We really enjoyed the three days spent in Dalat, the French Alps-like town of Vietnam. The slower pace of the town, the fresh mountain air, the cooler temperatures, and the chance to enjoy nature made us consider staying even longer, but we knew we needed to keep moving if we wanted to get up to the northern part of the country in our time frame.
Here are some of the highlights of our time in Dalat:
– Breakfast. Each morning we were greeted warmly by the owner of our hotel, the Thien An Hotel, as we sat down to a table overflowing with good food. He asked us if we wanted tea or coffee and if we wanted eggs. If yes to the eggs, he asked, “fried or scrambled?” From there we got down to eating everything we possibly could from the spread of watermelon, pineapple, dragon fruit, mango, passion fruit, bananas, yogurt, baguettes with spreads of cheese, butter, jam, peanut butter, Vegemite, and Marmite. We washed it all down with a tall glass of fresh passion fruit juice. It usually took us about 45 minutes to finish breakfast, a meal which at home takes us an average of 7 minutes to eat. This amazing breakfast gave us additional desire to stay longer in Dalat.
– Hiking Lang Biang Mountain. As we came up to Lang Biang Mountain by our hired moto we knew right away we were in the right place as there was a huge Hollywood-type sign on the side of the hill displaying the name of the mountain. We were both excited to get hiking and started walking up the road to find the trail head, which was more of a challenge than we expected. Eventually we decided to forge our own trail and headed into the woods, keeping the road and the noise of the Vietnamese tourist-filled trucks, which were heading to the summit, to our right. After an hour we reached the summit and joined the masses in admiring the view of the surrounding area. We were also privy to seeing a paragliding company launch off the side of the mountain–very cool. Also at the top was a horse and cart with which you could pose for photographs (the horse was real, but the cart was cemented to the ground–it seemed very odd); the local minority people weaving and selling their handmade purses, bracelets, wallets, etc; statues of the legendary Lang and Biang whose names the mountain carries; and a huge guitar made out of plywood and flowers.
– Elephant Falls. The falls were about 50 km in the opposite direction of Lang Biang. This 45 minute ride by moto went by relatively quickly as the scenery we were driving past was beautiful. We had to stop several times and point on our map to the name of the falls in Vietnamese and confirm we were heading the correct direction–one of the times we weren’t and we were thankful to be pointed the right way. The locals were all very kind and willing to help. From the top, the falls were less than appealing to look out with garbage strewn throughout the water. The view from the bottom, however, was much more pleasant. The falls were given their name because an elephant fell over the edge here. At least that’s what we like to think. =) Next to the falls we visited our first pagoda. Haven’t figured out the difference between a pagoda and a wat (temple), but it was interesting nonetheless.
– John’s Bearded Fame. As John’s beard has grown, so has the attention he receives. Dalat was the first place in Vietnam where people would regularly stare and would also comment as we walked by. It’s a good conversation piece, or at least gives people something to point and laugh at. It seems that Asian men have very little facial hair and those who do tend to grow long pointy beards rather than big bushy ones such as John’s. John has taken it in stride and hasn’t let the fame or shame go to his head.
– Cable Car. One of the newer attraction in Dalat is a gondola that goes from the main town to a lake a mile and a half away. The ride over the tree tops was a great chance to see the city from an aerial perspective including the terraced farming that covers the hillsides. The lake was just what we were looking for–a quiet place to sit and read. It made for a really nice afternoon. We were also able to find artichoke tea there which we had been looking to buy. This tea is a speciality of Dalat and has a smooth, mildly sweet flavor that we really enjoyed. It just so happened there was a woman with a tea stand at the end of the gondola ride so we made our purchase.
– Art Cafe. Dalat is the first place that made us realize Vietnamese food is really good and made us more interested in trying different dishes. The things we tried in HCMC were mediocre and made us long for Thai food (the best of SE Asia cuisine). The Art Cafe did us a great service by cooking up delicious meals. A couple of our favorite dishes so far: sweet and sour chicken soup, pho bo, and caramelized beef in a clay pot with steamed rice.
We left Dalat on Monday and hopped on a bus for what we anticipated being a 7 hour ride (according to our guidebook) to Nha Trang, a beach town on the South China Sea. Thankfully the drive only took about 4 hours (it’s funny how this keeps happening to us)! Nha Trang is a definite beach town. You come here to sit on the beach and not much else. And so we have been doing just that. We will leave tomorrow night and take the sleeper bus to Hoi An, about 12 hours north. Of course, with the way things have gone on buses, it’ll probably only be about 7 hours =).