Friday, 14 December 2012


I probably didn't pick the best route for my first experience of Vietnamese bus rides - the roads up to the hill town of Dalat are endlessly winding, and the constant soundtrack of families fighting, music playing, children crying and the driver honking his horn made it difficult to catch up on sleep - even with my industrial-strength earplugs.

It didn't matter though; the views were breathtaking, and as we got higher we became surrounded by clouds, only to emerge to a town that could be part of France transplanted in Vietnam. Pastel-coloured villas, a beautiful lake, romantic fountains, endless green farms and hills - it's a beautiful place.

But what made my experience magical was the hospitality I received at my hotel. Run by a wife and husband team with an exceedingly cute little girl, the owner of the hotel, Adfa, insisted on taking me out on a motorbike ride with her daughter to see the city at night. Couples were taking photographs by the fountains, taking rides on swan pedalos on the flood-lit lake, or just walking around hand-in-hand with smiles across their faces. I could see why this is the honeymoon capital of Vietnam.

We visited the market and Adfa recommended some local produce for me to buy, then took care of the haggling so that I wasn't ripped off. We stopped and pulled up tiny plastic schools (think of those you used to sit on at nursery school) and enjoyed some green bean tea (I've no idea what the green beans are, but they're certainly sweeter than the kind served with the Sunday roast back home), then walked around the winding streets, stopping at a Vietnamese bakery for me to discover the joys of sticky rice cakes, banana cakes, coconut mille feuille and all sorts of other exceedingly sweet treats.

We zipped back to the hotel and I tucked myself up in a huge bed - a welcome change from the dorm bunks I've been used to so far - and indulged in an evening of chuckling at Mr. Bean on TV. Bliss.

The next morning I went to the 'Crazy House', which is a rather out-of-place, Gaudi-like building filled with endless wacky figurines and mazes of staircases and tunnels. Apparently you can stay there - there's even a honeymoon suite - though I'm not sure what waking up to the gaze of a giant pelican statue would be like...

Adfa then took me out on another trip, up to a serene pagoda with stunning views, which we absorbed along with some Dalat milk (the best in Vietnam, apparently) and rice cakes. I took a cable car trip - cue more breathtaking views - and Adfa met me the other side with her motorbike, then showed me the flower gardens, the cute (but now defunct) railway station, and the church, before stopping for a snack of papaya salad and che. At this rate it might not be the best idea to continue sitting on the tiny plastic stools...

Our next stop was an astonishing temple, where a gigantic statue has been made entirely from flowers. Lest I go hungry again, Adfa took me back home and cooked me a lunch of pork, shrimp, salad and greens, which made a pleasant change from the rather gristly frog I had been served up at a restaurant the night before.

It was time for a nap before I caught my flight to Danang, with Adfa again insisting that she took me to the meeting point for the transfer bus. I have never experienced hospitality like that which I received in Dalat - and after the sad number of scams and rip-offs that are a constant reality for tourists elsewhere in Vietnam, it was a breath of fresh air. I only wish I could have stayed for longer - I guess I'll just have to go back one day.

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