THE SIGHTS IN Đà Lạt ARE SO SPREAD OUT IT PAYS TO HAVE A SET OF WHEELS. When I was here in the 1990s with Telfer and co, we got around on bicycles. This latest rainy season love holiday with Nga, we decided to hire a motorbike. This is how we did it: Nga talked to the guys running the noodle shop across the road from our hotel, called the Miền Tây Restaurant. Someday I will see the whole strange and mysterious affair in its true and proper light, and then I will write that story. Until then, it is still a work in progress. On Friday, May 2, 2008, Nga and I caught a bus from in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, back to Saigon (otherwise known as Ho Chi Minh City.) At the time I was suffering a dose of seconditis -- this was my second trip in Vietnam with Nga, and I was stalked by the nagging doubt, that it wasn't as good as the first time. We had been in Đà Lạt for most of the week, and it had rained hard every day. On Friday at last the sun came out, in the morning and midday hours at last, and I was served plenty of stunning pastoral views. Nonetheless, I didn't fully appreciate until today (July 6, 2008) what a stunning slice of Vietnam I encountered on that bus trip. Those memories took two months to ferment. I was walking along the river near my house (the Edo River, in Tokyo, Japan) this afternoon, down with a rainy season 'flu, when perspective overcome me. It was the contrast of those memories against the present, the color of Vietnam dazzling against the sedate, gray/green background of Japan. It made me think: was that really part of my life, it seems so out of place with my workaday reality now? But a part of my life lives in Vietnam now, and a lot of my memories belong there.
Nga and I aren't the only folks who get lost around here. Wrote Southern Cross: "After breakfast we rented two motorbikes and set out to tour the mountains
around Dalat. Lonely planet lists a dozen or so waterfalls within 60 km of
downtown so we were attempting to find most of them. We ended up finding
three in two days but I'll get there in a bit. The beginning of our journey went
well, we were able to find a Pagoda we wanted to look at before we left the
city without too much trouble and it took us about half an hour before we
started making wrong turns. Unfortunately the Pagoda was closed (we think
the Monk finally went on his round the world trip that the Lonely Planet
mentioned because we were told it would be open Sunday by a local but when we went
back it was still closed) so instead we went to the old Summer Palace of the last
king of Vietnam. It wasn't as nice as the unification palace but it was the
same era of architecture. It was much smaller however, almost reasonable in
fact. It actually would not have been out of place in some of the more
gargantuan neighborhoods in America. Next to the old French Villas that
decorate the hills around Dalat it also didn't seem that out of place.
Our next stop, and highlight of the architecture in Dalat and perhaps
Vietnam, was the Crazy House. Designed by the daughter of the second
post-unification president, Ho Chi Minh's successor, who received a Ph.D in architecture in Russia the house looks like something straight out of Alice in Wonderland and Willy Wonka. Trees grow through the middle of living rooms and walkways
arch organically from building to building. Steps that flow down like water
cascading over rocks lead to hallways that are sculpted to resemble
stalactites and the inside of limestone caves. The entire complex is in a
single house but it is made up of several semi-detached buildings that flow together
through the garden that grows in and around them. It is an eminently impractical
house but it is a beautiful design and I think that living there for a week
or so would be quite fun. It would also make living in the city tolerable.
The gardens and 100-year-old pines are a refreshing break from the density
of the development in the rest of the city.
"After our visit to the crazy house we finally started out on our attempt to
leave the city and after taking just one wrong turn we were successful. This
is where the trip really became beautiful. We drove over the pass that we
came in over yesterday and behind us Dalat was spread out over a gently
rolling plateau, the city interspersed with copses of old pines (something
that surprised me too, the vegetation is similar to what you would find in
Colorado but it is much, much more humid here) and in front of us the road
wound down the ridge with a 800 foot valley on either side. Having spent
the last 6 weeks on a flood plain at sea level it was wonderful to see. On
the other hand, driving was a challenge; unlike the roads in said flood
plain the road down the mountain was a narrow, barely two-lane strip of
asphalt that carried all the southbound traffic out of Dalat. That included
tour buses and trucks that drove as if the road was a four-lane highway. We
had little problem driving down the 5 km to the first waterfall though and
enjoyed the million dollar views around each turn along the way. At the
waterfall we decided to be lazy and instead of walking down we took the
wheeled luge that they had set up. Its great to be in a country that hasn't
run into the problems with frivolous lawsuits that the US has. This luge
was a half mile track down the mountain on which you could go as fast or
slow as you liked and the potential to fall off the track around some of the
turns was realEa perfect formula to be sued in the US. The waterfall
itself was beautiful. It was about 100 feet tall and cascaded 30 feet
across a rock face. We climbed up to the top and Tomas and Fernanda swam in
the pool at the top..."
