Version 0.88 (Getting to Da Lat)

07/15

That was a long and noisy train ride. I definitely recommend the top bunk rather than the bottom bunk of sleepers in Vietnamese train cars. Not sure how much sleep I got but it was sporadic, infrequent, fitful, and constantly interrupted. Luckily I planned for that occurrence. (No, I didn’t. But I did plan to check out a couple of fairly popular specialty coffee shops not far from the station in Nha Trang, which may help me overcome the lethargy from my mainly sleepless night.)

[Later]
Just finished a surprisingly voluminous espresso at Nha Trang Coffee Roasters that despite its volume wasn’t as bitter as I expected. It wasn’t really good, but I didn’t need to add sugar to it at least. Considering the state of specialty coffee in Vietnam, and the obviously small budget the cafe has to work with, I am impressed. The espresso machine and grinders in total could not have cost more than a couple thousand dollars (really a fair chunk of change over here), and were likely bought second-hand. The roaster is a small two or three kilo one and is clearly where the bulk of the money was spent. However the cafe space is cavernous—perhaps it was an old automotive garage—and is pretty busy, with most of the tables and chairs occupied, so hopefully those profits can turn into better equipment and additional education for the staff.

I have a limousine bus to Da Lat that leaves from somewhere in the city at 11:30. Perhaps I will get some sleep then. But I‘m not there yet. I have over two hours to do whatever it is I wish to do, which at this point will likely be getting another coffee or juice, then lunch, then calling a Grab. I’d like to wander around the city a bit, but it’s not worth it with all the crap I’m lugging around.

[Further Later}
I’ve finally arrived in Da Lat after a fairly dull and uneventful, but also a bit odd and on occasion slightly unsettling, bus ride. I have showered at last, and, in the sink of our homestay washed my t-shirt and boxers I’d been wearing for the last sweaty 36 hours. Being as we are in the mountains and the temperatures are significantly cooler, I’m looking forward to not sweating through my clothes for the next five days. Writing this I am sitting at La Viet, a highly esteemed specialty coffee roaster here in Vietnam, and I mean “specialty” in the very best way: the way that all players in the industry should want to act, for they not only take special care to roast and brew their coffee as best as possible, but they only roast Vietnamese grown coffee, and they work with farmers in the region to improve the cup quality so that the farmers may have a more sustainable living, one that is bound more by the quality of the product (gasp!) and less by what the commodities market dictates. They do this by improving soil quality, fertilization techniques, improving the picking and processing of the coffee fruit, testing different cultivars to see if one does particularly well in a region versus others, etc. It is a beautiful relationship, and I am happy to finally get to try their coffee which, while pretty unremarkable by specialty standards, is far and away much better than most of the rest of the coffee grown in the country.

But how did I come to be here? From Da Nang I took a night train to Nha Trang where I whiled away four hours at a couple of different cafes and one very busy, very good pho stall. In no place yet in Vietnam did I get as many stares as I did in my brief time in Nha Trang. I thought it strange considering the size of the city and its magnetism for tourists, granted I was hardly in a touristy part of the city as those places are located predominantly along the beach, and I was nearer to the train station.

It’s an interesting comparison between where I stayed and spent most of my time in Da Nang, and the area of Nha Trang I was in. Mainly I’m thinking of the level of English spoken in both places. Quite a number of Vietnamese where I was in Da Nang are conversational in skill level and are not embarrassed to speak, but in Nha Trang I noticed a severe decline in ability, or possibly they were all just too shy and afraid of making mistakes, because what little english I received was mumbled and barely audible, spoken in a way that suggested nervousness, apprehension, or insecurity, and these were all younger kids in their teens and very early twenties.

After my layover in Nha Trang which was highlighted by my breakfast at the pho stall where a Vietnamese gentleman pulled up on a motorbike as I was attempting to sit down with my cumbersome belongings and repeated the word pho to me several times (whether that was to be sure that I knew what I was going to be eating, or so that I understood the correct pronunciation of the name of the dish, I can’t be sure), and then verbally warned me that I was about to put too much fish sauce in it while I was seasoning it, I took a bus—a “limousine” bus, mind you (basically a slightly larger, glorified mini-van (some with, some without bucket seats))—here. We were packed to the gills in this bus so that it was anything but limousine-like, and my pack had to be lain on the floor between the legs of other passengers. Add to that squished between me and the driver was a woman with her one year old baby. The entirety of the trip the driver was coughing, and by the end of it, which came a bit sooner than expected, he had to stop to let us out by the lake in order to go see a doctor for his cough. And now I’ve developed a cough. Whether from him or something else I can’t be sure, but the timing certainly is suspicious. I wonder if the woman or her child came down with anything…

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