Da Lat + Nha Trang

Well, I spent a whole week more in Da Lat, as I was really enjoying the cool weather, the surrounding nature and the few attractions the city had to offer. It is very interesting to notice how much more gentle and elegant cold cities are compared to hot ones; streets are cleaner, colours are more delicate and people, of course, dress much better. I don't know if it was the landscape and atmosphere, but I also think that the prettiest girls I've seen so far were there (though many were not originally from Da Lat). I visited a few more interesting places, and the winner is definitely the Hang Nga Guesthouse. An architect inspired by Dali and Gaudi created this great looking guest house, which is still under construction:

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I know I have been overdoing the whole "Communist Fanboy" rap recently, so this time around I'll just go with the anti-theocratic stuff. I get angry when I see monks nowadays. Specially the Thai ones. Not only do they have great, clean, comfortable temples decorated with gold back in Thailand, where people are sleeping in the streets with rats and cockroaches, prostituting themselves cheaply and working from sunrise to sunset to barely make it through life, they are also to be seen everywhere in Vietnam and Cambodia enjoying trips to other temples, taking photos with their iPads, smiling away and 'meditating' on nice, touristic spots. Bastards.

At the last few days in Da Lat I had a great time with several locals, some of which I will consider friends from now on. I visited neighbouring small villages, had a good time at a couple of English Clubs (locals and travellers meet to practice the language) and enjoyed the rain.

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After a great time in Da Lat, I was starting to ponder if I should just stay there until the end of my visa period, but I really want to see more of Vietnam, so I had to move on. While my European friends strongly advised me against going to Nha Trang, the Vietnamese themselves were very generous when praising the beaches and the food, and all of them said I should visit it. So I did. My European friends were correct. It's not that bad, but it's not so interesting either. The worst part may be that the city has been taken over by ugly Russians. Never had I seen so many Russians, and most of them were exceptionally ugly (specially when you expect the Russian ladies to be like the ones you see on TV, which are very good for the eyes). I remember taking a ride with a motorbike driver, and a few meters after we started, he pointed at two Vietnamese girls and said "Good, eh?". They were quite fit, with beautiful legs, long, shiny hair and nice smiles. I agreed with him, pointed at two blond, white girls and said "Fat, eh?" and he laughed a lot, and asked me why is it that most people from the west are so freaking fat. Those two were exceptionally fat though; obese, which made the moment quite a funny one.

The food was just decent, or I was unlucky not to find a good restaurant (Vietnamese, that is - I ate the best Greek food in my life in Nha Trang). This time around, the new animals to have been eaten by me were the Eel and the Crocodile. The crocodile was not as chickeny as people told me it would be - I felt like I was eating something between chicken and pork. It was very well prepared and seasoned, so it was quite a pleasure, though the meat itself did not have such a strong taste. The eel was delicious, though, very soft, and very specific. I love when I eat something that I cannot really describe or compare, and eel is certainly one of those types of meat.

Finally, again I had the opportunity to meet locals and see their homes. One of them was specially generous, and took me on a tour around the market, temple and a more humble part of town, free of tourists (there I was, braving unchartered territory)! This was a highlight of Nha Trang, as the food was great, the kids were a blast and the narrow streets (parts of it over the water, both road and houses) were a unique experience.

Now I just arrived in Hoi An, and so far the impressions are good.

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After my last post, I went from Binh Phuoc to Buon Ma Thuot, a small city in the Vietnamese highlands. As I am not on vacation, and that city was refreshingly cold and remarkably non-touristic, I took the whole week to work, on my job and on my projects. That means I did not spend a lot of time being a tourist, and had nothing to post about. Buon Ma Thuot was a very pleasant experience mainly for two reasons: the excellent coffee and the refreshingly cool weather. It is the capital of coffee in Vietnam, which is one of the main exporters in the world. There I was told about a quite peculiar type of coffee they produce: Cà Phê Chôn, or "Weasel Coffee". In practice, coffee producers feed the coffee beans to weasels, let their digestive systems somehow 'improve' the coffee, which is later... defecated, separate the grains from... the rest, and sell this 'shit coffee' for quite steep prices. I haven't tried it, mainly because I have never been into coffee at all, and it wouldn't make sense to spend so much money in something I am ignorant about, as the 'regular' coffee was enough for me - very good indeed.

After that I came to Dalat, a beautiful city also located on the highlands, with even cooler weather. Finally, the rain season started and every afternoon greets me with a blast of tropical rain, which I honestly missed.
Dalat is, from what I understand, a favorite destination of the Vietnamese tourists. It is considered a romantic city, where lovers come to enjoy their honeymoon around the lakes and waterfalls. There are far less international tourists than the other main cities, and I thoroughly enjoy that. One interesting fact about this place is that it is the only one in Vietnam that has no traffic lights. Good thing the traffic here is not nearly as chaotic as in Ho Chi Minh city.

Dalat is very different from any other Vietnamese city, or at least that is what people say. It was mostly built by the French, including the Royal Palace, before the 1950's. Most of its buildings are no higher than 2 stories, as the vista is beautiful, and people don't want to ruin it with ugly modern buildings.

I arrived here on the 29th of April, which is a national holiday (from the 28th to the 30th). On the 30th of April, 1975, the communist troops finally managed to defeat the US troops and take control over former Saigon, which was renamed after their inspiring leader - Ho Chi Minh. The whole city was out celebrating, and the party was great - good food, good live music and lots of happy people. Not surprisingly, the farther north I go, the more they are proud about their communist ways and victory over the invading troops, which had their headquarters in the south. I can only imagine what it will be like in Hanoi.

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All in all, I have not been a good tourist in the past two weeks, but have instead been enjoying what you can call 'the life of a local' - working during the day and enjoying a couple of drinks with the locals I have befriended at night. They even have a rock'n'roll bar with a jam session, which I very much enjoyed playing at - something I had not seen in Vietnam yet (Siem Reap, in Cambodia, offered a couple of great jam sessions). Talking of Cambodia, I forgot to mention something that quite surprised me about that country: many food places, both street stalls and restaurants, cook your meals with instant noodles! They are actually not that bad, after all, I imagine they have been doing this for years and can make them as good as they get, but still, this says quite a lot about the economic situation of the country. Fortunately, in Vietnam the noodles are fresh and made of rice: usually quite good.