Wednesday, December 28, 2005


It was planned with military precision, as you will no doubt have assumed. As with all my travel plans, I had throughly researched how to get the 460 odd miles from sunny Saigon to Dalat and pre-purchased the ticket which would guarantee my hassle free journey.

Naturally, the Vietnamese had other plans. Having turned up a good 15 minutes early for my bus as instructed, I am told that it was the main office I was supposed to be at, not the place I bought my ticket. Not a major problem, as the main office was but a mere 2 mins brisk walk down the road, and I arrived there with ample time to spare. Upon handing over my ticket for the 7:30 bus (I knew it was 7:30 for 2 cunning reasons. 1: I was told the bus left at 7:30 when I bought the ticket, and 2: 7:30 was the time printed on the ticket.) So, anyhow, I had over the ticket and after a brief flurry of Vietnamese (not from me I hasten to add) I'm told that the bus doesn't leave till 8:00.

Ahh well, time to chill out on the plastic chairs for 30 minutes. An hour later, just around the time I was debating if beanbags would be a comfy and funky-alternative to uncomfortable plastic chairs, I was led away to be executed. No wait ... led away to another tourist agency and was herded right up the back of the bus with my uber-large, yet essential, backpack. As soon as I sat down I was told this was the wrong bus and dumped back on the pavement for another 30 minutes, before being put squeezed into a shuttle bus, un-squeezed back out of it and re-herded back onto the original bus.

Finally, we were on out way. I peered out of the steamed up windows watching the scenery fly past as we ambled along at walking pace. 5 minutes later I conclude that everywhere in Saigon looks pretty much the same before realising we've gone round in a circle and are back outside the tourist agency again.

"So are you here for the flower festival?" said the Vietnamese guy on the bus.
"Huh?". Apparently there was a big flower festival on in Dalat, as I found out when I arrived with poster and flags everywhere. A few hotels were full. And being notoriously bad at reading maps, I couldn't figure out how to get to a hotel in my guidebook. Of course, by that time it was dark, as the bus journey was chaotic.

More waiting about, then we finally got on our way. For about 10km. Then we sat on the edge of Saigon, while they shuttled more people from the town onto the bus. 3 hours later, we finally left Saigon!

So by the time I got to Dalat it was dark. I got a motorbike to take me to a hotel, he claimed it was very far, I thought it was near, but couldn't work out where I was on the map. He drove down a straight road, down a 180 on the roundabout and back. I assume this was to make it seem far away! Not very convicing. That hotel was full but I found another closeby.

Lots and lots of rain. Everthing is damp and soggy. And quite cold up here. I bought a fleece to keep me warm, then I walked outside just as I realised a fleece is a really stupid thing to wear in the rain, it turns into a sponge! Strangely enough it's got a small NFL logo, not exactly what you expect to pick up in Vietnam.

I went for a walk down to the festival site. Lots of small shops. I had what I thought was a cheese & ham toastie, but it turned out to be odd. It wasn't melted cheese on the gridle, but cake mixture. Odd. More like ham cake.

Another night I went back down to the festival and saw some traditional dancing around. Looked like a hilltribe judging by their clothes. They sang, danced to some music. Shaking their spears at the fire. Unfortunately this was done on a raised platform and you had to stand below on the steps, while the security made sure nobody was getting a good view! I saw a security guy pointed and talking at somebody, at first I thought he was tapping his baton on his boots, because I heard a clicking noise, but he the baton was a stun-gun which he was menancingly zapping. Not to be messed with! Later on I saw a van of more security/army guys pull up, what intrigued me was the letters on the side of the van looked Russian. Acutally when I arrived in Vietnam, I was slightly suprised to discover they use the Latin alphabet, albeit with some diacratics, as Thailand, Laos & Cambodia all use their own squigly scripts.

After that I head to the pub in Dalat. There only seems to be one pub in Dalat, so not much choice. The bar owner is a whizz at connect four! But I managed to beat him a couple of times using the little known Diemer-Duhm gambit. However once he had countered this, I couldn't even beat him by cheating, not so subtlely throwing in two bits at once! Vietnam is a bit like Laos, everybody is either going North or South, stopping along the same points. I chatted to a few people in there, and unsuprisingly bumped into them again the next night. Helped sharpen my pool skills.

I had considered heading through the highlands, but eventually decided to head back down to the coast at Nha Trang hoping to escape the rain. It certainly didn't work out that way though.

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