Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Wanderlust: Vietnam Day 2

December 26, 2010-- Da Lat City

I might have employed four different sleeping positions during the ride to Da Lat. This is the first time I slept in a bus overnight, having had spent nights in a plane (where there's really no other choice but to recline your seat), and a train (where I had a bed). Having two empty bus seats to yourself can really test your flexibility creativity.

Photo from WikiTravel
We left Ho Chi Minh at 10PM and arrived at around half past 5 local time (GMT +7 because Vietnam is operating on Daylight Savings Time). It was soooo cold my teeth started chattering on its own. I would guess it was about 15 degrees at the time, a vast drop in temperature from Ho Chi Minh's 30 degrees.

Da literally translates to "stream" while Lat is the name of the minority group that settled around the area. So Da Lat actually means "stream of the Lat people".

They call Da Lat "The City of Flowers" because a lot of different and rare flowers bloom here, mainly due to the weather. But it is also "the City With Four Seasons In A Day": Mid to late morning is said to be springtime, while lunchtime to the early afternoon is summer. As soon as it hits 4PM to 6PM, autumn arrives (my favorite season!). Evening to early morning would then be wintertime. Da Lat also prides itself in being "Le Petit Paris", even erecting a smaller Eiffel Tower in the small town. In the past, the French and Vietnamese Heads of State would come to the city to escape the heat of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh) and to vacation or relax.

We stayed at the Mai Vang Hotel (3 stars). The thing about picking hotels for me is that, it doesn't have to be a five-star hotel, but it can't be anything close to the nightmarish Travelodge Motels (had the misfortune of staying in one during a trip to the US). As long as the room and the bed is clean to sleep in, and the bathroom is clean with water heaters, it's okay with me. Fortunately, the WiFi is actually quite fast in the hotel, and is inclusive in the room fees unlike in some five-star hotels I've stayed in.

After breakfast and freshening up, our first stop was at Đồi Mộng Mơ (Hills of Dreams), a popular tourist spot in Da Lat. There are quite a few flower and bonsai arrangements all over the area, as well as some relics, statues and a wishing tree. In one of the old houses there is a table that is said to spin left or right by sheer mind-power.

Across the street is the Su Quan Historical Village, which houses a lot of magnificent needleworks by XQ Embroidery. They look like paintings and are extremely expensive intricate, each taking at least two months to finish. Photos aren't allowed in the showroom. In the backyard of the Historical Village is a quaint little cafe-restaurant where they serve fried sweet potatoes, mushrooms and tea (all must-try's).

After having lunch, we headed over to the Domain de-Marie Church.

The Church was built through the generosity of Suzanne Humbert, wife of the French governor-general from 1940-1945. This was her favorite place of worship and so when she passed away in 1944 from a car accident, she was buried in the Church grounds in accordance with her will. The Church is now home to French-speaking nuns. At the side of the church is a small store that sells handmade sweaters, bonnets, trenchcoats and scarves, which are made by the nuns themselves, and are quite lovely and cheap. There are also dried foods and crackers being sold. Proceeds from purchases benefit the nuns.

Da Lat is a small city. You can get to one place from another in less than 20 minutes by car.

We drove to Da Lat's Highlands, specifically to Lang Biang Mountain, to get a better view of the city. You can either hike up to the top of the mountain, or hire a Russian jeep-driving man to take you there in less time. The view is fantastic and peaceful, as the sunlight makes the city's famous Golden Stream Lake sparkle and mirror-like. They also sell some rabbit, crocodile and snake meat up top if you're feeling gastronomically adventurous.

Having a taste of the Golden Stream Lake's magnificence from afar wasn't enough, so we drove over to see it up close. The grasslands, pine trees and gardens surrounding the lake was so picturesque it was hard not to want to just sit down with a good book and the breeze blowing over your head. Golden Stream Lake is situated in the Golden Valley, and consists of two smaller lakes (Dankia and Ankroet). Walking around with the grass on your feet and the wind caressing your face, it is very difficult not to fall in love with the serenity and beauty of this place.

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