Well, I survived the night bus, which was both better and worse than I had imagined. Better: No locals hopped on our tourist bus at night & robbed us, our driver didn’t speed or drive recklessly, the air-conditioning was in working order (these are the horror stories travelers told me about as we waited to board the bus.)
Worse: Bathroom was out of order on the bus (not sure I would have used it anyway) and the rest stops we stopped at were… quite gross. I mean, I am a person who has happily shit in the woods, and I would have definitely taken an open field over these rest stops. At the first one, I couldn’t figure out how to “flush” the squat toilet (this and other things I should have googled in advance) so tried to use the hose that I imagine was supposed to be a bum gun. (Bum gun: Usually a spray nozzle hose that is like the Vietnamese version of a bidet, which I have not used because they confuse me, but have seen in every bathroom I’ve been to) to rinse my pee down the toilet… and ended up spraying bum gun water all over myself. The other bathrooms were slimy and rickety and dirty. I used a lot of hand sanitizer.
Also: What is a sleeper bus? It’s hard to capture in pictures, but essentially it’s three rows, two columns high of seats that lay nearly flat.
My understanding is there are “local” sleeper buses and tourist sleeper buses, and, well, they drive all night to get you where you’re going. Mine was 14 hours long. The aisles are extremely narrow — I’m not sure how someone much wider than me would make it through — and the seats are one-size-fits-all, so if you’re a super tall person… it probably would suck a lot.
I didn’t sleep super well but did watch six episodes of Outlander that I’d downloaded onto my phone. The drive was pretty boring because it was dark out, though I got glimpses of some towns. What was really gorgeous was the sunrise from the bus as we wound up the mountains about three hours outside of Da Lat. But by that point I was exhausted, and ended up falling asleep for much of it.
So, Da Lat: Unlike the other cities I’ve visited which have been pretty much at sea level, Da Lat is a mountain city sitting at 1500m (nearly 5,000 feet). The air was fresh and not humid, the temperature at 9 a.m. was about 70 degrees, and I could not have been happier. A motorbike tour guide did try to sell me a 2 day/1 night tour package as soon as I stepped off the bus, which was a little forceful, though he was nice enough about it — I just didn’t want to spend two days on a motorbike outside of a city I was excited about.
I splurged on a room at a hostel to myself for a whopping $12/night. The first day I mostly relaxed in my room and watched Netflix. I’ve been feeling like I wanted to lay low a little bit and Da Lat was a nice place to do it. I did go to a bakery at the recommendation of the hostel, which was fun — I haven’t seen so many pastries in a long time, although I grabbed something that looked like a cupcake but was definitely salty egg-something.
I also went to Korean Barbecue. I was walking around looking for a place to eat. The first place I saw, the host and I had to communicate via Google Translate. It went something like this.
Me: Table for one?
Him: Frog porridge.
It’s not that I wouldn’t try frog porridge (I would!) but I wasn’t feeling experimental, and I was on my own — I have a lot more fun trying new things when I’m not by myself (drawback of being a solo traveler) so I put a pause on it hoping I would meet an adventurous pal later.
So the next hopping (see what I did there?) place I saw was a Korean barbecue. I sat down, having no idea what I was doing. The waitress helped me order and it quickly became clear that Korean barbecue is more of a group activity than a solo one. They set up a wood grill in front of me, put a plate of rice, kimchi, lettuce and raw pork belly on my table and left me to it.
Well… I googled it. Wanting to keep the pork hot, I put three pieces of pork on the grill. Great. The problem with that is when you remove the meat, the leftover residue starts smoking. The first time my waitress caught it early and replaced the top part of the grill. (Gee, that was fast, I thought.) The second time, she was busy, and her cat-like reflexes became clear: I was smoking out the whole joint.
Eventually, it got replaced again, and then I sheepishly placed my last, single piece of pork on the grill. Then the staff started dancing and shouting to a song, so I started filming them, and failed to notice the smoke rising off of my food. When I finally looked down, I had a half-raw, half-charred piece of pork and a smoking grill. I ate the last of my rice, paid (leaving about a 50% tip) and got out of there.
The next morning, I ate breakfast and went canyoning with a local tour group. So, about that. I’ve been rock climbing in rock gyms before (I am not good at it), climbed once outdoors, and have been afraid of heights my whole life. There are few things that send me into panic mode more intensely than my feet not being on solid ground.
But yeah: canyoning. Sounds like a blast!
The tour guides drove us out to the Datanla Waterfall area and we watched people practicing abseiling (descending a rock face using a rope you control, rather than belaying, which another person holds for you) on an official-looking course while someone took our blood pressure and heart rate.
My hostel had told me not to bring anything (I smuggled my phone with me), including shoes. The tour guides did have their own shoes, which I put on along with a wetsuit they provided, but as we walked down the hill I thought… hmm, these are really thin shoes. And when I looked, there were big-ass holes on both of my shoe soles. I was practically barefoot.
Rather than practicing on the official-looking dry wall we’d gotten ready next to, our group leader led us to a slope we could easily walk up and down and had us practice with a rope tied to a tree. There were four of us in a group: a British girl named Chiara, and two guys named Jacob — one from Sweden and the other from Colorado, and me. Chiara quickly became our hype woman, Jake (Colorado) said he was scared but not expressing it, and Jacob (Sweden) seemed pretty chill about the whole thing. It was apparent the tour leaders had the least amount of faith in me (I mean, I am terrified of heights) and had me go a couple of times.
As we finished up practicing, I pointed out my shoes, thinking I could maybe run back up the hill to fix them, but either they didn’t understand or they didn’t think it was a problem, and we started hiking down. Ah, well… hiking practically barefoot it is.
Our first climb down was dry, but right next to a waterfall. Chiara went first, and I went second — I don’t like to be first when I’m afraid but I also don’t like to be last. The climb was kind in the sense that you first walk down a slope before it becomes a sheer rock face. Either way, it ended up looking like this.
I pointed out my shoes again at the bottom of this route — maybe they had an extra pair in their pack? — and one of the tour guides gave me his socks. Which was very nice, and helped a little, but were also, you know… not shoes.
The route just got more epic from there. A climb-then-zipline. Climbing down the middle of a waterfall getting high-powered H2O blasted in your face. Going head-first down a natural waterslide. Jumping off a 23-foot cliff. Dangling in the air while getting power-washed by a waterfall before being tumbled in its undercurrent and spat out (they call that one the “washing machine”).
It was a full, super fun day, and a nice reminder of how rewarding it feels to do something that scares you (especially out in nature.)