Falling in Love with Dalat – Our New Favorite City

We got up at the crack of dawn in Mui Ne in order to catch the 7:30 bus to Dalat.  Originally, we figured we would just catch a taxi back to the bus stop (Sinh Tourist) , only to find that there were no taxis in sight as we walked down the road.  As we walked in the general direction of the bus stop in hopes that one would show, a random local bus pulled up, asked where we were going, and told us to jump in.  It cost us 9,000vnd ($0.42 USD) each to get to the bus stop, and we were very grateful for it, considering we didn’t see any taxis on our way there.

Once there, we had a couple banh mi for breakfast and waited for the bus.  The bus that came was mid-sized; smaller than the large sleeper buses, but bigger (and less hellish) than the janky one we were on from Can Tho.  The drive was 5.5 hours of bumps and hairpin turns as we ascended into the gorgeous Central Highlands region of Vietnam.

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We stopped to enjoy the scenery about halfway between Mui Ne and Dalat

We were dropped off in the middle of town, at the doorstep of the Dalat Central Hostel.  We still do not know if this is just where the bus stops in Dalat or if the hostel has some kind of arrangement with the bus company, but we were offered a private room for $10 as soon as we set foot off the bus.  The room was nicer and cheaper than any other room we had stayed in thus far in the trip, and it couldn’t have been more convenient, so we decided to go for it.  Note: We had an excellent time staying here and highly recommend it.  The staff is great, speak very good English, and are extremely helpful!

The receptionist recommended a bakery down the street, so we decided to try it out for lunch.  The bakery is on the ground floor, and there is a restaurant attached on the second floor.  The food at the restaurant was nothing special, but the bakery is huge, cheap, and offers a plethora of unusual baked goods.  We picked out several that looked interesting and took them with us to enjoy next to the large and beautiful Xuan Huong Lake in the center of town.

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After going for a long walk around the lake and stopping back in the room for a little relaxation time, we headed back out into the city to visit the Dalat Night Market.  Here, you can find all sorts of street food, clothing, and crafts and on Saturdays and Sundays, they block off the street to turn it into a Walking Town.

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After we had gotten some street food and sat down on the steps to eat, we heard a commotion down in the market.  We looked down and saw people running and frantically stacking up the chairs and tables they had set out for patrons, as if to hide the fact that they were selling food there.  Presumably this was because of the police car driving by, but we were unable to figure out what exactly the issue was.  Once the police car drove off, everything returned to normal, though we were admittedly a little bit rattled by the event!

Dalat had already become our favorite city in Vietnam, that we had visited thus far in our journey.  The mountain air, friendly atmosphere and promise of adventure had us reeling to spend several days here, not to mention our lovely hostel staff and all the delicious, cheap food.  The city of Dalat had officially put itself on our list of potential future homes.

Minibus to Can Tho bus station: 18,000vnd ($0.84 USD)

Breakfast: 60,000vnd ($2.80 USD)

Bus to Dalat: 238,000vnd ($11.10 USD)

Lunch: 108,000vnd ($5.04 USD)

Pastries: 75,000vnd ($3.50 USD)

Dinner: 40,000vnd ($1.87 USD)

Beer: 14,000vnd ($0.65 USD)

Water: 10,000vnd ($0.47 USD)

Accommodation: 214,362vnd ($10.00 USD)

Total Spent: 777,362vnd ($36.26 USD)

Meandering Mui Ne – Sand Dunes, Fairy Stream, and the Fishing Village

After arriving in Mui Ne at 5am and taking a nice 4 hour nap, we got up around 9 and decided to spend some time leisurely time exploring the coastal road.

Mui Ne has a very laid back vibe to it despite tourism turning it into a resort town.  The city is packed full of mostly Russian tourists and most signs have Russian on them.  Apparently a lot of the restaurants and resorts are owned by Russians as well.

There isn’t really a ton to do in Mui Ne unless you’re really into kite or windsurfing.  You can take lessons but they’re pretty pricey and we weren’t planning on spending a lot of time here, so we opted out.

We enjoyed strolling down the street, there were lots of creatures in tanks outside of restaurants waiting to be eaten by patrons.

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Today’s Special
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Snake Wine

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We made our way back along the beach, though in many places the beaches have vanished due to coastal erosion and have been reduced to concrete walkways and steps.  These can be treacherous at times when the waves crash against the concrete.  We almost lost the Nikon, at one point!

