Vietnam Bike Tour: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (Day 8)

DAY: 08Screenshot from 2014-10-15 07:40:46
Origin: Nha Trang
Destination: Dalat
Distance: 140km
Pho Consumed: 2
Today’s Author: Felix
We woke early for our diving trip, heading downstairs to the dive center around 7am (convenient, right?).  Since the bus wasn’t scheduled to depart until 7:30, we headed across the street to a restaurant with Russian signage, which seemed to be the only place open on our street. We had a decent western-style breakfast, but unfortunately had one of our only poor service experiences in Vietnam; the food took nearly 30 minutes to appear, even though we had simply ordered some coffee and toast.  After trying (and apparently failing) to impress upon the staff our need for expediency, we finally made it back to the dive center around 7:45.
Awaiting us were our companions for the day, a handful of French tourists and Natalie, a Malaysian-Canadian girl on the second day of a dive certification class.  Fortunately everyone seemed cool with our tardiness, and we all piled into a minibus and headed for the dock.
Arriving at the dock, we hopped on our boat and met the rest of the dive crew as we headed away from shore.  Our divemaster for the day, Nguyen, was a chill dude who spoke pretty good English, and we felt that we were in good hands.  During the 40 minute ride to the dive site, we got a refresher on some basic scuba skills since Felix hadn’t dived in a number of years and Zach isn’t certified.
Arriving just off the coast of a small island, we were pleased to see that the water was almost perfectly clear.  After getting geared up, we followed Nguyen and hopped into the water.  We spent the first 10 minutes or so reviewing our basic scuba skills (hand signals, mask clearing, buoyancy control, etc.) and headed off after Nguyen to explore the reefs.  We were also accompanied by a cameraman who did a bang-up job of capturing our adventures.
While perhaps not the most amazing diving in the world, the reefs were teeming with life.  Although we stayed in relativey shallow water (~8-10m), we saw a host of incredibly colorful smaller fish, as well as a plethora of anenomes and coral.  We also played with a giant jellyfish (!), which was apparently safe to touch as long as you stayed away from the tentacles on the bottom.
After about 50 minutes, we headed back to the boat and enjoyed a light snack of mangoes and baguettes.  Felix also sampled a proffered Vietnamese cigarette – apparently the “White Horse” brand is produced locally in Nha Trang.  We then geared back up and headed down for another dive.
On our second dive, we went a bit deeper – perhaps 12 or 15 meters.  For the most part, the marine life we saw was pretty similar to our first dive. We did briefly glimpse a school of larger fish about a dozen meters away, but they swam off fairly quickly.
Returning to the boat once more, we hung out for a bit as we waited for the rest of our group to return before we headed back towards the city.
Back on land once more, we piled back into our minibus and headed over to a small cafe for lunch, which was included in the price of our trip for the day.  We enjoyed some pretty tasty noodles accompanied by mystery meat, but we trusted our French tour leader and chowed down (apparently the cafe is owned by his Vietnamese wife).  The noodles were followed by crepes slathered in mango sauce for dessert, which were delicious if a bit too saucy.  We also chatted with Natalie about her traveling adventures throughout Asia, which was a nice change from our usual mealtime discussions of tech, business, and motorcycle-related soreness.
We headed back to the dive center / guesthouse, took quick showers, and packed up our bikes.  After settling our bill and getting directions to a Honda mechanic, we set off.  Unfortunately, it turns out that our bikes (XR150s) weren’t sold by Honda in Vietnam, and the dealership was thus very confused about our request for maintenance services.  We got directions to another garage in the more “Vietnamese” area of the city and headed off in that direction, but were unable to sufficiently explain our issue to the mechanic (Felix’s headlight was exceptionally dim).  Giving up, we gassed up and left the city around 4.
Heading towards Dalat, we were greeted by a new road in relatively good condition, as well as some very threatening stormclouds in the distance.  However, we got incredibly lucky and had some of the best riding of the trip; there was almost no traffic, the roads were both excitingly twisty and in pretty good shape, the scenery was incredible, and the temperatures dropped rapidly to a pleasantly cool level.
We passed a number of natural waterfalls, as the storm had just passed and there was plenty of water on the ground and in the hills.  Rapidly gaining elevation, we were treated to some incredible vistas over the mountains as the sun was beginning to set.
After a couple of hours of really outstanding riding, dark began to fall and we started to get a bit chilly.  On our way into the city of Dalat, we passed a dozen or so kilometers of lit up greenhouses, which made for some very pretty scenery.  We also began to notice large, American-style McMansion type homes; Dalat is clearly a city favored by wealthier Vietnamese.  This became more apparent as we entered the city proper; compared to much of the rest of Vietnam, the city is relatively well-kept and well-developed.  Near the center of town is a charming small lake, and nearby is a massive golf club.
We arrived at a small hotel recommended by Lonely Planet, the Dreams Hotel, and were pleasantly surprised to find that the elderly couple who run the place were both very friendly and spoke decent English.  We were also shocked to hear their adorable grandchildren running around the lobby speaking perfect English without a hint of accents whatsoever.
After checking in to the room and availing ourselves of the modern shower facilities, we headed down the street to grab some dinner.  We quickly stumbled upon a pizzeria that seemed promising and enjoyed some surprisingly decent pies (“Four Cheese,” “Mexican,” and Margherita).
Following dinner, we decided to wander around a bit.  After passing a number of bustling restaurants, bars, and shops, we happened upon a fancy-looking bakery.  As we hadn’t gotten Zach any cake for his birthday nor had dessert yet, we popped in and, after a quick glance at the prices, started piling a tray with refined carbohydrates (plus two party hats, because why not?).  Total bill for our sugary indulgences?  About $5.  What an awesome country!
Heading back to the hotel, we dove into our haul.  Zach put his friend Leona on video chat so she could see us in our party hats stuffing our faces with cake and sweets in the middle of Vietnam.  After polishing off most of our dessert, we headed to bed after what was clearly one of the best days of the trip.

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