Việt Nam — Pt. 1

I’ve been to Vietnam many times. Each visit has been a special and unique experience. From the food to the coffee, the various landscapes, and places to visit and see, the friendly locals. I’m always trying to figure out a way to get back as soon as possible.

From the balcony of my hostel along Bui Vien Street, I can see a kudzu of scattered rectangular towers wedged together. Box buildings of various bright and light hues of blue, green, yellow, pink and red. Metal water tanks of all shapes and sizes, collecting rust. Hundreds of black power lines jumbled together in massive webs intertwined and meeting on the tops of poles at the intersections.

The sides of the streets are filled with trash that makes their way into piles, a lackadaisical effort of cleaning up offset with the electric feeling of being on your toes and minding your surroundings because motorbikes are honking their way through the crowds of people. There are rooftop gardens and balconies to watch the sunset transform the city from sunlit paint to luminous neon lights. Swarms of motorbikes pulse red down the roads as tourists and expats make their way to different bars and restaurants that play loud music. Locals selling everything from sunglasses to cigarettes, marijuana, snails and dried squid, playing cards for VC, stacks of books, massages, and cupping. Others gather around metal tables to sit out on small plastic chairs to drink, eat and watch the spectacle. The knit and glitter of a city fending off sleep. Bustling Bui Vien. Saigon.

From Saigon, we took the hydrofoil for around 210,000VND (<$10) to a place called Vung Tau. It’s a nice getaway and only takes about an hour to get there. In the morning and after bahn mi op la (french bread and egg) breakfast we rode along the shore to the top of the peninsula as our remote scenery slowly started to trickle in more side shops and people going about their day. Sunflower shops popping up left and right as we rode by. Locals basking cut fish in the sun and the smell filling the sea salt air. We stopped in town and found the “most famous” seafood restaurant called Ganh Hao. Ate spring rolls, crab, corn soup and “special” fried spring rolls and later sat along the coast and watched the sunset.

To get from Vung Tau or Saigon to Dalat we usually take the night bus which is a cheap way to travel. Sometimes the ride can be rough, but the neon light interior makes up for it. Lay down and take a nap and within 6 hours you’ll be in the mountains before you know it.

In Dalat we rode outside of the city to see more of the farms. The hillsides were cluttered with cut out earth steps, terraces with locals farming anything from coffee to cherries and greenhouses by the rows growing flowers. The thrill of getting on the motorbike every day and zipping around has been the best. The routine is familiar and automatic. Clutching the metal handbrake with the left hand after hopping on. The right thumb pressing the ignition button followed by the turning of the hard plastic rubber handle. The sound of choking and stuttering that gets louder gradually, ready to take off. The joy of what’s about to happen next and anticipating the winding roads. Open and free to twist and turn through the hillside with the wind rushing by. I guess it would be equivalent to how a dog feels with his head out the window. Minus the tongue hanging out of our mouths…maybe?

In the morning we packed a day bag, hopped on the motorbike and headed down south about 20km to check out Elephant Falls. Along the way, we went through winding roads cut into the sides of the mountains. The green on the hillsides were interrupted here and there by the red and orange earth. The roads were smooth and winding. The feeling of the wind rushing past, the fresh mountain air, the zipping around freely is nothing short of meditative. One cannot help but have a goofy grin turn into a silly smile.

We spotted a coffee house that overlooked a small lake and valley. Just by chance, we discovered that the place was famous for weasel coffee and inside there was a shop. Mê Linh Coffee Garden. We checked out the overlook, which was an extended wooden porch perched on the side of the hill. A hole in the middle allowed people to peek below and see the weasels resting in their cages. We took some pictures and went down below to see where the weasels were kept and also saw the process of how the coffee was made. After getting our caffeine kick and feeling a bit more energetic we continued on towards Elephant Falls.

We worked our way down the steep and muddy zig-zag of a path to reach the larger rocks at the base of the waterfall. Our shoes were now wet and muddy, but the view was worth it. Mist shot up and the sound of water pounding the rocks in front of us was a well-worth mother nature moment. We went up another path away from the falls. Dragonflies buzzing around our heads and ankles getting eaten by mosquitos we turned back around to where we started and ate a well-deserved Pho for lunch. Riding back into town was another reminder that Dalat is like a tropical alpine. A conducive place for all types of vegetation to grow. With the variety of plants and flowers bringing life to the town. The mood of the locals reflects the thought that when plants and humans are together, joy follows.

We went to the top of a hill near a place called Leguda that has a 49,000VND ($2) all you can eat vegetarian hot pot. Seriously, though, I don’t know how that place makes a profit, but I’m not complaining. If you get the chance to eat there I’d say its a must.

Sitting in a place called Anna’s Coffee House now looking out the window. Slowly moving gray clouds can be seen covering the tops of the hills in the distance. Sunlight can be seen peeking through the trees that stick up on the hills with their trunks looking like toothpicks. All the tree tops mix in together in patches of green and yellow as they fall down the slope of the hill. A cat is lazily sitting on the pavement that drops down to other boxes along the road covered with metal tin roofs that look gray and red with rust, quickly hammered and pieced together. The scene saved from total rusticity by the electric light illuminating the windows. The cable cars can be seen going back and forth. It reminds me of the roundtrip ride we took for our last full day in the city. We don’t want to leave, but we know we’ll be back.

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