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Published: March 8th 2012
On the way
2nd March ’12 Nha Trang to Dalat
Up bright and early to catch the bus to Dalat up in the Central Highlands and what a lovely bus it was! Plush comfy seats, a free bottle of water and a wet wipe each and it only took 4 hours! It even had a giant flat screen tv showing some kind of variety show, which didn’t have much variety apart from the fact it was different singers but all crooning very similar heart rending love songs. The only variation was a twilight themed act where they crooned but with fake blood and the James Bond number featuring a rather raunchy female. During the loo stop one lady snuck up behind me and I discovered she was comparing our heights – amongst the Vietnamese I am tall which is a first I can tell you! We even made it most of the way to Dalat before someone started throwing up. When we arrived we also were given a complimentary free lift to our hotel, so all in all a good journey.
We got checked into the Thanh Hu’o’ng Hotel (2 Bui Thi xuan St – incase anyone needs a cheap, clean place
Bo Dai's Summer Palace
to stay!) and so met our landlady Lily – a lovely young woman who seems to run the whole place singlehandedly. She started off by giving us a map and showing us where we were and informed us that dinner would be at 7 pm – just one of the things she does for her guests. We then discovered that Dalat is mosquito central! The buggers were everywhere – in the room, outside the room and despite mossie coils everywhere you just couldn’t get rid of them.
After dumping the bags we went out to have a look around and discovered that Dalat is a sprawling city built over several hills with the lake in the valley in the centre. We found the huge market, selling all the local fruit and veg, a fish and meat section which we didn’t linger at and a whole host of stalls selling what we discovered later were the local sweets, climbing up the steep steps we found people with piles of clothes for sale spread out on the ground. We stopped for a bit on a bench to watch the world go by and an old Vietnamese guy with very pink eyes
came up and shook our hands and wanted us to take a photo, but we didn’t have the camera and were not really sure what was going on.
On the way back to the hotel we called in at the Legend Beer restaurant just up the road for a drink and read the menu – intestines, pigeon, eel and tortoise fried with banana were just some of the delicacies on offer! Then I looked at the tank beside me and there was a tortoise just waiting to be selected and fried aaaarrrrggghhhh I nearly bought it just to set it free!
So the evening meal…. It got moved forward an hour as Lily was going to the temple and when we were led down the stairs into the family kitchen we got to meet the rest of her family, father, mother, some other female relatives and the cheeky little Lily – her niece, there was also an Australian man (another guest) who was rather odd. We westerners and little Lily were the only ones eating and the family just watched and kept trying to get us to eat more food! There wash a dish of strange stringy, floppy
Cable car station
green stuff, which I reckon was vegetable, a kind of soup with macaroni, a giant bowl of rice and a plate of tiny hard boiled eggs and three cubes of belly pork. We just had chopsticks to eat with and of course it all went everywhere! I managed to get away with one bowlful by topping it up now and then with a few bits, Howard wasn’t so lucky as the father insisted on keeping on refilling his bowl and he ended up with 3 before they let him stop!! A banana for pudding and they all seemed satisfied that we had finally had enough, bless them!
After that we walked back up several hills and dodged lots of scooters, found a bakery and tried a few cakes – all of which looked delicious and none of which particularly were, walked round the very busy market, walked back via the lake.
Little Lily (age 9) was still up and decided we were her source of entertainment and kept pretending to shoot us with water pistols, we arranged to go on a city tour the next day and eventually after a mossie killing session got to bed.
Is this safe???
March ’12 Dalat
We were up bright and early as we had to try and find some breakfast before our tour. We had read about one café up the road from us that was supposed to be good so we headed there. We sat at a table outside and next to us were 4 older French women who were all talking in French to the waiter – a rather camp Vietnamese boy complete with beret! Eventually we got served and finished our breakfast, museli for me (a token gesture to dieting) which meant that we had 2 pots of milk on the table, we got up to leave, Howards chair collapsed, he grabbed the table and everything went flying! How embarrassing!
The minibus turned up and started going around the city picking up the passengers, there was us, 2 Spanish lads and 10 Vietnamese newly-weds!! So the guide did all his spiel first in Vietnamese and then a quick English condensed version for us.
