Natural Air Conditioning at Dalat

Trip Start Feb 16, 2010
Trip End Mar 09, 2010

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Where I stayed
On the friggin bus

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Arrived at Nha Trang 5am - didnt feel like I had rested. My connecting bus will be leaving at 730am. Left my bags at the bus office and walked to the beach, just 100 metres away. At 530am, it felt like half of the Nha Trang had woken. Many were heading to the beach and the square was crowded with locals exercising, practising Tai Chi or youths playing soccer. I found a good spot and camped out, waiting for sunrise.

Some were already swimming, enjoying the fresh air, while the streets behind us were slowly getting busier. Caught some shots of the sunrise and by 645am, Nha Trang had fully woken. Eventually boarded the bus to Dalat at 8am as the temperature slowly but surely rose. [See note - Conversation with US war veteran Douglas]

Got to Dalat at 2pm, worn out but thankfully Dalat was cool in climate as it is on the highlands. A young girl touting for hotel customers, was lurking outside the hotel where I alighted. She couldnt enter the hotel boundaries but she softly advertised a US$6 room at her hotel, so I followed her to Hotel Hang Nga across the street. Room was alright and the cheapest so far, so I stayed. Dalat would have been nicer to visit if the central lake wasnt in construction. The entire lake was empty and trenching was in progress on the market end. What a pity! I can imagine the tranquility and romantic sights of the lake.

Walking through an old alley along the lake was quite an experience. Narrow stone walkways fronted by run down shophouses on both sides, the shops were a random combination of busineses ranging from barber shops, dessert stalls to butcher stalls and live seafood stalls. I stopped twice for local desserts which caught my attention. Made my way uphill towards the central Dalat Market and found a decent looking seafood stall and promised myself to return later for supper.

Checked out a cafe overlooking the central piazza and spent the hour writing my journal with a nice mango milkshake. Heading towards Dalat Market, was surprised to see trongs of people like the day had just started. The market was madly busy like bees returning with nectar to their hives. Food, fruits, clothes and more food. The main stair of the market was littered with food stalls and plastic stools. People were busy ordering or eating. What a sight!

A pretty interesting incident happened. The police arrived and started chasing the food vendors away with their stern voice and wielding batons. But the moment their backs were turned, the vendors almost immediately (after a pretence) returned to their exact spots and busineses were as usual. The police however was selectively targetting certain vendors. Some vendors stayed put, unaffected by the commotions. Later I learnt that some vendors were rich enough to bribe the police for their rights to sell food. So the police was only chasing away vendors who couldnt afford the bribe.

My dinner tonight was a mishmashed of every stall vendors that I liked. Soy bean milk, glutinous rice with coconut shavings, bbq chicken stick wrapped in vine leaves...etc. Returned to the seafood food stall and ordered sea snails cooked in curry and also my second Hot Vit Lon - which looked even more disturbing than my first in Hanoi.

Heading back towards my hotel, I decided to take a brisk walk to Dalat University 2 km away. That side of town was lined with cafes, karaoke and many more food stalls with crowds of uni students out for a late supper.

Dalat Note - Conversation with US War veteran - Douglas

On my bus journey to Dalat from Nha Trang, I had a chance meeting with Douglas, a US vietnam war veteran and learnt first hand about his Nam tour of duty. Douglas was on the same bus to Dalat and had visited Vietnam for the last 15 years annually.

Douglas was 19 years old when he volunteered for the Vietnam war. In 1967, his first year in Vietnam, he was based at Phan Rang (where we met at lunch). He signed up for combat duty but was delegated to a desk bound typing role. Back then, Douglas didnt realise the high fatality of the Nam war until most of his mates returned in plastic body bags on a daily basis. He returned to US after his 1 year stint but soon returned for another 6 months.This time he was posted to Mekong Delta where he participated in fierce battles againt the Viet Congs. In retrospect, he was trying to see combat action in his first year but saw none. And on his second tour, he was dying to stay out of combat. He was fortunate to be even alive.

Douglas recounted the day the Tet Offensive was launched - usually the Viet Congs would only attack at night but on the eve of the lunar year 1968, the Viet Congs begun simultaneous and spectacular attacks on all south vietnam cities and towns in the afternoon. It caught the Americans by surprise when just a week before Tet Offensive, south of the DMZ was attacked severely, regrouping most of the American troops to that region.

Kennedy brought the war to Vietnam, believing US must stop the insurgence of communism into rest of asia, for the best interests of the US. Back in the 60s, after World War II, with the iron rule of Soviet Union and China's communist insurgency, Douglas agreed that US fears were accounted for. Just before Kennedy was assassinated, he already had a draft to congress for the withdrawal of all US forces in Vietnam. Tragically that didnt happen and the war continued, intensified, fuelled by manufacturing (army clothes, ammo, weapons), politics and employment mechanism.

Douglas also shared an interesting tale. One of Douglas' platoon mates returned to Saigon in 1986. At his hotel room, 4 viet cong veterans (from the south) heard wind and visited. They shared stories and forgave each other. The vietnamese pointed out that the North Vietnam communist party screwed them over big time with empty promises of shared political powers between the North and South after the war. Shortly in the night, Viet secret police rocked up to the hotel and deported Douglas's mate on the following morning.. He returned a year later to Saigon, married a vietnamese woman and started the first English school in Saigon. Until today, the south vietnamese still refer Ho Chi Minh City to her former name - Saigon. Maybe as a mark of defiance.
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