We left Mui Ne on the 4th of December on a Sinh Tourist bus to Da Lat, where we stayed until the 8th. From Da Lat we carried on to Nha Trang on another Sinh Tourist bus.
The journey to Da Lat continued in the same vein we've come to expect from Vietnam; with lots of beeping, a seemingly complete lack of any real rules and a general feeling that everything is a hair trigger away from complete carnage. The mountain roads en route to Da Lat had one extra layer to add though, with major roadworks happening on open stretches of road which at one point required our coach to do a bit of light off roading while chugging a load of passengers up the side of a mountain.
We spend a lot of time travelling between places and to pass the time on this four hour journey we gave each other podcasts/videos to listen to/watch. Nikki gave me one about enzymes and I gave her a set of videos about photography.
My 50 minute long podcast about enzymes was actually surprisingly interesting and I asked Nikki lots of (highly intelligent) questions and I think I made her think about her own knowledge of the subject and made her think of new ways of teaching a couple of aspects of it.
After that weirdly intellectual conversation we both spent the rest of the journey reading and listening to music. When we finally arrived in Da Lat we were surprised at how big it was and, when we got out of the coach, how cold it was! We'd got so used to temperatures around 30ºC that the 18ºC we now faced felt positively chilly!
We walked in the impending rain to the hostel we'd booked to find that we had a shared bathroom and a mattress sitting straight on the bare concrete floor in the smallest room we'd yet stayed in. On the plus side the bathroom was clean and the internet was fast, which allowed me to finish backing up all 534GB of photos I'd taken by that point.
We had another three full days in Da Lat before heading to Nha Trang on the 8th and we spent most of our time just exploring the town at random like we usually do. We punctuated the first full day of random exploring with a visit to the Crazy House, a collection of buildings joined together by a winding aerial walkway. Drugs were definitely taken during the creation of this place. There are no straight lines and the buildings have less resemblance to other buildings than they do to trees.
We left the weirdness of the Crazy House for the safety of cake at One More Cafe just a short walk away. Where, unfortunately I was unable to finish my delicious mulberry crumble slice as my stomach started to feel the effects of an evidently dodgy burger from the night before. [Not unfortunate for me though as I love hoovering up everyone else's food, particularly when it's cake! – Nikki]
I continued feeling ill for a day or so, which meant we had to cancel our planned waterfalls day tour and instead had to wait to see if I would be well enough to venture out at all. By the afternoon of the second day I felt much better and we decided to get the bus to one of the waterfalls we should have visited on our tour.
As has become normal we planned our route based around partial and possibly outdated snippets of information about local bus routes. To our surprise we found ourselves on the right bus first try and soon found ourselves at the car park outside the entrance to the waterfall. The size of the car park wasn't encouraging, neither was the presence of a toboggan ride that would take you all the way to the falls.
The falls weren't too busy though and we spent some time watching the turbulent water crash down around us. We also watched other tourists taking their own group photos and many, many selfies.
We tried and failed to hail the bus back to Da Lat, having waited twenty minutes and waving like idiots. Instead we got into one of the waiting taxis and as we scrabbled around for a seat belt we couldn't find the driver said "Da Lat? No seat belts"… Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
Our last morning in Da Lat was spent waiting for the bus to Nha Trang, we whiled away the time by going back to One More Cafe for another go at finishing a crumble slice (to much success) and playing card games.
While things hadn't gone quite to plan in Da Lat we enjoyed our stay there nonetheless and both grew to like the surprisingly large mountain town and the slight French ski resort vibe it had.
The bus to Nha Trang didn't disappoint, if what you were hoping for was more major roadworks happening leaving a very questionable temporary 'barrier' between you and a sheer drop off the side of the mountain. Add very thick fog into that mix and you've got one tense journey.
You know when roadworks are happening in England and you see the earth being reshaped and all sorts of machinery working and they reroute the traffic? Not so in Vietnam; just alternate between working on the road and letting traffic through. We stopped more than once while the road was closed and heavy machinery took chunks out of the surrounding landscape or laid a new section of tarmac or did some other thing we shouldn't immediately drive past. We bounced on and off finished and unfinished surfaces so often I gave up hoping for a vaguely smooth ride.
Nikki spent the majority of the journey with her eyes closed and it was so foggy the driver may as well have done too! But instead he merrily swung round corners with worrying boldness. Thankfully our journey didn't end like the Italian Job but safely in Nha Trang as hoped.
Armed with Google Maps we walked the 2km to our new home to find that we couldn't check in because the previous guests had gone out in the morning and hadn't come back. It was now about 6pm and we were both tired and hungry after our eventful journey from Da Lat. The guy at the hostel apologised and gave us a key to a bunk room to rest and shower. We used their wifi and found somewhere to eat, another 1km away. There is something to be said for having your own kitchen and not having to go out and find somewhere to eat everyday.
enjoyed endured a dinner at an incredibly loud Thai restaurant and walked back to the hostel hoping to just be able to relax in our own room. The other guests still weren't back and the guy in the hostel apologised again. We waited downstairs and contemplated just booking into somewhere else, deciding that by 8:30pm we'd give up.
