Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Out of Saigon, into Dalat

The Mekong Delta in the southwest of the country was rather interesting, though the 3-day tour I took wasn't. It was nice because I got to meet plenty of people, though nobody who was going my way. The first day I met a group of 5 Spaniards from Madrid who invited me to spend time with them. It felt good to practice my Spanish even though I know I've lost a lot of it. The first night we had a variety of new foods, including fried frogs, grilled turtle still in its shell, and grilled mudfish. The frogs and mudfish were pretty good, but the turtle was awful. It smelled like sewage and I could hardly find any meat on it worth eating. Definitely don't want to try that again. I got to be pretty good friends with the people, and one of the girls wants to do an apartment exchange next summer, so I may have a place to stay if I want to head to Madrid for a month or so.

The Mekong tour felt like we were being herded from one place to another. Most of the things we saw were interesting, such as how they processed rice into noodles or paper for spring rolls, but after a while of that and floating up and down the river without having much context to put it in, I got bored and spent my time sleeping or reading. The last day was nice because we headed to a nice pagoda on a mountain that jutted up out of the delta and gave us a great view all around. The guide pointed out the Cambodian border, but that's as close as I got to it. Then we had to head back, which was a 2.5 hour trip by boat and then a 6 hour bus ride back to Saigon. I was exhausted by the time we got back, at nearly 9:00. I grabbed some dinner and rested up for another grueling ride to Dalat in the central highlands.

The ride left at 8 am and was supposed to be only 6 hours. With a stop for lunch and a gas break it took us 8 hours, plus another 45 minutes driving around looking for a hotel. The bus we took was from a tourist company, so they took us around to the various minihotels around the city. The problem is that everyone wants to see every one and decide, then they want to go to the next one and stay there. I wanted to just go to the one recommended by my place in Saigon, but it was at the end of the route. So I had to wait forever to find out that it was full and I'd have to find another. There were 4 Spaniards still on the bus by this point, so we all deliberated and decided to head back to the very first place. It turned out to be quite nice, except for the gutwrenching realization about that time that I'd never picked up my passport from the front counter in Saigon. So I had to call there and hopefully (cross your fingers) they'll send it to my hotel tomorrow by the same tourist bus I took. It sucks not having it because I think I'll be in very big trouble if I can't get it.

Off to sleep now so I can be fresh for my motorbike ride all over the place tomorrow. The 5 of us are meeting tomorrow to haggle with the 'Easy Riders,' a gang of motorbike tour guides that prowl around looking for fares. We'll take a tour around to see the waterfalls that dot the area around Dalat, plus maybe take in an ethnic village or two. Then tool around to see the sights here, which are rather numerous since it escaped damage during the Vietnam/American War, and off to Yok Don National Park where I want to ride an elephant. I'll try to write before I go and see what's happened. Brr, Dalat's actually chilly tonight since it's at a high altitude, which is a big change from the humid Mekong Delta and sweaty Saigon.

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