Due to various technical problems this is the third time writing this post so my descriptions here will be rather brief. Note to self, off-line blog programs all suck.
I went to the mountain town of Da Lat next which was a good change of temperature from the brutal heat of Saigon. I traveled there in a sleeping bus (during the day) which is my favourite form of transportation to date on this trip. But I think this only applies to sleeper buses in Vietnam, the ones I’ve seen elsewhere have beds that lay completely flat which cannot be comfortable if you’re travelling while awake. The ones in Vietnam can make it down almost flat but you can also just comfortably recline and read. The only downsides are that they are a bit short and narrow for a western sized male, and there is no place to store your carry-on bag as there is a second level of beds where overhead storage would normally be. But you can put your bags behind your seat as long as you aren’t fully reclined.
Shot of the inside of one of these buses and the outside:
I ended up arriving in Da Lat in the late afternoon, so I only had time for a quick walk before sunset, checking out the canals in the city:
That evening I went to a bar near my hotel where I discovered what happens when an introvert opens a bar. First off, the owner has these dark windows and barely any lighting visible from the outside, so the place looks perpetually closed. If you walk by and he likes the look of you (i.e. you look quiet), he’ll open the door and beckon you inside. If on the other hand you’re in a large group, he’ll make no effort to get you inside. I was there for three hours editing photos and for all of that time, I was the only customer. By the end of the night we were the best of friends, he had me behind the bar making drinks, and he posed for a bunch of pictures. Saigon Nite is the oldest bar in the city, but I have no idea how he gets enough customers to stay in business. He does mix a good drink at reasonable prices so perhaps he’s busier during the high-season.
The following day I rented a scooter to check out the sights in town. My earlier comments apply in relation to the absolutely reckless driving in Vietnam even in the sleepy town of Da Lat. If you feel confident riding a scooter, go for it but always anticipate people doing the craziest thing possible at any given moment.
My first stop was the Hang Nga Guesthouse that is colloquially known as Crazy House. The site has a bunch of different buildings designed by Vietnamese architect Dang Viet Nga. She cites Dali and Gaudi as her main inspirations and has designed the buildings to look like houses out of a fairy tale. They are certainly not my idea of aesthetically pleasing, but they are still worth visiting–though perhaps not with really young kids as there are all sorts of elevated walkways with very low hand-railings. As the name would suggest it is a functioning hotel, so you can stay there from $30-80 USD a night, but I wouldn’t recommend it given that it is teeming with tourists during business hours:
One of the rooms, and another reason not to stay at this hotel. That bear would scare me half to death if I ran into it at night on the way to the bathroom.
My next stop was the Bao Dai Summer Palace which was the summer home of the last king of Vietnam. But for the throne room the place was actually rather modest:
A shot from my ride to my next destination. I was told that the odd structure will eventually house a mall that will mostly be underground:
I next went to the old railway station that was built by the French in 1938. It is a lovely building, probably the highlight of Da Lat, and although it is no longer connected to the national railway system, they run an old train between Da Lat and the nearby town of Trai Mat, a seven kilometre ride away. The ride itself gets old pretty fast, but it’s worthwhile because the destination town is really interesting. When you arrive don’t follow the hoards of tourists to the main tourist attraction, Chua Linh Phuoc. Save yourself 15 minutes to check that out, but also walk through the narrow streets of the town, and go to the monastery on a hill, across from the railway station.
Photos from the Da Lat station, the train ride, and from Trai Mat:
Thanh that Da Lat, the temple on a hill:
Chua Linh Phuoc, the main tourist attraction in the city:
Standing by the train:
Here’s what the train ride looks and sounds like:
I finished the day off by going to the city’s botanical gardens. The site is really large, but it was a little bit on the cheesy side for my personal tastes:
A temple near my hotel:
That evening I went to a place called The Hangout. The bar doesn’t look like much, but the owner plays excellent music and has quite the varied collection. At one point I noticed that a piece of old music he was playing was sampled in a rap song and I asked him about it. Next thing I know he’s playing that rap song from I Am, off of a record from 1997. To add to the obscurity factor, I Am is a French rap band, so he knows his stuff:
A shot of Da Lat at night from my walk to the hotel:
The following morning I booked an organized tour to take me to some of the sights on the periphery of the city. The first two stops were uneventful, we started off at a nursery for flowers and at a nearby traditional village:
Next, we ventured off to a farm that specializes in local delicacies. There were plenty of crickets, worms, hedgehogs, and other cute critters raised for food:
Turns out that Mexican crickets taste the same as Vietnamese ones. Take note for your next cocktail party, the appropriate garnishes for a cricket snack are apparently hot sauce and cucumber slices:
Next we went to a silk-processing factory where they produce silk thread from the silkworm’s cocoon. I took two pictures of the cocoons prior to processing:
The machinery and process for extracting the silk is best captured on video:
After the silk factory we headed off to the nearby Elephant Waterfall and a temple next door, Chua Linh An, that is known for its enormous laughing Buddha:
It may not look too traditional, but hey, sometimes you just need a good time-piece to work your ceremonial drum:
Our last stop on the tour was a coffee plantation where they specialize in weasel coffee. Indonesia has the same sort of coffee, but there it is processed by a special type of cat. In Vietnam a weasel eats the raw coffee berries, poops out the bean, and the bean is then cleaned and roasted into coffee. It is said that the weasel performs two functions in making this coffee: i) they supposedly have very sensitive noses and they are picky about the beans they will eat, and ii) enzymes in their digestive tracts do something beneficial to the bean. In Canada a cup of this stuff can cost $20 CAD. Even at the plantation a small cup cost me nearly $4 CAD. I thought the coffee was all hype, but once I tried it, I was a believer. Just as you are expecting the normal bitterness of coffee to kick in, it just stops and ends with a tinge of sweetness. The coffee plantation was by far my highlight of the day. The coffee patio had a phenomenal view over the plantation and into the valley below:
A video panning around on the terrace at the plantation:
That evening I ventured out to the night market for dinner. The market is really pretty at night and worth a visit. The food was cheap and decent enough, but my usual complaint about street food is that if it is actually made on the street, it’s never really that great. Now, street food types made in an established restaurant can be fantastic. Nevertheless, it is usually quite pleasant to have a bowl of noodles in the middle of a night market:
I’ll leave you with one final shot of Da Lat at night: