In my mind Da Lat is an anomaly. Situated 1,500m above sea level, and frequently facing prolonged periods of rain and overcast skies, the city is a good 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the country. This temperate climate, and the fact that the French colonialists treated it as a country retreat to get out of the stifling heat of Saigon, makes the place feel oddly European.
“Ok, now just remember to keep your feet pointed towards the ceiling, otherwise you could break your leg. Climb up to that one if you are feeling brave.” That is what is our guide shouted to me, standing waist-deep in a gigantic pool of mud half a mile inside one of the vast array of Karst mountains in Northern Vietnam.
My next stop after Hoi An was the imperial city of Hue – former capital city of the Nguyen empire. An impressive city with lots of atmosphere, you can tell that Hue has a rich history from the moment you set foot in it. Unfortunately, however, it also feels a bit like a shadow of its former self – perhaps due to the near total destruction of the city by American bombs during the Vietnam War.
What surprised me by far the most about Vietnam was the food. A Seurat canvas of flavours, Vietnamese food combines sweet, sour, tart, crunchy, soft, spicy, fresh, smokey elements in a sophisticated way that is simply genius. That’s before you even consider the intriguing blend of Eastern and Western cuisine…who would have thought that a stew with fresh baguette could be called ‘Authentic Vietnamese’ fare?
I am sitting at a small plastic table, on small plastic chairs, with sweat dripping from every exposed piece of skin I have, listening to a cacophony of horns as a constant stream of mopeds and trucks and ‘cyclos’ rush past me – Vietnam is certainly an assault on the senses!