Jenny\'s Southeast Asia/China Adventure

Travel time: February - June 2004  |  by Jenny Chu

Vietnam: Dalat

Monday, 4/5/04
Day 61, Dalat - The city of eternal springs

I went over to Delta Adventures to find myself being picked up by a TM Brothers bus. What the heck? It turns out that this reputable travel company sells bus tickets and shuttles the people onto a TM Brothers bus. And TM Brothers turns out, is far from decent.

After a long 7 hour, non-descript bus ride, I finally arrived in Dalat eager to get settled into a place and start my explorations of the most popular honeymoon spot in Vietnam. Dalat is sprinkled with many lakes, waterfalls, and cowboys. Yep, that's right, cowboys. Near Xuang Huong Lake it is said that love stricken couples can take their pictures with dressed-up, Vietnamese gun-slinging cowboys.

Anyway, the bus pulled into the parking lot of a hotel where we were recommended to stay. I wanted to head to the Dream Hotel, where the Dutch girls were staying` so I told them that's where I wanted to go. Okay, no problem; I was told to wait ten minutes and then the bus would take us there. However, after a while they said we had to hop on a motorbike because the bus just broke down. Uh-huh. I was mad because I didn't want to sit in the rain on a motorbike with my backpack on only because I chose not to stay at their hotel. And I just hate it when people tell you blatant lies.

Finally, I got to Dream Hotel only to find that there was no vacancy (* I did end up staying in the Dream Hotel for the second night, highly recommended. $8/single/brek incl). So, I headed across the street to check into a run down, slightly dirty room for $4(boo-Highland Hotel). Oh my. Coming straight from the Sheraton, this was going to be a shock to my system.

Outside, the weather was cool and drizzling, a nice change from the hot sticky temperatures found elsewhere in Vietnam. Kris, Lein and I decided to head to the Stop 'N Go Café where our Lonely Planet says one can eat cake, drink coffee, and read poetry written by a little Vietnamese man with a goatee and beret. And so we did. Drank cherry tea, ate assorted cakes, and saw the poet in person, who did look like he was still stuck in the beatnik era. Funny thing, was that I was overtaken by it all and while reading some of the poems, I actually got teary-eyed! It was just one of those unexplainable emotional moments that you experience when traveling. Kind of hits you out of nowhere.

On the way back I saw Dalat's replica of the Eiffel tower. This place sure was an anomaly from the rest of Vietnam, for it did feel like we were in a small town, nestled in the mountains somewhere in Europe.

That night we had dinner at a nicely decorated restaurant called Art Café, where the owner/artist hangs his work, all done by finger painting. Afterwards, we sat on the balcony of Dream Hotel, the three of us talking about how daym lucky we were to be able to travel when most people in Asia haven't even ventured out of their province.

Tuesday, 4/6/04
Day 62, Easy Riderrrrrrrs

Today, was a good day.

Kris and Lein left for Nha Trang, so I was left on my own to discover Dalat. I first had lunch at the Art café again and ended up meeting the owner/artist Vo, who turns out is half Chinese and had studied Chinese painting in college. After speaking about his art, he actually gave me a beautiful scroll painting of bamboo, which he signed with his signature mark, his thumbprint. I also asked him whether or not it was a good idea to tour the central highlands with an Easy Rider. Easy Riders is the name given to a group of men who started giving tours of Dalat and the surrounding areas to tourists on the back of their motorcycles. They got written up in the Lonely Planet and now basically anyone can call himself an Easy Rider.

Well, the one that approached me this morning, seemed nice enough and had rave reviews written in a book he carried with him. But, the price $120, just seemed a little steep for a three-day ride. That is afterall, 1.8 million dong! Yet, my mind kept flashing to the quintessential scenes of Vietnam that I would witness on such a trip. Green rice fields, lush forests, minority villages and waterfalls.

Vo, recommended that I not miss out on the central highland and proceeded to call over his friend Tue, an OG easy rider with long hair and wild eyes, into the restaurant. Tue agreed to take me for $90 and would include a tour of Dalat this afternoon. Three days on a motorcycle with a man I hardly knew. This would have seemed crazy to me before the trip, but now that I was here I figure that I could trust a man who was a father to two daughters. Plus, he had a nice ride. A comfy blue-green harley-davidson look alike. Much more stylish than some of the other bikes I'd seen around town.

After grabbing my jacket, we were off riding into the mountains that surrounded Dalat. We first went to Paradise Lake, which was very pretty and serene and then headed towards Chicken Village. Chicken Village is home to the Koho minority people, and has a huge giant concrete chicken erected in the middle of it. No one knows what the chicken statute is all about. Tue led me through some of the homes in Chicken Village, which were all very bare-bone. Some of the children who saw me stuck out their hands, a tell tale sign that too many tourists come through this way. When I tried to take pictures, people turned away. Tue kept saying its okay, they are shy. But, I think these people are just tired of foreigners interrupting their privacy everyday. When I did take a picture of an old woman, she asked for money and I obliged. I didn't know what else to do. Next time, I think in these situations it's just better to put that camera away. I didn't feel too good about being a tourist in Chicken Village. Now, I have witnessed directly why there is such a big debate about promoting minority villages as tourist attractions. On one hand, the tourists do bring in extra, needed income. But, at what price? Many of these villages become adversely changed forever.

Back in Dalat, we visited the Crazy House, a guesthouse/art gallery constructed by daughter of Truong Chinh, the Party General Secretary directly after the death of Ho Chi Minh. The place was indeed funky and weird, and it looked like it belonged in an amusement park. I quickly zipped through the themed rooms, not really worth the money if you ask me. We also drove by the French District lined with old French colonial villas, many of them abandoned or being remodeled into hotels.

With my tour coming to an end, I now understood the allure of this popular destination. Bohemian poet, easy riders, crazy house, lovers lake, faux Eiffel tower, there's something for everyone here in Dalat.

Back in town, I ran into Annamette, one of the Danish girls that I had hung out with in Vang Vieng, and her mom. We ended up having dinner together and she told me about her friend who did the central highlands with an easy rider. It was the best time she had in all of SE Asia, but also the scariest. During one of the nights, she was locked into her room by her guide, but it turned out to be for her own safety. The police were following her every step, since the Vietnamese government did not want foreigners to find out they had been cracking down on minorities living in the area.

Oh my. But, that was a year ago and I can only hope my own trip will be trouble free.

© Jenny Chu, 2004
You are here : Overview Asia Vietnam Dalat
The trip
Follow my travels through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and China..........
Start of journey: Feb 02, 2004
Duration: 4 months
End of journey: Jun 02, 2004
Travelled countries: Asia
The Author
Jenny Chu is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 20 years.
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