Vietnam's Biggest Washing Machine
In Vietnam it's tempting to hug the Eastern coastline and trot along the traditional tourist spots, but don't forget to dip inland to Dalat, the capital of Lam Dong Province, where you can have a crack at canyoning like I did.
Canyoning safety the Vietnamese way
After negotiating a $30 fee (but somehow feeling like I'd been ripped off) and with South East Asia's somewhat relaxed attitude to safety firmly pushed to the back of my mind I was soon dangling off the top of a cliff.
As I slowly shuffled back towards the edge I glanced over towards my guide(for guidance). Although he was friendly enough, his distinct lack of English did not fill me with confidence. My instinct was to grip the rope for dear life but I soon realised the trick was to relax and let it slip through your fingers; the further you lean back the easier it is to attempt a clumsy rapel down the cliff face.
After negotiating the first obstacle we paddled, waded and swam through various depths before reaching a small batch of rapids. 'Let's go around it' I thought, but no, we were going through it.
Seeing our scepticism our guide went first to prove the route down could be survived. With no time for nerves, once the current took you there was no going back. I crashed down along the natural curves of the rock, picking up a couple of bruises, while the water tossed me around like a rag doll before plunging me out into a pool at the bottom.
The abyss in Dalat
No sooner had we recovered from our stint slithering down slides we faced the biggest test so far. By now I was reasonably comfortable abseiling down straight, dry cliffs but add a waterfall and jagged rock into the equation and I was out of my comfort zone.
For a start, it was extremely slippery underfoot. On top of that, the sheer volume of water ploughing into your face was a tad off putting. There were small crops of rock that had to be avoided and our guide was earning his corn by directing me around them.
But once I reached the halfway point of the 25-metre challenge my now trusty guide disappeared from sight. I lost my footing a couple of times as I struggled to rapel in a straight line while being half drowned with every step.
Due to the sheer length of the drop the safety rope wasn't long enough to reach the floor so the only option was to push off the rock, fall the last few metres and pray to whichever God you believe in for a safe landing.
Only one way down
As if the size of my cojones hadn't been questioned enough, the next stop was a 12-metre cliff jump. Tackling heights while attached to a rope or fellow human being was one thing, but unaided? Every man has his limits. However, my little cousin had just sprinted past me and threw herself off the edge.
I now had two choices, climb down and endure a lifetime of courage themed insults or face my fear. After a shaky legged moment, I chose the latter, mustered up the minerals and went for it. Time seems to stand still as you plummet through the air for a couple of seconds before the sharp shock of the icy water brings you back into reality.
The Dalat Washing Machine
Tired and wet, we hiked our way to the final frontier (cool your jets Spock, it's not an episode of Star Trek). Our guide let out an unnerving cackle and refused to reveal any details of what awaited, other than the intriguing name. The Dalat Washing Machine. A couple of people immediately ducked out.
Due to the shape of the cliff we were unable to peek over the edge and see what was in store. I went first, breaking one motto that I try and live by, i.e. never go first. Once I passed the initial descent, my feet could no longer reach the rock to steady myself, but as I attempted to correct my stance I was hit with two jets of water from different directions simultaneously and sent into a frenzied spin. You're still hanging, but virtually underwater and once you slam into the river you're swept into a whirlpool that drags you under without warning in a scary yet exhilarating few seconds.
So spare a thought for your delicates the next time you give them an extra vigorous spin on laundry day, I know how they feel.