Flower power Vietnamese style

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Flag of Vietnam  , Lâm Ðồng,
Monday, December 5, 2005

Dalat is a lakeside town in the central highlands of Vietnam, a place non-existent until the French established a settlement here to escape the heat of the Mekong Delta late in the late nineteenth century. I was looking forward to escaping the heat of South East Asia too - it's been almost six months of humid, 32 degree celsius weather for me - and a change is as good as a holiday!

Some things don't change however. Like the cheeky bastard at the An Phu travel agent in Mui Ne who sold me a $7 open bus ticket to Dalat - $1 extra than the normal fee because I would be riding a direct bus that wouldn't have to wait for passengers from Nha Trang to join us for the climb up the mountains. "Bus arrive Dalat at 10.30am" he said. I knew he was full of shite but I took the gamble anyway, and wasn't surprised when we ended up waiting for Nha Trang passengers and then arriving at Dalat at 2.15pm, hours late. So if you ever travel in Vietnam, do not use the An Phu travel agency (visible in most tourist towns), or their Open Bus. This is my small way of protest and revenge because any other method is pointless.

Issues getting there dissolved however because the place is very pleasant and also because I met a great Dutch brother and sister travel team on the slow bus up. Jasper and Marjorie were on a 2-3 week break from the early winter blues of Amsterdam and the three of us made a tight team around town. We had a variety of adventures so again I will break this stop into a couple of entries to lighten the reading load.

Dalat is around 2,000 metres above sea level and is surrounded by temperate forests, lakes and waterfalls. It's often referred to as the City of Eternal Spring (due to its year round flower-scape and industry), is the favoured honeymoon spot in Vietnam, and is also a haven for artists and other hippy types. Hunters have cleaned out the surrounding countryside unfortunately, but tourists still flock here for the colonial architecture and natural wonders that abound.

Once called 'Le Petit Paris', the city even features a miniature Eiffel tower and prominent French-style cathedral. Most of the other architecture is pretty kitsch, resembling and often surpassing the uniquely horrendous modern styles found throughout other parts of Vietnam that the country has somehow developed in recent times.

However the place is colourful and chaotic; with a comfortable feel and offering a variety of activities for travellers of our kind, so we ended up staying for three nights in the lead up to the biennial Dalat Flower Festival (2005).

Initial forays around town took us to the central markets with their myriad flower, clothing and bric-a-brac stalls, as well as some fine food vendors. Apparently these have tamed down a little in recent years, less stuffed animals with lightbulbs in their mouths are in evidence nowadays.

Another place I was fortunate and happy to find was an obscure but attractive pagoda, very much in the traditional Chinese style of heavy dark wood and bright red trimmings (whatever that style may be!). The ceremonial walkway to the entry is impressive between the marbled pillars and amongst a forest of eucalypts, the entryway is imposing with its solid wood doors and bold gold scripting, and the internals are quiet and dignified, with a large but understated dark Buddha statue in the main hall and bronze warrior figures in the adjacent alcoves. I was the only visitor at the time but was glad to finally find a temple in Asia that is serene and stately and that hasn't given way to garish decoration and unrestrained trade at its doors.

Our other main job early in the stay was to seek out the famed 'Easy Riders' - a loose franchise of older motorbike riders that offer visitors distinctive tours around Dalat and the surrounding countryside. This wasn't hard as some 'preferred' and respected riders of the 60 strong team were stationed out the front of our (highly recommended) hotel - Dreams (1). In the end we decided to take the extended $18 tour with Joseph and his two friends, and this very interesting day I will detail for you in the next entry. Read on...

Next entry -> around Dalat with the Easy Riders

Did you know..?

The first passport was issued in 1540 by the Privy Council in England. The sovereign (King or Queen) personally signed all passports issued until 1794, when the Secretary of State took over the role.
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