Touring Dalat the Easy Rider way (Day 10)
I departed Saigon on the 4th Sept for the three hundred odd km run to Da Lat - a trip which, naturally, took approximately 8 and a half hours. Things must have been slow for the tourist run to Da Lat this day because the huge tourist bus on which I was the only passenger, quickly became the Vietnamese local bus, picking up all and sundry along the way. Suddenly the AC went off, the windows were opened, and smoking became de rigeur. All of this was AOK with me! The locals fed me loads of fruit (with that salt/chilli combination sprinkled on top - yum!), looked after me at the numerous stops and constantly plyed me with cigarettes. It would have been "the best bus ride ever" TM if only it had ended after about 6 hours, but no, it just kept on and on and on.....
Da Lat is called the jewel of the Central Highlands and sits at an elevation of 1475m, surrounded by mountains. As we approached, the hillside road was lush with all sorts of verdant ferns and foliage, punctuated by the occassional outbust of beautiful purple flowers, and climbing higher and higher (before descending toward Da Lat) we found ourselves in the middle of a thunderstorm amidst the clouds. It was all quite magical. As I said, just the two hours or so down....
After that bus trip, I was quite happy to settle for the hotel which the bus dropped me at which charges an atsronomical 6 dollars a night! It's quite spartan but the bed is comfy as ( I have slept like a baby, apart from last night when the Gypsy Kings in the room down from mine decided to have a guitar strumming/bench drumming party to end all parties - which thankfully did end by 1am....I still cant get Smokie out of my head. Oh dear!) and the shower is hot and what more could u ask for? Once settled in, I went for my obligatory orientation stroll and bumped into the two Spanish girls from my Mekong tour. We went for a stroll together, took some happy snaps, and then went out separate ways again, until????
Da Lat is absolutely gorgeous. I fell in love when I arrived, but now have itchy feet again. There aint a lot to do @ night as there are very few tourists about, seemingly the only reason to keep any bars open. Thus I have been doing a lot of reading, which is fine, because seeing as though I am not drinking I am getting up at sparrow's fart (as they say - usually 5 or 6am), doing a morning constitutional around the 7km perimeter of the lake and settling down to breakfast to decide what to do with my day. A bit more about Da Lat before I go on. It was "discovered" by the French in 1893 and became a popular retreat from the stifling heat of Saigon for the French, as the temperature is very mild indeed. The French influence is everywhere, including in the miniature Eiffel Tower which sits behind the Post Office. Da Lat is also home to your more avant-garde types - well, thats what my book says! I guess evidence of that is in the Crazy House which I shall also get to.
On arrival I was pounced on by Hong, one of the original Easy Rider, freelance motorbike guides who do any sort of tour you can imagine. Its not uncommon for people who decided to do a day trip, ending up hiring them to take them the entire length of the country. Not this traveller, as their prices are through the roof by Vietnamese standards. I think it would be a really cool thing to do though, as they take you out of the way and you get to see the "real deal". however not in my budget! I did agree to do a day tour with them and splurged 20 dollars on that.
My driver was to be Hong, but on the morning, a dude called Duc arrived. Mr Hong had clearly overextended himself. Nonetheless, as they say here in South East Asia it was "same same but different". Duc was a wealth of knowledge. As we headed off we did the obligatory temple stop, just down the road from my hotel. The area was extensively bombed by the US (even though my Lonely Planet says it was "largely spared by aggreement", I am not sure what that means exactly). There is now only one building left from that era in that area, which they have left in place as a kind of memorial> We then headed out through the hills, along mountain roads, past farmers growing all manner of vegetables/fruits/flowers/coffee> I did attempt to take some video but gave up fairly early on in the venture due to the speed/the bends/the bumpy road etc.,
We visited the main minority group in the area, who have relocated, as they are of little importance to the Vietnamese government. The family I met have managed to do OK, with their small coffee growing area. The children were an absolute delight. Gran was picking the coffee beans, while the 15 Grandchildren hooted and hollered and were quite happy to pose for some Kodak moments. DOwn the road a little further I met another local family who were making interlaced bamboo trays (used for either coffee or silkworms) as a means of supplemental income. We sat with them and had a cup of tea. Really lovely. Duc also took me to a silkworm factory. Could be viewed as touristic but in view of everything else, and of how interesting it was, this wasnt the case at all. We also viewed the Elephant falls, complete with tackorama Elephant "statues", which were absolutely beautiful and then another temple, before heading back into town, trying to avoid the storm which was heading ourway.
Once back in town we headed to the Crazy House, a crazy piece of architecture which wouldnt still be standing except for the fact that it was built by the woman whose father happened to be Ho Chi Minhs successor. Thus she can get away with anything. And does! This place really cannot be described (once again, the photo issue), but it is an absolute maze of stairs and strange rooms with themes like the Kangaroo room (weirdest looking bloody Kangaroo in it), the bear room, the tiger room, the gourd room and the termite room (!) to name a few. Yes, you can stay here. At present they are extending, and, one of the builders - clearly seeing an oppurtunity - cleared a construction walkway for me to come across to the construction area, don a construction vest and have my photo taken (for a sum of course, saw that one coming). Wasnt really happy with the narrow walkway which joined two buildings with nothing underneath. but once Ihad committed myself I had to keep going. It was the going back which was the real heart starter as it was ascending between the two buildings and with space only for one foot at a time. I told Duc when I got back out to the bike, and he said the Vietnamese were like Monkeys. Well, I might have been born in the year of the monkey, but Ihave a hard enough time standing on solid ground! Scary...
The tour was a blast though, and worth a splurge just to shoot around the mountains. Will do the same in Sa Pa for about a third of the price, but I guess without the wealth of knowledge that Duc brought.
Again, best be off, as I am hogging the internet at the Peace Cafe. Off to spend the morning in the markets and take some pics, then heading to the beach tomorrow! I know, so me, but hopefully there will be some drunken tourists loitering about, as I am starting to feel like a Monk! Oh well, good place to feel that way....