Flavours of Saigon – Day 2 : To Dalat … “The City of Eternal Spring” We Go!September 5, 2012 | 1,764 views
*The full story of my Saigon trip HERE>>>
The 8 hours ride from Saigon to Da Lat was rendered considerably more bearable with sleeper buses departing almost every hour from Ho Chi Minh City; price at around VND210,000 (USD10/RM32) per pax.
On our second day, we checked out of Saigon Mini Hotel 6 and decided to embark upon an excursion out of Ho Chi Minh city. How far out of town, you wonder?
About 8 hours worth of bus ride away, to the highlands of Dalat situated 4900 ft above sea level. Slightly more than 300km away, if I am not mistaken. Yet, there is no expressway or fast lane. Thankfully, the ride was a relatively comfortable one since we picked the sleeper bus; hence most of the 8 hours were spent dozing off in individual cabins.
Grilled pork rice and Braised pork with Mustard Greens; at a random restaurant stopover about 2 hours away from reaching Dalat.
Ready for the ride to a cooling town with average temperature of 18-25 degrees Celcius, a man-made lake named Xuan Huong Lake in the middle of the town, and various French colonial theme-inspired villas and resorts to sweeten that honeymoon experience?
Best Western Dalat Plaza Hotel (www) situated a short distance away from central town area; separated by a canal leading to Xuan Huong Lake. Strolling around town, or even riding on a rented bike/bicycle is immensely enjoyable with the cool breeze blowing all day; and spine-chilling winds during the darker hours.
You can book the sleeper bus ride from your hotel’s reception, or in our case, since our Vietnamese friends have contacts, we actually saved about 60,000 VND (USD3/RM10) per pax for the ticket. Regardless, remember to choose the SLEEPER BUS! Trust me you wouldn’t be standing straight after the bumpy 8 hours journey being seated in the same position for most of it!
Since there are also midnight rides (buses depart every hour, apparently), I’ll suggest you take that and save on a night’s accommodation, PLUS get rested before arriving in Dalat.
However, we did not have the luxury of choice since we have checked in on our first day upon arrival in Saigon; and we thought of recharging our batteries after the flight from KL anyway. In the end, we took the 11am bus from Saigon to Dalat, and arriving slightly later than 7pm. (Since Vietnam’s timezone is an hour later than ours, the sky has already darkened by then).
We checked in into Best Western Dalat Plaza Hotel (we booked our rooms through Expedia); whereby a deluxe room for two came to about RM170/USD54 per room per night, including breakfast for two. The short distance to town and the lake was a much welcomed benefit, although you can also try other Dalat hotels such as Empress Hotel or Ngoc Lan Hotel. All these are within the similar price range and very strategic location, while more premium alternatives like Ana Mandaras Villa which is a little further from town, and Dalat Palace Hotel costs up to RM500 or so per night.
We had no qualms about the room though, but it was only for a night. Our window opened to the beautiful and refreshing sights of the canal, the lake and the town within 5 minutes’ walk away.
We enjoyed freshly-grilled chicken wings, chicken feet, fish balls, skewered beef and pork, as well as the Vietnamese classic street food named “Bo La Lot“, or betel leaf-wrapped beef from this roadside stall near Dalat Market set up over charcoal fire.
The lunch midway through our ‘arduous’ journey (it was nothing though … I was so deep in my slumber that I barely noticed the sun setting halfway through!) was bordering on being an in-between meal rather than a full-fledged feast.
But then again, this is Motormouth.
Oh by the way, ordering food and drinks at some of these out-of-city places CAN be a chore, with a huge menu plastered across the wall with nary a word within our comprehension.
Everything was in Vietnamese. And the waiters don’t speak English either. If you cannot tell your pork from your beef (or worse …. DOG’s meat!), then you’re practically screwed.
Just kidding. They don’t serve dog’s meat everywhere! But seriously …. Bo is beef, Ga is chicken, Thit is pork. If you’re diligent, go download some app (I did, from App Store) that teaches you basic Vietnamese, or at least reference point when faced with such situation. But then again …. we had Vietnamese friends coming along with us, remember?
A very vibrant night market scene at Dalat Market (Cho Da Lat), with various stalls selling a myriad of street foods; mostly seafood or seashells grilled over charcoal stove and served simply with chili sauces, and those crispy crepe-like rice paper grilled over charcoal as well, literally strewn with chopped scallions, eggs and some savoury sauce.
Patiently Waiting for my Grubs, while perched atop Plastic Stools on the Stairs.
Our first meal in Dalat was a hodge-podge of street fares ranging from grilled chicken feet to crispy rice paper crepes, soybean milk with sugar undiluted, the delicious “Bo La Lot” and skewered beef, as well as various sweet snacks; one being a rolled-up soft spring rolls stuffed with crushed peanuts and covered with dessicated coconut on the outside. And some grilled palm-sized tapioca mashed with flour, we suspected. When the weather is cold … everything just tasted that much better?!
Most interesting point to take home is, leave your cautious self behind. Grab a small plastic stool (this is when tight long pants or ultra-short skirts are not encouraged!) and park your fatigued derriere by the fire. Literally.
Every trader had this small stove fuelled by charcoal fire; with a steel grill laid over the flames. Then you will be tempted to skewers of meat, meat balls, chicken parts and several unrecognizable creations for your choosing. Oh, not forgetting the freshly grilled, crispy Banh Xeo-like crepes too.
Of course, our stomachs were still grumbling from the mere teaser of a dinner. Or I am not sure if you can even call those that!
Hence, while strolling back to our hotel, we passed by this food court near to Dalat Market. And business was BOOMING!
There were several stalls selling almost the same stuff; various shellfish ready for picking placed in large buckets; like a seafood restaurant without the usual fish, prawns and crabs. You can have these steamed or grilled in a variety of manner, though it’s best to leave it to the Vietnamese to decide.
We ended up with a few platefuls of shells; yet don’t expect me to name them ya? There were blood cockles lightly boiled and served with sprigs of mint leaves. One aluminium bowl of steamed la-la clams with shredded ginger and red chillies. The steamed scallops with lots of chopped garlic, scallions and chopped peanuts were the best of the lot, thus we ordered two servings.
And everything washed down with copious amount of beer. Local and imported ones; just the same. Cheap and satisfying. And when you’re practically squatting all the way until now, compounded by the jittery winds, you’d be more than relieved to be seated on chairs of normal height and warm liquid flowing through your veins.
The walk back to the hotel was a really unforgettable experience. Suddenly, this was deja vu all over again. The memories of shivering in my shorts while circling around Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi came rushing over me!
Some of us bought really cheap scarves from the night market, and these came REALLY handy that night. After the drizzle earlier, the temperature could well be below 15 degrees Celcius, and the strong wind was relentlessly slapping our faces! We literally had to dash our way through, and then we found ………………………
Like God-sent, I braced the incredibly chilly weather and had myself a cup of Vietnamese drip coffee. If there’s ONE thing you should not miss in Vietnam, it is not their Pho (rice noodles), but their coffee. Damn thick, robust and aromatic with a kick that’s unlike any other.
I sipped mine in record time (I could barely feel my ears by then), and called it an early night. Caffeine-induced slumber? Tell me about it.