Our week travelling through the Central Highlands of Vietnam has been great. The higher altitude has meant somewhat cooler weather than elsewhere which felt so good. We started in Dalat where we hired bicycles and toured the town's sights, including the 'Crazy House', a Gaudi-inspired place designed by a local architect. We also hired a car with a couple of Ozzies and drove through the surrounding hills visiting a waterfall, silk workshop and temple.
Following a white-knuckle minibus ride to Buon Ma Thuot through stunning mountain scenery (with various of the locals throwing up into plastic bags at regular intervals - and then passing them to the person nearest the window for disposal!), we spent a couple of days hearing almost no english. Nevertheless we organised a tour to Lak Lake where Fran finally had her first ever elephant ride! What tourists, eh? It was made more exciting by our elephant constantly reaching for anything green which meant we tilted at all sorts of angles. The last half hour was spent crossing part of Lak Lake which was pretty deep.
Our last stop in the Highlands was Kon Tum. (This journey involved 5-hours in 15-seater minibus carrying 31 people, plus the driver, where the toilet stop meant women went to one side of the road, while the men went to the other!) It was a dusty but very friendly town and we spent some time wandering around the nearby Bahnar villages (one of 54 ethnic minorities in Vietnam). We also organised a trip by motorbike to two Gerai villages the highlight of which was coming across a 'grave abandoning' ceremony. The Gerai bury their dead and then attend the graves for about 10 years before abandoning them. The graves comprise small hut-like structures in which they often place some of the person's belongings, together with offerings of food and drink. The ceremony involved the whole village, lots of food, drink and singing; it was a great atmosphere. It hadn't got into full swing, but preparations were well advanced, and several of the older men had already been at the rice wine. We weren't allowed to leave before we'd had several swigs from the communal straw! Their parting gift to us was a bag of raw meat to make up for the fact that we didn't have time to stay to eat with them.
We finally reached the coast at Danang a couple of days ago and had a rather bad experience trying to get transport after dark from the bus station to the hotel we wanted. Anyway, we made it and yesterday we came to Hoi An which has a fascinating old quarter. Tomorrow we will travel to Hue which has some interesting historical sites, including a citadel and from there we plan to get a train to Vinh (about 8 hours) and then hopefully an 11-hour bus ride across into Laos. The latter could easily prove to be a bit of an adventure as it seems that relatively few backpackers use the route.