There is always that one place, the place that I know will remember fondly long after I leave somewhere.Well it goes without saying, Da Lat has beautiful scenery and it’s easy to see why the French fell in love with this place when they colonised Vietnam. The climate is perfect, the days have been sunny and warm, not too warm though, the nights cool. Maybe it’s this wonderful hostel with it it’s long dining table and dinner served every night at 6:00pm. Everyone, including the staff sit at the table to eat and share stories. People from all over the world coming together, of all ages. Followed by cards and a walk out into the street to buy dessert from one of the many food carts.
People like Chris from Germany who loves the street food and takes us off to sample his latest find. Amy from England who can drag everyone in for a game of cards. People travel for all sorts of reasons, some are travelling to heal broken hearts, some, like Tasha are just young and filled with adventure, some are running away from life, everyone has a story to tell.
An elderly lady comes to the hostel every night, no one seems to know her name. I think she is perhaps a little crazy, she is mute, but harmless. She comes to collect the plastic bottles and to bum a cigarette or two. She likes to give everyone a kiss on the hand and the cheek, but the women get an extra special kiss to each breast and a hug! At first I toyed with the idea of ducking into the toilet to escape, but no one escapes! The kisses and hugs came, no one knows why she does it, it’s not sexual or aggressive, mind you she did give one of the rather good looking guys a grab on the backside! Apparently she has no family and maybe she just craves human contact, and nobody seems to mind. I think life has been tough for this lonely old lady.
Street food is everywhere in Vietnam, but maybe because the climate is cooler in Da Lat the street food just seems more appealing. I walked down to the markets, I could smell the banana fritters, I have to hunt them down in a street filled with street carts, but there they were, fresh out of the fryer, golden brown and crisp. The women can barely keep up with demand, it’s easy to tell the best vendors, they are always the busiest. It’s a three person job, one to prepare the two big slices of the sweet banana’s, dipped in batter, one to remove them from the batter and place them on the drip tray , the third to take the money, VND5000. I will have six thanks, thats $2. They were good…
Then there is the “Da Lat Pizza” lady, she has been sitting in this same place on the side walk for 10 years, cooking her pizza’s on the open fire and her little stools set up for the customers. From the moment she is open for business she is busy. She has a system and it’s like clock work, she rules her domain with an iron fist. If you don’t follow her rules don’t expect to eat. She is fast and furious with her cooking and works with precision, every pizza the same as the last.
The pizza aren’t really a pizza, they are called banh trang hahn. They are a thin piece of crisp rice paper, I have seen them drying out in the sun on the roadside. Its placed on the grill, a spoonful of sauce which appears to be made with herbs is placed on top, mixed with a knob of processed cheese and a raw egg. It is mixed around and spread over the entire rice paper until cooked. Then it is sprinkled with beef powder and chilli powder, all for a grand total of $1.20. So, so, good!
Then there is the dessert shop, selling Che. There are pots and pots of cooked up things, some I recognise like black beans and others I have no idea what they are. I have ordered a couple of different things off the menu, it comes in a small bowl and always comes with a pot of the ever present tea. Tonight I had banana,peanut and coconut milk pudding. Last night I had the black bean and coconut pudding, both equally delicious. The women who work in there are very busy, but they are happy to help me and give me desserts that they think I will like, for 50 cents I can’t complain.
Luen, the young Vietnamese guy who is from a poor farming family is so dedicated to making a better life for him and his family. He knows that learning English will open doors, he takes extra classes at night and eagerly seeks out English speaking tourists to practice with. He wants the same advantages for his class mates so he invited me along to his evening class to have conversations in English with his peers. It was wonderful, these young people work so hard to get ahead, they are polite and shy, seeming many years younger than they really are. It was an honour to be asked. They treated me like visiting royalty. Luen told me after that it is the first time it has happened, that a foreigner has come to their classroom and he hoped it would give them confidence to talk to more foreigners.
I am leaving Da Lat tomorrow, sad to be going from this wonderful place, leaving newly made friends, but it’s time to head towards Ho Chi Minh.