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Back at the bungalow, we arranged for an army jeep to take us to the sand dunes, fairy stream, and the fishing village.  It picked us up along with 6 other backpackers at 1pm and took us to our first stop: the Fairy Stream.  Colored by the clay, the red water stream is surrounded by huge rock formations and lush greenery.  We had fun exploring the area for about an hour, walking all the way to the end where there was a small waterfall.   The water was almost waist-deep at some points, which was really a blessing as the sun was pretty relentless this day.

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The Fairy Stream fairy?

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We hopped back in the jeep and drove down to the fishing village.  The village was fascinating but also a little depressing, as the beach was covered in garbage and dead sea creatures.  From the top of the steps leading to the beach we got a really nice view of all of the boats.

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Our next destination was the massive white sand dunes.  We climbed up the highest one nearby and enjoyed a picturesque view of the Lotus Lake and surrounding dunes.  Jojo also had fun jumping off the peak and tumbling down.  Your feet would sink in calf-deep when you try to climb back up!

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You can also rent four wheelers for 400,000vnd/20 minutes to zip up and down the dunes with a bit more speed and excitement.

Our last stop was the red sand dunes which were less impressive size-wise but spectacular in color.  The sand was was cool on top but almost burning hot when our feet sank down about a foot.

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We were dropped back at our bungalow around dinner time, so we walked down to a restaurant called Indo Bar where we feasted on fresh and wonderfully affordable calamari, squid, and scallops.  We also walked a little further down the street and stopped at Joe’s Cafe for a drink and listened to some live music.

We had been told several times that Mui Ne was not a destination worth going to, and we could see why some people feel that way, given that the town itself doesn’t have much going on.  However, we personally felt that the jeep tour made it worth it for us, and we might have stayed another day or two for kitesurfing if we had more time.  But, our visas expire in a few short weeks and we have much to see and do before then!

Breakfast: 75,000vnd ($3.50 USD)

(2) Beer: 24,000vnd ($1.12 USD)

Jeep Tour: 280,000vnd ($13.06 USD)

White Sand Dune Entry Fee: 20,000vnd ($0.93 USD)

Water: 10,000vnd ($0.47 USD)

Seafood Dinner: 225,000vnd ($10.50 USD)

Water: 8,000vnd ($0.37)

Bungalow: 310,000vnd ($14.46 USD)

Total Spent: 952,000vnd ($44.41 USD)

Getting from Can Tho to Mui Ne – Broken seats, missing buses, and sleep deprivation

We were throwing around a few different options regarding transportation to our next destination, the coastal town of Mui Ne, known for its sand dunes and kite/windsurfing.

Option A) Take the 3.5h bus back to Saigon.  Spend another night in Saigon.  Take a 6h bus the next morning to Mui Ne.

Option B) Take the 3.5h bus back to Saigon.  Catch the next 6h bus to Mui Ne.

Option C) Take the 3.5h bus back to Saigon.  Spend a few hours in Saigon.  Take the 11pm 6h sleeper bus to Mui Ne.

We decided Option C was preferable because it allowed us to enjoy a few more hours in Saigon, while also saving us a night’s accommodation since we’d be sleeping on the bus.

After breakfast, including some grilled bananas and coconut cakes, we  took a taxi back to the bus station outside Can Tho.  Our first mistake was allowing ourselves to be swept into one of the bus company offices without looking for the one used to get to Can Tho first.  We used Phuong Trang to get to Can Tho and had a perfectly pleasant experience, in contrast with what we were about to encounter.  We didn’t even catch the name of the bus company we had stumbled into, but the woman at the desk insisted that there were no big buses to Saigon and that the only option was a minibus.  Translate: This company in particular does not offer big buses to Saigon.  We naively took her word and allowed ourselves to be directed to a minibus (aka large van) with about 12 seats.

This is okay, it’s only a 3.5 hour ride!  Wrong.

Firstly, we ended up in the back row of the bus where the seats do not recline.  This wouldn’t have been a big deal, except for the fact that all of the other rows reclined a lot so the people sitting in front of us were essentially laying in our laps.  Like, small domestic airplanes are luxury compared to this.  We had good attitudes about it and comforted ourselves in the fact that it only cost us 90,000vnd ($4.20 USD) each.

