Dalat-ful Hills

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Dalat is a small city tucked peacefully away in the southern hills of Vietnam. Four hours from Mui Ne, four hours from Nha Trang, it was an effective way of taking two sides of a triangle and leaving the hypotenuse to those more hurried in much the same way as this metaphor is an effective way of demonstrating I'm still as much a geek as ever. I arrived late afternoon, just in time to stroll and view a stunning sunset over the city as Nathan (a kiwi I'd met in the lobby) explored the town and looked for dinner. He's a vegetarian, which made the hunt for dinner a lot more difficult than usual - I never really appreciated how much freedom is afforded by just being able to eat anywhere without worrying what it is, exactly, you're having. Perhaps if you like it, hate it, or it looks a bit suspect, you remember the name or inquire further, otherwise my philosophy is, if they're eating it it probably won't kill me. How wrong I was...

Alright, so once again I had no interesting way to entice you and add enough suspense to keep you reading. I clearly haven't died and in fact have had nothing but great eating experiences here in Vietnam. The first real day in Dalat I spent wandering around the streets on foot. It's been a while since I've done this properly. That is to say, without a map or any clear agenda and with a tendancy to chance small side streets in the hope of overturning a hidden gem. I suppose I do this continually when seeking a meal, but hunting food is certainly an agenda and so this was a different and liberating feeling. A person tires of this after some time as I had, and forgets about doing it after a long 'break'. After that long exposition, you might expect that I found some amazing gem indeed, but the truth is that what I found was something more important - everyday life. I got away from the touts and tourists (of which there are few up here), and just watched people interacting, snapping shots from time to time. Two kids coming up the street shading themselves from an umbrella. An old woman pedaling a bike loaded with Durian to a food stall to have a chatty lunch with the ladies there. Couples sitting on their motorbikes in the park. A man and his two sons (illegally) fishing on the lake.

The latter I actually walked by without seeing as they were far down the slope of the lake shore, but they called out to me and waved me down. Curious what they wanted, I walked down the hill and soon had a glass of whiskey in my hand and a pair of chopsticks with various local foods being shoved in my face from the plastic bag of lunch they'd brought along. We talked as best we could for about a half hour or so with his daughters showing up a little later and eventually I made my leave and continued on to the markets. Markets are markets are markets, it seems, but this one had a sizeable candy markets of dried and sugared fruits and plenty of snake and eel to go around. I grabbed an early dinner at one of the upstairs stalls overlooking the market and my day of exploring the town ended quite happily.

Another day of exploration awaited the following morning when I got a driver to tour me around the countryside for about $10. We visited and passed some coffee plantations (and I ate a handful of beans which were pretty tasteless in the same way that peas can be). The coffee here is not as famous or tasty (so I hear) as that of Laos, but the plantations did look gorgeous on the red hillsides as we wound our way down past vegetable greenhouses towards a big temple. It's situated on the top of a waterfall, which I scrambled to the bottom of first, and then into the temple where there were several Buddhas and two many-armed Vishnus looking down on the polished tile floor and me, alone in the building. Around the back of this minority temple is a pretty large laughing Buddha, though his elevated dais means he could be laughing at just about anything.

Following that, we drove to a silk factory which was almost worth the trip alone. They take the cocoons that the worms they raise spin and soak them in hot water. They're cleaned somewhat there and a bit more before given to another woman who, while keeping them in hot water, collects them and bunches them together onto a winding spool where they slowly are unwound from the cocoon, wound to a thicker thread, and spooled. These spools are dried and tied by a woman with incredibly fast hands and then either sold or fed into a machine that weaves patterned sheets based on a punch card system. From start to finish it was an enlightening and interesting process. From there back up to Dalat and the Flower Garden, which was not worth the price of admission, around the lake, and to the railway station. It was built by the French a hundred and some years back and is Vietnam's oldest station, with a similarly old steam engine parked on one of the platforms. Grandpa, I thought, would love this. And finally, back to my hotel and past what has to be the largest collection of kites flying on a Sunday afternoon that I have ever witnessed. There was no occasion, no festival, just every kid and their dog had a kite and was running around the park somehow managing to remain untangled. I was in danger of becoming quite tangled in Dalat however, and so I had my dinner that night and booked passage to the coastal city of Nha Trang four hours downhill for the next morning.

Dalat Photos

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