Delightful Dalat

Trip Start Dec 30, 2010
Trip End May 05, 2011

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Where I stayed
Peace Hotel

Flag of Vietnam  , Lâm Ðồng,
Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The sleeper bus to Dalat was an experience in itself, even if our journey was not, strictly speaking, overnight.  Before entering we were all told to remove our footwear, and once settled we were given moist towels and bottles of water.  The fully reclinable seats allowed us to doze comfortably all afternoon, and I even managed to sleep for about an hour which is impressive for me.  It was about 8pm when we were dropped off right outside our hotel of choice, and it was a good deal.  For the first time I was staying in a hotel which included a mosquito net, which is quite fun to sleep under as you feel really safe and cosy.

Dalat was the favourite colonial hill station of the French, and the description in the Lonely Planet reminded me so much of Ooty in India that I was shocked to find the temperature very pleasant (I'd shivered all night in Ooty), although thankfully not as blistering as HCMC.  It's a really nice place, with loads of kitsch attractions set amidst nice mountain and forest scenery.  There are noticeably more flowers around than in the rest of the country, especially fragrant jasmine, and just outside the city the fields are filled with polytunnels underneath which all types of fruit and vegetables are grown.  Dalat is famous for a whole range of products, from strawberry jam to various wines (of which we sampled a few with varying success rates).

On our first day we rented a motorbike and decided to stay around Dalat itself.  First stop 'Crazy House'.  Think Gaudi's 'Casa Mila'.  The building was begun in 1990 and is still under construction, but for a relatively modest amount you can roam the building (which is also a hotel) at your freedom.  It's full of nooks and crannies, and looping walkways linking the different parts of the building. Funny sculptures are hidden away in the masonry as well as the garden.  Good entertainment for a couple of hours.  After that my map-reading skills failed me somewhat so we ended up riding round the lake and visiting some botanical gardens which weren't much to write home about.  That afternoon we went to the Summer Palace of Emperor Bao Dai, who was a sort of puppet king (his relationship to the French being not unlike that of Petain to the Nazis) between WWII and independence in 1954.  The art deco palace still had its 1950s decor (the kitchen reminded me of our house when we first moved in), but the most exciting thing there was a giant plastic bee in the garden.  (The Vietnamese seem to have a fetish for huge plastic animals - later I didn't bat an eyelid on seeing a zebra, assuming it was plastic, only to discover it was in fact real.)

Later that afternoon Roland had his daily 'pho' fix: Vietnamese beef noodle soup.  As far as I can gather there are several types but the one he eats (at least once a day) is 'pho bo'.  It's quite an interesting ritual.  Into a bowl is thrown a handful of rice noodles, ladles of broth, then chunks of raw meat which has sometimes been finely diced beforehand.  The meat cooks in the broth as it is being brought to the table.  Accompanying this dish is a small bowl of beansprouts, and a plate of salad which includes lettuce, sweet basil and a herb called culantro (?)  You dip the beansprouts into the soup, sprinkle torn herbs into the dish to your taste, and enjoy!  I'm not entirely sure what you're meant to do with the lettuce.  In any case, nourishing as pho is, later on we still treated ourselves to pizza, which turned out to be the most miniscule pizza I've ever seen, served much to our amusement by a ridiculously camp Vietnamese boy and his giggling sidekick.

Day two was another moto day but this time we headed further afield.  Considering we had no map of the area I think we did quite well.  In the morning we visited 'Elephant waterfalls'.  Much like the caves in Cambodia, I couldn't quite distinguish anything elephantine about them, but they were still quite impressive.  The path down started off ok, but swiftly deteriorated into a semi rock-climbing adventure, which I handled rather wimpishly but nevertheless did manage to get to the bottom and back up again.  The scenery in the area was beautiful, and we stopped to take photos of a hill which had had so much napalm dropped on it during the American War that practically nothing grows on it even now.  The second waterfall of the day was rather different: i.e. tourist kitsch, but it was quite fun.  We took the 'rollercoaster' down, which is a sort of bobsled/dodgem car which you control yourself with a stick: forward for go, backward for stop.  Certainly entertaining. The ride home was through beautiful forests of pine trees, which seemed to glow an ethereal shade of jade green when backlit by the descending sun.

As we were slow to get going on day three in Dalat (I'd been to the market having run out of clean clothes...), we postponed our planned visit to the cable car until the afternoon.  Instead we headed to Lang Biang Mountain, which rahter more conveniently than most attractions in this country does not shut for an extended lunch break.  We arrived in the heat of the day so took a jeep rather than walking the 6km up to the viewpoint.  The view did not disappoint despite it being quite misty, and I sat on a swing admiring the view (but taking care not to swing so hard I would catapult myself off the edge).  We wanted to continue up to the highest peak, a 2-3 hour trek starting a short distance from where we were, but the driver clearly hadn't understood our request as we found ourselves returned to the bottom of the mountain where we'd started. 

In the afternoon we took the cable car across to an artificial lake which had been created by the French.  The journey was beautiful: almost silent, over pine forests, with Dalat in the background.  The lake was similarly beautiful and peaceful (expect for a mad dog which caused me a minor panic before it finally lost interest and I escaped back to a caged monkey we'd made friends with earlier).  More tourists arrived as the afternoon went on, and we joined the crowds exploring the pagoda and perfectly manicured flower gardens.  On the ride home I got my first use out of my expensive rain jacket, as the temperature had dropped considerably.

The following morning Dalat was atmospherically shrouded in clouds of a dark shade I've not seen in a few months.  The painted houses of the city shone brightly set against the ominous black sky.  As we loaded our luggage onto the bus to our next destination, I felt the first few raindrops, and as we drove out of the city the roads glistened and people, smiling, quickened their pace in search of shelter.  Opening my window as we passed through the pine forests, I was hit by the nostalgic scent of fresh rain.  It did not, of course, last long, and the sun broke through at intervals throughout the afternoon, spotlighting portions of the green hilly panoramas we spent five hours winding our way through until we reached Nha Trang.   Once there we had half an hour to get some food before settling onto our second bus - this time a 12 hour epic.  We finally arrived, at about 8.30am this morning, into Hoi An.
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Dad on

Hi Holl's, I like the sound of Dalat and think I'd like to visit if ever the opportunity arises. Please continue to keep us posted. Love Dad

Rachael on

Wow, it sounds so amazing Hollie! I am especially jealous of the motorbiking ;) x x x

Mum on

sounds great - so pleased that you are enjoying yourself and only a minor panic attack due to the mad dog!!
take care
lol Mxx

PiersSC on

Cilantro is American for Coriander.

Jo on

Hey sorry I haven't been keeping up so well recently - has been a bit hectic in the last couple of weeks, but I've just caught up on all your adventures and it looks like you're still having a wonderful time and doing such a lot of different things:). The waterfalls you went to see look beautiful. And thanks for the postcard:) ! Look forward to the next post xxx

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