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After about 30 minutes of sitting around (I think we were waiting for all the seats to be filled) we finally took off at about 10:30am.  As we departed and hit the first bump in the road, the row in front of us bounced into our knees.  Hard.  Now we understood why they were sitting at a 140 degree angle, the row of seats were actually broken.  Thus, every slight disturbance in the road caused the row to bounce almost violently.  In fact it looked quite unpleasant for the people sitting there as well as for us.  To avoid further trauma to our knee caps, we experimented with all sorts of unconventional positions for sitting.

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Luckily our spirits were relentlessly high today, because we would soon realize that this bus would also be stopping at least 20-30 times on the way to Saigon.  Apparently we had landed ourselves on the local bus, so it actually took about 4.5 hours due to the frequent stops.  At some points there were so many people packed onto this bus that they were not even in seats, including several small children.

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If nothing else, it made for a good story.  Every backpacking adventure has at least one hellish bus ride, and it surely won’t be our last.  We finally made it to Saigon and had to take another taxi back to Pham Ngu Lao st. where we were to catch the sleeper bus to Mui Ne.  We went ahead and purchased our ticket and headed to a nearby smoothie shop.  We enjoyed a coffee and a banana smoothie (and free wifi), and after a few hours there, we roamed around the backpacker district some more which is a lot of a fun at night time.

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Banana shake…yum

At this point it was around 6 or 7pm and we decided to go to Highlands Coffee, where we enjoyed a couple of mojitos and some more free wifi (yay blogging time!)  Around 10:30pm we walked back to the bus stop where we were informed that our bus would come at 11 and we should stand outside and wait for it.  Now, it’s worth noting that we chose Phuong Trang again since we had a good experience getting to Can Tho, but this didn’t go quite as smoothly.  The buses all say their destination on the front and we kept seeing buses headed to Dalat.  Mui Ne is on the way to Dalat, so we asked if these were the buses we were supposed to be getting on, but we were told our bus was still coming.  This happened several times, so we decided we would stop asking and wait for a bus that said Mui Ne on it.  Finally at 12am, a bus that said Mui Ne rolled up.  When we approached the door, the driver told us this was the 12:00 bus, our tickets were for the 11:00 bus, and that we should have been here at 10:45 to catch it.

We have been here since 10:30!  The bus did not come!

It was apparent that the driver did not fully understand what were saying and kept insisting that we missed the bus because we did not arrive early enough.  Normally we are not very pushy people, but we had already had a day full of transportation difficulties.  We were getting to Mui Ne, and we were getting there on this sleeper bus.  After all of the other passengers got on (it was not full), and a few more desperate pleas, the driver finally let us on the bus.

Sleeper buses can be great because they save you a night’s accommodation and you get to fully recline, making the ride pretty comfortable.  Our driver was pretty keen to lay on the horn and there was a distressed infant on board, so sleeping didn’t come quite as easy as we had expected.  Additionally, because we ended up taking a later bus, the drive was shorter because there was less traffic.  So we landed in Mui Ne just after 5am, a little early for finding a place to stay in a small town.

We were dropped off in front of some bungalows that didn’t appear to be open, so we just parked it out front and decided to wait until they were.  After about half an hour sitting in the dark, a man who appeared to be a security guard walked out and asked us what we were doing.  Do you have a room available?  He didn’t answer us, but got on his phone, made a call, and opened the gate.  A woman in a night gown appeared and lead us to one of the bungalows, which we promptly accepted and proceeded to fall asleep.

We knew getting to Mui Ne from Can Tho would be some kind of adventure, and despite the complications, we were glad to have finally made it to the beach!  In hindsight, it’s important to pay attention to what company you are booking (anything) with.  Sometimes companies will push you around in hopes of getting you to purchase before you’ve realized what you’re actually doing and what your other options are.  Additionally, if in doubt, ask every single bus if it’s the one you’re supposed to be on!  People will almost always help you if you ask.

Breakfast: 20,000vnd ($0.93)

Bananas/Coconut Cakes: 8,000vnd ($0.37)

1 Coca Cola: 15,000vnd ($0.70)

Taxi to Can Tho Bus Station: 30,000vnd ($1.40)

Hellish Minibus: 180,000vnd ($8.39)

Taxi to Pham Ngu Lao: 200,000vnd ($9.32)

Dinner: 162,000vnd ($7.55)

Coffee/Smoothie: 31,000vnd ($1.44)

Mojitos: 98,000vnd ($4.57)

Sleeper Bus: 270,000vnd ($12.58)

Total Spent: 1,014,000vnd ($47.25 USD)