Dalat: My Muse

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I love Dalat.  After being a little disappointed by Ho Chi Minh City and very disappointed by Mui Ne (except the tour from my friend), I was getting worried I wouldn’t like anything about Vietnam but, fortunately, Dalat snapped me out of it.  I’d planned to spend two nights there and, during my short walk from where the bus dropped me off, I knew I wanted to spend at least one more day in this beautiful city!

After arriving at my hostel, where I was greeted by the family who runs it, they directed me to a nearby vegetarian restaurant called Hoa Sen.  I found it and I was surprised at two things: how big it was and how many locals were inside.  I knew it would be good even if I hadn’t been starving.  If anyone is going soon, I highly recommend the chili-crusted tofu with rice.

I was pretty weary from my cramped and terrible (but very beautiful) bus ride there so I decided to take it easy in the afternoon and hang out at a cafe.  Well, let’s be honest, I would have done that anyway even if I hadn’t be forced to sit on a stool, squished between two people on either side of me after taking a Benadryl that I forgot wasn’t non-drowsy.  But be that as it may…while the local chain Windmills looked very cosy, I was drawn in to this little hole-in-the-wall up the street with wood furniture that was pumping Lady Gaga, called The Muse.

The staff member who approached me had light purple hair, was very friendly and very apologetic when she told me that they don’t have soy milk.  However, they made a mean Vietnamese coffee and I ended up ordering more than one.  I must have made an impression on them (although I don’t know how) because they brought up a free cupcake for me since it was Tet the next day–just because!

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My usual set up, complete with a cupcake.

As I sat there for hours and hours, I noticed that all the girls there had really, really good hair cuts and colours so I decided to ask where they get it done.  Turns out, the girl with the purple hair (who is also the owner) does all their hair so I asked one of the lovely girls if she thought that she would be willing to cut my hair.  She said she could ask her and I could talk to her later when she came back to the cafe.

Long story short, she only cut the mullet thing I have growing on the back of my head and we all bonded.  My time in Dalat was punctuated by lovely visits to The Muse, lovely conversations and free snacks.

Back to the story: It was in Dalat that I started enjoying Vietnam.  I met my travelling buddy for the country–a self-described “crazy bitch” from Argentina who came to Asia after working for a year in New Zealand, MT, did a lot of walking, saw Crazy House and celebrated Tet. 

Many people seem to come to Dalat to experience trekking, canyoning, waterfalls or renting motos to see the countryside (which is beautiful, by the way.  I just wish I hadn’t been cramped and doped up when I was ripping through it!).  Since I’m on a budget and I’m saving a lot of money for a constant stream of curry in Thailand, I opted out of these adventures.  Instead, we walked everywhere in a town where everything is beautiful and we drank the most delicious coffee I’ve ever tasted.  Did I mention that they have incredibly cheap vegetarian street food everywhere??  Dalat is my home in Vietnam and I miss it dearly.

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As we were drifting around one day, we ended up going the direction of Crazy House.  To make it all the way there, we fueled up with rich, chocolately, sweet Vietnamese coffee from one of those hole-in-the-wall cafes.  It was heavenly.

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Vietnamese coffee filters and amazing coffee!

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View from the top!

We also celebrated Tet (Vietnamese New Year) with the family that owns the hostel that I stayed at.  MT and I were exhausted from our travels so we were around in the evening to have the special rice soup they eat on New Year’s Eve.  It was delicious and the company was good, except for a guy that slurped his soup loudly, chewed with his mouth wide open and ate chicken bones!

After the soup and a nap (representing the party scene over here!), we got up around 11:30PM to walk down to the lake and see the fireworks.  I don’t have very good pictures but these fireworks were much better than those I saw in Phnom Penh for North American New Year (I don’t know what else to call it!).  The air had a buzz of excitement, people wore huge smiles on their faces and yelled “Happy New Year!” in English at us.

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Tet actually lasts for 10 days so we had a lot of people shouting “Happy New Year!” to us in the streets and one elderly woman took it upon herself to try to teach me how to say it in Vietnamese…while my friends and I were in the middle of dinner.

One night, a few of us decided to wander around to the market to see if we could get some fruit and found that the market is the place to see and be seen at night.  It was slow-going to push our way through the crowd to the centre where we could wander up and down the stalls selling sweaters, scarves, hats, necklaces, bracelets, street food, earrings–everything!

After that, a few of us decided that, while we were in Dalat, we needed to try “weasel coffee”.  This was advertised all over the city and we didn’t know when we could try it again (none of us are heading to Bali anytime soon).  Weasel coffee is made of coffee beans that have been fed to a creature called a civet, the beans go through the animal’s digestive system whole and are then collected when the civet excretes the beans.  Don’t worry, they break the beans open so there’s no actually poop in the coffee.

I know, I know: “That’s not technically vegan!”  I don’t care.  It’s weasel coffee.  When am I ever going to get the chance to try it again?  So we yolo’d hard, paid around $3 each to share what was, essentially, a shot of espresso and took turns drinking the weasel coffee.

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MT drinking the weasel coffee.

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Me and my very sunburned face drinking the weasel coffee.

It wasn’t that great.  It cost 180 000 dong (approximately $9) per tiny cup with robusta beans or 220 000 dong (around $11) per cup with arabica and moka beans.  We opted for the robusta beans.  Maybe that was why it was underwhelming but, when all is said and done, the best cup of Vietnamese coffee I had was at the hole-in-the-wall where we paid 10 000 dong(around $0.50) for a cup of liquid heaven.

My time in Dalat had to come to an end sometime and, before I left, I had to get one last coffee from the amazingly friendly girls at The Muse.  I got up early to get there right when they opened, ordered my coffee and did some Skyping, something I rarely make time to do although I should! 

As I went to pay and say goodbye to my new friends, the owner walked behind me, grabbed a bracelet that was for sale off the wall and put it on my wrist.  I tried to tell her that I couldn’t accept it but she insisted, saying “So you always remember us”.  I was so touched, especially because I’d only known them on a very superficial level for three days and then felt immediate guilt because I didn’t have any sort of gift for them–at least, not anything with me but I don’t think they would want a bag of Kampot pepper or my eye mask.  I ended up giving her a little zipper dangly I got from one of the times I donated blood because it had a maple leaf on it.  I’m sure she’s way too fashionable to ever mar a perfectly executed outfit with that thing but I’m hoping the thought counts and she’ll look at it and remember me, too.

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I don't know what happens here and I don't want to guess.

Au revoir to Dalat and all the Internets from Hue,
Meggo

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