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Published: January 26th 2014
After an excellent nights sleep in a comfortable bed, we were up early to investigate the city.
We arranged a motorbike rental through the front desk at Da Lat Hotel du Parc and within 10 minutes our ride for the next few days was delivered. We agreed on D80,000 (around NZ$5) per day and set off into the market area to find some breakfast.
A street cafe was serving up bowls of Pho so we had a couple of chicken ones with a coffee – D70,000 for the lot.
We only had the Lonely Planet and a map from the hotel to work off and as I was concentrating on trying not to get us killed, Jo was the tour guide and navigator.
Hang Nga Crazy House was the first stop – it is well named. Located just a few blocks from our hotel, the land area would be no more than 50 metres by 50 metres, but inside is a labyrinth of plaster and concrete pathways and bridges that link themed guest rooms. We got lost or accidentally doubled back more than once. Amongst the maze was the Kangaroo Room featuring a larger than life kangaroo with red lights for eyes. The beds in all the rooms were all rounded or reshaped to fit within the walls – none of which were straight. Off the sides of the pathways were small caverns where small tables and chairs waited for someone to need a drinks break. The gardens were random also and one of the features was a spiders web made of wire of varying thickness.
Our next stop was the Summer Palace of Bao Dai – the ex King of Vietnam. It really wasn’t overly exciting but the tacky features outside were worth a mention. Flowers arranged in heart shapes, young guys dressed in animal costumes and plaster elephants all waiting for their Kodak moments. Needless to say you won’t be seeing them here.
The Lonely Planet mentions very little about the cable car that was marked on the hotel map. We finally found a little bit of information on Tuyen Lam Lake – the destination of the cable car once we’d been on board for a few minutes wondering where we were going. The 2.3 kilometre cable car (gondola) travels over the top of the trees and vegetable patches in the Dalat Highlands. What neither of our guides mentioned much about was the fantastic Truc Lam Pagoda, an apparently still fully functional series of temples, pagodas and beautifully manicured gardens where monks walk amongst the tourists. We walked down from the pagoda on the hill to the lake that was created by a dam in 1980. We skipped the tour boats and stopped for a beer at a small shop where the entertainment was provided by the owners young kid who spent his time being a nuisance. We found out on the walk back up the hill that the cable car was closed for lunch from 1130 until 1330, as our bike was three kilometres away we had to wait or get a taxi back. We weren’t too upset and were rather enjoying the silence of the Truc Lam Pagoda. I took plenty of photos and we stopped for a basic lunch of pork and chicken with rice.
Four kilometres further out from the gondola is Datanla Waterfall, a nice spot made all the better by the means of access. For D40,000 (NZ$2.75) each, on top of the waterfall admission of D10,000, we rode a bobsled down to it. The sleds were not unlike the Rotorua or Queenstown luges in that they are gravity driven and the driver controls the braking, although these ones rode on tracks like a rollercoaster. I finished the ride with yells of “Again, again!”
We headed back into Da Lat and Jo expertly found our way to the Train Station, now only used for tourist trips to a nearby village. It was a neat little place and the old engines and carriages out the back were crying for something to do.
I was keen to see the Da Lat Nuclear Plant that was marked on the hotel map but it was very unassuming, we actually overshot it and went a good two or three kilometres past it before realising we must have done something wrong.
As the sun threatened to set, we past the University area and its thousands of mad bike riders. We finished the day at Linh Son Pagoda but after having such a great time at Truc Lam Pagoda earlier in the day we were a bit pagoda’d out so probably didn’t give it the time it deserved.
Back at the hotel we were approached by a member of Da Lat Easy Riders, an apparently loosely affiliated group of motorbike tour guides that we’d seen about on our travels around the city. As our flight back to Ho Chi Minh City was not until 1600 the following day we agreed to a Highlands Countryside tour at US$35. Jo would ride two-up with our guide Son and I’d ride the rental. We tentatively handed over a deposit of D200,000 (around NZ$15) after seeing his book where other travellers had written their prices and deposit amounts. We’d be made aware of whether we’d just blown the money at 0730 the following morning.
We jumped back on the bike and went to Trong Dong Restaurant – a Lonely Planet recommendation. The whole meal was the best we’d had in Vietnam. The starters were a shrimp paste on sugarcane that we made rice paper rolls out of with lettuce, cucumber, carrot and radish. These were followed by pork and shrimp toast, basically pork medallions with shrimps, fried in a bread outer. The mains were equally as good – I had a flavoursome chilli and lemongrass rabbit and Jo has squid stuffed with pork mince and herbs. Sensational. The staff were super friendly and the girl chatted with us for a while before helping me find the lights on the motorbike.
It had been a fantastic day with plenty to do and a superb meal to finish. We went to bed early again in anticipation of seeing more of the highlands area the next morning. Da Lat was a beautiful and comparatively quiet place compared to the other cities we’d been in Vietnam. We wanted to see more before we hit the noise and smog of HCMC.
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