Get your motor runnin', head out on the highway

Trip Start Jan 27, 2006
Trip End Sep 09, 2006

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Saturday, April 29, 2006

PHIL : From Saigon we took a five-hour bus ride (turned out to be an 8-hour bus ride due to the loss of the clutch for part of the way) into the Central Highlands. Dalat, the main city and 'honeymoon capital of Vietnam', sits 1500m above sea level and enjoys a temperature much more like the UK in the summer. In fact, it is known as the 'City of Eternal Spring'. This was marvellous news for us as Saigon was a three-t-shirt-a-day 35 degrees. We felt right at home in the 20s. Not so the Vietnamese. Every one of them was wrapped up as if a stiff northerly had just blown in from Sweden - parkas, woolly hats, gloves and boots whilst we sauntered past in shorts. Not for the first time on this trip we received a few funny looks.

Dalat itself is set on a beautiful lake, surrounded by manicured gardens and allotments, home to Vietnams' premier University (no air conditioning needed to concentrate) and a half size replica of the Eiffel Tower (more like Blackpool Tower actually). It has a really relaxed feel, is full of cafes which play home to pairs of lovers cross-eyed with young lust and strong coffee.

First night we slipped into what we laughingly call our gladrags (creases and earrings), headed for a restaurant called the Art Cafe and ate a cracking meal of Vietnamese Claypot Pork washed down WITH A BOTTLE OF WINE !!!!!! Ok, Local Dalat wine at 3 quid a throw, but it was nectar after so long. Purrrrrrrr.

Next day, having pottered around a bit being love struck/star crossed/cross-eyed* (*delete as appropriate) we decided to head for the hills. We hired a couple of freelance motorcyclists (called the Easy Riders) to spin us out into the countryside for the day on the back of their big Russian machines. Ba and Phong were cracking guides, fun, witty and belting riders. We learned loads from them including :-

1. Sam is a natural biker. Riding pillion, sunglasses glinting and wind in her hair she looked just like Pamela Anderson in that dodgy Dark Angel film. Sort of.

2. A single silk worm can make up to 100 metres of silk thread on its own (good); however, to extract this the silk worm must be boiled alive in its crysalis (bad).

3. The beautiful countryside around Dalat is partly a product of the Americans bombing. With no idea who the enemy was (civilian or Viet Cong), the Americans chose a high point near Dalat as their stronghold and systematically cleared all vegetation around it through the indiscriminate use of Napalm and herbicides. 30 years on, parts of the hillside are still only covered in grass, the few fledgling trees managing to get to about 3 years old before their intoxicated roots can't take the poison anymore and give in. And this in a part of the country which was 'largely untouched by the war'. Nice work, fellas.

4. The rainy season started early in Dalat this year. A personal thanks from me to the people of Gap who supplied me with a cagoule which was worst than useless - it pretended to be waterproof. Within seconds of the heavens opening, I was wetter than a well-diggers bum.

5. Vietnamese home cooking is wonderful, and is particularly wonderful washed down with 45 per cent proof rice wine flavoured with fermented bananas. Two teacups of this stuff and my t-shirt was dry. I think. At least, I stopped caring.

6. Snakes hate lemongrass. The coffee plantations around the hillsides are bordered by loads of the stuff to ensure that the pickers aren't bitten. Sam has started to dab some behind her ears whenever it looks like we might be heading out of the city ......

Ba and Phong spent the day gently trying to persuade us to hire them for the next four days, promising us the trip of our lives as we headed north to Hoi An (our next stop). It was incredibly tempting - riding pillion on the backroads or cramped on a bus ? With heavy hearts (and one eye on the darkening skys - fair weather bikers us), we said no. Budget and time were against us. But next time ........

On our final afternoon, Easter Sunday, with the rain falling heavily again and our thoughts turning to family, we settled into a warm restaurant that served roast pork, mashed potatoes and steamed veg. It were luvverly. Just missing a few peas......
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