It’s been a few weeks since my return from yet another unforgettable holiday and I can hardly believe that at this time three weeks ago I was basking in the tropical sun on Vietnam’s east coast. In honour (but mostly to our utter dismay) of Adrienne and Jude’s completion of their contracts at Vee You Ess, we decided to explore more of Vietnam by spending a few days in the mountainous, and chilly, town of Đà Lạt and then on to Nha Trang, central Vietnam’s most popular beach town.
Our trip began with a verrrrrrry early 5:00 bus departure on the morning of June 12. Adrienne, Bagheera, Jude, Jude’s sister (Junior J) and I all piled into our bunks on the sleeper bus. After the startling realisation that our driver was indeed going to incessantly honk at every single car, motorbike and old person in his way, we all jammed our headphones into our ears, cranked up our iPods and prepared to drown out the noise. Ahhh, Vietnam. Never a silent moment.
Other than the noise, the trip was surprisingly pleasant and punctual which is not something to be taken for granted here. We arrived in the much cooler climate of Đà Lạt shortly after noon and checked into our beautiful Hotel Du Parc.
We checked in, immediately destroyed our respective rooms in search of warm clothes and headed out in search of lunch. The winner was a cute little place called Chocolate. I can highly recommend the vegetable curry!
Immediately after lunch it was time to book the only thing I really wanted to do while in Đà Lạt: canyoning. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, it’s essentially a daylong excursion including rappelling down hills, cliffs, and what really grabbed my attention, waterfalls. I was psyched! I’d seen pictures on another girl’s blog and I was instantly sold. So we popped over to the lovely folks at Groovy Gecko Tours and booked ourselves an excursion for the next morning.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon sauntering around the sleepy town exploring shops, cafes and markets. One of the many notable experiences being in Đà Lạt was the very pleasant market encounter we had. Not once did we have someone jumping in our faces yelling: “Hey lady! You buy my *insert name of item here*?” Everyone seemed genuinely happy to see our white faces and many were appropriately impressed with Adrienne’s handle on the Vietnamese language.
Unlike most places in Vietnam, Đà Lạt is not yet a hotspot for international tourists so we really were an anomaly: five white girls wandering the streets of Đà Lạt with no real purpose except to explore. With that said, unlike many other places in this country, Đà Lạt does not have much to offer in terms of good eats. I think we exhausted them all.
And some not-so-good eats as well. Our first dinner in the former French colonial getaway town was pretty awful. So anyone who is looking to start a business venture in the restaurant industry, Đà Lạt is definitely an untapped market.
We turned in early that night in preparation for our big day of waterfall-scaling the next day.
The shuttle picked us up from our hotel at 8:00 in the morning and took us to the edge of a wooded area. Our amazing guides then outfitted us with our gear including harness, helmet, poor-excuses-for-shoes and gloves. We started our descent into the woods, happily chattering about how glad we were to be in thick, forested nature again. It had been a while for most of us.
The first abseil we came to was a rock face sans water but upon first inspection it was still pretty steep. We practised here for about an hour just getting used to the harnesses and letting our own rope out just enough to get us to the bottom safely. I scampered up the rock face as my inner child did back flips. She was so excited to be climbing and, in turn, abseiling.
Our first real abseil included excited Vietnamese tourists taking hundreds of photos of us whities being adventurous. The cliff was huge but dry. The only wet part was dropping into the surprisingly warm water below and swimming over to our rendez-vous point. That first drop was all it took to have me sold for the rest of the day. I was having so much fun!
We trekked on and Rappel #2 was the same idea only we were told to try to spring out a little further from the wall this time so as to make it to the bottom in only two or three jumps. This didn’t happen. But our lovely guide enjoyed showing off at the end and doing it in only one. Did I mention the leg muscles on this tiny Vietnamese man?
Next stop, our guides decided to mix things up a little bit and we got to slide down the rapids in an assortment of ways wearing only our helmets and PFDs. It was a blasty blast! And the only uninjured one happened to be me. Somehow! (You’re welcome, Mum!)