At 8:40pm we finally got into our room after further apologies. I think the manager took our reserved British reaction and understanding that it wasn't his fault as a show of subdued anger as he took every opportunity in the coming days to apologise or be extra helpful.
For us Nha Trang was only a logistical stop, as it broke up an otherwise very long journey into two long journeys. For that reason we didn't do very much in the three days we were there.
On our first full day, the 9th of December, we walked to the beach and played on the gym equipment for a while and wandered around aimlessly until lunch. We went to a very cool BBQ place where, when my first choice of cider wasn't available, I decided it would be a good idea to try beer again.
If you don't know me all that well let me add some context: I don't like beer, at all. Not even a little bit. No, not even that one you think isn't like other beers and has a really subtle flavour.
Out comes my beer, a fruity craft number. I take a sip and it's not so bad, I get a few sips in and read the bottle as we wait for the food. A few minutes pass and a guy ambles up to our table looking likes he's going to engage us in conversation, I try to place him and get some context for the words about to come out of his mouth. He motions to the beer that isn't the worst beer I've ever drunk but is a far cry from being nice and says something enthusiastic about the different beers they have here. I realise he must be the manager/owner, he explains that he saw me reading the bottle and I realise he mistook me for a keen and knowledgeable beer drinker. I smiled politely while he tried to talk about something I know and care even less about than football, finding his enthusiasm endearing but unable to return it. Thankfully our food arrived and I was left to drink the rest of my beer (maybe it was lager, I don't even know) in peace. [Again, my hoover tendencies came in to play and finished the beer for him, even though I dislike beer too. – Nikki]
One of our favourite activities was to get ice cream at a random non-TripAdvisor researched ice cream place on the corner of a busy junction and just sit on the little plastic stools and watch the world go by. We enjoyed it so much we went back the next day and did it again. It was just a little in-between moment in a place we didn't even really want to stop but we saw some things that really made us laugh and appreciate where we were. Nikki's highlight was seeing a guy riding across the busy junction on a bicycle, while eating his Pho.
We still had two days left in Nha Trang, one full day and one travel day but our overnight bus didn't leave until the evening. We didn't know what to do on our penultimate day and nearly called it a day after lunch but Nikki flipped a mental coin and we walked 2km to check out Lon Son Pagoda despite not being able to remember anything about it, having looked at it online two days ago.
We crossed some of the busiest roads we'd been across, where the traffic was constant and you really had to trust they wouldn't hit you. When we got to the pagoda we were glad we'd made the effort to get there. The main attraction for tourists is the giant white Buddha statue sitting atop a small hill, above the other buildings at the site.
Our final day in Nha Trang saw us spend the whole afternoon sitting on a bench by the beach with our bags waiting until dinner and then for our night bus. We saw so many people come and go, and Nikki invaded their privacy with her creepily long zoom compact camera. We saw people practising for a tug of war and then compete in a tug of war. We watched a ground keeper water the plants around us. We saw a topless man with hiked up shorts stand impatiently for ages, apparently waiting for someone who then turned up and went on the beach leaving Mr topless-impatient-shorts still standing topless and with his shorts hiked up. We saw an old couple sit down next to us and smile politely as we mirrored them, 60 years younger, sitting on our own bench. We saw two drunk guys with their arms around each others shoulders saunter over to the same bench and talk animately before sauntering back off.
We were on that bench a long time.
Eventually we went to the Sinh Tourist office and awaited the boarding call with trepidation, hoping that the sleeper bus wouldn't be as bad as we'd read it could be. Thankfully Nikki's research paid off and the Sinh Tourist was a wise choice as we both managed to get some sleep.
Between bouts of sleep I snatched glimpses of life outside the bus with my highlight being seeing two guys casually sitting on the crash barrier in the middle of a six lane road chatting.
The roads we travelled on gave potholed a whole new meaning, even on motorways the driver would have to slow right down and swerve vehicle breaking potholes and bumps. Joining roads and junctions rarely maintained the same level.
At one point I'd been needing the toilet for a while, it was about 1am and the driver slowed down and pulled over. It isn't uncommon for the drivers in Asia to just stop where they deem fit so I didn't immediately take my chance to get out for a wee. I saw him light a cigarette so I slipped on my sandals and got up and shuffled to the door to find him getting back on! I mumbled 'toilet' and he mumbled something back and let me off. I found myself standing in the dark, somewhere in Vietnam, with my back to the bus with nothing in my pockets thinking "I really bloody hope he doesn't just drive off, because I'd be totally screwed".