From Hoi An, I took an overnight bus to Dalat, which stopped briefly at Nha Trang in the morning; a beach resort which I had heard to steer clear from... a quick peak at the beach confirmed this, as it was this busy at only 7am!
Upon arriving in Dalat I walked with a friend I had made on the bus to a hostel called Dalat Smile, which quickly became one of my favourite all time hostels! The 3 young Vietnamese guys who owned this recently opened hostel were great hosts. As soon as we arrived we were taught how to brew our own Vietnamese coffee and were invited to eat with them that evening. Although myself and Sarah were too hungry to wait and so we walked into town and ate at a cafe called New Art. The food here was incredible, but it wasn't just a restaurant, it was also an art gallery for a local celebrity artist. After our meal he offered to paint pictures for us using only his hands and watered-down ink. I still have the painting in my bag, ready to hang when I come home!
The following day I went with Linh (one of the hostel owners) on an 'easy rider' motorbike tour around the area. We were joined by 2 Americans, Rob and Eric, who had their own bikes.
Dalat is famous for it's cool temperature and therefore perfect conditions for growing flowers, vegetables, fruit, coffee and tea. There were greenhouses and terraces covering the hillsides around the town.
We went first to a coffee plantation where they also produce the famous Vietnamese weasel poo coffee! The weasels don't look too happy about it though, at least coffee tastes nice...
We bought the cheapest, the most expensive, and a mid range coffee from the cafe upstairs and challenged each other to a blind taste test... We could all taste the differences between them, but blind, we all assumed the cheapest coffee was the weasel poo (and hence most expensive, supposedly nicer) one!! At least I can save some money travelling now!
After this we visited a rice wine factory to sample wine straight from the distillery... I think I burned my nose hairs off when I smelled it... but the final adjusted wine was not too bad! Linh bought a bottle for us for that evening!
We drove more through the mountains to a huge and powerful waterfall, I wish I had better photos as this fall was impressively powerful... We walked a trail that Linh knew of, right under the falls and we could hardly move under the wind it generated!
We ate near the falls and then continued on to a silk factory. The worms were a bit creepy, but the factory was fascinating, especially when Linh told us how much the women get paid...
We then started on our way back, which went through a minority race village. I laughed when I saw a traditional wooden house with a satellite dish on the side! We watched people for a bit, but I felt a little awkward just watching people in their village, they seemed a little bored of being watched, so we left after only a few minutes.
At some point during the day it had rained, and I think we were inside at the time so hadn't noticed. But the still-in-construction road that we needed to take back had turned into a mud pool... it caused complete chaos in the outskirts of the village, with the local bus getting stuck and people falling off their bikes. I had to get off the back with Linh and walk most of the road... Eric ended up trying to push his bike and lost a flip flop in the process! And every few metres we all had to stop and clear the mud out of the wheels... it was a nightmare (but still an adventure)!
We arrived back at the hostel cold and exhausted, but luckily we had a delicious dinner waiting for us, cooked by the other hostel guys Winh and Wei. We stayed up drinking and chatting with them.
The next day I did what I came to Dalat to do; Canyoning! I had never heard about this until travelling and meeting other people who recommended it to me. Canyoning is a combination of abseiling, hiking, hiking through rivers and abseiling down waterfalls. I had no idea what to expect, and was quite nervous, but it was incredibly fun!
First we learned how to abseil down a hill side, before getting straight into it and walking through the river, climbing up the hillside and abseiling down a dry cliff face landing in the river...
This was fine! Then we trekked more to a higher dry abseil, which I had to go first on!
Next we rode the smaller water falls, on our backs, head first... there were several like this that we walked between in the river.
After a quick pit stop for lunch we then went to the main activity, the long abseil down a waterfall. I was last four this one, which didn't help with my nerves! We had to take our shoes off and go in just socks, slowly sliding our feet over the rocks. Then when we became horizontal, we took big steps, until around 5m from the water below, where the rock stopped and you had to push off the wall to land safely in the water! Being last, I was able to watch lots of people do this before me, some of which took a very long time, and some who fell over completely!!
Watching others from the top:
Me doing it!
From this one we walked to an 11m high platform where you could jump into a pool below, however at this point in the day it was really raining hard and the ground was slippery. To make the 11m jump you had to do a run-up and so most of us chose instead an 8m high platform that required no run-up!
From here we walked to our final abseil, known as 'the washing machine'. In this one you had to abseil a little before the rock fell away and you dangled, slowly lowering yourself into a waterfall. Eventually, the rope ran out and you fell into the waterfall and river, and was pushed under the water and fed along a narrow stream before popping up on the other side next to the waiting group! It was very fun!!
An apparently arty photo the guy took of my group...
At the end of all this, we then had to walk a steep trail back to the minibus pick up, which took 20 minutes of constant uphill walking. By the end of the day my whole body was aching and I was so tired and drained... luckily for me, the adventure wasn't over...
Based on conversations the previous day, the guys had decided to cook us some traditional Vietnamese food for dinner... field frog, and dog meat!!!
Linh asked if I wanted to watch him prepare the frogs, and when I arrived in the kitchen I realised they were still alive. Linh skillfully prepared them using scissors and his hands and cooked them in a wok with garlic and lime. The dog meat was cooked elsewhere and brought just before eating.
Dog meat in Vietnam has a bad reputation, but actually the meat is rare and a huge specialty which should only be eaten in a very specific way; rolled in lettuce and wasabi leaves and dipped in shrimp sauce. Actually, it was delicious... as was the frog, and the vegetable spring rolls that are traditionally wrapped in rice paper and dipped in peanut sauce... delish!
Dalat was a real adventure for me. I surprised myself by doing Canyoning (which was very scary), and by eating dog meat. And the people that I met here; the artist and the hostel owners, showed me how genuinely friendly Vietnamese people are. I would visit Dalat again despite the crappy weather!