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Published: March 3rd 2014
Everything's in bloom here and fresh fruits are flooding the markets.
Just 5 days in Saigon and we were moving on knowing that we would swing back through the city on our return. We booked seats on a bus to Da Lat in the Central Highlands. We had been here before and that was half the reason we were going back. Saigon and Da Lat are as different as night and day. While Saigon his noisy and frenetic; Da Lat is a lazy, quiet place famed for its food markets and the surrounding farms. Terraced fields and green houses of extraordinary size fill every available square foot of arable land. Coffee is a major product so coffee bushes proliferate up to the edges of the roads.
We were riding on an overnight bus which had started out in the Mekong Delta. Overnight buses do not have normal seating. What they have are permanently reclined seats that would be comfortable but only if you were five foot two or shorter. As the trip was only 5 hours long we made the best of it. We started out driving through the industrial/ commercial Saigon districts which seemed to go on forever. Shops selling everything from tires to tarps to solar water heaters lined
Da Lat Lake
Beautiful walk around this lake takes about 90 minutes. For the adventurous; Rent a Swan boat and paddle around the surface.
the route. Everybody in Saigon is moving and they're all carrying something. Nobody walks around Vietnam empty-handed. True story: When the French commander placed his troops in Dien Bien Phu in 1954, part of the reason he picked the awful spot he did was because he didn't think that the Vietnamese had any artillery and if they did he didn't think they'd be able to get it up the mountains that surrounded his most excellent position. He'd be wrong. The Vietnamese took the guns apart, ferried the artillery and the shells up the mountains on their backs, reassembled them and won the day. As the United States was footing 80% of the French military costs in Nam at that time, Harry Truman was less than impressed with Belle France'.
Eventually the shops gave way to winding, rising roads. We climbed over mist covered ridges striped with waterfalls. The scooter tainted air of Saigon gave way to cool mountain breezes and the perfume of fruit laden foliage. Hardwood trees soared a hundred feet over our two-lane road.
The bus pulled into the Da Lat station on the edge of town. All major bus lines offer shuttle service for free
The Chinese Temple
Nice spot to enjoy the picture perfect gardens and watch the monks stroll by.
to your final destination. In our case: The Dreams Hotel. You do not need to hire a cab as the shuttle vans leave promptly and will deliver your bags and yourselves safely. The Dreams Hotel is a remarkable place. Run by Mrs. Dung (pronounced; Yoongk) and family, she hosted Karen and myself 3 years ago. Dreams is still as inviting as it was then. We took a large room on the 3rd floor. It was Karlie's first time in town so after we got settled into the hotel we gave her a quick tour. Da Lat is a miniature French city. Built by French colonials it has a distinct French air about it down to the little Eiffel Tower that sits on a hill overlooking the town. The city was untouched by the war and is perfectly intact down to its old French quarter. For more on the town and the hotel revisit my Blog entry here: http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Vietnam/blog-576930.html
Essentially the only thing that has changed, and it's not a minor issue for me, is that the early morning market has been moved indoors. A fact that I found out the hard way after I rolled Karlie and Karen out
Ride to the Chinese temple costs a buck.
of bed at 4 AM to see a show that no longer exists. Dreams Hotel room rates are exactly as they in were 2011 though Mrs. Dung has added 2 additional new buildings to her domain. One holds her new Dreams restaurant which we dined at on a number of occasions. There you can enjoy a dinner of fresh Sea Bass for $6 total. I have always had a problem with Da Lat's restaurants. The food has been pedestrian at best. You'd think that somebody could throw some decent food together considering the bounty of fresh ingredients in the area. Of all the people who visit Vietnam on holiday a very low percentage go to Da Lat. It just isn't on the backpacker punch list. As a result the few restaurants in Da Lat have had no reason to stretch their game as they know that the probability of a tourist returning after one meal is nearly nil. It was a pleasant surprise to find that a businessperson was finally stepping up to the plate as it were.
The last time we were in Da Lat the place was jumping. There were loads of foreigners in Vietnam and as
Karen and Karli at the Dreams Restaurant
Well appointed place with a great selection of food. It's downstairs from Dreams Hotel 2.
a result Da Lat was getting a pretty good stream of folks in. Today: Not so much. It's true of every place we've been. They're practically giving rooms away in Saigon ($6 per nite/ single) to no avail. Tourist numbers are way down and it's not because of the time of the year. We were here in February of 2009 and 2011 and it was completely different then. I can understand Europe suffering. When we were in Germany, Karen and I were spending an average of $250 per day and we were not living the high life. If we hadn't been hosted by our friends in Weisbaden our expenditures would have been above $350 per day. In Vietnam our costs with good hotels and meals is $60 per day and that's including shopping. We don't shop in Europe. Anymore. Here's food for thought: Germans tell us that Switzerland is too expensive for them. I don't even want to know.
We whiled away four days in Da Lat revisiting our favorite spots. Visited a temple we hadn't seen before and soaked up the sunshine. After recharging our batteries we bit the bullet and headed out to Nha Trang on the
The Big C
The Big C is a chain of supermarkets and dry goods stores. Think of a Vietnames version of Wal-Mart. This one in Da Lat is buried 4 levels underground. Quite popular with the teenaged Vietnamese.
Note: Folks have been inquiring as to why I haven't been covering the sights and hotels we've visited in detail. I do cover them but not here. For full reviews and photos of those places go to: http://www.tripadvisor.com/members-reviews/N0ahsdad
Shout out to Noah. Stay safe. John and Kelly: Pet Gaahl for us. To my Mom: We are fine and laying on the beach so it doesn't get any better than this. Jan: Here's the new blog. Happy now?
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