As beautiful as SE Asia has been so far with its never ending rice fields dotted with palm trees and its white sand beaches, I have missed the mountains dearly. At heart I'm a mountain person and I'm not sure I'd ever truly feel at home anywhere without them so i've been looking forward to getting up to Dalat for a while now. The town sits at about four thousand feet, so in this part of the world it's basically spring all year round, which is a welcome relief to the 80 and 90 degree days we've had so far. Dalat was founded by the French during their colonization for this very reason. It's now famous for its temperate zone produce, mainly strawberries, that can't be grown elsewhere in Vietnam, and for being "Le Petit Paris" or the romance capital of Vietnam. We knew coming here that they were very fond of the kitsch so we decided to go with the flow and try about every tourist thing there was to do. And although some of attractions lived up to their cheesy reputation, most were just plain cool. Regardless, the perfect weather and the beauty of the landscape were so invigorating we couldn't help but have a good time no matter what we did.
I've said it before and I'll say it again; motorbikes are the way to go. Our first day there we got a bike and set out exploring. Our first stop was the "Crazy House". Built by a Russian trained Vietnamese architect, it certainly lives up to its name. You can stay here for about $35 a night but I think it would be a little weird to have your hotel room be a tourist attraction. We spent an hour or so getting lost in the twisting corridors, stairwells, and archways.
Afterwards, we hopped back on our bike in search of more adventure. We had bought a road map of Dalat and the surrounding area and had plotted out a course to a cable car that takes you up to the top of a mountain over looking the city. The ride was absolutely gorgeous but the map turned out to be somewhat inadequate in "surrounding area" department. However, by the time we realized we didn't quite know where we were, we could see the cable car in the distance.
After a while you just get used to volume in Vietnam, which the guide book describes as going to eleven. Even in a smallish mountain town like Dalat there's always cars and motorbikes on the road with horns blaring and you just get used to a steady background of noise. So it was kind of a shock as we pulled away from the whiring hum of the giant cog turning the cable and silence settled over us. It was the perfect background for the ride that took us high over the undulating mountains surrounding Dalat. It was probably the best view we had the entire time we were there.
At the top there was a tourist station complete with souvenir shop and snack stands. The only redeeming qualities were the views and the scale model of the cable car that looked like something out of Beetlejuice.
We still hadn't had our fill for the day so we headed back to downtown Dalat where there was supposed to be a lake with swan shaped paddle boats. The absolute height of romance. We came to find out that they've drained the lake for some sort of construction, and found only a swan-boat graveyard. However, you can still get your romance fix with a horse and buggy ride around town.
Our last stop for the day was the Dalat gardens.
The next day we again grabbed a motorbike and road out to the Dalat train station. It's no longer operating except for one train a day that travels to a small village whose main attraction is a pretty cool pagoda.
There was an old Japanese steam engine that you could play on. This would never happens in the U.S. It would be surrounded by ropes and multiple signs reading "Do Not Touch" in bold letters.
With our fill of Dalat sightseeing our hotel hot tub was more than welcoming....what a hard life we lead.