Heading for the Hills
Ho Chi Minh City Travel Blog› entry 31 of 62 › view all entries
Like Phnom Penh, one night in Ho Chi Minh City was enough for me. The 11:15 bus lurched and swayed out of city traffic then the driver sped northward, blasting the horn like a madman. The two-lane blacktop highway was congested by Chinese copies of small Honda motorbikes, priced affordable to the less fortunate people of the countryside. Stretches of open highway were few and far between since houses, shops, villages, and even small towns and cities have appeared along its length, probably all the way to Hanoi (about 1750 kilometers from Saigon.) We passed other familiar names of wartime towns posted on blue and white direction signs or on red-tipped, white concrete, mile-post markers gone metric: Binh Hoa, Long Binh, Phan Thiet.
The road narrowed as we climbed into the Central Highlands. The bus snaked up and over countless rugged jungle-covered hills. Switch-back turns led us higher still into evergreen forests and spectacular hillsides shaded by tall timbers. The ground, broken by black rocky outcrops, patches of red clay, or trickling silver streams, was carpeted with pine needles. The air cooled. We finally rolled onto a high plateau which was the sprawling, hilly city of Dalat.
I checked into the bus company's Trung Nghia Hotel for $7 as darkness fell. The clean and fully furnished second floor room had a three-inch thick comforter instead of the usual sheet or over-sized towel for a blanket.
Bundled in heavy jackets, neck scarves, wool hats, and mittens, young Vietnamese huddled around outside tables at a hillside Russian bar-restaurant. American Christmas songs, my first of the season, played in the background and somehow rang sharper than in the supermarkets and shopping centers back home. Up until now, I had no use for a long-sleeved turtle-neck T-shirt that I packed and was grateful that I didn't abandon it along with my shoes and socks. I enjoyed a bite to eat and a couple of Tiger beers. Coffee, a little too thick and sweet for my liking, felt warm on the hands.