Extreme weather/Cycling/Best Makhani Dal ever (TM) in Nha Trang
Not to mention the Mango Lassi, but thats another story!!
I left Da Lat three or four days ago, following another quiet night, this time at the Peace Cafe which- I have to say - does the most amazing Tofu Burger (or should I say baguette, cos it dont come in a bun!) and freakin ace pancakes which really arent pancakes at all. But a cool place, just not really happening with the dearth of tourists apart from the occassional German family quietly playing cards. So a few beers then back tomy hotel for the early morning bus to Nha Trang.
That bus! Shoddy in the extreme. Well, it poured with rain the entire way, and of course the rain made its way into the bus. A constant dripdripdrip on my shoulders arms and legs, I get the appeal for torturers of Chinese Water Torture. I was frustrated like you would not believe. However I tried to maintain a veneer of buddha like serenity whilst secretly seething more than I would care to admit. Of course, when we arrived we discovered that our backpacks were also wet (some exceedingly drenched), but it wasnt until the next morning that I discovered that everything in my backpack was wet and stinky. Off to find a laundry I went and one cannot underestimate the joy of putting on clean clothes.Hmmm, all bubblegum fresh! Truly, thats what they smell like and I kinda like it! The trip wasnt all horror, there were some awesome scenic moments, gone too fast to capture on film, but like "WOW!" Met two lovely Irish girls who I have not seen again when we stopped for some lunch. As I didnt feel much like fried bindi-weed (abt the only vegetarian option on the menu) I ended up purchasing some bananas and rambutan and getting stuck into them, all the while this lovely local family kept motioning me over to join them and their meal. So hard to explain why I couldnt accept their generosity, but lovely nonetheless....
And the rain continued all the way into town and for the next few days. It really was like Venice in Vietnam with the streets not clearing of water and people wading through up to their knees. I had just plonked myself down at Le Cabanon Restaurant/Bar because I was sick of skipping puddles and- despite the somewhat pricey menu- I fancied the idea of a vegie burger and a beer after the torturous bus journeyand fancied the prospect of plonking my sore behind into one of their comfy looking big cane chairs with nice thick cushions, when the rain really began to fall. And fall. And fall. And my curbside seat became my seat just inside, became my seat a little further in as the water level continued to rise and rise...And I became a prisoner of Le Cabanon, which had started out well, playing Johnny Cash but had somehow - over the course of a number of beers - become some try hard Ibiza wannabe clone with themost godawful happy house, which clearly was not making me very HAPPY! Ive been there since though because they have the best Indian food I have ever tasted.Unbelievable but true. Their menu says they have an Indian chef, although I dont know where they keep him hidden because all I have ever seen are the usual mum and kids and relo's. This restaurant has your usual combination of Vietnamese/Italian/"Western" as well but - as it has been quiet here too (until yesterday) I do wonder what the poor w*** is doing all this time as he waits for his moment to cook that one Indian meal he gets to cook every week. But, the Dal Makhani - which as some of u may know, is one of my favorites - was perfection! Perfect flavorings! I came back the next night to try the Korma - give the old coot an oppurtunity to show his finesse (that is, if he exists, I DO have my doubts...) - and that too was quite exceptional. Le Cabanon make a point of informing all passers by that it is happy hour (basically from 4pm til closing) which technically means 2 for 1 but really means that with the nature of the exorbitant prices here in Nha Trang in the more touristic parts, that you are almost getting them for the normal price. Hilarious.
