Flowers, Snails and Raindrops

On the two and a half days Quoc and Giang were in Đà Lạt they took us to restaurants, cafes and bars we would never have found on our own. It made me grateful again about the decision to leave the fancy hotel in Nha Trang, and move to their cute one.

On the first evening, they left us a note at the hotel’s reception saying they’ve booked a cab to come to pick us up at eight and take us to their favorite place.
The cab took us to the front of a big loud restaurant where they waited for us. After we got inside and sat, they ordered for all four of us a big comforting hot-pot, a soup that comes in a big bowl at the center of the table together with vegetables and meats you can cook inside, and everybody share it.
I told them we’ve seen people eating snails but never tried it ourselves, so they ordered a dish for us to try. Aside from the snail itself, the shells were filled with chopped pork, and were served with a stem of lemon-grass so you could pull out the shell’s content with it.
The snail itself had a texture similar to calamari and a very gentle flavor I could hardly feel, because it was blended with the strong tastes of the pork and lemon-grass.
Quoc and Giang told us they have a three years old daughter back home named Sushi since they like sushi. Quoc tattooed her name on one of his fingers.

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After dinner, we went together towards the market.
The hotel itself is inside an alley and outside of it there’s a small lake, followed by a steep hill leading to the central square of the market, a building with four or five floors.
We went to a cafe in the area called Windmills and sat on the second floor, at a porch viewing the square.
Roni and I had tea and Quoc and Giang had green matcha-based coffee drinks, and together we shared a tiramisu and another cake with cheese and berries.
We talked about the hotel in Nha Trang.
Quoc confessed that when he got our booking and saw we were from Israel, he was nervous because they had a bad experience with Israelies before. He asked the receptionist to be extra nice so we won’t have reasons to complain. We said we are aware of it that Israelies can be rude when traveling, and some hotels in the world won’t accept us at all.
They told us about customers from different countries they’ve had who complained about strange things, such us not having an elevator even though they knew that when they booked the room, or the place not being fancy enough, while the price is super cheap.
It’s nice you can give a review on Trip Advisor or Yelp, but it can hurt small independent places when people give low ratings for nothing.
I said I always check the most negative reviews to see if they were legitimate, or just petty.

We really liked the huge marketplace and the area around it.
To get there, you go down some stairs and reach the big square with a grass plot in the middle, and lots of restaurants and cafes around it. From there, you can turn right to a big street where dozens of modern and traditional restaurants are under the open skies, together with stalls of jewelry, various hand-made items, souvenirs. Behind the square stands the crowded market building, burdened with shoes, clothes, make-up, groceries. Around the building there are more stalls, the merchandise lays on a rug on the floor.
From one of the top floors, there is another exit to a different, higher street – since the city is so mountainous, it’s built with different levels.
In the evening lights are turned on in the square. There’s a thick crowd of families, dogs, children, young honeymooners, vendors who sell unnecessary items.

On the second day, Quoc and Giang took us for lunch at a tiny restaurant near the market with two crowded floors and a big grill outside. We had a delicious meal of rice with grilled meat and small bowls of soup on the side. Then we went for coffee and ice-cream at another place.
It began raining heavily, so we sat there for a while and looked at the raindrops from inside.
Quoc and Giang were the kind of people you can talk with for hours about anything, and you can also not talk at all.

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In the evening, Roni and I walked around by ourselves.
We sat at a cafe by the hotel and talked with some friends back home, walked slowly towards the market and stopped for a nice comforting bún bò, and at eight-thirty we met Quoc and Giang for beer. There were some hostels around with loud young American tourists who sat in nearby pubs, and Giang said that Western tourists always seem to her excited and full of energy.
The stories they told us about the Israelis they’ve met before, and tourists from other countries, made me wonder for the millionth time how we were being perceived in this country.

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In the morning, we sat on the colorful couch in the hotel’s lobby and had breakfast with Hien, the receptionist we’ve met on the first day. We said goodbye to Quoc and Giang who went back home to Nha-Trang, and went for a walk outside.
We walked slowly to the flowers garden – a park that is an attraction in Đà Lạt, which is known for its flowers and greenhouses. We walked lazily, looking at stores here and there, and got inside a pagoda we’ve seen on the way that was very peaceful and quiet.
We almost arrived at a big central lake, when a middle-aged man with a blue Eazy Riders jacket approached us and began chatting.
He was very welcoming and nice and we were planning to have another motorcycles trip to the next destination anyway, so we walked with him to his office, where we had tea with him and his partner and planned a three days trip and then a bus to Hồ Chí Minh City. They told us that it was the low season so they lower their prices since they were Buddhist and believed in Karma.
What goes around comes around, he said.
We took their details, shook hands and went on walking by the lake.
We walked on a big grass plot, stopped where two well-groomed horses stood and bought a bag of sweet popcorn for a snack. The skies got darker and it looked like it was about to rain, so we decided to go back towards the market and visit the flower garden on another day.
We arrived at one of the restaurants on the market’s square and sat under a big shade right when pouring rain began to fall, and had a spicy Phở bò. A lazy cat took a nap on my bag and covered itself with my scarf.

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When we finished eating we ran in the rain to the covered part of the market and stayed there until the rain stopped, and went back towards the hotel with the thunders still roaring in the distance.
In the evening we went again and had peach-tea at a cafe with a slight smell of coffee and cigarettes. We wanted to have dinner at that tiny restaurant where Quoc and Giang took us but they were closing, so Roni said we should get some pizza, something that suddenly we both had a craving for. We ate at a great pizzeria, even though the service was a bit too official for us, and looked at drunk tourists in the street and dogs playing on the road.
It was the only time during the trip when we had Western food and it was very comforting, but to be honest, I loved the local food so much I hardly missed anything.

In the morning we sat again with Hien for breakfast, ate the yummy soup they served for breakfast and had coffee. Hien told us about her job and life.
She chose this job because she loved meeting people from around the world, so she can practice her English and expand her horizons. Her sister works in the hotel as well but more at the back on the house, such as maintenance and kitchen.
We asked how come the stay there is so cheap, yet the hotel is so nice and clean and they serve such delicious breakfast for free. She said that Ken, the owner of the place, believes in giving as much as possible.

It was a bright sunny day, even warm, so we decided to try our luck again and go to the flower garden. We passed by the big lake again, where the beautiful horses stood. People paddled in the water in small flamboyant boats shaped like swans.
After a long walk, we found the beautiful entrance, paid 60,000 Dong (about 2-3 dollars) and went inside.
It was quiet, clean and very well-nurtured. Small pathways meandered between lawns and floral gardens where shrubs were trimmed into shapes of pitchers, kettles, teacups. A miniature house with a roof made solely out of flowers stood by a lake, and wind chimes gently chanted on its entrance. Nearby stood bonsai trees, that with a close look seemed like tiny fairy-kingdoms.

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We sat for coffee at a nice woman with a stall by the lake and kept on walking. We saw here and there young local couples, and aside from them, the place was relatively empty. We went inside a greenhouse with dozens of different species of huge orchids, where a Western woman talked with the saleswoman about the cultivation of the flowers.
We strolled there some more, enjoying the cool fresh air of the ground and vegetation until the noon rain clouds appeared in the distance again, so we went back to the market’s area.
We had a tasty lunch at the small restaurant with the grill outside, and when the rains stopped we decided to split for a while and travel by ourselves.
Roni went to the market, and I put on my headphones and went to explore the city.

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