Monday, November 22, 2010

The Honey Moon City-Da Lat

A little story I heard from an expat (Austrailian, I think, but I could be making that up). He told me that while he was sitting at a table outside a cafe (the same one he is sitting at while telling me this story), he had overheard a conversation take place between a young American backpacker and the native Vietnamese waitress, in her late teens. The American had asked her if she enjoyed traveling. "Oh, very much!" she assured him.
"Where is your favorite place you've ever been?" the naive backpacker asked.
Sheepishly, the young waitress explained that she'd never been outside of the town she is currently in but that one day she hoped to go to Da Lat.

-The expat new what she was talking about. Da Lat, the honeymoon city. Every Vietnamese girl dreams of getting married and getting to travel to Da Lat for the honeymoon. But, of course, the backpacker did not.

"Dallas, huh? That sounds pretty cool. I've heard Dallas is a great place to visit."

"Oh, yes! I cannot wait to go. I hope I will get to go one day."

The expat said that he sat back and listened to these two young people from different worlds have a 10 minute conversation about two completely different cities.

And there you have it, an introduction to Da Lat. I didn't hear this story until after I had been there (if you keep close track of the time line-I heard this story in Hoi An, which was a short while after I visited Da Lat, itself).

Ladies and Gentleman: Da Lat (from my hotel window)

Today is Saturday, I guess :). I have no need for knowledge of days of the week. But today is a bus ride from Saigon to Da Lat, in the central highlands of Vietnam. The short trip from out hotel to the bus station was an adventure in itself. Our transportation set up via the bus company were moto taxis.

It's a good thing we didn't have suitcases!

I've said it before and I'll say it again: it's scary how comfortable I am on the back of a bike even with complete strangers...even more scary when you throw in the Saigon traffic.
We weaved in and out of traffic like drunken bumble bees, barely missing non-blinking pedestrians and nearly missing being completely smashed between buses and other vehicles. At one point I believe I had to jerk my leg up to my chest to avoid being crushed. But alas we made it safely to the bus station.

Colin, and I heard there was good rock climbing in Da Lat, which solidified as our next destination. We're on our way. The bus ride itself was beautiful, although nausea-inducing for a few fellow traveler.

Me on the bus. Look at the beautiful green in the background!

Mom was asleep, grandma had the baby and I had....goldfish cracker :). It wasn't long before I had the baby and we became fast friends.
Colin, who is still with me, was on his way to becoming fast friends with the baby as well. He turned into the biggest puddle with this little guy (about 10 mos old).
A short distance into the trip and grandma looked green. I instantly had the baby in my arms and grandma a bag in her hands.
Colin and I had sole custody of that little guy for the remainder of the trip. The best part, aside from watching Colin ooze lovings all over the baby, was that grandma's misery was lessened by us being perfectly good strangers with goldfish crackers, and willing to take a strangers baby a moments notice.
It seems pretty standard here that on buses you get a bottle of water, a wet wipe (aka "refreshing towel", and a barf bag. They don't go unused.

In your Lonely Planet Guide, there is a hotel listed in Da Lat: Peace Hotel. Cross it out. With permanent marker. We couldn't go up or down the stairs without the owners/workers of the hotel, literally obstructing our path, insisting that we buy something. We couldn't leave without being followed halfway down the streets without people crowding us trying to force a sale, right up in our faces. And forget about skipping a meal there and wanting to check out somewhere else. (We did anyway mostly because of the harassment.)
BUT if you're willing to spend a bit more, draw hearts and rainbows around "Dreams Hotel". There are two. We stayed in Dreams II. The rooms were spotless with great ammentiites and the staff were crazy helpful-when asked.
We were never once solicted for anything but if we asked for help or an opinion our plans were enhanced and all bookings take care of within mere minutes with excellent service.
Oh. And the breakfast! It was the reason I got up in the morning! A huge display of fresh fruits, fresh baguettes (yes, the ubiquitous baguette), made to order eggs, fresh Da Lat made yogurt! Endless supply of mangos! Mmmmmmm.....I love the breakfasts here. I'd devour mangos witha side of passion fruit, watermelon and pineaple with made to order eggs that I'd place on my fresh baguette with their version of cream cheese before heading for more mango. I don't even like mango in the states but here I have at least two a day.
Baguettes are ubiquitous here. I first noticed it in Cambodia, which was kept as a French "protectorate" province for about 40 years. (Don't check my facts too closely.) It seems the only thing they've left behind here is the baguette. It really is every wehre! And odd addition to ever asian meal. Your curry, your stir fry, rice, pho with, of course, a baguette on the side. It's rather odd. But there is it nonetheless.
Da Lat itself, with its "eternal spring" weather is werehe most of the French camped out during their occupation, so there are a few French bakeries. The artistry is beautiful. The pastries themselves, not so much.

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