Thursday, October 19, 2006

Trip to Dalat, Vietnam


Dalat, one of the central highlands of Vietnam, is 300km away from Ho Chi Minh City. Can’t stand 7 to 8 hours stuck in a bus so I chose to fly to the land of honeymoons, 53USD for a return ticket. Everybody looked at me and asked “are you traveling Dalat alone?” every time someone heard about my trip. The altitude of the Dalat airport is 1000 meters above sea level. Vietnam Airlines shuttle bus takes passengers to the center of Dalat City, which is 30km away, climbing up to the altitude of around 1500 meters for 20000VND or about 1.25USD for a one way ticket. I checked-in at the crazy house, Hang Nga Gallery & Guesthouse, and started my journey at Xuan Huong Lake which can be circumnavigated along a 7km path. My first impression of Dalat is the French influences on architecture here, they even have a miniature Eiffel Tower in the center of the city. Without the bustling traffic of HCMC I was almost convinced that I was in one of the European countries, plus horses can be seen along the lake path. However, the honking from motorcycles gave it away that I was just in a less trafficked city of Vietnam.


Although paddle boats can be rented at the edge of the lake near Thanh Thuy restaurant, I haven’t seen any tourists paddling the giant swan looking boats on the water during my stay. Along the way, the Dalat flower garden was the first sightseeing that ruined the reputation of the flower city. Obviously, it was the wrong time to pay a visit; it was like a deserted garden just not too long ago, flowers in the garden looked lifeless even the fountains had been drained out, leaving only one pumping water helplessly at the entrance. The road next to the garden leads to a golf course and Dalat University. I was hoping the university would be worthy of a hike up the hill, well no comment here.

I gave up my breakfast to catch my flight in the morning and I got lost finding the road to Dalat University which made the 7 km path along the lake much farther then I expected. By the time I got back to the center of the city it was 15:00 already. I was hungry and tired. Luckily I made it to a restaurant next to the lake before the pouring rain hit. The restaurant, called blue water restaurant, even thought the water was yellow, has all kinds of cuisine you can choose from. I ordered seafood spaghetti, deep fried onion rings, coke and a plate of seasonal fruit for 110000VND, 220NTD. How was the food? Well, when one’s hungry everything tastes good, although the noodles of the spaghetti weren’t real spaghetti noodles.


Back at my room, I was excited for the first 10 min then I felt regretful for staying over night in the crazy house. I had Kangaroo room for a night which is in an irregular shape with a small living room, fireplace in kangaroo shape, bathroom and bedroom in about 4 meter squares. Outside the room, a long bench and a small space with one tea table and two chairs for a nice afternoon tea time. Sounds great? Well, the mattress and blanket were damp because of the humidity; mosquitoes in the room because the room was opened for tour before anyone checked in; no TV in the room, it would be odd if there was a TV in the room though, and the light in the room was just too dark to read without feeling sleepy. I was the only guest there that night, no TV, books, not even a person to talk to for killing time. I even let tourists come into my room for a tour just to be able to talk to someone! Moreover, the shower water was small and not to mention caged turkeys in this complex making this surreal sound all night long as the house wasn’t crazy enough. The good thing of staying in Crazy House was no tourists showed up at 7:30AM. I got up and explored every room without having tourists taken in my photos. There are honeymoon, ant, tiger, eagle, termite, bamboo, kangaroo, bear, gourd, and phoenix rooms in this complex; each room was named after the shape of the fireplace in the room. Due to not enough guests accommodating, the crazy house now only opens the bamboo room, 19USD, kangaroo room, 24USD, bear room, 39USD, and gourd room, 45USD, for rent. New construction is being conducted now and new rooms are only for visiting.

