What possessed me to book a seat on the 7.30am bus I don’t know.
Actually I do. I booked this when I was still in work and getting up to arrive at stations before 7am was not an unreasonable action.
To be fair, life in Vietnam starts early so a 6am wake up isn’t difficult.
Torrential rain greeted me as I walked to the main door of the hotel. About turn. Unpack the waterproofs. Wrap the rucksack in its rain wear. Depart.
Five minutes later the rain stopped.
If you didn’t see the rain shower start, you can never know how soon it will be over.
I walked to the bus office, showed my ticket and bought a banh mi (my favourite sandwich, now and forever) from the roadside stall outside.
I’m pretty sure the seller ripped me off.
There was a pause as she gave me the price… 30,000VND (£1) as opposed to the 18,000VND (£0.60), charged by the previous day’s seller 500m down the street.
I am pretty sure I can live with that.
There was a small crowd gathering for the bus to Da Lat, where I was going.
I settled down to eat my sandwich and noticed a small boy eyeing the office’s shrine.
I’ve seen shrines in every home (where the living room has been open to the street) and business. They usually honour deceased relatives or business owners and managers.
There are usually photographs of the person that the shrine is for, candles, ornaments and food offerings – often fruit, wrapped cakes, wrapped biscuits and cans of fizzy drinks or sometimes beer.
I wasn’t sure what had caught the boy’s attention.
He crept nearer.
He looked around, checking his surroundings… mostly making sure his mum hadn’t spotted what he was up to.
A small hand reached out to the shrine.
What was he aiming for?
Was he after a breakfast snack?
His eye was on the gold candle. He snatched it quickly, hugging it to his chest and glanced around to see if he had been spotted.
Standing at less than three feet tall, his horizon scanning didn’t reach to my height so he didn’t realise I was watching him.
Emboldened by his success, he stretched his hand out a second time and grabbed the gold Chandler’s partner.
He was utterly delighted with himself and mesmerised by the candles – examining them carefully to check their size and whether they were equal in size.
Small children are the same everywhere.
Whether they are pressing their fingers into newly painted woodwork (to check if the warning sign was telling the truth), climbing all over white display sofas in muddy shoes or pushing the enticing red button that triggers the alarms at Manchester’s Chorlton Street Bus Station, small children have a gift for doing what they shouldn’t be.
It’s always highly entertaining for the observer, less so when you’re the adult allegedly responsible for the child.
I don’t know if the boy at the Nha Trang bus office was able to keep his ill gotten gains because the bus to Da Lat was announced and those of us waiting for it hurried along the street to climb on board.
There was some consternation at the bus as the driver and the conductor seemed quite put out that six of us had arrived to climb on board.
It looked like my ticket was going to be refused.
Just as I was about to argue, the bus office manager arrived and pointed to four of us, including me, to say that our tickets were fine.
The French couple standing with us had a problem and they had to go back to the office. One of the guys said: “I’m just glad that wasn’t us.”
I think most people have an occasional anxiety that their bus or rail tickets will be refused… especially when drivers look and sound concerned in a language that you don’t speak.
Despite confirmation, the driver wasn’t keen to put my rucksack in the hold so I moved forward to do it myself, at which point he took the bag and loaded it.
I’m really not sure whether he thought there was any option other than me getting on the bus.
Ten minutes later, the French couple returned apologising profusely for the bus’s delayed departure. Their tickets had now been accepted.
The bus pulled out and called in at another two stops in Nha Trang to collect more passengers.
As in Hoi An, the driver sounded the horn several times to let the people waiting know that the bus was approaching.
We left the outskirts of the city, passing rice fields as the road began to climb through the foothills to the mountains. Tree cover increased the higher the bus climbed.
I decided that I really needed ti remember not to sit at the back of the bus on the way back. Every time the vehicle went over a bump, I was catapulted out of my seat.
I guess it was good bronco training.
After less than an hour the bus pulled up next to a restaurant, where the food was three times the price of that in Nha Nha Trang, even than the ‘over’ priced banh mi I had bought near the bus office.
We were to stop here for 30 minutes… which explained why the journey was going to be four hours.
The soundtrack of choice at this establishment was disco… “She is D.I.S.C.O”, “Sunny”, “Ma Baker”, all the greats… plus 1980s one hit wonder (in the UK) Modern Talking’s “Brother Louie”. You know the one, “Brother Louie Louie, She’s only looking to me.”
Forget being big in Japan, they are HUGE in Vietnam. “Brother Louie” has been the soundtrack of this trip.
Back on the bus, the road continued to climb. The scenery was stunning.
The mountains weren’t so must mist-wreathed as wearing clouds as scarves.
The bus slowly made its way along the road as it snaked up the mountains, making several hair pin turns.
At times I could barely see theought the cloud.
The rest of the time, my view alternated between rockface of many colours – grey, burgundy, sandy and white, predominantly – washed by cascades of water and emerald green forest.
Occasionally there would be shrines by the waterfalls and cascades, statues of Buddha and Jesus ‘jostling’ for room.
At this height, the forest appeared European – predominantly conifer though I saw many of what appeared to be birch trees. And at one point, Autumn caught up with me again with a blaze of scarlet leaves.
From time to time, the bus passed small villages of terracotta red-tiled houses, coffee plantations and the occasional restaurant, presumably overpriced.
Every time the bus braked near a restaurant the passengers heads shot up up from their phones, in alert that we might be stopping again.
There may have been a riot if we had – many people had grumbled when we pulled in after less than an hour on the road.
We passed brick factories. The bare soil was terracotta in colour and presumably, based on the presence of the brick factories it was also clay.
In some of the villages there were very few brick built houses and, instead, the wooden houses were all painted different vivid colours.
Once through the cloud cover, the day was much warmer and the sky was bright blue.
In the valleys and also on the plateaus (wherever the land was flat) alongside the road, there were arrays of greenhouses and poly tunnels. Each seemed to be filled with salad vegetables, not flowers – the road passed close enough to peer in.
One valley was utterly filled – hundreds and probably thousands of greenhouses. I could see flowers in many of these.
As we entered Da Lat, the houses and buildings ranged from the grand to the simple and small, building materials including brick, stone, wood and corrugated metal.
French and Vietnamese styles were side by side.
I got off the bus and thought: “This is just lovely.”
*Featured Photo: The first thing I saw in Da Lat. Nha Trang isn’t as pretty as the mountain city.