A rather surreal quest to find Dalat’s ‘Easy Riders’

I don’t know whether it’s the altitude up here but the people of Dalat seem to have some kind of sickness. As the day drew on, so too did the number of bizarre occurrences we encountered here, and by the end of the day Pill and I were really starting to question our own sanity. The same woman who had offered her laundry service to us twice last night, appeared outside our door this morning like a little Irish leprechaun. Our only conclusion was that either she’s suffering from an obsessive compulsive disorder or she’s got a fetish for dirty knickers!
We ate breakfast at The Peace Cafe, served by the exuberant and over-enthusiastic owner who seems to emit a mildly psychotic aura. Nothing strange there then. We then decided to try and locate two of Dalat’s Easy Riders (“a witty crew of freelance motorbike guides who carry their clients on the back of vintage Russian and East German motorcycles” – Lonely Planet) to take us on a tour of the city and its surroundings. The manageress of our hotel offered to call one for us, which we thought was incredibly helpful until we began talking to him. It was like trying to get an answer out of a politician : he would either answer our question with a question or answer a completely different question to the one we had asked! He told us it was too late to start the tour today (it was only 9:30am) but when we asked if we could go tomorrow, he simply said,“no”. One comment summed up the whole conversation. He asked, “where are you from?” and our – not unusual – response of “England” prompted him to inform us, “I take a lot of dutch people on my tours!”

So we wandered into town in the hope that a slightly more sane Easy Rider who could meet our requirements, would find us – as the Lonely Planet says they inadvertently do. Indeed we were approached by someone who claimed to be an Easy Rider, a toothless gentleman in an oversized anorak who insisted upon continually showing us photos of himself in an army uniform prior to the Vietnam war. We finally haggled the price down to an acceptable $10 each, but when he turned up 10 minutes later with the bikes that we’d be riding on, they weren’t the vintage Russian or East German motorcycles that we’d expected, but two of your bog standard 125cc Hondas which ply the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. Feeling disappointed and a little guilty that we’d already agreed upon the tour, we tried to describe exactly what we were after. We were told that, due to the unreliability of the older bikes, they were no longer used by the Easy Riders and that there were only two remaining in Dalat. Believing that this gentleman and his colleague were not the genuine article, we decided to head back to the hotel to re-evaluate our plans.

Upon re-entering the hotel the manageress presented us with a new key for our room, informing us that the original lock broke when our room was being cleaned. Flashbacks of the incident at Kompong Cham suddenly entered my head so we headed upstairs to assess the situation. Upon entering the room we discovered that no cleaning had been done and everything was as we had left it, including all our belongings. The events of Dalat and the people within the city were becoming increasingly puzzling. Why was the lady so eager to do our laundry? and why had the lock on our door been changed when no cleaning had been done and nothing had been stolen?

It was getting later and later in the day and we still hadn’t found ourselves a pair of Easy Riders. Confused how such a simple task could be so difficult, we decided that a coffee was in order. On our way back into town we passed Crazy Gecko Tours (everything in this city is crazy!). Attracted by the name, we decided to pop in for one final attempt to organise a tour with the Easy Riders. The lady was sane and friendly and helpful. She explained that there were in fact only 2 vintage bikes used by Easy Riders in Dalat : one was at her office (a beautiful black Corin Husky) and the other was with one of the Easy Riders who was currently out on tour. She promised that she would try to contact the driver in question but could not guarantee that a) she’d be able to get hold of him, or b) that he’d be free tomorrow.

Grateful for the fact that someone was eventually trying to meet our requirements, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we would have to write off the tour today and do some sightseeing around the centre of Dalat instead. However, as we walked down to the lake the skies opened and a torrential storm was upon us, making any kind of sightseeing also impossible. We dashed into the nearest cafe, which turned out to be one of Dalat’s most exclusive restaurants, and drank coffee whilst dripping all over their expensive tablecloths.

Once the rain had cleared up, the rest of the day was spent checking out Dalat’s Central and Vegetable Markets. We secured our Easy Rider tour for tomorrow (the lady had been unable to contact the lone rider so we would have one husky and one ordinary motorbike and share the ride) and continued to encounter bizarre experiences and crazy, non-sensical people:
  • We walked to the Stop and Go Cafe, labelled by Lonely Planet as “Dalat’s avant garde hangout”, to find that we’d walked into someone’s vegetable garden, only that someone was nowhere to be seen.
  • We found the House With 100 Roofs, which despite Lonely Planet’s claims that it had been “torn down as a fire hazard because the People’s Committee thought it looked anti-socialist” was still a kooky little cafe reminiscent of a collection of tiny fairy grottoes
  • I entered a travel agent which advertised ‘Visa Extension  in bold letters on their large window, but when i asked the girl inside, “could you tell me how much it would cost to extend my Vietnam visa?”, she simply answered “no”. It was like walking into a coffee shop only to be told they don’t serve coffee!
  • We ate at a restaurant this evening where lots of the locals were sharing large hotpots. When i asked the waiter for soy sauce (and even pointed at the bottle on the gentleman’s table adjacent to ours) he walked out of the restaurant and then returned 5 minutes later with a large bowl of white noodles!?!
  • At this same restaurant, I asked the waitress if I could use the toilet. She showed me to a room containing a wash basin and two urinals!?! Hmmm, I was still female last time I checked!

The latter experiences at the restaurant did it for us. We were no longer able to deal with that surrealness that seemed to embody Dalat, so we retired to bed – only after the laundry woman had found us yet again – and hoped that tomorrow would make more sense . . .

Pill and I on the Husky we secured for tomorrows trip, Dalat.

Pill and I on the Husky we secured for tomorrows trip, Dalat.

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