Author Archives: radfield

Da Lat: A Vegan Paradise (Who Knew?)

When we left Nha Trang, our hearts were heavy. Not because the town is particularly pumpin’ (it isn’t) or because the beach is so beautiful (it really isn’t), but because of the lovely wee lady selling vegan banh mi for 10,000VND/50c a piece.

Check out that big hunk o' vegan ham!

Check out that big hunk o’ vegan ham!

The finished product -- banh-tastic!

The finished product — banh-tastic!

How could Da Lat possibly compete with that?

…Well, quite easily, it turns out.

On our first day in Da Lat, we took a long walk. A lot longer than intended, truth be told — directions are not really our thing. Anyway, walking around the outskirts of town, we spotted about these:

Com Chay, Com Chay everywhere!

Com Chay, Com Chay everywhere!

…about a dozen signs reading ‘Com Chay’ (Vegetarian Restaurant). A couple of them even had banh mi stands outside!

During our 5 day stay, we tried a few and (as is our wont) quickly found a favourite.

Au Lac happened to be a 30 second walk from our hotel, so we tried there first. We ate some great meals here, but took no pictures. So it hardly counts, really! Anyway, it’s not the most tourist friendly place (we kind of stood around awkwardly for awhile before anyone acknowledged us), but the food ain’t bad at all: mixed rice ($1.25 – $1.50), noodle soup ($1), and banh mi curry ($1).

Price: $1 – $1.50 per (big!) meal 
Best dishes:
banh mi curry, mixed rice.
Directions: From the lake, head up Bui Thi Xuan road. Au Lac is about 1km up, on the right.

Next (and best!), Dai Loc. Dai Loc is a little way out of the centre of town, but well worth the 20 minute walk. In fact, even if it only sold fresh spring rolls, it would still be worth it. The rest of the menu is just a bonus. We ate at Dai Loc daily, and whenever we decided to branch out and try something new, we kind of wished we hadn’t.

The best fresh spring rolls in Vietnam. And, I can only assume, the world.

The best fresh spring rolls in Vietnam. And, I can only assume, the world.

For real, those spring rolls; huge, fresh, and super tasty. Oh, and cheap. This big ol’ pile set us back $1.

A $3 meal! Not pictured: 3 already gobbled spring rolls.

A $3 meal! Not pictured: 3 already gobbled spring rolls.

Everything we tried at Dai Loc was great; Ahi was all about the mi cham tha (‘mixed noodle soup’)…

Mi cham ta?

Mi cham ta?

…while I almost always went for the pho ga.

Pho ga

Pho ga

I did branch out once, and tried the mixed rice — a pretty grubbin’ pile of mock meat, tofu, and vegetables on a generous portion of rice. All for $1.

Mixed rice

Mixed rice

Price: $1 per meal
Our favourites: pho ga ($1), mi cham ta ($1), fresh spring rolls ($1)
Directions:  Phan Dinh Phung.

We spotted Hoan Sen early on, but avoided it at first — shiny signs, waiters in uniform? Too fancy for the likes of us, surely. As it turns out, it was only around 50c more than the others. We ate dinner there once (pho and some other noodle soup, both $1.50) and grabbed takeaway banh mi and banh bao (both 50c) for lunch a few times.

Price: $1.50 – $2.00 per meal
Our favourites: banh bao (50c), banh mi (50c)
Directions: Of the bunch, Hoan Sen is the most centrally located.

 

 

Dalat had more vegan options than any town we’ve seen in South East Asia. In the end, we found more than a dozen veggie eateries with things like corn milk and fresh stream rolls readily available. The fact that meals were so cheap–often less than a dollar, even, and the rare designation of vegan paradise is truly deserved.

Yeti Fails: When Budgeting Backfires: How Trying to Save 40c Almost Cost Me $40

I glanced at the clock: 9:50am. I looked down at my ticket: 10:15am. Back at the ticket. Back at the clock.

Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

Comfortable (albeit mistakenly so) in the knowledge that my train didn’t leave until 10:50am, I had taken the morning slowly, waking up at 8am, strolling along Paharganj, crouching on a plastic stool and eating 50c ‘omelet toast’ and drinking weak coffee at my regular street stand.

Now I was cramming the last few things into my backpack, killing time online, and making sure I had the essentials: wallet, passport,  $40 train ticket (I had splashed out on a 3rd class a/c car for this 30 hour trip). Casting a cursory glance over the ticket, I noticed the departure time: 10:15am. Fifteen, not fifty.

Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

I had 25 minutes to find a tuk-tuk and ride the 7km to the station on the other side of Old Delhi. In another city, 7kms in 20 minutes wouldn’t seem too ambitious. In Delhi’s cow-filled, tuk-tuk crammed streets, however, I knew I was racing against the clock.

Like any sensible, budget-conscious traveler, I hauled my monster pack on, raced down the stairs, flung my key at the receptionist (and I use that term loosely), rushed onto the street, Paharganj, and ran straight past about 50 tuk-tuk drivers, just waiting to pick me up.

‘160 rupees!’ they shouted.

‘150! 140! Okay, 120 for you! Very special price. First customer, good luck for me!’

120? I thought. What kind of sucker do you think I am? I, having researched the topic thoroughly, knew full well that the tuk-tuks at New Delhi Station – about a five minute walk away – would go for 100.

I pushed roughly through the swarm of drivers, heading for the station.

That’s right. With 25 minutes to go and a $40 ticket on the line, I chose to push past a line of willing drivers to save 40 frickin’ cents.

As I predicted, the tuk-tuk booth at Delhi Station charged 100 rupees for the ride. What I hadn’t considered (and really, really should have) was the crush of tuk-tuks trying desperately to leave the station through one ridiculously narrow gate. We joined the cue, and spent the next few minutes mostly stationary, occasionally inching forward.

I glanced down at the clock: 10:40am.

‘How long?’ I asked, a vague hint of desperation in my voice.

’10 minutes. 15, maybe,’ he replied nonchalantly, almost at the gate now.

‘Okay. 10 minutes. 10 minutes is good.’

I spent the rest of the ride cursing traffic lights, cows, people, other tuk-tuks — anything that slowed us down, really.

10:45 and my knuckles were white, gripping my bag, perhaps thinking there was some correlation between the tightness of my grip

10:48 and we swerved past a sign reading ‘Nizamuddin Station: 500m’

10:49 and the tuk-tuk screeched to a halt. Thrusting the fare into the driver’s hands, I ran (well, tried — the 20kg bag on my back meant it was more of a lopsided, frantic lurch) to the entrance, pushed my bags through the security machine, and waved my ticket under a guard’s nose, ‘Which platform? Where?’

10:51 and I ran down from the overpass to the platform, skipping stairs. And saw my train oh-so-slowly pulling out of the station.

Actually, that last part didn’t happen. In a stunning twist of fate, the train left 4 minutes late — about 3 minutes after I hauled myself onto it, sweating and panting. But if I had missed it, I would have absolutely, entirely deserved it.

I tracked down my cabin, and awkwardly dragged and lunged my way to the upper berth, in the process dropping my water bottle and entirely dismantling the sheet-fort that the passengers beneath had constructed, in an attempt to keep purdah during the train ride.

A hand stretched out from the mass of sheets and handed it back with a muffled grunt.

Flopping onto the mattress (complete with sheet, pillow, and blanket — thank you, 3rd class!) and awkwardly contorting myself around my backpack, I glanced over the cabin and caught the eye of a man with a grey ponytail, a fringed leather waistcoat, and a slightly disarming grin.

‘Lars,’ he declared. ‘From LAAAAPland.’

He spent the rest of the ride slipping a generous lump of hash into my bag (an ordeal that deserves at article all of its own), admonishing two eloquent Hindi teenagers on the evils of modern Hinduism, and entertaining the cabin with a (non-fiction, of course) tale of his arrest while attempting to open an ancient door

Moral of the story: Stingy people always end up sitting next to nut jobs on long train journeys. Wait, that’s not it. Let me try again: