leave our lovely homestay Moon Villas. Moon and her smiley husband were such warm hosts. Fellow guests Robert and Pam, (Canadians now living in the Loire, France) bid us farewell and thoughtfully gave us each superior medical face masks for our train trip.
We religiously donned the masks at the station where they were giving out the cheap flimsy ones, insisting that everyone wore them. We found our seats and got comfy in preparation for our 10-hour journey.
I (Jac) have always enjoyed train journeys and soon busied myself taking photos in and outside of the train. Good intentions of settling down to my book club’s latest went out the window, through which most of my attention was drawn.
I loved seeing the varied countryside and seeing how rural Vietnamese live. We rattled and bounced our way through little villages, with the sound of the train and the vista outside felt like we were part of a Bollywood film set! we passed back gardens, smallholdings, paddy fields and across roads. What were those strange hay stacks? (Google says they are for storing animal feed- makes sense). And Lindsey inadvertently took the photo of the Teddy Bear. I wonder if he will be going to the woods today? We were, at least, in for a big surprise when we saw him captured on film!
We weren’t tempted by the constant food and drink trolleys sweeping through the carriage. Our homestay had packed us up simple, but delicious fried egg Banh mi, (filled baguette), and with our water, dried passion fruit and nuts we had a traveller’s feast. We only had a few stops on this journey.
As quickly as folk were trying to disembark, others were trying to find their seats and both got caught up with the food and drink hawkers who jump on and go through the train selling their boiled eggs, Banh mi and a variety of unrecognisable snacks. It was just as fascinating people-watching inside the carriage as it was discovering the changing landscape outside.
A lot of travellers were watching films on their mobiles while others slept. This train had started its journey way north in Hanoi and was going on to Saigon. As the sunset and temperature dropped quilts were handed out with many more people snuggling down for the night.
We finally arrived at Nha Trang and our hotel for the night, glad to be greeted by a sweet couple who had waited up to check us in. Nha Trang seemed a strange place. The hotel information was in Vietnamese, English and Russian.
This seaside resort attracts a lot of Russian and Chinese; many high rise hotels are being built to accommodate them. The Soviet Union was one of the first countries in the world to recognise and formally establish diplomatic relations with Vietnam because of its communist affinity.
It wasn’t the best night sleep we’ve had together in one room, we couldn’t turn the old air-con off and it hummed all night loudly. The ensuite was interesting too with its large glass wall! We read that breakfast could be lacking if a coach party were staying; however, we were the only guests in the dining room for most of the time enjoying a more-than-adequate buffet of hot and cold food. Two more guests arrived as we left. The Coronavirus is having a significant impact on tourism here, as it must be all over the world.
Our next journey was booked with www.myDaytrip.com and sweet Mr Vu arrived promptly to take us to Da Lat in the highlands but calling first at the famous Po Nagar Tower situated on the outskirts of Nga Trang, a complex of Cham temples founded before 781AD.
Each for the four towers was built to dedicate to a unique deity and sadly pirates have stolen the gold that adorned the domes. Despite this, the place had a very tranquil feeling, made all the more attractive because of the flowers and TET decorations.
We were back on the road and soon out on the highway and into beautiful mountainous countryside. Such a different landscape from the day before - very different trees (I thought almost Alpine but I’m not sure Lindsey agreed!)
We kept spotting concrete buildings with small vents instead of windows. We had fun communicating with Mr Vu using sign language and Google-translate before we understood that Swifts were kept in these ‘houses’ for the collection of their bird-nests. The nests are formed using foliage and the bird’s spit which is meant to be highly nutritious; a sought after food called the “Caviar of the East”. The Chinese pay up to $10,000 per kilogram for the main ingredient of their prized Bird’s Nest Soup.
None of us fancied it much – although when you see what we have tried out here - watch this space! The road was getting steeper and the switch-back bends hairier, with drivers (not ours, thankfully) taking over on the bends hooting furiously.
We had a photo stop and then Mr Vu offered a comfort break and we suggested coffee. The café in Xa Da Nhim looked a bit dodgy to start but it was a quirky place. We were given jasmine tea with our coffee and had a laugh with Mr Vu, especially when I put my tea in my coffee! We’ve since discovered that tea is served for free in this area.
The weather altered and the air became cooler and fresher with some drizzle. As we continued our ascent, we were soon driving through damp clouds. It made for a spectacular drive.
As we approached Da Lat city, I don’t think it was anything like we had imagined. It’s quite a large sprawling old colonial city, a mix of old and new. It has its own particular charm and over the next few days, I think we all became very fond of the city, surrounding highlands and the people we met there. I would definitely like to bring Simon back here.