After Hoi An, I took an overnight bus to Nha Trang, a town on the coast of southern Vietnam known for its white sand beaches and crystal blue water-also for its nightlife. I took a few luxurious days to enjoy the beaches and local waterpark. The beach had quite a bit of activity, women with bamboo sticks walking around selling everything from books, to fruit, to live lobster and fish. I knew there were local ruins and a buddha to see, but I just couldnt manage to get off of the beach :). In Nha Trang, I reconnected with some travelers I had met in Hanoi, and we headed to Dalat, a small french colonial town in the mountains, "Le Petit Paris of Vietnam" and the honeymoon capital of the country.
Being in the mountains, during the monsoon season, Dalat was absolutely freezing. Well it was actually probably only sixty five degrees but I've been so used to scorching hot weather I immediately felt the drastic change. The town had a feeling of a ski resort, with its quaint buildings completely surrounded by mountains on all sides. We decided to hire a local company, Easy Riders, to take us around. The Easy Riders started in the early 90s with a group of unemployed local men, most having served in the South Vietnamese Army. Today it has expanded to over 70 locals who bring tourists around on the back of their bikes and share their knowledge of the mountain surroundings. Our Easy Riders had not served in the army, but had many things to say about the war. Huan's father used to cut hair for the American servicemen, when their boat sank off the coast of Nha Trang. Everyone died on the boat, but for some reason only the American bodies were recovered. "Tin Tin's" father served under the last king of Vietnam and he was named by the French bureaucrats after the comic, The Adventures of Tin Tin. He showed us the mountains where the Viet Khon used to hide out before heading to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. All three had plenty to say about American politics over lunch, boiling it down to "Romney supports the rich" and "Obama helps the poor". It was a fascinating conversation to listening to three such politically opinionated vietnamese men. We spent the day touring coffee plantations (where we learned that the most expensive coffee from Vietnam is made from weasel poop, the weasel eats the seed and digests the bean), silk factories where we watched the silk worm create its threaded cocoon, and rice wine fermentation-where they drop a live snake into the wine and the alcohol kills it. We visited the minority village of the Kho tribe, a matriarchal society where the family takes the wife's last name and its considered lucky to have girls. Local tours like Easy Riders are a great way to see another side of a country, off of the tourist map, and Lam acting like a Lady Boy made it all the more worth it.
After Dalat, we spent a day roaming the sand dunes of Mui Ne. It was a spectacular site of white and red sand stretching in either direction for miles. It was easy to forget I was in Vietnam, the setting felt more Saharan. As we watched the sun set over the sand dunes into the crystal blue ocean water, I truly felt that I had had a love affair with thís country, its culture, food, ruins, and scenary, even ít troubled past.
Off to Cambodia!