Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Vietnam 2016 Day 3. Saigon to Dalat

It took a little motivation for me to jump out of bed and to get ready to leave my comfortable bed for the uncertainties of getting out of Saigon and going into the country. It is sometimes difficult to get out of large, sprawling cities, and I didn’t have even a decent map. The guy at the desk was of no help whatsoever, telling me that I would never make it to Dalat in a motorbike (later he confessed that he had never been there himself) and then giving me the most confusing set of instructions on how to get out of the city (imagine trying to explain how to get out of Los Angeles without using freeways and you will have an idea of my plight). But by now I had been emboldened by my knowledge of the place, so ignoring his instructions I just got to the river and followed it to the northeast. My good luck held, and I found myself in an almost direct route to Vietnam’s Highway 1, which is trafficky but is the best way of heading toward Hanoi.

The first leg, between Saigon and Long Khahn, was tiresome and no fun, but then I saw a sign (miracle of miracles) for Dalat and the smaller road was a lot more pleasant to follow. I quickly remembered that scooters have but one traffic rule: Thou shalt not hit anyone or anything. In a way is a perfect rule, because as long as we all follow it there can be no discord. It is bit disconcerting, however, because people will cut directly across your path, or join the road without even turning their heads, confident on the fact that you will do whatever you need to do to comply with the one rule of the road. Unfortunately cars and trucks have their own rule of might is right, and they throw themselves at the swarm of scooters expecting them to part as the ocean parted for Moses.

I have much regretted not having a good map. It would do me no good as far as road names or numbers, as these conveniences are never represented on road signs, but it would be helpful to identify the towns I went through, just as a double check that I was on the correct road. Overall I had about 350 km to cover, and after about 200 km I got to the town of Tan Phu, where I stopped to have lunch. I looked carefully and stopped at a diner that was full of people, confident that the food would be good there. Unfortunately I chose a very Vietnamese place, where the menu had no pretty pictures and the waitress had no idea on how to deal with a foreigner. My attempts to sign that she should bring me whatever was good were getting me nowhere, when a gentleman popped out of the neighboring table, proceeded to ask me what I was in the mood for, and then ordered me a delicious lunch with a dumpling soup with okra, deep fried fish morsels, veggies, and rice. He even instructed me on the right way to eat the fish, ordered me a beer, and wished me a pleasant trip before returning to his friends. People here are so nice!

The weather had been perfect, overcast and with a moderate breeze. As I approached the mountains, however, the clouds became more menacing and I thought it would be wise to put on my poncho. A few moments later the sky opened and a torrential downpour blotted all vision. I had to pull to the side of the road, by a house whose small veranda offered a minimum of protection. The people of the house invited me cordially in to sit at their little table to have some tea. I could see they were very eager to talk with me, but again the language barrier was working against us. Then a young couple showed up, again looking for shelter from the rain, and we pretty soon had a party going, with much laughter and splashing of tea.

I finally made it to Dalat at about 6 pm. I plan to spend tomorrow here, so I will have a chance of describing it in detail, but let me tell you that this mountain town was established by the French, as a holiday place to escape the heat of Saigon, and that it was spared during the wars by all parties to provide a bit of respite to whoever was in control at any given time. Today it is a pretty tourist town, with all sorts of hotels and restaurants. Two years ago, when I visited north Vietnam, I had found a similar town, but that was in January and the town was deserted, giving me the creepy feeling that I was the only survivor of nuclear Armageddon. Not this time. Dalat is full of people, light, and music, and I very much enjoyed walking around the market place before retiring for the night.

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