4 July 2008

Visiting Vietnam - Day 3

It's day 3. We reached Dalat after an overnight coach that lasted 6 or 7 hours. It was rather cold when we got off the coach as our destination was in the highland area of Vietnam. Thankfully, we had put on an extra layer of clothing when we got on the coach at Ho Chi Minh City.

The view in front of Dreams Hotel

According to many locals, Dalat is their standard honeymoon destination. Reasons include the relatively low prices, good weather and picturesque landscapes. This place was definitely more relaxed with a slower pace of life than Ho Chi Minh City.

Slacking at the Dreams Hotel lobby

Slacking at the Dreams Hotel lobby

I can't help but feel a lot more welcome here in Dalat. The pleasant lady boss of Dreams Hotel ushered us their dining area for breakfast that would be one of the most awesome breakfasts at a budget hotel we would have in Vietnam.

Check out the awesome breakfast spread!

Fruits, juices, coffee, tea, baguettes, cheese, jam, It even comes with eggs in your choice of omelette, scrambled or sunny-side-up.

We were really tempted to just stay longer just for the breakfast, but we were here to tour, so we proceeded to check in only to be informed that Dreams Hotel, with rooms each equipped with its own jacuzzi was fully booked. Oh no! We definitely didn't like this kind of deja vu. The lady boss told us that she had arranged for us to be put up at his brother's hotel, which she claimed was still pretty good, and just 900 metres away. We were really candid when we told her that we had gotten the same treatment in Ho Chi Minh City and were thoroughly disappointed and we would demand for rooms at her hotel if we weren't satisfied with her brother's hotel.

We then loaded up an SUV to bring us over to her brother's hotel. 900 metres away, we alighted and checked into Hotel Thien An. The owner of the hotel was a humble and charming middle-aged man who spoke just enough English to communicate with his guests and get their requests fulfilled. We were ushered up to our rooms to put down our luggage. Suffice to say, the rooms exceeded our expectations. The rooms had high ceilings and really nicely made beds that rivaled hotels with at least 3 stars. The rooms even had an oil painting of passionate lovers to complete the ambience. Plus, the balcony had a nice view of the laid back town. We then went down to the reception area to wait for our day tour of Dalat.

The Girlfriend in front of the Crazy House

Our first stop of the day tour was at Crazy House, a mansion that was built by an extremely influential lady. The story behind Crazy House was her desire to build a house that could integrate into and co-exist seamlessly with nature. My guess was that she was also inspired by Antoni Gaudí's works. The lady still lives today and continues to oversee the construction of the mansion. Anyways, we went on a tour of the place which was great for pictures.

Lots of information about the house and the owner

The Girlfriend, Lifen and Jingjing

Lifen, Annette and Shawn

The Girlfriend

Satisfied with the tour of Crazy House, we moved on to visit the country-side of Dalat. We dropped of at a rather inconspicuous garden that produces flowers for the market.

In all honesty, the garden wasn't exactly a fantastic place to visit, most of the blooms were already harvested, leaving just little hedges to show that the place indeed produces flowers. The Girlfriend commented that it was like Cameron Highlands with less interesting things growing. Nevertheless, the good weather had us frolicking (sorta) in the garden.

Avocados grow on trees everywhere in Dalat, costs like nothing and are much larger than the ones we get in Singapore.

We were dropped off somewhere along a winding mountain road for a view to fall in love with. At the same time, it reminded me of how the urban landscape of Singapore might have created a different kind of short-sightedness where we hardly experience open spaces such as this.

Having soaked up the open landscape, we were brought to a one of the many coffee plantations for a science lesson on symbiotic relationship between coffee and passionfruit.



A shot of the farm hands at the coffee plantation

Lunch was at an unassuming farm that does a little bit of everything from rearing pigs and silkworms to rice wine making to vegetable farming to running an eatery and a convenience store cum gift shop. With the fare relatively simple, dining here was more an act of supporting the local trade than anything else. One thing that we did look forward to for the meal was the consistently good coffee that can be found almost everywhere, including this everything-also-they-do farm. I was also treated to the local cognac infused with herbs, tree bark and other unidentifiable but organic matter. It packed a good punch of potency and flavour that would have me wanting more and maybe never bother with pointless expensive and flat international cognacs.

In the spirit of a school excursion, we were led to visit a silk factory to witness the processing. Silkworms were fed and fattened until they spin their cocoons. Cocoons then meet their boiling, watery grave to be harvested. A machine then unravels the cocoon of its single continuous thread of silk to reveal the carcass of the naked silkworm which are then treated again to be sent to the market for food.

The silk factory workers during their lunch break

The intriguing weaving machine run that produces patterned weaves with punch coded template

Louie, our guide figured we were adventurous enough for a trek and brought us to the Elephant Falls for a wet and wild experience.

The descent was pretty steep and it got more and more slippery the further down we went.

A glimpse of the falls half way down

Reaching the bottom

The rapids

Of course, there was more to explore of Elephant Falls. Louie brought us all the way to the back of the waterfall to experience the elements first hand. But first, we had to contend with more slippery paths and ravines.

Reaching soon

Beholding Nature

The thundering roar of the water crashing down undoubtedly reminds me of the vulnerability of man. Literally, it felt like being at the mercy of nature, one slip, and you would probably dragged under by the pounding of the plunge pool and you would stay there until every trace of you ceases to exist.

With everyone nicely drenched, we returned to the top to the visitors' centre which hawked hand woven silk.

Somehow I was convinced to buy a piece of queen-sized silk bedsheet for US$50 without even indulging in the ubiquitous travellers' sport of bargaining. My travel companions were saying that I got ripped off, but as a traveller from a better off land, the transaction was a recognition for the 2 months' effort in creating the end product. Support local trade, lah.

Next we were brought up to a cable car station, which we unanimously decided against riding on. Lovely view up there at the station tough.

Anyway, the cable car station had a huge carved wall. 2 normal sized people for scale.

So back to the hotel since we were all pretty zoned out. I had a little problem adjusting to the cooler weather in wet clothes and consequently got too sick to get out of bed. I was running to the toilet too frequently and I needed 2 blankets on top of my fleece jacket to keep warm. I couldn't get out for the rest of the day. The rest went out for dinner and were nice enough to tar pau a popular local wanton mee soup for me and the Girlfriend. (because she stayed behind to look after me) The wanton mee was nice, but my stomach didn't exactly welcome the food. Thankfully, despite the lack of appetite, I could feel that I was on my way to recovery, just needed a good night's rest, with adequate warmth.

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