We started our month in Vietnam with a nice, four day stay in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) – pretty uneventful other than Jenna meeting a fellow Clemson grad while we were out at a reggae bar one night. Small world.
We purchased a ‘hop on, hop off’ bus ticket that would take us north from HCMC through 5 cities, the last of which was Hanoi, Vietnam’s northern-lying capital. Side note: this ticket, covering nearly the entire length of Vietnam cost a whopping $40.
The first of the stops after HCMC was the mountain town of Dalat – a holiday favorite of the imperialist French while they ruled the region for it’s year-round moderate climate and beautiful scenery.
A friend in Kuala Lumpur had suggested a hostel called ‘Easy Friends Hostel’ where she had had a wonderful experience so we had booked it the day before and, as the staff said they would pick us up from the bus stop, we disembarked our bus and began looking around for them.
There were not shuttle buses nor cars parked in the near vicinity – just the normal gaggle of locals trying to lure the newly arrived tourists into their accommodation. Being that this was a pretty regular occurrence in SE Asia, telling people to screw off was unfortunately something we were quite used to.
After eschewing a couple of these vulturous pitchmen we walked away from the bus stop but as there was still no sign of the transport we had hoped for, we made our way back to the bus stop to await our hosts. Upon our return a couple of these locals again approached us and as we were ready to tell them to bugger off one more time when they asked, “Are you Chris and Jenna?”. Whoops. Guess we were a little too loose with dishing out our servings of rejection.
Their names were Ut and Kim – two of the five owners of Easy Friends Hostel. Ut, no more than 5’6 with a small frame, immediately began displaying his overly touchy ways of interaction, something which initially caught me off guard. Walking over to his motorbike from the bus stop he looped his arm around mine and leaned his head up against my shoulder resulting in us walking arm and arm the rest of the stroll.
A few minutes later we arrived at the hostel on the other side of town – a quaint little establishment nestled into one of Dalat’s winding back streets. We disembarked and were introduced to the rest of the crew – Bomb, Joe, Ut & Kim’s wives and the resident little yapper, Lu.
What I will find difficulty describing here is the amazing extent to which these people treated us as family as soon as we walked in the door. It was enough to make me skeptical that these people cannot possibly be this kind.
Turns out, I was wrong.
That night we, along with some Germans also staying at Easy Friends Hostel, were cooked what is still one of the best meals we’ve had on this entire trip. It was simple – springs rolls, fried and fresh, Vietnamese pancakes and chicken bbq’d over hot coals – but was staggeringly delicious. In a part of the world where I was used to being served bird-sized portions at meals, I ate until I could no longer move.
Once the food-induced paralysis wore off a bit we continued to the second portion of the night – Happy Water Time!
What is Happy Water, you ask?
Well, if you ask someone from Vietnam, they’ll tell you it’s rice wine.
Oh! Rice wine, that sounds fun and delicious!
Au contraire mon frère.
It’s the equivalent of vodka. They can call it whatever they want – it’s basically vodka. And it burns like it too.
So for the rest of the evening we proceeded to finish off two 2-liter bottles of this Happy Water and had a raucous good time. By about midnight Joe, who personally downed about a liter of the grog himself, had turned that delightful shade of red so common when alcohol and Asian blood are mixed so we decided it was time to turn in – and so we did.
We ended up staying 5 days with Easy Friends, most of them spent sipping coffee and reading our books while listening to the rain on the patio. This rain was a little more consistent than we would have liked – it rained at some point every day we were there – but the warm atmosphere at the hostel left us with no qualms about chilling out all day.
On the 4th day we did get a little respite from the rain and decided to head out with Ut and Bomb on their motorbikes for a tour of the area. They are registered ‘Easy Riders’, a group famous in tourism circles for their unique tourist circuits and as we found out, for good reason. It was such a great way to see the area – here’s some photos.
We also found a waterfall during the tour and got some cool shots…
We did end up exploring the city of Dalat itself which was somewhat nice, but the true treasure of our stay were the wonderful experiences had with our gracious hosts. As always, it’s the people that make travel special.
P.S. We thought it only appropriate to end the post with two photos which truly capture the essence of Ut…