We visited Bao Dai’s Summer Palace (the last Vietnamese King) and it was as if it had stopped in a 1950’s time warp. For a palace it was very simply furnished, nothing lavish
or royal and with just a few photos on the wall. Outside I couldn’t resist having a photo taken on one of the scooters they had lined up, Holly would have loved mine, it was bright pink with a big bunch of pink flowers on the front!
We then were whisked off for a ride down the valley by cable car. I was slightly disturbed by the fact that the side of our car was a shattered piece of perpex held together by a few screws. The cable car took us down to the Truc Lam Meditation Centre, which was a beautiful, serene and calm place – even with all the tourists zooming about it. It was a temple with lovely grounds, lots of simple statues and pretty flower and rock gardens. There was also a large pond filled with lotus flowers but strangely fenced off with steel normally used to reinforce walls! There was also a stunning view out over the Tuyen Lam Lake.
Back on the minibus and we were off again, this time to see the Dantala Waterfall, where the guide told us they had a roller coaster bob sleigh ride to take you down.
Well the thought of a roller coaster had me worrying and when he added it was one person per tray and you had to do the braking yourself I had visions of yet more broken or sprained body parts and refused to do it, much to Howard’s annoyance! So we walked down and of course we saw the roller coaster and it wasn’t really one and I could have easily done it, much to Howard’s annoyance again. Anyway the waterfalls were lovely – there was a series of them and the lowest ones were reached by a cable car which we didn’t have enough time to do which was a real shame. We did however get the ‘roller coaster’ plastic trays back up again which was pretty tame – much to Howard’s annoyance yet again!
Then it was back in the minibus and back into the city for lunch where the guide for no obvious reason segregated us westerners from the newly-weds. Astonishingly this restaurant had run out of spring rolls – a staple of Vietnamese food so Howard ended up with a bit of the toughest, stringiest beef known to man, even my chompers couldn’t deal with it
Valley of Love
and that’s saying something!
Before the Spanish lads could even get their iced coffee it was ‘Blue Coral (name of the tour company) back on the bus’ and we all piled in and the bus was off before the guide had even got the door shut – this was now the trademark of the day. We swiftly felt as if we were in an episode of Treasure Hunt as we hurtled from site to site, leaping in and out of the bus with me shouting ‘go go go’ and expecting Aneka Rice to appear at any second! However in between the hurtling and leaping we did have some calm bits where we were able to view things (no clues in sight though).
So onward to the main attraction of the day – The Valley of Love!!! Yes a kind of mini theme park where students go ‘to talk and may be find their love’! hmmm well it was actually a park type area full of places to have your photo taken or to pose for photos and all with the theme of love. The benches were all designed to look like a courting couple and there were little
Ha ha ha
fixed love swings. The park started at the top of a large hill and meandered down to a large lake. At the top of the hill was a mini fairground area with a few rides, games and stalls, all of which were either unmanned or had no customers. Down the hillside was a very steep flower garden complete with secluded benches and at the bottom the lake, where you could hire swan boats – pedallo’s shaped like swans, presumably so you could get out of sight and do more canoodling. Vietnamese people must really like their swan boats as every lake or stretch of water seems to have them!
Outside of the entrance to the Valley of Love were lots of stalls and most of them seemed to be selling over- sized Barbie type dolls with flowing blonde locks wearing very elaborate hand knitted dresses, we were informed these are a speciality of Dalat and indeed one of our newly-wed couples bought one and proudly showed it off to the bus.
Then it was blue team go go go and we were off again this time to visit ‘the hand embroidery picture flower gallery’, which was one of
those god awful places that are basically just a big shop. They made flower arrangements and kind of decoupage pictures out of flowers that are preserved with chemicals. We were not there for long thankfully.
Then it was another stop, this time at another big shop type place where we got to try the famous Dalat Artichoke tea (tasted woody) and the famous Dalat sweets – which were like dried fruits and vegetables with sugar and were quite nice.
The final stop of the day was at a temple with the largest Buddha in Vietnam which you could actually go inside – only it was shut when we got there! The temple was open though and next to it was one of the most poignant things I have seen here so far, 3 bells made out of bombs and a sign explaining that one of the monks at the temple had been collecting old bombs to turn something bad into something good, I was moved.
That night Little Lilly would not leave me alone, we had games of pretend shoot outs with her water pistol followed by about a million rounds of guess which hand the bit
of paper is in. She kept on cuddling me, I am convinced it is because she doesn’t come across many fat people! She gave us each a banana on which she wrote your banana in English and made it clear they had to be eaten!