My knees hurt from too much walking on hilly terraces, the wound I got from last year traveling in SiChuan wasn’t really healed and waterfalls, tribal villages are spread out in Dalat so I rented a motorbike, 5USD per day, and hired a guide leaving navigation to someone else, 10USD, from the state run travel agency Dalat travel bureau which is located across the road of a 4 stars hotel, the golf 3. There is something about golf 3 hotel that is worth another blog entry later. I had the guide pick me up at the crazy house, and we drove down through a green pine tree forest to the Dambri waterfalls (10000VND). There is a cable car, 5000VND, right after the entrance, although the waterfall itself is easily accessible. Horseback and elephant riding photos can be taken as well as dressing in a tribal costume can be arranged, which lots of Vietnamese tourists have some kind of obsession about. You can rent a paddle boat for drifting down the river, however 20 meters is as far as you can go. Up the hill, there is a mini zoo filled with monkeys and some furious animals living in captivity behind bars.


Thien Vien Truc Lam is one of the largest Zen Meditation study centers in Vietnam, with an equally large numbers of nuns and monks. The pagoda situated in a green pine tree forest overlooking the Quand Trung reservoir (Tuyen Lam Lake) was built in 1980 for local agriculture. Motor boats can be hired for a tour around the lake. Picnicking under the forest of green pine trees between the pagoda and the reservoir is a great escape from traffic and tourists.


To get to the Datanla falls, 5000VND, I chose to walk down the path through a rainforest and took a slide up the hill. The slide was adopted from Germany; a round trip ticket for one person is 30000VND. Unlike the scale and muddy water of Dambri falls, Dantanla falls’ clear water makes it friendly for the public to get into it. Village of Love, Thung Lung Tinh Yeu, or Vallee D’Amour, had its name changed in 1972, the year Da Thien Lake was created, by students from Dalat University. It’s about 5km away from the center of Dalat City. Along the way, shops sell Dalat’s specialties: strawberry jam, dried fruits. Of course the prices are much higher than food stalls in the center market area west of Xuan Huong Lake. Like every other tourist attractions in Dalat, tribal costumes, horses and paddle boats can be rented. Except for a few statues symbolizing love and a sign of Vallee D’Amour, I really couldn’t see any love in this village.


After visiting the Village of Love, I asked my guide to take me to the Cremaillere railway station where an old Russian steam train is on display. You can’t get a train that takes you to other Cities such as HCMC at this station. The only train commutes between Trai Mat Village, 8km down, and Dalat City departing at 6:30, 8:00, 9:30, 11:00, 14:00, and 15:30 from Cremaillere railway station and coming back from Trai Mat at 8:00, 9:30, 11:00, 12:30, 15:30 and 17:00. From the front gate of the station, it looked like an abandoned giant French style house. The afternoon rain leaving small puddles on the unpaved square intensifies the desolate atmosphere even further.

Advice: The best time to travel to Dalat is around Xmas till the end of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. At that time, with no afternoon showers to shortening your journey and all kinds of flowers blossoming, the city becomes not only very colorful but worth visiting.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

The cogwheel train is no longer exist from the end of the Vietnam War 1975, the VNR had dismantled all the cogwheel (cremaillere) sections and sold as scrap metal even the swiss made cogwheel locomotive, the train that you took on Dalat - Trai Mat is not a real cogwheel train. For better known, visit this website:
http://vnafmamn.com/tracing_shangrila.html

Anonymous said...

And the steam locomotive on display is not a russian made loco, but it is a japanese locomotive C-12 made by Kisha-Seizo, Kawasaki, Hitachi, and Nippon-Sharyo Industries:
http://www.kurogane-rail.jp/sl/ec12.html
Japanese C-12 locomotive in Vietnam:
http://www.kurogane-rail.jp/osjnrsl/evt_c12.html

Ngô Minh Đức said...

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Buffalo Joe said...

Very nice post! im planning for my honeymoon there for this Sep, thanks for sharing this.

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A Travel Mate said...

My friend and I are planning to go to Da Lat and Mekong Delta this weekend, and your post is full of information we need. Thank you! Da Lat really looks like it is worth the visit. We're more excited now!

Dalat said...

muy interesante el artículo y también las informaciones son muy útiles, creo que Dalat es uno de los lugares que valen mucha la pena visitar.