Not the case just down the road though, where I have been blessed to have my first encounter, this time around, with the good old Bia Hoi. Home brewed draught beer, served in litre or half litre jugs for approx 90cents a litre. I do believe I am back in Vietnam now! Sitting on those tiny stools, with the tiny tables, mixing it up with the locals and the travellers - now thats what I call bliss. I met a guy from Australia called Kevin who had taken the Trans Siberian Express to Beijing, stayed for the Olympics and was now working his way though Vietnam before heading home. Nice guy. He insisted on calling over a local lady who he had thought might be a hooker. There was a nasty stench of desperation in the way she fawned over Kevin and - when he left and she and I were able to talk alone - my assumptions were proved correct. This 38 year old was looking for a husband and not being too subtle about it at all (though why would you be?) She had no prospects here because of her age, she had no education and her English wasnt number one (by which I mean, if it were, at least she would have a means to support herself in the tourist trade). I liked her. Once she understood my sexual status we had a good laugh and became best drunken buddies. My new best friend! At closing she offered me a lift home on her bike. Now, Mum, if u are readin this - relax! Yes, she was drunk, and yes she was swerving all over the road, but there was no-one about and we were going really slow!! That said, I did enjoy the spur of the moment craziness of it all. Once she dropped me off, we arranged to meet the next day. She was going to show me around, but alas she didnt turn up.I did bump into her, but at the time, I was cycling up a hill and not in the mood for a conversation, so I told her I would see her at the Bia Hoi that night. I didnt go, cos after the cycling I was knackered, and preferred the idea of taking home a bottle of cheap Da Lat Red and some snacks and vegging out in front of the telly. Which happened to be a dreadful film called "Stormbreakers" or something like that which had Ewan McGregor, Stephen Fry, Mickey Rourke, Robbie Coltrane, Bill Nighy and Alicia Silverstone! Groundhog Day was on the other channel but the reception was dodgy plus. Still nice to have an evening in.....
So, after my bia hoi drunkenness, I awoke with a strange feeling I can vaguely remember. Ahhh, yes, the hangover. What to do?Well, when my friend didnt turn up, I thought the best thing I could do would be to exercise (or should that be exorcise) it out of me by hiring a bicycle for the day to see the sights which- with the rain - I hadnt had the oppurtunity to explore. So hired a trusty pushie and away I went. What a great day (hangover disappeared really quickly with all the exertion behind that pedal power).Rode to Long Son Pagoda, really nice - where you climb theobligatory 152 steps to see the huge white buddha seated on a lotus blossom. Some great views from up here, once you look past the beggars and all manner of my wheelchair bound friends of mine. Of yeah,and the woman (always got to be one) with babe in arms who doesnt know how to take no for an answer until u yell at her - which I did! From here I got hopelessly lost trying to find the Cham Towers. The Cham civilisation were Hindus and these remnants of temples were built between the7th and 12th centuries. Ok, not quite Angkor Watt, with only about 4 or 5 small temples left, all of which are interestingly still used as places of worship for Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists. But pretty cool anyway. From here I took in the sea breezes by heading up the coast to Hong Chon Promontory which has some nice views of the mountainous coastline and nearby islands.It was also blessedly quiet - I was the only person on the beach. Then I headed back into town for a well deserved lunch before heading South out of town to Bao Dai's Summer Villas. These villas were a retreat for Bao Dai, Vietnams "last emporer" who abdicated in 1945. They were built in the 1920s on three hills overlooking the South China Sea and Nha Trang Bay, so it is a pretty spectacular locale with great views and nicely attended gardens.Nowadays you can stay here too,for a price. When I was doing my thing, it seemed to be full of lithe young Germans which - just for a moment - put me in mind of the Hitler Youth and had me feeling like I was anywhere but Vietnam. From here I enjoyed the downhill spree back into town and had a bit of a jaunt around before returning the bike and having my nice night in.
Today I was supposed to go on a boat trip but decided against it when I awoke this morning with a feeling of dread about the whole scenario. When I booked it had seemed OK, but it increasingly became clearer that this was going to be a booze cruise with the type of person (snob that I am) I wouldnt really want to associate with - singing with the band on board, drinking from the floating bar! And they all would have been about half my age.I just cant deal with 20 year olds any more.
So I have the day to myself, to do the internet thing, take my book down to the beach and have a read, have some nice food and make plans to move on tomorrow to Quy Nhon, 5 hours north up the coast. After that the plan is to head back inland to a place called Kon Tum, just for a bit of variety. Have to say, definitely like Nha Trang a lot - more than Da Lat, which surprises me. Ahoy hoy to all my peeps!