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Dalat; capital of Vietnamese tourist Kitsch

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We're nearing Saigon now - just 2 days north, but we're in Dalat, up in the mountains at 1400m elevation, which means that the weather is quite reasonable. Highs here are mid 20's, while the last forecast for Ho Chi Minh city listed the high as 34! Ouchie!! Dalat is also the capital of Vietnamese tourism; their local Disney tourist trap where happy Vietnamese can get dressed up as cowboys and pose on a horse! Somehow we've avoided the temptation ourselves though. Currently crammed into the back of a tightly packed net cafe filled mostly with locals, or, at least, Vietnamese tourists, and the kid who runs it is necking with his girlfriend wedged about 10cm behind my chair. so this may be brief.

But going back a few days. We split out of Hoi An at 06:30, at which time the streets were only packed, rather than jam-packed. 35km of hell-on-wheels got us to the relatively tranquil Da Nang airport. Bikes only had to be partially disassembled this time (remove pedals, turn handle-bar sideways, push seat all the way down) and soon we were on our way to Buon Ma Thuot with a distinctly American sounding captain. I was feeling a bit sick again on the way in - although mostly lower digestive tract by this time. But after leaving a load of hard feelings and anxiety (among others) in the men's room, I walked out feeling better and ready to give Vietnam a second chance. And Vietnam responded beautifully!


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We're nearing Saigon now - just 2 days north, but we're in Dalat, up in the mountains at 1400m elevation, which means that the weather is quite reasonable. Highs here are mid 20's, while the last forecast for Ho Chi Minh city listed the high as 34! Ouchie!! Dalat is also the capital of Vietnamese tourism; their local Disney tourist trap where happy Vietnamese can get dressed up as cowboys and pose on a horse! Somehow we've avoided the temptation ourselves though. Currently crammed into the back of a tightly packed net cafe filled mostly with locals, or, at least, Vietnamese tourists, and the kid who runs it is necking with his girlfriend wedged about 10cm behind my chair. so this may be brief.

But going back a few days. We split out of Hoi An at 06:30, at which time the streets were only packed, rather than jam-packed. 35km of hell-on-wheels got us to the relatively tranquil Da Nang airport. Bikes only had to be partially disassembled this time (remove pedals, turn handle-bar sideways, push seat all the way down) and soon we were on our way to Buon Ma Thuot with a distinctly American sounding captain. I was feeling a bit sick again on the way in - although mostly lower digestive tract by this time. But after leaving a load of hard feelings and anxiety (among others) in the men's room, I walked out feeling better and ready to give Vietnam a second chance. And Vietnam responded beautifully!


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BMT is at 400m elevation in central Vietnam (east-west that is), the air was cleaner, drier, sun was warm, we had a tailwind of all things, but most of all, the atmosphere was so much nicer. People were pleasant - when they yell "hello" it's a nice, friendly hello, not the abrasive, "YO! HEY!! HELLOOO!!!" we'd seen on the coast. Nobody threw things at us. We stopped for a quick drink of sugar cane juice at a roadside stand near a school. The juice is the local fresh-squeeze (run sugar-cane through a metal squeezing device) and pretty good with lemon or lime. Last time we stopped near a school on the coast, we were surrounded by about 20 kids, many holding out hands, palms up and badgering incessantly. This time we were politely watched or greeted, no crowd, no hands. Even better; the street traffic was light and horn usage minimal!! How much better could it get? (well, the stores could have soy milk and sticky rice again, I could like Vietnamese coffee and tea, and a few other gastronomical complaints, but nevermind)

Eventually we figured out what had happened: We had left "Vietnam" and were once again among the Hmong and other hill tribes (all collectively called Montagnards by the French) and the same sort of people we had seen in Lao. As we slowly worked south back into the real Vietnam, the traffic, taunts, honks, and abrasive society came right back again. But it was a nice break.

The first night was at a Hmong village on a lake and the hotel was a "long house" - a traditional wood & bamboo house, maybe 5m wide by 20m long, hence the name. No internal divisions, wonderful wind off the lake, and 2 other tourists there (French) to share the place. Next day was predicted by the book to be long; 130km again "without accommodation" and this time they were correct. The end of the first 70km found us up about 600m from starting point, and the road turning to the familiar red, powdery, choking dust (volcanic in origin, according to the book). Fortunately traffic was still light, but road conditions varied from almost un-bikable to hard-packed dirt. My rear derailleur was starting to act up, so I stopped to fiddle with it. A moped screeched up, sold us two Popsicles (yes, really, and they were terrible) and putted off in a cloud of dust again. Another 10km and now we're climbing, still on dirt, and finally, after about 17k of dirt we're back on fresh pavement, still climbing. 90k and we're topped out around 1400m and heading for Duc Truong down on highway 20, and only at 800m of elevation. But our descent was short and steep and the evil headwind came back. Coupled with a long slow climb starting at 115k for the day made for a very slow finish. Crept into DT just before dark with my rear derailleur malfunctioning pretty badly. Next morning I went out to fix the derailleur and found that the cable had fully snapped at the shift lever!! Fortunately that's one of the few spare parts I'm carrying, and after some cleaning up, managed to install the new cable and things are working well enough to finish the trip. (side note on bike maint: I replaced chains in Hue a while back; I had replaced G's chain, and taken my old one off, when my chain tool broke. oh sh*t. Found the nearest bike-repair guy and watched nervously while he did with a hammer, bit of railroad track (as an anvil), and pin what I usually do much more gracefully with a threaded chain tool. He got the chain back on the bike, but I had to tweak it for a bit to un-freeze the link).


