Dalat, Vietnam to Hoi An, Vietnam
Situated in the central highlands of South Vietnam is the city known as “Vietnam’s alter-ego,” Dalat. It is unique from other Vietnamese cities because of its year-long cool climate, abundance of vegetable and flower farms, and European city vibe derived from its French colonization days.
Dalat’s cool weather was a pleasant surprise when we first arrived to the city and immediately became giddy about the new place- so much so we booked an extra night as soon as we got to our friendly and super comfortable hostel called King Kong or “Kim Cuong.”
Dalat brought us the first of our personal experiences with the locals. It started with a “family dinner” we had with the hostel owner and his Mom, who cooked a feast full of authentic Vietnamese food for us to try. Dinner consisted of loads of steamed rice, pork and eggs cooked in a dark broth, salad topped with mayonnaise, and some soup. Just when we thought we couldn’t eat anymore, our bowls would be topped off again by our generous cook.
The next cultural experience came from the motorbike “Easy Rider” day tour we did with Mr. Viet. Mr. Viet seemed to be a friend of the hostel owner and always hung around the hostel chatting and laughing with people while convincing them to join his tour for the next day. He had us sold on our first night and we ended up following him around the Dalat countryside for a day. In between his stories and rants about American politics and his ambition to leave Vietnam, he showed us many of the area’s most unique features. We climbed up and down the muddy rock stairs to see various viewpoints at Elephant Falls, explored a Chinese pagoda, and stopped at many farms of which cover much of the Central Highlands landscape. We saw flower farms, coffee farms, a silk farm and a minority ethnic village situated in the mountains. Despite Mr. Viet’s broken English, it was fascinating learning about the processes each farm-grown product takes to get to the selling point we know it as. For example, how silk starts off as a worm’s cocoon and ends up as thick strands of smooth string before it’s turned into clothes and accessories. Who knew?
We said goodbye to Dalat the next afternoon after some tea and a walk around the city when we caught a bus headed north for Hoi An, a quaint town on the coast. The bus ride itself was an experience since the majority of the ride was spent winding through the Central Highlands mountains. It was raining for most of the ride as well which gave us views of hundreds of tiny waterfalls as rain fell down the mountain. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen or could capture on camera.
Several hours on a bus later, we reached the beautiful town of Hoi An. Although it actually is quite large in size, there are no tall buildings and the majority of attractions are close together making it feel much smaller. Hoi An’s most notable feature is its ancient town called “Old Town,” which consists of many streets and alleys lined with 15th century old buildings and architecture that have been preserved because of its trade port replacement and neighbor, Da Nang. Once Da Nang became the prominent trade port in central Vietnam, Hoi An was left alone for a couple centuries, leaving it with is original structure and charm.
Wandering the streets of old town was entertainment enough as there was always something to look at- whether it be the vibrant flowers growing on the buildings, an old, ancient structure, or the pleasant view of the river situated in the middle of a decorative bridge and the charming yellow buildings Hoi An gets its essence from.
That night we explored the famous night market in Old Town and because it happened to be Buddha’s birthday celebration and full moon, we got to experience some of Vietnam’s finest festivities. There was parade, hundreds of people floating candles in the river (including me), and groups of people huddled together singing songs or playing drinking games. The town was incredibly beautiful lit up with decorative lanterns and candles everywhere you looked- definitely the kind of sight you dream of when thinking of an Asian holiday.
Our short but sweet Hoi An adventure ended with our own motorbike exploration to Hoi An’s pristine beaches, Cua Dia and Ao Bang, and then to the vegetable village called Tra Que. Tra Que ended up being a highlight of the day with its endless rows of vegetable garden and its firsthand look at Vietnamese women and men working hard in the fields, rice hats on and all. It was so picturesque and offered a genuine feel of the real Vietnam.
More knowledge and insight later, the journey north by bus continues as we leave these two amazing cities, and look forward to the new perspectives that lie ahead.