Da Lat – Da Bomb

The three days we spent in Ho Chi Minh City were great – we really loved the city. We’ve decided there are a few key city success factors, and HCMC had them all: clean, full of friendly helpful people, and tons of really good food. They day we actually rode into the city was a long day for us – 11 hours of traveling including almost 8 hours pedaling. We didn’t have a map of the city other than the crappy one from our guidebook so we were going through quite a bit of stress and frustration as we fought our way through the traffic and made random guesses at which streets to follow in order to find the budget hotel area of town.

Along the way we were hugely impressed with how helpful every single person we came across was. At one point we stopped at a sidewalk cafe for a drink and a rest before continuing on into the fray. I ordered a soymilk, Jamie got a Coke, and we sat on tiny ankle-high stools to enjoy them. We were a little surprised when the vendor served us the actual soymilk and Coke that were on display in the burning hot sun (usually they store drinks in coolers on ice). The drinks were this close to boiling! She gave us each a glass of ice to pour the drinks over and the entire glass of ice melted almost completely away as we poured. Our guidebook warns against drinking the crushed ice served on the street, but we were so exhausted and thirsty that we didn’t care – we chugged those drinks and ordered another round. I got sick later on (surprise, surprise) but it only lasted one day so I guess it was worth it. As we drank the vendor squatted on a tiny stool next to us and gesticulated her shock that we were actually riding our bikes through the city. Then she got her English speaking daughter to come out and chat with us a bit – they couldn’t believe we’d ridden in from Cambodia. We told them we were basically lost and the daughter helped us with some directions. Her English was pretty good but she had switched “right” and “left” and instead of saying “yes”, she said “oui.” When we paid the bill we were happy to find that we’d only be charged 25 cents per drink – a really good price, and especially nice after all the horror stories we’ve heard of tourists being drastically overcharged in Vietnam.

We were lost again a few turns later and about to give up and get a room at a too-expensive hotel when a one of the guys that drives motorbike taxis said “That one is too much! Just a few blocks that way are hotels for a much better price.” We were blown away – usually these are the guys that are aggressive and pushy and you just wish they would go away. So, we rode the few blocks in the direction he’d indicated, checked out a few hotels, and were getting discouraged again because they were still too expensive. As I was standing in the hot sun with the bikes, waiting for Jamie to check out prices, one of the taxi drivers said to me “These on the street are too expensive – there are much better ones in the alley behind this street.” He crossed the street to Jamie, led him back to the super secret back alley that we would have never found on our own, and we had our pick of at least ten really nice budget hotels. We couldn’t get over how people were going out of their way to help us out – it was a great feeling. Oh yes, and we also ran into this kid who told us his name was Michael, like Michael Jackson. He was excited when we said we were from the US, did a few little MJ style dances for us, and then gave us directions. We thought he was for sure going to ask us for money after his little performance, but I guess he was just more interested in a captive audience.

Another highlight of HCMC was that we got to meet a friend of my Grandma’s – Quynh. They met in Michigan where Quynh was working and my Grandma lived. Quynh said she missed her grandma and my grandma said she missed her grandchildren – so they decided to fill in for each other and struck up a friendship. We had a lot of fun with Quynh – she took us out to two delicious Vietnamese dinners, we had coffee and cheesecake, we walked around town together and bought tropical fruit magnets as a souvenir, and we visited her house and got to meet her family and five dogs! When we arrived at her house we found they’d gone and bought a selection of tropical fruits that were in season for us to try – it was so fun! The highlight was trying durian fruit which is the infamous stinky fruit of Southeast Asia. It smells so strongly (some say of sewage) that it is actually banned from airports and hotels throughout Asia! We’ve been smelling this fruit at every market since we arrived in Singapore and have been looking forward to trying it, but just hadn’t gotten up the courage to do it yet. We were both surprised that we actually liked it – it has a creamy custardy texture and I thought it tasted a lot like caramel. Everyone knows how much I love dessert, so this is the perfect fruit for me! They also made us delicious Vietnamese coffee and gave us one of the little drip-brewers and coffee beans as a gift. They were so generous and we had so much fun with them – we really hope they visit us in Seattle someday so we can invite them over for a buffet of salmon, king crab, cherries, apples, blackberries, and of course Seattle coffee!

Trying the durian:

Waiting for our coffee & cheesecake. Quynh is in the center, her niece is on the right:

Quynh and her husband also helped us learn some Vietnamese phrases along with the appropriate pronunciation. I think we entertained them quite a bit with our very bad attempts at imitation!

Attempting some Vietnamese:

After our time in HCMC we took the bus north to Da Lat, which is where we are today. Da Lat is at an elevation of 1500 meters so the weather here is temperate and wonderful. They market is full of strawberries and avocados which is quite a change from the usual pineapples and mangoes. Right now we’re sitting at a cafe on a small lake in the center of town, enjoying the fact that we can actual be outside without sweating through our clothes. On the bus ride here, we were both amazed by the height and the steepness of the hills. There are some serious climbs here! We are both hoping we can handle it after a couple months of pancake flat riding. Our guide book keeps describing this region as “high-adventure”, so hopefully we will survive. Tomorrow we’ll ride our bikes north, with our fingers crossed that our route stays at a high enough elevation to stay cool.

Avocados in the market:

2 Responses to “Da Lat – Da Bomb”

  1. Stephen Welle Says:

    Hey I’m in Florence. I can’t use hotmail here. If you want to email me use my U of M account. I got your last email, but I couldn’t reply before you left. I hope you are having fun!

  2. Brian Says:


    My only concern is that you look like you are wasting away a little bit. Eat more!!

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