May 8, 2011

Fresh Mountain Air in Dalat

City of Dalat
In the short time that we've been in Vietnam, we are really encountering a variety of landscapes and topographies.  'Variety' is actually putting it mildly.  From the sand dunes in Mui Ne, we headed for Dalat, approximately 4hrs drive away in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. It is a very popular place for the 'cityfolk' of HCMC to escape to to take in the cooler temps as it's set at an elevation of 1450m above sea level.  It was about 22 degrees by day and 20 degrees at night--we actually had to pull the light jackets and long pants out.  It was a very refreshing change and once again, had lots on offer to do.

The topography of Dalat was very unusual at it is 'sprawled' across several ridges, including the tops and sides of them.  Sometimes at an intersection, you could easily take a road that took you along a totally wrong ridge from where you wanted to go, realising it only when you looked across the valley and saw the actual ridge you wanted on the other side!  There would be no way back to the 'right ridge' unless you backtracked completely to the said intersection.   But as always, getting lost leads you to other interesting finds!  There are sections of the valleys that are very fertile and rows upon rows of crops are grown, including up the sides.  We saw corn, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, leeks, strawberries and marigolds.   Nightly, there was a vibrant market of fresh vegetables, fruit, flowers and used clothing as well as food vendors clogging the streets around the central market.  Dalat is certainly a very vibrant, and well touristed town!

Dalat Countryside

Strawberry Fields

Dalat Countryside--Agricultural Fields

Night Market
Night Market

We hired a scooter and on the first try, found the Hang Nga 'Crazy House'.  This is a private house, conceived and built by the daughter of the second president of Vietnam after Ho Chi Minh.  She studied architecture in Moscow and after she moved and settled to Dalat, she wanted to give something back to the people.  Coupled with her love of nature, she conceived this 'Crazy House', which was built between 1990 and 2010.  She lives in it and also has some rooms to rent out as a hotel.  It really reminded us of 'Gaudi''s style of architecture, but fused with nature.  It definitely was unique--and even dangerous in places due to it's height and lack of railings!

Inside one of the rooms at the Crazy House

From there, we found our way to the Datania Falls, where we road an 'Alpine Coaster' down to the waterfall below.  It was so much fun, and a surprisingly smooth ride too.  There was a hand-brake which you could pull up to slow you down, but of course Jim and Maddy just went straight down and had a ball (Yasmine and I were a bit slower, obeying the signs when it told you to 'brake'--silly us!).  After enjoying the falls, the coaster took you back up again!  All this for only $2 USD/40,000d each adult and $1.50/15,000d for children.

The Alpine Coaster Track

All Aboard!

And they're off!

At the waterfall below

On the way back up

The following day, we took a nice ride out to the countryside and found ourselves at Lang Biang Mountain.  You could either walk up the mountain, or you could pay $2 USD/40,000d per adult, kids free, for a seat in a shared jeep to the radar station and back, which was still not the highest point.  I guess you can figure out which option we took?!  From the Radar Station, you could see across to the apex of Lang Biang Mountain, down to the villages of the ethnic minority groups below, and the rows and rows of crops in the valleys.  It was very breathtaking.   

At the Radar Station

In the late afternoons, we discovered that Dalat Square across from the picturesque Xuan Huong Lake near the centre of the city, transformed into a children's playground.  Vendors would set up used bicycles of various sizes ranging from baby tricycles, to small bicycles with training wheels, to bigger 2-wheeled bikes.  Other vendors even had scooters and electric cars.  All were for rent; bicycles went for .25 cents/5,000d for 30 minutes use, and the electric cars were .50 cents/10,000d for 10 minutes.  The girls were in heaven--they haven't been on bicycles since we left home.  At first they were a bit tentative, but like the saying goes, you never forget how to ride a bike!

Dalat Square Park Play Area

Central Mountain Ranges
We really enjoyed our 2.5 days in Dalat and contemplated staying an extra day were it not for the upcoming Independance Day weekend.  We were told that our half-filled guest house was to be full, and when Jim enquired at 25 others (!), he found the same situation.  As were were able to secure some accommodation in Nha Trang, our next destination, we caught the afternoon bus down the mountain.  What a beautiful drive it was too!  The route from Dalat to Nha Trang, which is to the northeast and on the coast, was far more mountainous than the drive up from Mui Ne in the southeast.  Thankfully  our driver was very cautious-- we were even passed by numerous other buses.  We descended through the central mountain range, sometimes with drop offs on one side of us on a road with no shoulder!  We made it safe and sound to the bustling 'beach capital of Vietnam' in 5hrs, just in time for dinner.

Central Mountain Ranges of Vietnam

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