Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Dalat and a couple more night buses.
22/01/2016 - We boarded our bus to Vietnam at around 8am. Having been on buses that were definitely for the more budget conscious traveller we decided to treat ourselves to a trip with supposedly the best bus company in Cambodia for our trip across the border. Sadly GiantIbis were a bit of a disappointment. As far as we could make out the only perks of travelling with them were the free breakfast pastries (which were actually quite good!?) and the bus attendant who was in denial over the fact that he wasn't an air steward. The journey took about 9 hours, instead of 7, as we got stuck in rush hour traffic which pretty much set the tone for most of our time in Vietnam's cities. From the bus station to the hostel we got a taxi, the driver seriously overcharged us which in our sleepy confused state we didn't figure out until we were in the hostel. Fleur also left her card in an atm, luckily she realised straight away and we went back. The bank staff were able to open up the cash machine as it had sucked it back in and return her card. After all the drama of the day we ended up eating dinner at the first clean looking place we came across. Only once we'd sat down did we realise that 90% of the menu involved creatures that lived in shells. So in true adventurous spirit we went for prawns and beef. In our defence the prawns did come with heads and all other bits still attached!
23/01/2016 - We went down to breakfast in the hostel and had a very close encounter with a giant cockroach. It started off in the corner of the room but as it came closer and crawled under the breakfast table all four of us girls leapt up off our chairs and out of the way. The lady from the hostel came to our rescue and picked up the cockroach using a tea towel. Now come to think of it, I really hope that it went straight in the wash afterwards.
Although deep down I think we all know that it didn't.
We spent most of the day in the War Remnants Museum. It was an eye opening, and emotional visit to say the least. Having been relatively naive to the specifics of the Vietnam War, I was unprepared for what was to come. The museum had some general exhibits on the war which despite being very one sided were interesting and disturbing too. The exhibitions that really had an effect on the both of us where the ones on the use of Agent Orange in the war. Agent Orange was a chemical used by the Americans to destroy the jungle so that the Vietnamese soldiers would have no where to hide. The chemical was highly poisonous and not only had horrific effects on the Vietnamese people at the time but also continues to on their children and grandchildren. The effects ranged from skin disorders to severe disfigurement to psychological developmental issues. The exhibition moved me to tears and really made me despair at what humans can do to one another in the name of war.
24/01/2016 - We had a bit of a lie in and wandered into town after breakfast. On the way in we were stopped by a group of young girls asking if we would mind chatting to them for a bit as a way to improve their English. There were about 10 of them and we spent close to an hour talking about our families, travel, education, work and Vietnam and England. They were so lovely and their English was much better than they thought it was. Sadly even though some of them were keen to travel, the cost made it an unlikely option for them. It emphasised how lucky we are in our ability to travel relatively easily and how we often take it for granted. We said goodbye to the girls, not before taking some group pictures of course and then carried on to do some sight seeing.
We walked around the market, Fleur saw a rat!? We walked round the city and saw the Opera House, City Hall, the Cathedral, Reunification Palace and the Jade Pagoda. Popping into shops and escaping the heat any way we could in between. After all that walking we went for bahn mi sandwiches for dinner, which were amazing and then pancakes for dessert. We then went to the bus station to wait for our sleeper bus to Dalat. This sleeper bus was better than the last, we had individual reclining seats/beds. Similar in style to horizontal airplane seats, annoyingly Fleur and I were too far away from each other to talk during the journey. The journey seemed to be going ok until about 30 minutes in the driver seemed to take a wrong turning and had to reverse out of the dead end. When he carried on reversing as we joined the motorway that's when it started to get really terrifying. We reversed in total for about 10 minutes until we could finally get into the right lane. Luckily we survived and I even managed to sleep most of the way to Dalat despite the earlier trauma and a seriously bumpy road.
25/01/2016 - We arrived in Dalat at 5am and headed straight to our hostel, expecting to have to camp out in the foyer until a more sensible time but they were so lovely and had arranged a room so we could have a nap and a shower before we checked into our own room later on. They even gave us a free breakfast, we had a baguette with peanut butter and banana which was a nice reminder of home and was so tasty. The day was spent wandering around the town which was a little chillier than we were used to but it made a refreshing change. The town was a lot calmer than Saigon, again a nice change and just quite pretty. We walked to a bakery and picked up some local delicacies for later then wandered around the market before heading to the lake. We walked all around the lake, the water and the greenery making us instantly relax. The lake was reminiscent of a European lake, especially as some of the buildings were very similar in style to chalets. We stopped on the banks of the lake and had our snacks in the sunshine. We walked through some pretty gardens too and visited the crazy house, a marvel of concrete and imagination, then headed back to the hostel. It was a beautifully relaxed day, which is just what we were craving. In the evening we had a communal meal with all the other guests at the hostel. The homemade food was really good as was the homemade rice wine that we were all given shots of. The staff were all so sweet, warm and friendly. It was a lovely way to end a really good day.
26/01/2016 - We had a bit of a lie in and then went into town for a while. Again we picked up snacks for our upcoming journey from the bakery and strawberries (a local specialty) from the market before heading to the bus station for our longest journey yet. We had two bus journeys (4 hours and 11 hours) split by a break of a couple of hours. The first journey was relatively painless and we passed some beautiful mountainous scenery on the way. Our break was in Nha Trang, a beach town. We went down to the beach and saw some of the biggest waves I've ever seen. We then had dinner at Lanterns, an organisation that supports orphanages and provides scholarships for children. We had a really delicious meal, our best so far in Vietnam. We then headed to get on our next bus. This time we had two of the five seats at the back, possibly the strangest seats on the bus. We managed to watch quite a bit of stuff on the Kindle and then sleep through the remaining time.