16.02.2015 - 19.02.2015 26 °C
Get your mind out of the gutter, we just happened to only be in the city for a few short days before we had to make our way back to Saigon, then to Bangkok where we would catch our flight to Australia - it s not that kind of blog! Now with that being said we did manage to pack in some top shelf adventures while we where there. As with the previous blog post I feel obliged to fill you in on our bus trip from Mui Ne to Da Lat because well, unfortunately, it wasn't the sleeper bus that I had banked on it being. 5:00 am on February 16 crept up way too fast, but it wasn't long before we had ourselves up, out of our room and down by the road to wait for our bus, which was to show up anywhere between 6:30 and 7:00 am. The only comfort I took in knowing that I was up so early was that I going to be crawling onto a lovely sleeper bus and grabbing at least a little bit of shut eye during our 6 hour trek to the Central Highlands of Vietnam. So, you can imagine the look on my face when I saw a vehicle stop in front of us that was maybe just a tad bit bigger then the van that scooby doo and his crime fighting gang toured around in! Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration but it doesn't change the fact that this sucker was small! This must be a mistake, or maybe this was just the bus that took us to the depot where we would transfer on to a bigger bus, ya that must be it. My hopes of stopping at a larger depot to board a bigger bus where dashed quickly as we made our way through, and eventually out of town. Empty seats which filled up between hotel pickups were the ultimate tease as I went from stretching my legs out across two seats, to eventually assuming the human pretzel position and letting the numbness take over the lower half of my body. If this bus started on fire there is a good chance that my scrawny upper body would not have been able to pull me out of the flames. Thankfully that did not happen and I have to say after I came to terms with the situation things weren't so bad I guess. Once we started climbing through the mountains I became sufficiently distracted by the beautiful scenery around me. We seemed to climb in elevation for almost 2 hours straight, passing jungle, small towns and hydro electric dams. I should mention too that the continuous honking, partnered up with another lovely game of highway chicken was in play on this tour as well. By now I was almost used to it though and really didn't expect anything more than that. Once we completed the uphill mountain pass we began our decent towards the valley and through some more towns which got larger and more developed as we neared Da Lat. Along the side of the road there were mile markers which told you how far you where from the next town and once the ones for Da Lat started popping up there was a very distinct change in our surroundings. Vast pine tree forests surrounded us on both sides and the smell of fresh mountain air filtered through my open window and into the bus. Immediately I felt my body relax in a way that it hadn't since the previous summer when we made trips up to my parents cottage in the Muskoka's.
The views when we entered the city where spectacular as we made our way to our drop off, and we really didn't know where that was, but when everyone on the bus stood up and existed at the city centre we followed suit. A very friendly greeting from some tourist staff followed our exit from the bus along with a map showing us how to get to our hotel. No sales scams, no up sells or shady dealings came our way - just friendly people wanting to help and make you feel welcome. A short walk to our hotel ($28 Cdn/night), we unloaded our bags and set out to find Pine Trek Adventures office where we would book a waterfall repelling tour for the next day and a mountain biking tour for the day after that. We had done some research while in Mui Ne and this place came highly recommended for adventure tours so I made it my mission to make sure got booked in with them. You really don't want to mess around with safety when you are working your way down waterfalls and these guys had great safety reviews compared to some of the other local shops. With that task all squared away we took to touring around town. Unfortunately it was too late in the day to catch the scenic gondola ride but we made our own tracks as usual touring the towns lake front area and the famous crazy house. Crazy House is an expressionist and detail intensive piece of architecture in the heart of the city. This structure certainly lives up to its name with crazy shapes, structures and screams all around it. For a more in depth look at one of the 10 weirdest buildings in the world click on this link http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hang_Nga_guesthouse. As late afternoon came around we walked down to the lake which is located in the centre of town and enjoyed a calming walk around watching all the tourist who where cruising around in the swan paddle boats. A quick dinner and an early evening was in order with an 7:00 am rise on its way to head out for our canyoneering adventure.
Canyoneering was definitely not something that was on my radar when we headed out on our trip but once I saw what is was all about through some internet research it quickly became a must do. The short description of this outdoor adventure sport is that it is basically rock climbing without the ascending part and only the descending. The little twist that was thrown into this adventure was that we would be descending into waterfalls which was the most intriguing part for sure. When we got picked up and arrived at our location the coolest surprise for Sherry and I was that it was just going to be us and our two amazing guides whom both spoke excellent English and who where friendly as ever. Most companies likely would not have bothered to schedule this tour with only two people but as we found out this was preferred for Pine Trek tours as they could ensure that safety was always being adhered to and they could give us the best experience possible. A couple practice runs and an introductory 15 meter ascent and it was off to tackle the water falls. Although this was a crazy new experience for me, it was a way bigger day for Sherry as it had been almost 6 years since she had done anything as adventurous as this due to her post concussion recovery. Caution was thrown into the wind, or rather the water in this case, and she tackled all the challenges thrown at her including a 7 meter cliff jump and two trips through the waterfall ascent which is affectionately known as the "washing machine". Everything from the waterfall descents, to the beautiful mountain surrounding us and the lunch time chat with our guides, was simply amazing. I can't lie, I was cringing every time Sherry took her turn in the waterfalls but it was something that was important to her to do and who was I to get in the way of that. We have lived the ups and downs for almost 6 years now and I was ready to accept either outcome on that day.
