|I'm pretty sure now that Vietnam is the next Thailand, but that's another story and it's not the reason we decided to come to Dalat. The reason we came here was, well, bacon.
If that doesn't seem to make any sense, consider that Dalat is known to the Vietnamese as honeymoon town, and there are all sorts of little quirky parks and places designed for honeymooners. Even less related to bacon it would seem. Nevertheless, for us, it was the bacon that was the big draw.
You see, we had heard way back from someone, I think it was in Indonesia, about the best bacon in the world, which supposedly is here in Dalat. So we took that little tidbit of information and said to ourselves, "Well all right, that sounds like a fairly unique reason to go see the place, so let's do it!" To tell you the truth, Dalat was never really on my radar, as our original plan was to just hug the coast all the way north until we had to move inland for Hanoi. Yet here we are. Oink.
Dalat is almost at 1500 M in the central Vietnamese highlands, and what an incredible difference in weather that makes from Mui Ne on the coast, which is only just hours away. It's raining of course because it's the rainy season, but the temperature is down so much that the place feels exactly like Vancouver in say October. It's really unbelievable and we were walking around in the cold under our borrowed umbrellas from the aptly named Dream Hotel. One thing the climate does bring though is a tremendous ability to grow a variety of vegetables and fruits. We've really not seen a place that has such a bountiful offering of all kinds of things, both tropical and not.
Actually, the market here is just superb, and we were glad that we had shunned the overpriced waterfall tours offered by all of the "easy rider" drivers (this is what the scooter taxi guys call themselves) for a simple stroll around the town and getting lost in the endless maze of the market. For several hours though, there was no bacon to be found. We were starting to wonder if we had heard the story correctly; if maybe they had said "Dallas", not Dalat, or something. Ha, Ha, Dallas - yeah right...
Anyway, our prey was eventually cornered when we saw neatly arranged slabs of the stuff hanging in a little display case on one side of the market. We walked up sheepishly, not knowing how or what to order, and decided to point at the bacon and a baguette simultaneously to see what would happen. The woman running the counter acted as though she understood very clearly and that this is what people did all the time, so I guess we hit the mark. She proceeded to cleave off chucks (not strips) of the bacon and then placed the meat with salt and pepper inside the opened baguette. And that was it. We paid our 8000 Dong and she handed over the goods.
It tastes really good, but not the same. I would say that it's more like grilled back bacon or dried pork than bacon because it's really not cured or smoked. It looks more like it's just been roasted for a long time. Parts are very crunchy, and yes there's a lot of fat that comes with it, but it's sure hard to resist the taste of a bacon sandwich!
So we decided to buy some ingredients for the bus ride to Nha Trang the next day including a few veggies, some cheese, and a stack of bacon so we could make our own sandwiches. Cool. Mission accomplished.
What I mean by the Thailand thing is that Vietnam really feels as though it on the verge of westernizing itself - there are tonnes of new hotels, and many new businesses opening selling cell phones, electronics, and everything else. Business seems to be humming, and one can sense there's a certain order that's developed, to the point where the economy is nearly robust enough to stand with many of the other strong ones in the world. Tourism is also really expanding - everywhere. And yet, prices are still quite good - as good as anywhere else in Asia - which raises the question as to whether or not the foundations of what's going on are strong.
For this and other reasons, the country is a bit of a mystery to unravel, probably because of it's tumultuous past, particularly the Vietnam War, but there are other strange features that make Vietnam difficult to understand. For example, there are catholic churches everywhere. It is plainly evident that the missionaries succeeded in converting a good part of the country away from ancient religions and Buddhism. The country is also communist run, but you would never know it, as the attitude and demeanour of the nation is decidedly capitalist, and there is no sign that the government interferes in the least with anything. The whole place seems to exist in an enigmatic state of suspended reality. I guess that's exactly what makes the place interesting, unless of course you're a real war buff, in which case you would take an entirely different approach to visiting this country.