Buddha said, “It is better to travel well than to arrive.” I don’t know if a five-hour bus journey with no suspension and no bathroom can be classified as “traveling well” but I do know that with stunningly moody views like this out our window, we thoroughly enjoyed the trip from Nha Trang to Dalat.
Dalat is Vietnam’s premier highland resort town, drawing domestic tourists who patronize the area’s many kitsch-filled attractions and international tourists drawn by the natural beauty, adventure activities, and yes, the kitsch.
The area is also a major agricultural and floral district, the evidence of which is found all over the quaint town’s cafes and markets.
We had very little time to spend in Dalat, so we spent our first evening renting a motorcycle for the following two days and going shopping for supplies. On our list was warm clothing to combat Dalat’s chilly mountain weather and a stop at one of Dalat’s famous bakeries. As you can see, both were a success.
The next day, joined by our new friend Andrew from English Bitcherature, we set off to once again risk our lives on the Vietnamese roadways and explore the attractions of Dalat.
The Crazy House, also known as the Hằng Nga guesthouse, was the sight I was most looking forward to seeing in Dalat. It is the personal project of a passionate artist, Mrs Dang Viet Nga, who has worked for decades to fight off local authorities and naysayers and sculpt this tribute to architectural madness. She was trained in Moscow and might have had a bit of help in her legal struggles, what with her father serving as one of Vietnam’s presidents.
The organically shaped building was originally intended as a private home but surmounting debt forced her to turn the house into both a daytime tourist attraction and a guesthouse for those that want a more up-close and personal view.
The house was still under construction during our visit and supposedly will still be so until 2015. I’m sure the neighbors can’t be too excited about that, but I personally look forward to seeing the finished result!
It was hard to navigate around the house; in fact I’m sure there are rooms and passageways we didn’t see as we meandered through the winding paths and hallways.
Some led to nowhere.
Some led to spectacular views of candy-colored rooftops.
Some led to the suites available to overnight guests. Each bedroom had a theme too it, such as this Kangaroo Room, where the giant kanga statue doubled as a hearth.
While I don’t think I’m up to wanting to spend a night sleeping in the Crazy House, I loved visiting this surrealist painting come to life. It reminded me of Treetanic Bar in Utila, Honduras, another place where an inspired artist let their passion run wild.
Valley of Love
I’ve been more or less obsessed with the Valley of Love since reading about it last year on Twenty Something Travel. It’s an otherwise run-of-the-mill park made extraordinary by an expectation-laden moniker and dozens of enormous romantically themed statues and photo-ops scattered across the valley. Vietnam honeymoon hotspot, here we come!
I am all about cheesiness and kitsch, so I was pretty much ready and willing to spend the entire day prancing from photo prop to photo prop. Unfortunately it was more or less freezing and oddly, the two boys I was traveling with were less willing than I to pose with giant love-injected green peppers.
It was so cold while we were in Dalat that even the locals were complaining about the unusual chill. It must have been keeping people holed up inside because we were some of the only patrons at the Valley of Love, crushing my dreams of observing the lovesick Vietnamese teenagers promised in my out-of-date Lonely Planet.
I can’t think of any other reason that would keep them away.
Tuyen Lam Lake Cable Car
After the Valley of Love debacle, we decided to head for a minor adrenaline-inducing (or at least gender neutral) activity, like riding a really high 2.3km cable car in a country with no safety standards.
Of course it wouldn’t be a day in Vietnam without something going comically wrong. When we missed the turn for the parking lot, a very angry parking attendant in a very official looking uniform shouted at us with a fervor usually reserved for those committing international bank heists. When we made our way into the lot he took out his pad of parking receipts, scribbled something on them, and handed us each one. When we looked down we saw that he had clearly changed the price from 2,000 to 4,000 currency. So, granted, around ten cents in US dollars. The story gets a little less flattering for everyone so I’ll just conclude by saying we couldn’t believe the gall and made it clear we would not be paying the Clueless Tax.
Things just got better when we went to buy tickets. A one-way ticket was 50,000 dong, and a round trip was 80,000 dong. Mark announced he wanted to buy the one way and asked how long the walk back would be. “About ten minutes” the counter agent smiled.
It quickly became clear to us that the only way this would be a ten minute journey would be via helicopter. When it came to extricating more money than we wanted to spend from our wallets, it was Vietnam: 4,934; Us: 0.
At least the views really were stunning. And happy couples waved at us from cars going in the opposite direction.
Best of all, we had stepped into a car that color-coordinated with my very fashionable new hoodie.
Mishaps and extortioners aside, these were some of the most beautiful views we saw in Vietnam. An incredibly beautiful stop.
And Everything In Between…
Some of the best parts of motorbiking around Vietnam are all the things you see in-between destinations.
A busy town center, a scenic farm terrace, a snippet of daily life among villagers. These are the things you don’t read about in guidebooks, but they make up the picture of what Vietnam is.
Stay tuned for Part II of our Dalat adventures!
. . . . . . . . .
This post was brought to you in collaboration with one of our sponsors.