The week (or so) in pictures: Ho Chi Minh City to Dalat

My phone died at the Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, so unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of my favourite parts of the city! Here are some dragonfruit trees in the Mekong Delta, though. I think they look like teenagers in need of a haircut. I met some lovely German girls on the tour too, but every picture with all of us in has someone blinking or looking stupid (generally me) so you will just have to imagine two smiley people who were willing to — nay suggested — having dinner together at a gorgeous place called Saigon Vegan. It’s not the cheapest place to buy food in Saigon but it’s good for the price and by gum the food is yummy. Seriously,  go there! (It’s near this place) The meat eaters enjoyed it, and this confirmed lacto-ovo- vegetarian loved it! The peanut butter iced coffee would possibly be my last request if it happens to be a hot day when I’m asked 🙂DSC_1944 Living without my phone was fun in a kind of ‘oooh this is cool, I’m reconnecting with the world, I’m really looking at things, learning to live without small luxuries…’ for all of about 24 hours before my spoilt first world child reflexes kicked in and it just became annoying! I spent the wee hours of a morning really looking at was my watch as it ticked by because I was worried about missing my bus to Dalat, what with not having an alarm, and I then spent said bus journey ‘reconnecting’ with my own thoughts and a bag of banana chips, all my reading material being on technology which wasn’t working. Have you every spent seven hours with only my thoughts and a bag of banana chips for company? It ain’t pretty 😛 Dalat made up for all that though, by being Vietnam’s answer to Matlock Bath (i.e. The bees knees to the square root of the cats pyjamas). Yes, there were still motorbikes just…everywhere but in such a reduced volume compared to HCMC that it seemed peaceful. It’s also where my phone did a lazarus after running out of battery (I couldn’t turn it off before) and being charged up for a wee while, so I have pictures 😀 The first two are of the ‘Crazy House’. Described on its website as ‘Gaudi-meets-Sesame-street’ I can confirm that it looks like, well, Gaudi meets Sesame street after taking hallucinogenic drugs and buying a job lot of Bougainvillea from a man who knows a man. It’s tourist-tastic (a souvenir shop of knitted everything, slightly expensive coffee) but it’s brilliant. And it was designed by a lady, an architect who used to work for the government in Dalat. I think she may have lived there, or maybe still does, at any rate, you can too for a few days if you book well in advance and don’t mind having your breakfast to loud pipe music and people peering in the window! DSC_0004 DSC_0002 Next up was the cable car. A girl at my hostel told me about this cable car you could get to a beautiful pagoda and then, from there, walk to a waterfall, so that’s what I did. What I didn’t realise was that the cable car took a break for lunch, until the man who tore my ticket (at 11.15) told me ‘You come back after 1.30.’ DSC_0022 I was actually worried that I would have too much time to kill! Two hours was actually perfect. While the pagoda and its (beautifully kept) gardens were small, it was nice to just soak up the combination of a garden which wouldn’t have looked out of place at a National Trust property in June, and the windchimey zen-ness of the place. DSC_0047 DSC_0035 After screwing up my courage to ask the girl at the ice cream shop for directions (it seemed rude since I wasn’t actually buying anything), she proved me wrong by beaming, informing me it was only 2KM, pointing me in the right direction and generally not caring that I didn’t want to spend 40 000 dong on candy or ice cream. My plan was to kind of walk off the calorific sins of the previous day, and boy did I walk them off! It may have only been 2KM but it was hot, exposed, there wasn’t a pavement. All part of the fun though, right? Note: A sensible person could take either a taxi or a motorbike taxi from the pagoda 😉

DSC_0053DSC_0051On my last night in Dalat, I did a cooking class. (Yes, another one! I am determined to stop living off cheesey slices and chips when I go home!) Son, who takes the class is a fellow English graduate whose dream is to have her own cookery school and she is absolutely charming. Andrei, the other student, and I were given a list of dishes to pick from but Son was anxious to point out that there were plenty of off-menu things we could do, too and after picking our dishes, we headed to market. I’m not gonna lie, this was part of the experience I was looking forward to almost as much as the eating bit 😛 You can buy ANYTHING at Vietnamese markets. Son taught us about bargaining, which still makes me nervous, and about when to get the freshest stuff (morning, unless it’s fish, in which case afternoon). The fresher something is the more expensive it is. You can buy coconut and ginger candy (they’re making loads because it’s Tet soon), paper money, clothes and houses to burn for dead relatives (rather than celebrating birthdays, Vietnamse people mark the day a loved one died by sending up things which they might need in the afterlife, Son told us.) You can buy toys, hair bobbles, fruit, veg and tofu….and you can buy meat. Really, really fresh meat. By fresh I mean still alive (chickens and water-dwelling creatures) Obviously, you can also buy the kind of meat we buy at home, too! I’m a bit sentimental about animals, whether they’re ugly or fluffy, domesticated or wild, so obviously I found it a bit…intense, but still interesting from a cultural point of view.

Also… yay! Tofu! We bought fresh (for spring rolls) and fried (for curry and just general yummyness)

DSC_0064

DSC_0058Afterwards, we got a taxi to Son’s cooking class, which is in a garden on a hill. Even in two hoodies I wasn’t prepared for the chill of a Dalat evening, but Son was, she had a big fluffy jacket especially for under-prepared students which she lent me! Then followed an evening of smoothie-drinking, slightly clumsy spring roll rolling, learning about Vietnamese culture and sooo much eating! We had veggie curry, barbecued aubergine and spring rolls (veggie for me, pork for Son and Andrei) and Andrei also had a kind of coconut milk fish hotpot, which Son said I could make with tofu or mushrooms. It was all so delicious and Son was so welcoming, a perfect way to say goodbye to Dalat.

This morning I got the bus to Nha Trang which, from what I’ve seen so far, is less picturesque sadly! I’m going snorkelling tomorrow, so we’ll see 🙂

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