Sunday, 27 January 2013

Dalat and the Highlands

The journey to Dalat was a 10½ hour overnight train to Nha trang was bumpy, not that air conditioned and spent sharing a small cabin with two other people and a baby. Sleep for both of us is minimal and our tiredness is not improved after tramping the streets for 3 hours before another 4 hour bus journey.

The good news is that the bus then provides a free taxi service to get us to our hotel which is cheap (£7 a night), clean and quiet. Our hosts Tien and Viet are warm and welcoming and smile when they tell us we should have arrived yesterday (whoops).

Dalat, is sadly not like Paris in the Alps as was suggested. It is like any other town in this country and is filled with motorbikes, motorbikes, scooters and more motorbikes. Our first afternoon and evening are not the best of starts….we get lost walking to find somewhere to eat. Eventually, very tired and hungry we find a restaurant that is serving food and are shown to a table by a lovely young lady who has limited English. The menu is all in Vietnamese with only a few pictures of unrecognisable food stuffs. So we order beer. And peanuts come out too, hooray. This followed by something that is half edible and  is no sooner finished than real fatigue sets in and we stumble home to bed. By 7.45 we are sound asleep.

The following morning is beautiful, bright and hopeful. We hire our customary motorbike and head off in search of interesting stuff and find Linh Phuoc temple.  This is a temple, pagoda and adjoining building is entirely covered in broken pieces of crockery or glass (tessellation I believe is the correct term). This might sound a bit naff but until you witness the scale, splendour, colour and skill with which the task has been completed you cannot make that assumption. This place is astonishing. Three dimensional murals, dragons, flowers, and patterns  cover every inch of the place from the underneath of stair risers to the top of the ornate and shapely roofs. Whilst this on-going adornment has become a tourist attraction its roots and essential purpose is in the veneration of Budha. This incredibly labour intensive work gives rise to wonder but without the overpowering sense of majesty one gets from a Church or Mosque. And set as it is, in a little village in the hills, it is even more impressive and virtually deserted so we were at liberty to nose at work in progress, see the 18 metre high flower sculpture and look enviously at a religious pimp my ride bus.

We had intended to go to Tiger Falls but could not find the bloody place although it turns out we drove past it twice. Since hunger was setting in we gave up and on route home ate from a hawker stand at the side of the road – a soupy concoction with bits of pate floating on soggy noodles. The food was mundane but the company rapidly grew as news of ‘round eyes’ eating at the side of the road got around the village and we were soon joined by several onlookers including the town drunk who tried to make us drink hooch.

On route home we visit a newly built temple high up on the hill overlooking a small village. No one is about, save a couple of gardeners, until loping out of nowhere there suddenly appeared the caretaker. Stooped, a speech impediment, twitching, an odd gait, unsettling eyes and a large chunk missing from his temporal lobe which had left him slightly brain damaged. He proceeds to beckon us into the temple which he opens specially and after flicking on the neon lights that bedeck the main hall, gives us a tour including (this is true) the twin turrets  in which are housed two giant bells that he caresses fondly when I touch them. He shakes his head, smiles and then leads us up to the roof to look down around the town below. The similarity between Notre Dame/Quasimodo and the temple/caretaker character is startling. However, young Esmeralda and I left unscathed and we warmly shook the kind gentleman’s hands as we thanked him and left some time later.

That evening we were invited by the hotel owners Viet and Tien to join them for dinner, rather than go out to eat and were treated to tasty fish,  various vegetables, rice and a few shots of Viets very strong home made liquor. A great evening with lots of laughs and such an honour to once again be invited to share time and food with our lovely generous hosts.
The following day was spent looking around Crazy House, one of the old kings summer palaces and the town. In reverse order the town is just a town and a bit shit, the summer palace is an art deco building with strangely worn out (for a palace) 1930’s furniture and drab walls – not terribly palace like, a thing made even more apparent by the strange inclusion of a few large dilapidated plastic animals scattered around the , quite frankly, slightly tatty gardens. Finally – Crazy House. A bizarre, surreal dream-cum-reality building of fantastic, dali-esque shapes. Walkways like dripping lava caverns connect irregularly shaped rooms in which weirdly shaped furniture is found. Stairways go, in out and over the top of the building and have moulded vines falling down into the profusion of flowers and other strange ornaments below. This fantastical realisation of a dream was the work of Vietnamese woman who was plainly tripping when she designed this amazing piece of architecture.

Another beautiful morning started by buying breakfast in the swankiest hotel in town at the cost of £8 for both of us. That is a lot here but if you consider how much we ate (ney, gorged) then it was money well spent. The day was spent first at Elephant falls. It’s a waterfall reached by a lovely journey with stunning views along the winding roads of the highlands as we dipped in and out of various valleys. The sun shone and lovely fragrances filled our noses from the various market gardens and crops along the way. The falls are about 20 metres across and the water cascades down onto rocks and small pool before rushing away down the river.  The sound of the falling water, the spray in the air and surrounding scenery are a joy to see but the sense of power and excitement from the torrential water when we managed to get behind the falls was something else and well worth the scramble over boulders and through crevices to get there.

Just by the falls is a temple in whose pleasant gardens stands, or rather sits, a giant, lime green, laughing Budha. This huge statue (20m at a guess) is fabulous. His huge mouth is agape in a roaring laugh and bulbous belly (that contains a room) rests on his chubby crossed legs. No doubt he is laughing at the expansive views which he overlooks.  This is religious iconography as it should be. Humorous, self depreciating and friendly (rather than a wounded, tortured man nailed up on a cross).The obligatory weird shit can also be found in the gardens – this time a sort of nativity scene of kneeling and standing men and women with a back drop of 3d mountains.

Final visit of the day was to a silk factory. Did you know that the average Cocoon is spun with 1km of silk thread and 10 silk strands make up the average commercial thread. We learnt other stuff and watched the process of extracting and spinning the silk. Very interesting but quite frankly not as interesting as eating the grubs. One of the workers was drying some grubs out on a hot pipe beside the place she worked and offered one to me. After I had finished impressing various locals and other travellers I had eaten five. Not as heroic as it seems as there was no goo just a brown shape that tasted and had the consistency of peanuts. No great but actually not bad.

Final day in Dalat and we are going out in style. 5 star breakfast again in the posh hotel followed by a trip to 'The Valley of Love'. A piece of sheer inspiration from the Vietnamese government. A huge lake, picturesque gardens, pleasant walks and shadey pine forests set in a few hundred acres and populated with every cheesy symbol of love you can think of. Cuddly animals, love swings, hearts, romantic couple statues, holding hands statues, heart shaped fountains and even seats with lovers embracing on the back rest. There were carriages rides and swan pedloes and horses for hire. Even tandems and a gaudy looking train to take you around the

We thought she was just running her loving fingers through
his hair but soon realised she had tweezers and was looking for
'The Lice of Love'

 lake. Everything was as tacky as tacky can be but set in this lovely landscape. On the one hand we were in hysterics at how bad it was then we would turn a corner and see a beautiful tree or aspect of the lake unseen before. An absolute must for any visitor here as long as its taken for what it is. so good in fact that we dedicated a folder of its own on drop box if anyone is interested:

Quick visit to the Botanical gardens on the way back home. Nice but bit dull so won't bore you as this one is pretty long anyway


1 comment:

  1. Hey I like the idea of eating silkworms.....not. Sounds like you have met, once again, some lovely friendly people just so different to the greedy selfish money grabbing western world.Mind how you go and speak to you soon.
    H.O UK