Da Lat

So then; five days into a Vietnamese adventure and I have finally gotten to do something that didn’t involve hugging a toilet bowl.

We arrived in Da Lat yesterday evening. It is a very pretty place. I have seen lots of places in SE Asia described as having a “European Feel”, but this is the first where I agree.

We are now 1,500 meters up in the mountains and with the undulations of the town, the trees and flowerbeds and a lake in the centre;  I really could envision this place covered in a layer of snow and hugging the Pyrenees.

Even the rather here is refreshingly cool. It is 20℃ and it feels amazing. However, despite the cooler atmosphere the sun beats down remorselessly and is very intense. In fact, my arms appear to have taken on a distinct redness and I daresay that my face has as well. It is actually the first time that I’ve been any kind of sunburnt since Langkawi when I was still as pasty as can be. That I have been all over the continent and not got burnt since, should give some indication as to how fierce it is here.

Its currently coming up to 7pm and I’m sat on my hotel bed and feeling slightly out of it. I’d like to pop out and get something to eat, but we’re at the top of a hill and ……

Its now 8:20pm and I’ve decided to stop being a wuss and go out for food. I walked down to the market, which was a real market where local people go to buy their shopping, and not a market such as Ladies Street in Hong Kong.

I appeared to be the only westerner and I got more than I few strange looks as I filtered through the people. I’m feeling very self conscious here in Da Lat. It is like being back in China where people will stop and stare or grab their friends and point at me. Its really bugging me, and I’ve come close to snapping. The closest I came was at a temple, when walking up some stairs a group of teenagers were sat around. As I walked past, they did the usual bug-eyed thing and then I watched as one made a gesture towards me and the group burst out laughing. I turned around and walked straight up to the one that had made the gesture and did nothing but glare at him. He then started going ‘mister, mister I sorry, I sorry’ and I just left it there.

My mood was not helped when five minutes later a group of Chinese tourists walked past and three of them literally ran up to me and grabbed my stomach. I just raised my finger and said “don’t touch” in Mandarin. Which apart from please, thank you, and no pretty much exhausted my reserves of that language. I don’t even know if they knew Mandarin or if my pronunciation was even recognisable, but they looked shocked when I said it.

The whole touching thing in China was amusing for the first day and by the end of the month had really worn thin. In all the other SE Asia countries all the people have been fine – with the exception of a view vendors. I’d get looks, and thats to be expected. But most would never dream of running up and grabbing at you. But as soon as I crossed the border from Cambodia things changed. The way that the people look at you is completely different. Its like they are appraising you, or measuring you up.

It’s uncomfortable, and I really do not like it.

Vietnam is a beautiful country from what I have seen so far. But the people are leaving me cold, and it really does pain me to say that. 

But back to today. We started off by visiting a monstrosity called ‘The Crazy House’. This monument to bad taste was erected by the daughter of a former ruler and whilst I wouldn’t describe it as crazy, I would certainly go with odd.

The place is made of poured concrete and the only way that I can think to describe it that is as if Salvador Dali and Antoni Gaudi got together and decided to make a vertical Hobbitton. 

From there we went to Bao Dai’s summer palace. I’ve lost count of how many summer palaces I have been to, and of them all this will not stick long in the memory.

It is a nondescript concrete building in the 1960’s British seaside resort style. I expected to find Basil Fawlty in the foyer and I was only half surprised that there was not a room filled with ancient board games that never get played. Everything about this place brought to mind an old Jersey hotel. The corridors, the furnishings and the lighting. Even the colour scheme – the beige and peach of times gone past.

However the grounds were very nice, and despite my lack of whelm it was obviously popular with the locals as I saw two pre-wedding shoots taking place. 

In keeping with the time warp, we then caught an old diesel train and took a short but enjoyable ride into the countryside to Trai Mat village. The main feature of the village is a surreal set of Pagodas and temples know as the Bottle Temple.

The buildings are covered in the remains of thousands of glass bottles and are pretty cool sight. In the courtyard of the temple there is a giant dragon again decorated using bottles. 

There is also a very, very lifelike statue of one of the former Buddhist Monks that resided at the temple. It is so lifelike, that at first I genuinely thought that it was a praying monk.

Actually, now I bring it to mind again it was bloody creepy.

From the temples we drove to the Da Lat Flower Park. A place that our guide had been gushing about, and left me (not for the first time) wondering what on earth I am still doing here.

For a botanical garden there is a heck of a lot of paving going on. In fact, I’d say over half the area is paved. The flowers are the very definition of the word ‘common’ even to my own uneducated eyes.

The highlight of the visit was a set of goofy looking topiaries, styled to look like animals from the zodiac. They are hilariously bad, mainly because they have insisted on decorating them with cut out teeth and eyes that just make them look like a child has been given a go at making them.

Then on to lunch, which I was disappointed to see was in a total tourist restaurant. You know the food your going to get before you even sit down, and on that front I was not disappointed. What I couldn’t understand was that my fellow diners were gushing with praise over how good the food was. It wasn’t in the slightest. It was the Asian equivalent of chicken in a basket at your local football clubs fundraising night. It doesn’t mean that it was bad, but it wasn’t worthy of adjectives like ‘stunning’. 

After lunch we did something that is far more my kind of thing. It was cable car time. After a rash of these at the start of my adventure, they seem to have stopped over the last couple of months. So I was delighted to get back into a cage and hang over a ravine once more.

The cable car here is a good one, and I recommend it. On one side you can see out for miles to the mountains and surrounding regions. One the other you get a superb view of De Lat. To to it off once you ascend over the peak, you get a wonderful vista of the lake, with the reflecting off of it. 

This brought us to the Buddhist monastery and my encounter with the Chinese tour group.

It is another beautiful monastery, and the setting that it is in is incredible. However, after visiting so many recently I find it hard to think of anything that was unique about it over than its beautiful location.

All the temples I have visited have been amazing. Any taken in isolation would be well worth your time. But to write about, and enthuse about them is becoming more difficult because they do tend to follow the same style guide, yet deserve more than a cursory – ‘and went to another temple’.

That was my last stop, before I left here for food.

After I walked through the market, I walked for alongside the lake. Again, Da Lat is a very pretty place and I enjoyed my walk.

I ate at the the Blue Water Restaurant, which ended up being my most expensive meal in ages at an incredible £5.98 using todays rates. The food was great, but I mainly paid for the view as the restaurant was right alongside the lake.

It was quite amusing to be eating in my normal t-shirt and shorts and to be surrounded by people wearing big thick winter clothing. As we are up in the mountains, it is much cooler. It was to the point where I was thinking that I perhaps should have brought a jumper, or at least chucked my shirt over my t-shirt.

It’s still 18℃!

In springtime at home, this is when we would be rejoicing and throwing off our coats; walking into the office after lunch and telling each other how hot it is outside.

Tomorrow we drive to Nha Trang. I hope it is as pleasant as Da Lat.

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