We knew we wanted to go from Saigon up to Da Lat, because it was on the Top Gear Vietnam special, and originally planned to head from Da Lat up to Nha Trang. We changed our minds after mentioning it to people travelling from north Vietnam to south; out of ten people, nine of them would say ‘do not bother with Nha Trang unless you want to go to the Russian version of Ibiza. Go to Mui Ne instead.’ I have nothing against Russians – or Ibiza – but backpacking is about taking the road marginally less traveled, blah blah blah, so we went from Saigon up to Mui Ne.
Things to know about Mui Ne: as far as tourists are concerned, it consists of roughly one long coastal road, a beach, great conditions for kite surfing and some sand dunes.
On our first evening we learnt that if Nha Trang is full of Russians, Mui Ne is well stocked with them; menus are in Russian and expats run restaurants. We had dinner at a one such place, offering goulash and playing Gerry Rafferty and Wham! (pretty sure playing Edge of Heaven is against Russia’s anti-LGBT propaganda law, now I think about it). Not the most surreal dining experience I’ve had, but one does not go to Vietnam expecting to hear Gerry Rafferty.
I don’t have any other anecdotes about Mui Ne, because I didn’t get much further than the road or the beach; on our second day I made the mistake of being very hungry when we stopped at a restaurant one afternoon (also run by Russians and offering turtle and shark, which are normal dishes out here). As I won’t eat anything endangered, I played it safe with some chicken in mushroom sauce, which was tiny so I followed it with mushroom soup. Possibly I should add mushrooms to my list of foods to be avoided unless completely necessary, because I spent the next morning in the toilet block waiting for invisible forks in my stomach to stop stabbing my intestines.
Or possibly I shouldn’t have eaten two meals in half an hour.
Anyway, the most I saw of Mui Ne was the inside of the hostel bathroom block. Maxim took a trip to the sand dunes and a fishing village and one day I will go back to Vietnam so I can get better photos than he did.
He got quite good photos.
Da Lat is up in the mountains, and was popularised as a destination by the French during their occupation; it’s cooler than the coast, relatively quiet and very, very pretty, in a Disneyland-meets-European-architecture-in-the-height-of-summer kind of way. For example, the Flower Gardens:
I got sunburn wandering the gardens… then had to by a hoodie for the freezing evenings. Da Lat’s not known for having four seasons in a day for nothing.
Datanla Waterfall, which we accessed on a two-person bobsled (I have no idea who came up with that but I salute them):
The Truc Lam Pagoda, which I have just realised I have no pictures of, and and the cable car ride down:
We also went to the Hang Nga Crazy House, designed by local architect Đặng Việt Nga, who still lives there. My photos don’t do it justice; the building is a cross between Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and the Crooked House at Adventure Island in Southend (there are crooked houses outside Southend, right?). Stairs curve; walls lean; bannisters are rare. Do not take small children or the infirm to the Crazy House; they will not come out alive.
We’re heading back to Thailand today (I’m so behind on blogs, at this rate I’ll be telling you all about Hanoi when I’m on my next holiday). We’re taking the night train to Bangkok, then again to Phuket, and I’m so relieved to be avoiding another night bus that I’m not too bothered about not getting a shower for at least two days.
Or not too bothered, anyway.