Published: January 17th 2010December 24th 2009
There were miles of these just outside Dalat. They grow flowers and vegetables - pretty much any kind of plant you can imagine.
After I got in touch with the tour company about my paintings, and dropped my laundry off with the hotel (20,000 VND per kilo. So cheap.) I went for a walk in Dalat. I had high expectations. I was staying two nights here. I walked around the lake and around the town a bit, but the motorbikes made it so busy and so loud I couldn't enjoy it. I was so disappointed! I had a great dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant and went to bed. I hadn't slept much on the bus.
The next day I went via motorbike with my 20 year old guide, Pho, who was cute as he could be. For the day long tour, I think I paid 317,000VND or about 17USD. At 8:30 we took off to visit one of the many greenhouses that grows flowers outside of Dalat. Dalat is famous for its flower gardens and exports flowers to all of Vietnam, as well as many other countries in Southeast Asia. We had a small breakfast at the greenhouse and then we went to a coffee plantation. Vietnam is the world's second largest exporter of coffee afer Brasil. Basically, coffee grows everywhere in the
highlands and lots of different people own small to large plots of land where they grow coffee. At this time of year, coffee beans with the husk still on them are being dried in everyone's front yard. No one has landscaping. They just dry coffee beans. It smelled nothing like coffee, but more like a brewery, when we drove past all the houses drying coffee. The trees now have flowers on them that take 8 months to turn into coffee beans. Pho said a coffee tree takes 5 years to produce its first bean. After drinking some coffee at a roadside cafe we were off to a cricket farm. I asked, "Why do people need so many crickets here?" to which Pho responded nonchalantly, "To eat, of course." O-kay. It ended up being a small building with loads of plastic tubs half full of leaves, and inside were loads of crickets chirping away. I said, "Why don't they just jump out and hop away so they don't get eaten?" to which Pho responded, "Because they don't know they can. They were raised here in these tubs." O-kay. There were also some vicious looking black scorpions in one container. I asked
These are all coffee trees.
Pho if the Vietnamese eat these too. He said, "Yes, the Vietnamese eat anything, but I won't eat a scorpion. Never!" Then he proceeded to eat five fried crickets that were cooked especially for me, but I wouldn't eat them. He dipped them in chili sauce first.
After the crickets we went to Elephant Waterfall, which, while pretty and quite powerful, was not that impressive in the grand scheme of waterfalls, but I enjoyed the short trek. Then we went to a Bhuddist temple and saw a huge, white Bhudda statue that is fairly new. I must admit, these temples in Asia are all starting to look the same except for the huge, truly specatacular ones like Angor Wat in Bangkok. I always try to be respectful and show interest, but I won't go out of my way to see anymore of them unless they are famous for their grandeur.
We had lunch at a Vietnamese place that was less than impressive. The area near elephant waterfall is small and undeveloped and the businesses there, which are very few, are just there to accommodate the few tourists that come to the falls and the temple. We headed back
to Dalat to see the Crazy House next, which I was really keen to see. I saw it in a photo and it reminded me of some of Gaudi's work in Barcelona. Its actual name is Hang Nga Gallery and Guesthouse and it was designed and built, and is still being built, by Mrs. Dang Viet Nga whose father was the successor to Ho Chi Minh himself. She got a PhD in architecture in Moscow and lived there for 14 years. Normally the Vietnamese don't go for such unusual structures, but she got away with it because of her father's influence. The house has a kind of Alice in Wonderland feel to it and they rent 10 guestrooms that are just as funky on the inside as outside. There is a large garden in the center of the buildings that is are all connected by funky bridges, and they are adding on a section that looks even more like Gaudi's work than the first part. I enjoyed walking around, took lots of pictures, and thought it was worth the visit, but I was tired and didn't feel the need to stay there more than 20 minutes. Pho then took me
Flowers turn to coffee beans
It takes 8 months for these flowers to turn into coffee beans that are ready to pick.
to the flower garden, where I had to buy a ticket (I also had to pay for lunch and coffee, and he paid for the crickets, so I am not really sure what was included in the price of my tour...) The flower garden was beautiful, but again, I didn't feel the need to stay there all day.
Back at my hotel, I asked if my paintings had arrived. Nope. They called the tour company for me again and they assured me they had found them and would deliver them the next day to Mui Ne, my next destination. The beach. I went to dinner and had an awesome veggie pizza with a mountain of veggies on top, felt absolutely no need to walk around the city anymore, and went to my room to relax. Dalat, unfortunately, has also changed a lot since my 2005 Lonely Planet was written and it was not worth the 17 hour bus ride to get there. I wish I had skipped it and gone straight to the beach, or the Mekong Delta which I had planned to see on this trip, but I was getting tired and just didn't have the energy to
This little guy helped out on the coffee plantation and nearly ended up in my pocket. I wanted to keep him.
deal with getting there.
The next morning I got on the bus for the five hour ride to Mui Ne. I was tired of buses by now, and the horrible bathrooms we had no choice to use at the bus stop cafe places, but I was also ready to leave Dalat. The bus was a small one and it was packed with people and bags. I sat with a Swiss family and didn't speak for the entire bus ride. I just kept my eyes closed and tried not to get sick, but when we stopped on the side of the road for a pee break (no bathrooms here!) and a Vietnamese woman with two kids threw up right in the middle of the road, I almost lost it. I saw lots of Vietnamese women throw up on this trip, and I wondered about it, but they simply aren't used to riding in closed vehicles, so they get sick.
Anywho, I would be glad to reach Mui Ne where it was hot and the beach was beckoning. And hopefully, my paintings were waiting for me...
There are more photos below