Loud Vietnamese music is part of the soundscape of this country, along with the scooter horns and the lady sitting three seats behind you, shouting into her mobile phone at a decibel level you would not have imagined possible. It is a loud country to be sure, and the music is usually played at full bolt. In the latter parts of our bus trip back to Ho Chi Minh City, a DVD got put on, featuring one venerable gent, singing duets with a series of females. I didn't realise until tonight here in gray/green rainy season Japan, but this was probably a form of music called Hò, improvisational, non-metrical, and typically sung as dialogue between a man and woman. Common themes include love, courtship, the countryside, etc. The bus rattled and shook, the driver's hand permanently attached to the horn. Nga threw up, numerous times. We finally made it back to Ho Chi Minh City. We drove past the Guns 'n' Roses cafe in Pham Ngu Lao, and I found myself wishing that I could drop myself off there, lose myself in that billiards playing heavy metal hell. Which I loved so much the last time I was there! But Nga wouldn't let me go. In the end I managed to sneak out of our hotel, and dine downstairs, Pizza Dani (35 Bui Thi Xuan St., TEL: 925 2114.) Nhà hàng Hồ Chí Minh Phở & Sandwich DANI Quận1 ... apparently the place is famous around here, particularly for the pho. I went in for the Iranian sandwiches, and the chat with the Iranian owner, while his half Iranian half Vietnamese kids high-fived me in the late rainy gloom. From time to time Russian clients dropped in, asking for the famous Dani Tea. I finished my meal, and scurried upstairs. And then I got the chance to drink ice cold beers for the first time in a week, in a cold chilled room overlooking hot neon Ho Chi Minh City, watching the Discovery Channel. A show about animal sex, I believe.
Here is a strange story I found on the Internet called Dalat on the Bike, based on a Vietnamese article in Tuoi Tre Online:
"It is well known that people in Dalat, Vietnam,are scaring of cycling, but today many of them are addicted to ride that 'poor' vehicle.
"Waking up and cycling, Dalat people are calling each other to admire their cyclingaddiction. Although many people could not afford for a ride, they join to a cheering mass for the bikers. The heart of this cycling revolution is Xuan Huong Lake. Bike lovers are normally driving their motorbike to the bicycle for rent shop, drop their motorbike there, pay an amount of VND 10.000 (US$ 0.6), and then enjoy their cycling dream.
"To rent a bike, car drivers must deposit by their car, motor-bikers are off coursefollowing by depositing by their motorbike, and students are accepted with their studentID card, school pupils use their citizen ID card, ones have no cards have to provide their address that will be proved by the shop-owner him self.
"The frequent appearance of bicycles, even in Dalat, will create a more beautiful and fresh image for the streets that are dumping now in the noise and smoke of motorcycles.
"Moreover, the 'cycling revolution' in Dalat is uniquely valuable by pulling the youths from Shouting in Karaoke bars, Coffee, Billiards, beer gardens or chat-rooms (there are no more things for Dalat's young generation, to riding on the 3.5 meters long cycle thatweights about 15 to 20 kilograms and called by a very romantic name 'bike for a couple' as romantic as Dalat itself. Some bike-for-rent shop use the slogan for this type of cycle as 'the bike of love'...
"The birthfs address of this bike for love is the house of a farmer, Mr. Do Huu Khuong. It located in a poor alley on Bui Thi Xuan Street, next to Doi Co Lake, and closed to a down-hill-slope to Xuan Huong Lake. However, the founder of this sport model in this mountainous city is a schoolgirl: Do Thi Thu Hang, a pupil of 11A Class, Bui Thi Xuan High school. When she have been learned that her house will be replaced for a state project in the next year and her family life will be in a difficult life, then she started to think for 'saving' the family's economy..."
Much more readable is this story from Viet Nam News: "You can see all age groups driving their motorbikes to bicycle rental shops, and, after paying VND10,000 for an hour, they disperse around Xuan Huong Lake. Young people have set aside the usual time-fillers such as karaoke bars, coffee shops, internet cafes, and billiard halls to race around.
"Students are willing to use their tips to play – what they regard as – a new game, especially as they presently enjoy summer holidays.
"Meanwhile, women aged 40-45 regard cycling as an effective weight loss tool. 'I pay only VND5,000 daily to hire a bicycle – it's enough to make me feel optimistic,' one such woman said.
"The slopes and hills of the roads, a feature of the Central Highlands city, provides adrenaline-packed entertainment to another breed of cyclist, which was previously unheard of when people would walk their bicycles down the slopes.
"With the influx of tandem bicycles, couples have caught on as well. In the last three weeks, the demand has spurred 30 shops to open. From only a few tandem bikes previously, 500 are now for rent across the city, each worth about VND2.8 million. Hotels are also taking advantage of the demand..."
Take a lazy trip on one of the lakes, busy with small boats. In the villages near Dalat, you can meet people of themountain tribes, living in their picturesque wooden stilt-houses. The road up from thecoast passes some breathtaking waterfalls. If you fly in, you'll miss them, but the Prenn Falls, 52 ft high, are close to Dalat; the more spectacular Lien Khuong Falls cascade down through virgin forest, 22 miles away. http://www.wowtraveler.net/destinations/Dalat.aspxOther good resource Dalat:Dalat Cowboys and Love Valley provide comic relief in an alpine setting. http://www.talesofasia.com/vietnam-dalat.htm
Though, there are areas in which public buses are forbidden to access, such as District 1 and 3 in Ho Chi Minh City. So, for the sake of yourself, you should get a map of the main routes of each city's public buses on sale at bookstores. Ticket can be purchased directly at the bus stations or on buses at low prices. However, you should acknowledge the discomfort when taking this vehicle.
"Open Tour Buses have activity scope at almost all popular destinations throughout the country, which allows travelers to stop whenever they want for as long as they like in any destination on itinerary.
"The price for an entire tour from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City is around $25-$30, fixed and determined by transportation firms according to the distance of the routes. It is easy to purchase tickets at almost any budget travel agency, and there is no need to book in advance. But you are advised to reconfirm your seats, especially during peak season and holiday weekends..."