Next day we were up bright and early yet again – this time it was because our room was at the front of the hotel and the road noise was so loud.
We had a great day, we went up to old Dalat Railway Station where they had an old steam engine to play on and believe you me we and lots of others did, posing for photos. They also had restored a section of the track so you could take a ride out to the town of Trai Mat. This was billed as a very scenic journey and no doubt it was once upon a time, now though the hills and valleys around Dalat have all been covered with poly tunnels where flowers, fruit and veg are grown and there is not a lot else to see. At Trai Mat we had 30 minutes before the train did the return journey and
we were pointed in the direction of the pagoda. Well, all the passengers got off and kind of wandered along the road not sure what we were looking for, when we came across a turning with an elaborate entrance. We walked down the alley and then came across one of the most amazing buildings I have seen! Linh Phuoc Pagoda – it was a collection of buildings, a temple, a huge pagoda, a collection of gigantic wooden carvings and the most enormous yellow standing Buddha.
The most striking thing about the temple and pagoda was the decoration – everything was covered in mosaics, even the ornamentations were mosaicked it was kind of hideously wonderful if that makes sense. We went up the pagoda via a very steep narrow spiral staircase – I only made it up 2 levels but did see the giant bell covered in post it note prayers and walked across to see the giant yellow Buddha, which was yellow from the millions of flower heads it was covered in! I then followed 3 ladies back down the stairs and one of them stopped and kissed every single one of the ornamentations –mythical creatures and I guess
Poly tunnels everywhere
Buddhist saints, on the way down. Meanwhile Howard climbed right to the top and said there was a statue of Buddha on every level and fantastic views.
It really was such an unexpected splendiferous find, in such an ordinary, dusty ramshackle town. It was such a shame we didn’t have longer to spend there but as there was only 3 trains a day we had to head back to catch ours.
We seemed to got a lot faster on the way back and there was a lot of tooting as we approached road crossings but unlike on the way there, when we had to do an emergency stop for a lorry that shot across in front of the train! This time there were no near misses. When we got back to Dalat station there was a bride and groom in full wedding gear climbing and posing on the old steam train.
We walked out of the station to find somewhere for lunch and we were just ambling along when we got called over by a lady who had a stove going outside what looked like a very typically Vietnamese eating place. We went over and she showed
us she had pork chops on the barbecue type cooker and soon we were sat down on the tiny plastic chairs eating pork chop, rice, green beans and salad. I have to say it was gorgeous and with a couple of drinks it cost us £2.80! I was going to have a cigarette and the old boy (presumably the father of the cook) came up with an ash tray, so I offered him a cigarette which he took with much grinning and he then shook Howard’s hand and it was kind of like we had made a friend for life!
We said our goodbyes and then managed to catch a taxi back to town to go and visit our last must see place in Dalat – The Crazy House or Hang Nga Crazy House to give it it’s full name. This was started in 1990 by Mrs Dang Viet Nga who trained in architecture in Moscow. One of her earlier projects was pulled down as the People’s Committee thought it looked anti socialist, but it’s unlikely that that would happen again as her father became president after Ho Chi Minh died.
The Crazy House is an amazing place
that kind of reminded me of the Forbidden Corner meets Gaudi with a touch of Dali thrown in. It was originally designed to attract people back to nature and it is a warren of small rooms, walkways and corridors all kind of inter linking. You can actually stay the night in the rooms, but no doubt have to be up early before the tourists start arriving! There is a giant giraffe whose back you can walk up to reach other sections and lots of odd little statues and rooms within strange buildings. You end up twisting and turning and doubling back to see the structures fully and some of the heights you walk over on narrow staircases are quite scary.
It was an amazing place and more is still being added which means you can be walking along and suddenly there is no end, just a drop off. Well worth seeing!
We walked back into town via a huge French cathedral (which was shut) and down through what must have been a lovely park but now looks really neglected presumably as they have torn a great section off it up and fenced it off ready for some flash
Amazing flower Buddha
new hotel development. By the time we reached the lake we were boiling hot and ready for a drink so we stopped at the one lakeside restaurant and had a drink taking in the view.