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In another life I am a bicycle missionary. I wander the lands oiling squeaky chains and fixing bent pedals. Asia keeps me busy for several lifetimes.

In yet another lifetime I am a minister of quiet; I administer mufflers to mopeds, while quietly disconnecting the wires to the horns on every vehicle I can find.

where was I... right Duc Truong. Short day (30k) UP to Dalat, passed some nice water falls on the way up, but the kitsch (however you spell that) and the hoards of vendors started in earnest, and we were back on "highway" with the resulting amounts of diesel, horns etc. Spent an afternoon kicking around this odd town, visiting sites such as the "crazy house" a very cool creation which could have come straight out of Alice's wonderland. We also signed up for a hike on Saturday with a company run by an American who's been here about 18 months. As we asked about the hike an air-horn blaring truck went by and he jumped. Gretchen asked:
"Do you ever get used to the noise?"
"NO."

Vietnamese do apparently, or maybe the abrasive personality comes from sleep deprivation! And what the hell are people doing riding mopeds at 3am??!

The hike was fun; us and 2 Dutch folk, guides spoke good English. First part was in pine forest, and felt a lot like the California Eastern Sierra in climate / terrain. Upper part turned to a more lush rain forest with fantastic bird calls, although really couldn't see much of the birds. Long lunch on the ridge in the pine forest, so peaceful.......and quiet :) We had met another American biker earlier in the day and agreed to meet for dinner. She brought along an Aussie she'd also found earlier in the day so we got to chat up biking for a while. Mandy works as a physical therapist - 6 months on, 6 months off in Colorado (career change Joan?) and has been taking great advantage of the 6 months off. The Aussie was also at the end of 6 weeks, but had spent all his time in Vietnam.


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Tomorrow we head for Bao Loc, and then Monday catch a bus into Saigon - not willing to face th traffic on our own. Tuesday in Saigon, Weds fly to Bangkok (and man am I looking forward to Thai food again!), Thursday in Bangkok, and the long flight for rainy old Seattle is heading out at 6am Friday. And arrives at 7am in Seattle on the same Friday. wrap your brain around that bit of jet lag.

Yikes! 6 weeks are almost done so why am I'm sitting here at a computer!!!

but while I'm wasting your time as well, here's a few more thoughts on Vietnam:

Vietnamese kids seem to be in school a lot - we see them heading out at 7am, and still kicking around in the cute uniforms at 5pm. However, additional observation has indicated that they're not actually in school so much as going to/from. No matter what time we go past a school, 8am, 10, 12, 3, 5, whatever, there are piles of kids streaming in and out and on the playing fields. I don't know if/when they actually go to class.

after wearing Lycra bike shorts for nearly 6 weeks I have developed a really sharp set of tan lines; below which the skin is brown, and hair is white, while above which the opposite is true. I also keep forgetting to zip up the fly on normal pants.

One downside of a heavily bicycle involved culture is we actually have to pay to park bikes at times. An upside, however, is that they run a cement ramp down the middle of most staircases which makes walking bikes up and down stairs much easier.

At a market recently I noticed that a vendor had chunks of tofu sitting next to chunks of meat. Flies swarmed the meat while the tofu was left alone. Makes the dinner choice easy....

On the other hand, I've had enough eggs, and fried rice to keep me through 2005.

There is no municipal trash in the countryside; just municipal gutters. They throw trash in the gutters, and when there's enough, they burn it. Nothing like the smell of burning plastic in the morning. In the cities there is some municipal trash, but out of habit they all through trash in the gutters anyway. There was trash sprinkled along our hike today as well - sometimes neatly left in a pile awaiting burning. stupid.

Sandwiches are actually common here; cheese, tomato and cucumber no less! The tom's and cukes are great, but the bread is lightly floured air, and the "cheese" is "Laughing Cow" (the French version of cheese whiz).

And lastly; there are beauty salon shops everywhere - in the smallest of towns even. How often does that Vietnamese hair need styling? It's always straight and black anyway. Just makes us feel more crude coming off the bikes filthy, sweaty and dusty after a long day.




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