After waaaaay too many times up and down and back up and back down to the rapids, our guides nudged us along to Rappel #3. This one was strategically placed and there was no preparation for this at all. That was actually something I really appreciated about this whole excursion. Very little was told to us in advance so as not to allow our chicken-shit egos to take hold.
We got to the top of the waterfall and looked down. We soon lost sight of the wall of the cliff which meant only one thing: a definite face full of water for most of the trip down. Adrienne went first and then Bagheera. We were all fearful of chickening out.
When it was finally my turn, I pulled on my big girl pants and vowed to live only in the moment, focussing carefully on each and every step I took. It was surprisingly enjoyable for me. It felt very cleansing to have the pounding waters washing over me during my descent.
There was a point at which I could no longer touch the rock with my feet. This was the part I was warned about moments before beginning this harrowing descent.
Guide: “Once you are unable to touch the wall with your feet, spring back one last time and let go. Your rope runs out at this point any way so you have no other choice.”
Me (thinking to myself): Nod courageously pretending like it’s not a big deal that he’s just dropped this SIGNIFICANT bomb!
I sprung back, fell gracefully into the water and came up all smiles to some big hugs from Adrienne and Bagheera. We watched the rest rappel down the waterfall and then it was time for some delicious lunch. I remember these types of lunches from when I was a kid and my parents would take us on daytrips. Lots of fruits, veggies, and sandwich-makings and the smell of everything was so incredibly intoxicating. Especially the smell of bread. Nom nom nom!
Just as fast a lunch was put down, it was time to get going again. What better way to finish a massive meal that was eaten far too quickly than to do some cliff jumping? Pretty much everything I learned in lifeguarding classes went out the window during this trip and there was no point in perseverating on it. We’re in ‘Nam, afterall.
We giggled and bumbled our way through the forest to the fourth and final rappel site which Jude so eloquently named The Churching Crotch of Death. We were all so weary and, frankly, desensitised to the whole danger of rappelling that I only half-listened when he gave the instructions, just enough to get the gist: hop, hop, hop, no more rock, inch yourself down, plop. Ooookay! Got it! Gimme the rope.
And that’s exactly what happened. I was the first down and it really wasn’t a problem until the plop part. My PFD didn’t fit well (too big) so when I went under and got pounded by water while being sucked by the current to safety, I spent the longest five seconds of my life trying to get air. The PFD only hindered my progress. As it turns out, the least terrifying-looking parts of this adventure were, in fact, the worst surprise.
Our guide turned to us after we all finished sputtering and heaving to calmy tell us we’d hike for another fifteen minutes or so until we met up with our van. Yipee!
The hike went straight back up the mountain.
It’s a good thing this girl loves her some climbin’! (And the guides carried the packs…) It had been a long time since I’d felt my heart pound like that (from exercise, at least – driving a motorbike in traffic here everyday makes my heart leap at least once a trip). It was exhilarating and well worth the $30 we spent on the journey.
We took some stunning photos at the top of the mountain to commemorate our experience and then the van was there to take us back to the hotel. I don’t remember what happened next but I’d be willing to bet money that sleeping in my wet clothes was part of the fun.
The next day, we set out for breakfast at a cute little guesthouse with an adorable cat that seemed quite comfortable with strangers. Then it was on to the pagoda and the Crazy House.
The pagoda was beautiful and serene. We all took different paths through its garden and had an hour or so of silence. It was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of travelling.
The Crazy House was a complete reversal of the peaceful tranquillity of the pagoda. The “house” is actually a functioning guesthouse where travellers can pay to stay while peepers can pay to poke around. This Gaudí-inspired, expressionist, fairy-tale house was designed and constructed by a female architect by the name of Đặng Việt Nga. The “house”, shaped like a giant tree, opened its doors in 1990 and has since gained international notoriety.
All that historical information aside, I was just stoked to do what I do best: climb! We spent a couple of hours there being one of the many “peepers” and then ambled down the road, admiring the old colonial cottages as we found a vegetarian lunch place to call our own.
We walked home from lunch in the rain and enjoyed a few hours of downtime before our final dinner in Đà Lạt. We returned to our respective rooms to pack and turn in early as we were being picked up to start the next leg of our journey to Nha Trang bright and early the next morning.