Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Day 6 - Dalat

We got to Dalat at six or so in the morning. It was a little chilly, which was nice for me as I was wearing pants and my fleece top from the aircon on the bus but a little cold for Dad. We met a couple of Korean girls who weren't sure what to do and we waited around with them. A Vietnamese lady started yelling at another backpacking couple, telling them she loved them and other strange things until a security guard yelled at her and made her go outside. I was glad she was gone, but was also sorry for her because I didn't know if she was putting on an act to get money or genuinely mentally distressed. None of the locals gave her a second glance. 

After a while we found space on a transfer van which took us to our hotel. Unfortunately the hotel was closed and barred so we dumped our packs and sat down in the next door cafe, Balaboom Cafe, where I got some sort of fizzy called Sting. Dad got Sting sua, which turned out to be a bottle of Sting, a glass of ice and a glass of condensed milk. It wasn't really to my taste, although I liked the condensed milk (sua, meaning sweet) by itself. 

Con mèo.  Cat! I couldn't pet it because of rabies risk :(

We ended up in the cafe for a couple of hours, entertaining the local children with our foreign ways and me trying to take photos of the cat. Finally the hotel opened and we could check in. Our room didn't have AC, which worried me. I found out that it doesn't get warm enough to need it - a nice change from Saigon!
Having decided to go on a Groovy Gecko Tour, we headed to the office to decide on exactly which we'd take. Dad was quite keen to ride an elephant but the riding was only 1/2 hour and the rest of the tour sounded quite lame. In the end we decided on a half day tour of Dalat with canyoning the next day. 
We had a couple of hours until the tour so we ate at the Chocolate Cafe, with some more of the ubiquitous lemon juice and a pancake for me and Dad has forgotten what he ate. We wandered around for a bit looking for sandals to replace the ones that were bothering Dad, then realised we were running out of time. We rushed to an ATM to get money to pay for our tours, then Dad set off jogging down the hill to pay while I walked at a more leisurely pace. Dalat is a bit hilly, which makes for a nice change of terrain and makes the city look nice as the green spaces are more visible among the buildings. 

An example of the healthy eating I am doing over here
Our tour guide Tom and our unnamed driver picked us up from the hotel for a private tour as there were no other tourists on the trip that day. Our first stop was the cable car. At the station Tom showed us the city and explained a bit about its origin as a French city for the rich and its current abundance of vegetable and flower growing in many greenhouses. He showed us a communications tower nicknamed the Eiffel Tower for its imitation of the famous tower's shape. It rained a bit while we were looking but not enough to stop photos.
We then paid 50.000d (less than $3) each to hop on the cable car and admire the gorgeous view of the city and the forest surrounding it. It really was beautiful in a way I wouldn't really expect a city to be. There were tons of the pine trees that had been introduced by Europeans and flourished in the mountain climate. Dad and I both agreed we'd do that cable car ride again in a flash. Then Dad left his umbrella in the cable car :-(

This is Dalat

More Dalat

Tom met us at the bottom and took us to Paradise Lake, which while pretty was just a lake to me. I'm spoiled by our pristine lakes in NZ. We said hello to some boys splashing in the water - water that was MUCH warmer than many NZ lakes. 

From the lake we were taken to the summer palace of the last king of Vietnam, King Bao Dai. It was more interesting to me than I anticipated because it was modern (from the 1940s/50s) and not nearly as lavish as I'd expected. Almost all the rooms were bigger than a normal NZ home and there were many more of them, but they were furnished fairly simply and with none of the ostentatious clutter I'm used to from Vietnamese and Chinese royalty. Mind you, it was plenty ostentatious compared to the glimpses of normal Vietnamese homes I've seen. 

The summer palace

The funny shoe coverings we had to wear inside the palace

A beautiful map of Vietnam inside the palace

I cant remember whose bed this is - maybe one of the princesses - but ALL the rooms were colour co-ordinated. The heir's was yellow.
Our tour guide had told us not to take photos of any monkey and while I planned to obey him, I did want to at least see one. Despite staring into all the trees I found I saw no monkeys. It turned out he'd been referring to a statue of a monkey from a famous movie. Talk about disappointing! 

Our next stop was the old railway station. There is no railway station in Dalat anymore because the hills are too steep to make it worthwhile. The old trains needed special gear to hook to teeth in the railway to climb up the hills.

The old railway station

Finally we went to a pagoda where he showed us a giant Buddha, another giant reclining Buddha and another reclining Buddha that was in the process of being carved. There were also statues of scary guardians to punish those with evil intent and a dragon and a phoenix. Although I dislike the style of the Asian dragon and phoenix, I will not hesitate to say that the workmanship of the carvings were exquisite. Tom started to explain some panels showing Buddha's journey from rich, pampered prince to enlightened teacher but I couldn't resist trying to recall my teaching from high school and interrupted him to tell Dad the story. Tom laughed and said I know everything about Buddhism (not true!).

Giant Buddha being serene

Back to the hotel, where we sat around for a bit until I realised I needed shoes I could get wet the next day. We set off in the rain and quickly bought a new umbrella for Dad. We went by the bus office to buy tickets to Nha Trang then went to the market to search for shoes. We stumbled into the dried fruit stalls and were kept a while trying different dried things like lychees, kiwifruit, tomatoes and unidentifiable things. One red dried flower, which the seller called rose leaf, was nice enough that Dad bought some. We moved on. 

The snack stall - one of them, at least. There were probably at least 10, all selling identical products

 Apart from the flowers, the market yielded nothing useful. The shoes were too expensive for something I knew I might destroy and definitely wouldn't be able to walk in for long periods of time (yay crappy feet) so we ended up at the shops Dad had been looking for sandals in. I found some that for 160.000d were cheap enough and we went to Da Quy so I could try hotpot for the first time. 

Sadly it turns out that as much as I adore lemongrass as a smell, I really, really don't enjoy eating it. It was infused through my hotpot and made finishing it impossible. At least now I have tried it. 

Attractive but deceptive hotpot

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