Mountain High

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

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Where I stayed
Villa Pink House Dalat
Read my review - 3/5 stars
Le Phuong Hotel Dalat
Read my review - 5/5 stars
What I did
Hang Nga Guest House and Art Gallery Dalat
Read my review - 5/5 stars
Bao Dai’s Summer Palace

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Friday, April 13, 2012

4/13 Saigon to Dalat
300 kilometers by bus. 10 am to 6 pm
Villa Pinkhouse Hotel

Our Saigon hotel was about a 10 minute walk from the backpacker center and the tour company where we had purchased our "open tour" bus tickets to the Central Highland town of Dalat. They promised to deliver us to our hotel in Dalat. The bus was first class, with good air conditioning and spacious seating. A strange trilingual movie was shown but not loud enough to be annoying. Dialogue seemed to be originally in English and overdubbed in Mandarin Chinese. It was subtitled in simplified Chinese. Then a third layer of Vietnamese dialogue was added by a lone simultaneous translator. The soundtrack was bizarre. But making it more bizarre was the amateurish acting of the original movie.
We had our favorite seats with a view in the front of the bus. We are continuously amused by the amount and types of stuff that are carried on the small motorcycles which often leave little room for the drivers.

The bus made a 30 minute lunch stop and gradually climbed more hilly terrain. 

Tables stacked full of avocados appeared along the roadside.

Many of the towns and villages we passed had numerous Catholic churches. Enormous houses with elaborate balconies, many sporting one to two meter tall statues of one saint or another, tower above more humble homes. Some of the Saints even sported a halo of florescent light. The Christian statue business is booming.

Dark clouds replaced the blue sky and billowy white clouds and an afternoon downpour started. We were following a semi-truck and trailer which began a slow slide on the newly wet pavement. It didn't seem like he was going that fast but he was no longer in control of his rig which jackknifed and slid into the ditch. Our driver skillfully slowed our bus and kept his distance before coming to a stop just short of the wreck. We were happy that our driver was able to keep control of our bus and the assistant jumped up ready to assist the trucker. We quickly realized everyone was okay and made our way around and up the mountain.

The last 10 kilometers into Dalat were along forest covered mountains. Then the lights of Dalat appeared below us. It was dark by the time we rolled into the bus station. We immediately were bombarded by taxi and xe oms drivers who offered us a ride into town, The bus driver and helper were no help at all when we asked them about the transfer to our hotel. When we bought our tickets, we were told our transport to hotel was included. It was pretty chaotic and we were ready to call it a day so we started negotiating with a taxi driver. We then spotted small van loading up with passengers from our bus. "Oh yes," one guy who knew the ropes and who spoke English said, "Hop in!" Dave hollered at French guy from our bus, “This is the free van to transfer us the last 6 kilometers to the center of Dalat.” He was planning to walk until he found out that we were still far to the city center.

We continued chatting with Marco. “If you don’t have a place, I have THE best hotel in town.” He bragged. “I’ve been coming here 3 years and this is the best.” As we dropped Marco off, I ran in to take quick look while the van waited. Indeed it is a great, clean, centrally located and a very reasonably priced hotel. We already reserved one night at Villa Pinkhouse and I asked La Phoung, the owner, to hold a room for the next night for us.

The van took us to Villa Pinkhouse which turned out to be a wonderful place too but a bit of a hike to the happenings of the center. We had chosen Pinkhouse because they do a tour that gets great reviews. We were invited to join two young couples from the UK and Rot, the tour guide from the hotel, for dinner. They had just finished the tour. They were so enthused, having said it was the best day of their 8 month trip, that we signed up to go with the next outing, the day after tomorrow.

The seven of us took a taxi to the center and the Phoux restaurant. Rot selected an assortment of Vietnamese specialties; claypot fish, shrimp, marinated chicken and a watercress salad.

4/14 Exploring Dalat

We moved to the better located Lê Phuong Hotel and explored the market center from there. We were delighted to discover that the nearby 4-Star hotel puts on an elaborate $10 buffet on Saturday nights. It is a good thing they only do this once a week.

We were also delighted that Dalat is located on the Langbiang Plateau, 1,500 meters (4,900 ft.) above sea level. At this altitude, we are above the sweltery heat of the lowlands into fresh mountain air.

Last year at this time we were in the cool weather of Santa Elena, Costa Rica at a similar latitude and altitude (5,600 ft.)

With its year-round cool weather, Dalat supplies temperate agriculture products for all over Vietnam. It grows coffee for export. Its flower industry produces two typical flowers: hydrangea and golden everlasting. We must have been out of season for these but we saw tons of roses, Geber daises, and carnations. Large greenhouses are scattered on the nearby hills. The confectionery industry offers strawberry, mulberry, and sweet potato preserves. Avocados, carrots and strawberries are in season now and the markets are filled with fantastic looking cauliflower, green beans, okra and cabbages. We picked up kilos of dried vegetable chips in the market to snack upon.

Dalat wine is Vietnam’s best and most famous grape wine. They do a great job of it especially when compared to the Chinese swill Dave tried. It is probably the best grape wine produced in Central or SE Asia. He settled on a fresh white wine, with oak hints, as his favorite in this warmer climate.

4/15 Crazy Crazy House in Dalat

Our motorcycle was dropped off at our hotel at 5AM. The tour assistant soon arrived. She let us know the group had now ballooned to 15 people! Fifteen was way too many and we asked to be rescheduled for the next tour. Dalat is a nice town and we don’t mind staying awhile.

We were up early on the beautiful morning and walked a few kilometers to the Hang Nga Crazy House, the brainchild of Ms. Dang Viet Nga, a Vietnamese Architect. It is aptly called Crazy House. It is a complex maze of whimsically contoured rooms, stairs, gardens, and towers. It is Ms. Dang’s home and also a hotel with a gift shop, gallery and a café. It is as crazy as crazy gets. 
Having said that, we spent a delightful few hours there exploring the grounds.

Afterward we stopped for Pho for breakfast, a delicious noodle soup served with a plate of leafy vegetables. We went on to Bao Dai’s Summer Palace further up the hill in a pine grove two km from city center. The walk there was nice and the grounds peaceful. The palace isn’t what you envision a palace to be. It is a large old worn down house with old warnout furniture, important only because Bao Dai slept there. No worries, it was a nice walk!

My Reviews Of The Places I Stayed

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Dave & Sandra [from Dunhaung China}] on

Hi to you both, religiously read your blogs every weekend it's great to hear about your continuing travels and all sems as if it's still rocking along. Good Luck to you both. Winter is just starting in NZ it's time to start dreaming again and planning another holiday.
All the best Dave.

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