The rest of our day included a gondola ride through the forests outside of the town and a tour of the Monastery. The gondola ride was great as we got a birds eye view of Da Lat and all its surroundings. Although I have never been to British Columbia, I have seen lots of pictures from people who have and I liken the views of Da Lat to that of BC. As for the Monastery tour it was one of the most peaceful and beautiful 2 hours of my life. The Monastery is home to several Buddhist Monks who go about their day as tourists walk around and take in the beauty of the grounds. Perfectly manicured gardens, paved walkways and spectacular views welcomed us every which way we turned. I was relaxed before I got here and now I was almost comatose! Sherry even took time to meditate in one of the temples, while I, all but fell asleep sitting on a bench looking out over the nearby lake. For the record, I am not an old man, just a little tired out from the early morning and fresh air during our canyoneering..... Well, that just about wrapped up our day as it was back to the hotel, out for a quick bite to eat and then into bed early once again as we had mountain biking to do in the morning! Ya I know, seems a bit ridiculous, but what the hell, "when in Rome".
As with the previous day our tour guides met us at our hotel and drove us to our outdoor adventure. We were both a wee bit sore from the day before but nothing to terribly bad. I was pumped for the 30km bike ride which would take us through the countryside to see coffee plantations and lots of small villages. The trail we selected was called Skid Trak and was listed as by far being the easiest one they offered....or so they said... The 40 minute ride out to our drop off was enjoyable as I got a chance to chat with our guide who was very knowledgable and was able to speak to the current state of Vietnam and some of the lingering fallout from the Vietnam war. We talked about the educational system, as well as Vietnamese relations with the US since. When we arrived at our drop off point we quickly assembled our bikes, tossed on our helmets and started making our way down a paved road. Things started off smooth, but then we took a quick right turn that began our off road tour down the mountain side towards the valley. I was a bit apprehensive at first and I know Sherry was as well, but we rolled on and soon I found myself enjoying the ride. Sherry was back a bit with one guide (we had the same guides as the day before) and I was doing my best to keep up with the other guy. It wasn't long though before my front brake failed on me so I had to pullover and do a little maintenance. It wasn't major at all and I had things back to normal quickly but not before Sherry and her guide caught up. All was well and we all took off except this time Sherry was in front of me, and when she suddenly hit the brakes on a steep decline I lost my balance and she was ass over tea kettle for me! A couple scrapped knees and a bruised ego was all the damage that was done and I was back up on my bike in a few short minutes ready to redeem myself. This time I took off ahead of Sherry with the other guide again and we began cruising along quite well. After a couple steep hill climbs my guide and I pulled off to the side to catch our breath and to wait for the other two. A few minutes went by and we both knew something was off so we toured back to see what was up. Well, what we found was a scrapped up Sherry sitting on the side of the trail with her guide busting out some first aid to her cuts and cleaning her up the best he could. "By far the easiest trail they had" was now up 2-0 on me and Sherry, except Sherry was a little more worse for wear as she went right over her handle bars. I didn't see it, but from what I hear the judges where handing out unanimous 10's across the board. Only about 6km into our 30km tour, Sherry, quite understandably, waived the white flag and called it a day. I was just happy that she was in one piece and that nothing worse had happened. The trail was tough and I was really surprised she even lasted that long, but she's tough as anyone I know and she wanted to challenge herself so she faced the test head on (literally). We worked out a plan where I would continue on the trail with my guide and Sherry and the other guide would meet up with the van early to get her back to Da Lat. Our guides were incredible and we could not have asked for better. I am happy to say I finished the rest of the bike ride which saw us take some serious inclines, cross over a sketchy bridge and arrive back into the city of Da Lat without further incident. Sherry had only arrived back just a short while before we did and the owner of the company was at her side attending to her scrapes and cuts. They felt terrible about what had happened but as the title of the blog goes "it is, what it is". A couple photos with everyone and we where on our way back to the hotel for some R&R. I was surprised to have Sherry tell me that she actually got back up on her bike for a bit and that even her guide had a little spill off of his bike, which she said they both had a good laugh at. After a solid relax back in the room, both our aches and pains started to take over. I snuck out for some pizza while Sherry rested, then she went out for a smoothie while I took another rest. It was Chinese New Years at midnight and we both wanted to drag our butts out of bed to see the fireworks, but we just couldn't muster the will to do it. Our outdoor adventures had won the two day battle and with a 9 hour bus ride back to Saigon, followed by a 1hr 1/2 flight back to Bangkok, we decided to take all the rest we could get.
As I am writing this I find it funny that I have so much to say about our short time in Da Lat but I guess that is just a sign of how much we really enjoyed it. Bumps and bruises aside it was just what we needed. For me, I needed to challenge myself with some crazy new adventures to get the blood pumping, while Sherry was ready to step outside of her comfort zone and see just how far she had come over the last 6 years. It would have been easy for her to just step back and let the fear of ruining her travels take her over, but she didn't, and even though the scrape on her chin might signal something different, I know she is smiling inside and content with testing her abilities. Da Lat is a must see recommendation for both of us. The French influences, accompanied by the beautiful scenery make it an easy place to loose yourself in. The people are quite friendly and there is so much to do. I am pleased to report that we did in fact get a sleeper bus for our trip back to Saigon - I think I would have lost my mind if it was the same bus that got us to Da Lat - ya ya I know, first world problems. Hahaha. Well that's all for now folks. We are just about to land in Melbourne after two weeks on the West coast of Australia which I will be writing about next.
Shayne and Sherry