We were just nicely relaxed when suddenly a bloody bride and groom plus photographer and attendant arrived and decided the table behind ours was the perfect spot to take their photos, so somewhere in Vietnam will be a wedding album complete with pictures of Melanie and Howard trying to look unobtrusive behind the bride and groom, poor sods! I really had to work hard to resist the temptation to pull a stupid face!!
When we got back to the hotel the lovely Lily and Dad caught us off guard and invited us to dinner with them to have ‘special food’ and wouldn’t take no for an answer! We really didn’t want to but there was no way not to without causing offence so 5.30 saw us down in the kitchen. This time we were joined by a young English lad who had only just arrived at the hotel. He was travelling for 3 months before going home after having spent 2 years working
The Crazy House
as a teacher of English in South Korea, so we had a pretty interesting conversation.
Before we went down to the kitchen I had been repeating the mantra, please let there be no insects, please let there be no insects – well the menus round Dalat had been very strange to say the least. There was no need for it though this time as we were served a wonderful feast with lots of gorgeous recognisable meat dishes! No need to encourage us to eat more bowlfuls this time.
So after tea Howard and I staggered round the Dalat circuit and up to the market where we managed to buy some packs of the famous Dalat sweets as a present for Lilly and her family. We couldn’t get over how lovely they all were and how they welcomed you in and made it feel more like a homestay than staying in a hotel.
Later that night Lilly asked us if we would help her with her ideas for improving her business. She told us she planned to offer cookery classes (something we hadn’t seen in Dalat but had everywhere else in Vietnam) complete with trips to the local
The Crazy House
markets/farms to buy the ingredients, to create an office to offer tours with a more personal touch, she really wants her customers to get a taste of Vietnamese culture and tradition and she had many ideas of how to achieve this. She basically wanted to know if we thought they were a good idea and if we could offer any ideas for improvement, so we did our best to help and encourage her.
The next morning was another early start, to catch the bus to Mui Ne. We said our goodbyes to Lilly and her family, had a big hug, gave her present and had to be off before she could protest! We both really wish her well for the future, she is a lovely lady who works damn hard and deserves success!
5th March ’12 Dalat to Mui Ne
Today’s journey was buy overgrown minibus or should that be very small coach with no boot. This meant the luggage was all shoved through one of the back windows and piled up on the back row of seats.
As there were already a lot of people on board by the time the bus got to us
Just a few of the kites
we ended up on the now back row. An Italian girl and I were the lucky winners of the seats over the wheel arches which meant the 4 hour journey was spent with our knees somewhere round our ears! Howard fared slightly better as he had the aisle seat but he then became the target for all the cases and rucksacks that were bouncing around.
The scenery once we were out of Dalat was lovely, all green mountains, valleys and rivers and presumably how the Dalat area used to look. It was extremely windy and bumpy as we made our way down towards the coast but the driver was taking it easy so it was ok. That was until after we had our wee stop. Then he drove like the wind and consequently the luggage was thrown around and cases kept launching themselves off the back, Howard, the Italian girl and I had to be on guard most of the time as you never knew when you were likely to be hit in the back of the head! In the end we pulled the 2 worst offenders off the pile and stuck them on the floor, the driver never once acknowledged what was going on.
It was with quite some relief that we pulled into Mui Ne!
Mui Ne is a former fishing village and basically consists of one very long road with hotels and restaurants on the sea side and restaurants and small shops on the opposite side.
We stayed at a lovely little hotel called Sunrise, with a lovely clean room, with air con and a comfy bed!! It had a great pool with sun beds then a little gate onto the beach – wonderful!
Our first view of the beach was slightly bizarre as everywhere we looked there were kite surfers – in the sea, on the sand, everywhere. Any one not attached to a kite but in the sea seemed to be at risk of being mown down by them or clobbered over the head by one of the enormous kites if it fell into the sea, it didn’t look worth the risk! So sunbeds watching the antics at sea seemed the best bet.
6-8th March ’12 Mui Ne
What has happened????? No one is kite surfing and we can’t find out why!!! It’s a mystery alright but it does mean it is safe to go into the sea, hooray! So all we did for 2 days is keep our eyes peeled for a free sunbed, preferably with a mattress, as the Ruskies have landed and seem to have the same attitude to sunbeds as the Germans, go in the pool, lie on the beach, swim or jump around in the enormous waves, wander down the beach to the bar for lunch, go out for tea and then repeat it all again!
And tomorrow it’s off to Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City!
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