17 July 2008

Visiting Vietnam - Day 4

I was feeling a lot better after a good night's rest. Regained most of my strength and the need to visit the toilet was more controllable today. Breakfast at Hotel Thien An was a similarly hearty spread as yesterday's though slightly less impressive in variety. No dragonfruits!

Our itinerary today would be a trip up to Mount Lambiang and a visit to the Valley of Love. It was just the Girlfriend, Jingjing and me going for the trip today as Lifen, Annette and Shawn were leaving for Hanoi in the afternoon.

My shoes literally fell apart from the trek at Elephant Falls the day before. Our guide advised that my crocs weren't suitable for the trek up the mountain so the boss of the hotel lent me his son's shoes for the day. It was a little tight, but I guess it will have to do.

The Girlfriend with Paul

Paul, a member of the native tribe in Dalat, would be our guide for the mountain trek. He spoke exceedingly fluent English for what would be near zero formal education. His diction and pronunciation would probably put most Singaporeans to shame. He picked up the language mainly from the missionaries that came to spread the gospel as well as the visiting tourists. I was tremendously impressed by his enthusiasm and persistence in learning the language well. It meant a good side line from the fledgling tourism industry as a mountain guide.

So Paul led us on this trek up Mount Lambiang. The destination altitude would be over 1900 feet, which we thought was fine since our starting point was already around 1500 feet above sea level. But we soon started breathing really heavily that Paul had to slow his pace for us to catch up. Perhaps the air was thinner up there as well.

It probably took us over 2 hours and plenty of sweat to reach the top, but the view was definitely worth the effort. Perhaps our deprivation of wide spaces made the experience up there extra breathtaking.

Unsurprisingly, some tourist traps have been established at the peak to hawk the Lambiang experience to visitors.

At this hut you could get all dressed up traditional ethnic tribal costumes for snaps. Of course, as we didn't buy in to such unique experiences because we are the pragmatic Singaporeans. But the Girlfriend did try her hand on performing on their traditional instrument.

Additionally the peak was nicely landscaped and even had a statue of Lam and Biang, which the mountain was named after. Legend has it that they were lovers, but the girl kena forced to marry someone she dun like. One thing led to another and somehow everybody die. And so to remember the sea-cry-rock-rot of a love story, the place was name Lambiang because all the drama happened there.

And to think that the Girlfriend and I desecrated the statues and monument of love...

So we had our fun up at Mount Lambiang and proceeded to our descent.

Along the way, Paul shared more about his family and tribe and the struggles they go through as farmers. It is rather depressing to know that the people have difficulty sending their children to school despite the low cost of education there. Just as depressing was the knowledge that they are the people who are suffering because of the recent commodity prices. If they were lucky to have planted rice, they would prosper this time round, but if they had planted other crops that depreciated in price, they suffered and would stand to lose the land they own. He shared that persimmons were currently going at 1000 dong per 100 kilos.

After lunch, we bid Paul good bye and proceeded to our next tour destination - The Valley of Love.

Trinkets on sale outside The Valley of Love

The place was as cheesy as its name. Plenty of statues in passionate embrace as well as more abstract stuff that might have inspired our very own but now defunct SDU. They even have a Mickey and Minnie knock off.

That's us messing the romantic ambience, again.

Yet another SDU inspiring sculpture, and check out the Doraemon cut out in the background.

Anyway, here are the rest of the pictures taken from The Valley of Love.

With that, we hopped on the SUV to return to our hotel to wash up.

We ventured out to the streets later in the evening to check out the bustling night market. All the action seems to culminate at the round-about, where the major roads of converge. Plenty of spread out groundsheets became makeshift stalls for hawking second-hand winter clothing and other random merchandise. Steps away was a multi-storey market selling a variety of local produce, mostly dried and/or preserved as well as quality knock-offs of various brand names. Plenty of mobile stalls lined the streets and hawked various local ready-to-eat delicacies, ranging from barbecued sweet potatoes, fruits, beverages to desserts. Opposite these makeshift enterprises were the less manoeuvrable establishments of coffee houses, bakeries and delis that sold the food and experience in a package. It almost felt European.

Our stomachs grumble to signal the need for food and to return for the night. We would be taking the early morning ride on the coach back to Ho Chi Minh City for another 2 days. We settled at a pho diner which we had spotted earlier. Interestingly, it was probably the only place serving pho throughout Dalat.

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