16th February 2012
The day broke grey and miserable, the air much colder than Mui Ne and so it was out with the long pants and fleeces to combat the chill. The fact that it is still over 20 degrees is lost on us as we shiver slightly in the cold air. The buffet breakfast in the hotel was more than enough to satisfy our hunger.
As we left the hotel we were accosted by an Easy Rider who pressed recommendations into our hands from former customers and told us of the tours that we could do of the the highlands. We knew that there was lots to see and do around Dalat and part of that was to tour around to see silk factories and indigenous peoples, waterfalls and wacky houses. Easy riders offer a good way of achieving all this, for a price of course. The man seemed very knowledgable and genial, but it was a little expensive.
Today we wanted to see the local sights on foot, rather than on scooters and so we set off to see the Cathedral first, which afforded great views of the town, and of the Eiffel Tower.
With darkening skies we headed up the road to the Crazy House. This hotel is the bizarre architectural brainchild of owner Mrs Dang Viet Nga, the daughter of a former leader of Vietnam who succeeded Ho Chi Minh, with a PhD in Architecture from Moscow. It is organic in structure and form, resembling trees in places with flowing walkways linking the rooms together and climbing and winding up and down the structures all the way up the roof with low railings guarding against a fall. The rooms are each designed along an animal theme, tiger and eagle, ant and termite.
For the kids it was heaven, for us it was like an adult theme park. The passageways weaving their way around the site like a giant maze, the rooms appearing unexpected around corners – it was like a magical fantasy land all set in leafy grounds. Well, the photos will give you some idea….
It was an awesome place! According to the kids :o) and yes, we would have to agree entirely. It is also a hotel, and you can stay overnight, it’s quite expensive, and some of the animals have glowing eyes – a rather odd experience!
We walked back towards the hotel in search of somewhere to eat. The skies got heavier and heavier and it was clear that a downpour was coming. As we walked towards the steps leading to the upper part of the town, it came and we hastily took shelter under some shop awnings as the rain pelted down.
After 20mins the rain eased and we were able to carry on our search for somewhere to eat. Eventually finding a café not far from the market. As we left after a sadly western meal we headed up to the market and the rain set into a steady drizzle making it a miserable experience to continue our exploration. And so we curtailed our orientation expedition and headed back to the hotel. The boys amused themselves acting out Pirates of the Caribbean with the Lumix on video mode and Oskar’s PSP providing the soundtrack from his PotC game. Great fun!
By evening the rain had eased off and we were able to walk up the road and find a restaurant serving up Vietnamese fare. Very tasty and lots of it.
17th February 2012
Today we were going to be easy riders! We rented two scooters from the hotel and after breakfast we set off to see the sights around Da Lat that were a little too far for walking.
We headed down to the lake and rode along it to the fabulous flower garden as recommended in the LP guide. We stopped at the first one we came to (which wasn’t the right one) and passing the entrance we found a back entrance. Heading inside, the guard said we could park up the hill for the princely sum of 57,000 VND. Woah! Seems a bit steep we thought and politely declined. We headed back the way we came to the other entrance and parked the scooters on the road outside. We then brazenly wandered into the grounds, unchallenged by the staff and spent a little while exploring the place – careful not to go too far over to the right where the security guard was stationed!
From there we carried on along the lake passing the actual flower garden mentioned in the guide, and turning back along the other side of the lake we headed to Da Lat Railway station, one end of a cog railway line from Da Lat to Thap Cham. It was closed because of VC attacks in 1964, however a short section has been reopened to Trai Mat village. There is a Japanese locomotive on display here as well as a couple of other engines with carriages. The Government has spent some money doing up the station and has indicated that it may open up the rest of the line…. time will tell. Still they had some nice hats there and for a few dollars I got a replacement for my disintegrated straw hat that I had left in a bin in Saigon
We drove back into town to find a trip advisor highly recommend “local” place above a bakery. The English was somewhat broken but the food was excellent and we were the only westerners in there drawing curious gazes.
From there we headed out of time (towards Saigon) to the Datanla Falls. Not fantastically magical falls, but there is a roller coaster that you can take instead of walking down and up again. Each car seats two people and you have your own brake to control the speed of the car…. this is going to be fun!
We headed off to our last stop of the day, Bao Dai’s summer palace. An Art Deco inspired building set in pine-wooded grounds filled with kitsch disney-esque statues and novelty vespa scooters and horses and cars which could be posed upon for a price. The interior was not at all palace like when compared to Versailles or Windsor, or even the great stately homes of England. It felt like a 1920s house, not the home of an Emperor. One of the rooms has been set up for touristy photos where you can dress up in Emperor’s robes and have a picture taken on a “throne”
We headed back to the hotel as day turned to night after a really great day. The highlight for the boys? Hmmmm, I wonder what it could be! Dinner was in the hotel, something quick and simple, and then packing and bed. We were on the move again tomorrow – but not with Sinh Tourist as they did not have any other passengers for their bus!
18th February 2012
Final breakfast in the hotel and confirmation from Sinh Tourist that there was no bus till tomorrow, we decided to give Mai Linh a call to see if they could get us to Nha Trang today. They could, but the bus would be there to collect us in 15 mins. Ahhrrghhh, leaving the boys playing games on the computer in the lobby we ran up to our room (3 flights) to pack the rest of the stuff and humph in downstairs.
Suffice to say the bus did not arrive when stated, not was it ½ hour later. Indeed we waited a good hour before it arrived, time in which we could have gathered provisions for the journey but which we hadn’t for fear of missing the bus when it arrived.
Eventually it came and we loaded ourselves and our packs on board for another mountainous road adventure back down to the coast. Had the weather been fair, the views would have been spectacular. What little we could glimpse through the mist was gob-smacking. Sheer drops to the side of us and tree covered mountains loomed out of the fog as we twisted and switch-backed our way down from the highlands. Given the constant change of direction, it is a great credit to the driver that no-one was sick at all…. well at least not until the rest stop when the chap in front of me suddenly was violently, and noisily sick.
We piled off the bus at the roadside café of the drivers choice and scoffed some hard boiled eggs and some chicken rice before clambering aboard again for the last leg of the journey. Bearing in mind that the road is a major highway, it was in an appalling state, with large rectangular sections of tarmac missing (as though it had been dug up for some other purpose) requiring the bus driver to divert onto the other carriageway and seriously affecting the speed.
A lovely gentleman who had spoken with us, and even helped order some food for us was suddenly very sick and we hastily handed him a bag and some wet wipes to clean up. He was really embarrassed and very apologetic – apparently it was the first time he had ever been sick on a bus, perhaps the food?? Thankfully the only smell was of soup so the rest of the journey was not unbearable, however Luca had to be moved to the back of the bus to escape the sick!
After 4 hours or so we arrived in Nha Trang, our next town of choice. The bus stopped at the bus station and we grabbed a taxi to our hotel, a lovely place down an alley just off the main beachfront road. We had a double double-bed room on the third floor and we settled in nicely. The staff were warm and friendly and wanted to practice their French with us.
We wandered into the town for dinner and as the boys had been so good on the bus we stopped for very very good ice cream which we ate as we strolled along the beach watching the roaring, crashing waves exploding onto the beach – this did not look like a place for swimming! We returned to the hotel with the tang of salt on our lips and called time on our day.
I liked Da Lat. The Crazy House was a definite highlight, and the roller coaster ride down to the falls was brilliant and made the visit a little bit special. Had the weather been better we would have stayed a few more days to explore the villages and silk farms. But with the threat of rain, longer distances on the scooters with or without an Easy Rider guide were risky – wet and cold children do not make for happy children! Nor adults either for that matter.