Cooling down in Dalat

Trip Start Nov 06, 2012
Trip End Feb 01, 2013

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Flag of Vietnam  , Lâm Ðồng,
Saturday, December 8, 2012

To escape the heat and mayhem of HCMC, we hopped on a plane for the short flight to Dalat. And the flight really was short - as soon as the plane had reached cruising altitude, it was time to land!

We had been told by the receptionist in our hotel in HCMC that Dalat was beautiful and Vietnam’s most popular honeymoon destination. We had also been told that it was considerably cooler - we can confirm that it is indeed cooler, more akin to a British summer than the Asian oven we’ve been cooking in to date and so a lot more comfortable for exploring.

On arrival in Dalat, a kamikaze taxi driver (seriously, why do they all drive like lunatics in this country?!) speedily took us from the airport to our hotel. The cooler air and green mountain scenery made for a great change and we decided before we’d even got to the city that we’d like it!

A, security being his middle name, was delighted to find a safety deposit box in the room, but quickly found out that it didn’t work. Reception were more than happy to send someone to fix it and it somehow ended up that about 20 of the hotel staff came to our room to to fix the safe, while A was in his pants (“even if this is cooler love, I am still boiling”).  For whatever reason, A decided to thank each of the hotel staff by giving them coconut candy we’d bought in the Mekong Delta. The 20 or so staff left our room to a chorus of giggles - we weren’t sure if it was because of the coconut candy or seeing A in his pants...

Dalat lived up to its reputation and our first impressions of it. Just to make sure we didn’t forget we were in Vietnam, the traffic in Dalat was still insane and they all drive like maniacs. 

Before coming to Dalat, we’d heard about the Easy Riders, a group of about 30 bikers who are experienced English speaking tour guides who you can hire for day trips around the area to see the “real Vietnam”. We decided to look into one of these trips and headed towards their office in Dalat. The LP wasn’t kidding when it said that there’s no need to do this as “they will find you”. Within two minutes of leaving our hotel, an Easy Rider named Loi, pulled up beside us! After speaking to him for just a few minutes, we did something we wouldn’t do anywhere in Europe and gave him a USD 20 deposit for a full tour the following day. Loi was more concerned about us knowing he was genuine than we were and insisted we take his Easy Rider ID overnight as assurance - we are going to have to start building up our suspicion of everyone and everything before we come back home.....

The next day, Loi rocked up with his friend Kenny and their two bikes. It was only then, given what we’d seen of Vietnam’s roads (and A having seen an accident on them everyday since we’d arrived in the country), that we fleetingly questioned whether this was a good idea....too late for that so V hopped on the back of Loi’s bike and A grabbed tightly hold of Kenny. 

Fairly early into the trip, Loi’s phone started vibrating and V was relieved that he didn’t appear to be bothered about answering it (he appeared to be more concerned about his “precious” cargo) but, true to Vietnam biker form, he delved into his jacket pocket (V all the while thinking, he’s not going to answer it, surely?), checked who was calling and answered. Once that call was done with, he then turned on the camera function and started waving it around to take photos of A on Kenny’s bike.......hardly “safety first” the mantra which he had quoted to us!

Loi and Kenny were great fun and the bikes were very comfortable. They threw in a couple of tourist must-sees, such as a pagoda overlooking a beautiful lake (very peaceful with beautiful gardens) and the Elephant waterfalls, where we had a great time climbing on the rocks around the base of the falls. For the rest of the day, they took us off the beaten-track into the hills around Dalat. We rode through and stopped in some ethnic minority villages and Loi, who is from an ethnic minority village in the North of the central highlands, told us more about their lifestyles, customs and relationship with the Vietnamese. The areas we were taken to are sometimes closed to foreign tourists due to disquiet between the villagers and the Government over land disputes and so we feel very lucky to have been able to go there.

We stopped to see women in conical hats picking and weighing lettuce, popped into a cat’s ear mushroom farm where Kenny explained the growing process and a silk farm, where Kenny took us through the process of feeding the silk worms to the finished product (we’d never been to a silk farm before and were blown away by this). We also passed numerous stretches of pavement with sheets of coffee beans laid out to dry in the sun and stopped at a coffee plantation, where Loi explained how the French had introduced coffee growing to Vietnam during the colonial years and we sampled “weasel” coffee (very nice!). What was new to us was our discovery that Vietnam is the second largest coffee producer in the world. We also stopped at a flower farm, where Kenny told us about the flower industry in Dalat and we saw some of the beautiful flowers being packed for transportation further afield. Between all of these stops, we were mesmerised by the countryside - lush and green and full of people in conical hats working on the land, tending different kinds of crops. 

True to form, we continued our gastronomic tour of SE Asia in Dalat and sampled a lot of the local cuisine. The produce in the market and on the streets here is markedly different to what we saw in HCMC (or anywhere else we have been on this trip) - lots and lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, candied fruits, tea (especially artichoke) and coffee. On the first night, V had Dalat vegetables with rice and was blown away by the them - so fresh and tasty and a nice change. One afternoon, we came across a woman who was selling sua dau nanh, a hot soy milk drink, which is a local speciality. We ordered one to taste test and, after having had a sip each, promptly asked for a second one! It seemed to be soy milk, sugar and lemongrass and was very tasty! 

Still on the topic of food, breakfast at our hotel deserves a mention. The hotel staff appeared to have taken a shine to us (may be linked to A’s supply of coconut candies/ his pants!) and, on our first morning, one of the owners kept bringing plates of food to our table (we weren’t sure why as it was a buffet and we’d already eaten all we needed). She seemed offended when we told her we were full (and she still continued to bring us more food) and so we felt obliged to eat all of it. We ended up waddling out at the end of breakfast wondering what was going on. We passed another Western couple on our way out, who were looking slightly bemused, so we can only assume they were having a similar experience. After our day with Loi and Kenny, we were exhausted and so opted to sleep in. At 8.25am, reception called to check if we were okay and if we’d be coming to breakfast (which started ridiculously early and so finished at 8.30am). A reassured the worried woman that we were fine and were having a lazy day. Something was lost in translation as half an hour later, there was a knock at the door and two hotel staff brought in two trays laden with food for us. All very bizarre but very thoughtful! We don’t think we look as if we need feeding up (especially after five weeks away gorging on delicious food) - they must think Westerners eat LOADS!

To work off all this breakfast, we’ve decided to cycle to Nha Trang from here. Hopefully the legs are up to's been a while since we did the London to Brighton...

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