February 19, 2012

Vietnam - Dalat

After Vung Tau, we decided to take an overnight sleeper bus to Dalat. It is easy to do - just go down the main drag of tourist companies and you are sure to be approached by someone swearing to have the best deal. Sleeper buses are quite comfortable - bring some warm clothing and a drink or snack, you will be given a thin blanket. The individual compartments are not long enough to stretch out, but I was very comfortable laying on my side, knees hanging off of the bunk. There is a back section with 5 beds together, much more communal, but the best part is that it is a lot darker and longer. I highly recommend the buses, but be prepared for several hours of delays, and if you do a long trip - paying in advance for 2 or more buses between cities - expect overbooking and possibly waiting another day for an open seat.

Dalat is closer to central Vietnam, and therefore was much cooler. We arrived around 6 am and realized we were tired, cold, and overwhelmed. There were a handful of sites on our tentative itinerary, so we set off to the market. The outside market was bustling, and very similar to Korean markets I had been to in the past. I found it quite funny that the inside market wasn't even open when we arrived!

Heading out of the flower section of the market.

Wandering around the city's center, we debated our next move. As chance would have it, we happened upon a few guys from Dalat's Easy Riders. These are motorbike drivers who give tours of the city. The way it works - each person rents a bike and driver for a set period, and they drive you to different locations throughout the day. It cost each of us 20 USD, and was easily worth it. They gave us some choices on locations, and we all agreed on the coutnryside tour, which meant less city locations and a more in depth look into Vietnam's rural culture and a peek into the enthnic minority villages.

Off we went!

Dalat's weather and soil make it ideal for growing flowers. This farm has drivers rush freshly cut flowers down to Saigon, because the prices are exceptionally higher than those in Dalat.

This is a rice wine factory. It reminded me of Korean soju, though I think it is distilled several more times here.

Vietnamese coffee is fantastic. We were lucky enough to get to see the coffee farms, the drying coffee already harvested, and of course, prepared coffee!

Traditionally Vietnamese people drink kopi luwak, or weasel coffee, as a delicacy. I didn't try any, but the coffee shop had lots of weasels for this dish.

This temple was a highlight on the day's adventures. It was very beautiful. This photo was taken by Rob, who went on the trip with me.

The most famous site at the temple was this huge Buddha, but I was also intrigued with the different style statues that reminded me of some in Thailand. It was very ornate. This photo was taken by Rob, who went on the trip with me.

As much as I adore Korea's temple roofs, I might like Vietnam's even more.

Elephant Waterfall was our next stop. Its name comes from the lush hills around it, which resemble huge, green elephants bending over, leaning into the waterfall's pool for a drink. I hope you can get some idea of the scale here- it is a huge waterfall.

This is a silk factory. Our guides walked us through each step - raising the worms in their little casings and pulling the thread apart in these giant machines

The thread is strung through these huge machines, on the left, while the paper with hole punches, on the right, is fed through another slot. The paper has a pattern, which directs the machine on how to string the fabric together. It creates beautiful patterns or pictures based on the directions.

We also stopped at a few ethinc minority villages. Our guides were straight forward and informative, telling us about the history between the Vietnamese and the current government relations. I will detail some of that here, but must admit this is someone else's opinion, and I do not claim to be an expert on Vietnam's domestic politics...

Vietnam's ethnic minorities were originally nomadic, wandering the mountains and forests for food. The current government tried to force them to settle together - different ethnic minority groups living next to one another. There was a great deal of strife since they had rivalries and territory disputes. Eventually, the governmeent changed their policy, they had each ethnic minority group live independently, with Vietnamese villages or cities in between different minority groups. Furthermore, they gave hunting and gathering rights to ethnic minorities - each group had a set area, while Vietnamese were not permitted to at all. The government provides schooling - though not mandatory,. These changes have lead to peaceful relationships between the different ethnic minorities and the government.

Dalat's Crazy House is very well-known in the area. It is a hotel which also charges an entrance fee and allows tourists to wander around its labyrinth of rooms connected by twisting stairwells. The story behind the hotel is quite interesting, and it is still under construction. The owner's father is a former Vietnamese president from the 1980's, and an earlier project was torn down because it was percieved as anti-socialist.

For information on booking and prices, check out this site, hotels-in-vietnam.com.

This is a view of Dalat from part of the Crazy House.

Vietnam, like Korea and Thailand, uses broken glass shoved into wet cement as a cheaper alternative to barbed wire fences.

The last glimpse at Dalat's countryside - this lake is well known because honeymooners take these boats across it to stay at the resorts on the other side of the lake.

If you would like to book a tour with my fantatic guides through Easy Riders, call Mr. Hoai at 012 7979 8379 or book online at easyrider-club.com.

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