Different faces of Vietnam
03.02.2009 - 07.02.2009
Admittedly we weren't overly impressed when we arrived in Dalat. It was a long journey, much longer than we'd been told by the bus company. We had booked onto a sleeper bus, and although the chairs reclined quite far, there just wasn't enough leg room to get comfortable. We checked in to our hostel, went for a wander around town and after dinner we went to bed feeling a bit down, wondering whether we'd made the wrong decision by coming all the way into the mountains. There had been mixed reviews for the place, but one comment that everyone made was that this was the kitsch capital of Vietnam, which appealed to us. It has also been described by The Lonely Planet as having the look and feel of an alpine village in spring, although we are cautious to trust this esteemed guidebook as their gushing praise can easily make a cesspit sound like the Promised Land. The night we arrived it just seemed like a normal city, with nothing obviously interesting. The most obvious difference with Saigon was the people were wearing full winter outfits, winter coats, hats and gloves, but to be honest it wasn't anywhere near cold enough to justify it, we were still wearing shorts and t’shirts.
Dalat at night
Our first destination the following day, and the thing we were most looking forward to, was the Crazy House. Designed by the daughter of a former communist party leader, normal building restrictions haven't been considered so the result is something very over the top and amazing to explore. Primarily a hotel, it is now bordering on being an architectural wonder, due for completion in 2010. Anna took an enormous amount of photos, more than anywhere else we've been. The photos can be found on our Picasa web album, at the end of the Dalat photos.
Anna in the Eagle Room, Crazy House
Brads in the Crazy House
After the Crazy House we had a walk around town, taking in the scenery. The city is quite hilly, there is a large, pretty lake and the architecture is quite French, the day was bright and the air was crisp. We came to the conclusion that in certain lights and at certain angles and for a moment, if you were drunk, you could believe that you were in the Alps in spring.
The French Alps
We still hadn't felt that we hadn't had the full Vietnamese kitsch experience, so we hired a swan pedal boat on the lake and went for a spin. We had fun playing the part of a honeymooning couple, but stopped just short of going all the way and hiring a horse and cart ride around the lake.
We finished off the day by visiting the amazing market. The climate is perfect for growing a huge variety of fruit and vegetables and many common varieties have been imported from Europe, so not only were the meals packed full of fresh vegetables, but the market was an amazing spectacle. Most of the stall holders were wearing either the traditional conical hats or motorcycle helmets, which is fast overtaking the classic in popularity. The city had really grown on us, but one full day was more than enough to see what we wanted.
Women at the market
Brads buying fruit
Our next destination was Nha Trang, a busy seaside resort. The long bus journey was interesting and breathtaking at the same time, we seemed to almost veer off the road so many times that we soon got used to staring death in the face. We enjoyed seeing village life, unspoilt by tourism, as we hurtled through hamlet after hamlet. The children, naked, going mental at seeing the bus, waving and shouting at the passengers, and trying to keep up with the bus by running as hard as their legs would take them. Nha Trang turned out to be nothing of what we expected. The promenade was wide and well maintained and reminded us of the sea fronts at Paignton in Devon.
Nha Trang Promenade
We secured a pretty decent room, for a pretty good price, and immediately went to check out a photography gallery and the large Buddha. We walked, rather than hired a tuktuk or taxi, and although it was really hot, we had a nice tour of the city. We find that it is the smallest things that interest and amaze us, and if we're not walking we miss all these little amusements. Our first stop was the photographic gallery of Long Thanh, a well known and revered Vietnamese photographer. He focuses on people, and there are no images of guns or the war, which, understandably, tends to be quite an obvious subject in Vietnam. Working only in black and white and developing the images himself, the photographs have amazing texture and an emotional quality. The very old and very young feature heavily, and the contrasts between the two make the photos very tender. Further still into the city was the large seated Buddha, set high on a mount, looking out onto the city. The guide book said that this could be seen from the whole city and acted as a landmark, although this wasn't actually the case, it was impressive nonetheless. Almost hidden away on the stairs up to the mount, was a large reclining Buddha, which was impressive in itself. The long journey in the morning and the busy afternoon spent wandering the city left us exhausted and led to an uncharacteristic early night.
We've bumped into fellow travellers we've met in other cities and countries, so it was no real surprise when we saw Pamela strolling towards us, even though it took us a moment to place where we knew her from. We had met a Scottish trio in Saigon at breakfast at our hotel, amusingly over a conversation about cockroaches. Now down to just two, Pamela and Ross, their friend Laura had returned to Hong Kong where she currently lives. Pam told us that they'd had a brilliant night at Crazy Kims the previous evening, which is why Ross was nursing a hangover at the hotel. Kim runs a bar which supports children, in particular those who are vulnerable to sex tourism. Something that is very prevalent in this part of the world, and we had been surprised how little recognition the problem is given. We think it is a fantastic organisation, putting profits towards education and fun for local kids. We played pool, and did our bit for Kim by getting totally wasted. We were joined by three guys from Perth; Ben, Ben and Garry and had a really enjoyable night. The next day was basically spent getting over the night before, eating delicious Italian ice cream and sitting on the beautiful beach of Nha Trang.
The beach in Nha Trang