KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
The day following our tour to the Cu Chi tunnels we boarded a bus that would take us to the mountain hill station of Dalat. This area was developed by the French during colonial times, for them to escape the heat and humidity of the summer months. For this reason, Dalat is often referred to as the "Paris of Indochina". The journey on the bus takes a little over six hours and passes through some lovely countryside. About two hours before we reached Dalat we climbed over a high mountain pass and had a view in all direction for what seemed like forever.
The vegetation changes dramatically during this journey and eventually we found ourselves in a lovely valley teeming with small farms growing every vegetable imaginable. There was a huge amount of fresh lettuce, onions, coriander, spinach, cucumbers and other leafy greens just about ready to harvest. As we continued to climb higher the pine trees eventually came into view and we realized that we were on the outskirts of Dalat.
The town is centered around a man-made lake, formed when a mountain stream was dammed to ensure a constant supply of fresh water. The area is quite hilly and the colonial buildings are mixed in with the local style Vietnamese buildings in a captivating way. Our bus, instead of dropping us off at the company office, delivered us to our hotel. We were immediately greeted by the owner of the Dreams Hotel, the same place that we had stayed three years earlier when we had travelled there for the first time. She was just as delightful and warm as we remembered her to be, and were pleased to find that she remembered our previous visit as well. She was proud to tell us that the price of our room was the same as three years ago - USD 12.00. An amazing price considering the huge breakfast that is included. We still remember the huge table laden with anything a traveller could ever desire for breakfast. Jars of peanut butter and Marmite were items you are hard pressed to find in South-East Asia, but she had them there to make her guests feel right at home.
She proudly ushered Anil and I to the top floor of the hotel and gave us what amounted to the "penthouse" suite - a lovely room with a very modern bathroom - I have included a photograph just so you don't think that all Vietnamese bathrooms are as small as the one in the Red Sun in Saigon. After we settled in, we set off for a walk around the town - up hill and down - in search of a good meal and some delicious Dalat wine. Over the course of our three days in Dalat, we were able to sample Vang Dalat, Vang Dalat Export and Vang Dalat Superior. We found that the export quality was far better than the regular red wine and the superior was superior in name and price only.
Or first morning in Dalat we set off to explore the city on foot. Now I have to take a moment to explain what a major undertaking this was for Jeong Ae. I did not realize it until now, that she almost never walks anywhere - ever. I know she has always laughed about the fact that she drives her SUV five doors down to visit her brother who lives on the same street. She has told me many times that David drops her at the door whenever they go out on the town, but the reality of this vehicular life never really sank in to me before. Now we were asking her to put on her walking shoes and tour Dalat on foot. I have to say she was up for the challenge, with a spunky smile on her face. We spent the day walking all over the town and even an additional two kilometers out to the Dalat Botanical Gardens, and there was never one word of complaint from her.
The biggest challenge was teaching her how to cross a street. I could never have imagined that an adult would not know how to cross a street when there were no traffic lights to stop the vehicles. She eventually got the hang of it, but much of the time she would just grab our hands, put her head down and walk. There were a few tense moments here and there, but I am happy to say she is still alive and well in spite of this handicap.
After a stop for refreshments at a lakeside cafe, we walked to the Botanical Gardens and were delighted to find the place almost deserted. As this is still the rainy season in Vietnam, it is a low season for tourism in Dalat so we able to enjoy the flowers and the bonsai exhibit to our hearts content. Once we had our fill of taking photos of all the lovely flowers and trees, we hailed a cab for the long ride back to the V Cafe near our hotel for a late lunch, and for me, a piece of their famous lemon meringue pie. The pie is so famous, it even rates a mention in the Lonely Planet Vietnam.
After a simple dinner near our hotel - which I was forced to abandon early due to the chain-smoking French tourists at the next table, we retired to our beds for our first night without air-conditioning since we arrived in Asia. We slept like logs and awoke to that huge breakfast that I mentioned earlier.
We had intended to move on the next day for Nha Trang, a popular beach resort on the coast of Vietnam, but when we asked the hotel manager to book bus tickets for us, she asked us how long we intended to stay there. We mentioned that we would only be in Nha Trang for one night and then would take a train to Danang. She said we might want to rethink our plans as there was a typhoon heading for Danang called "Cimarron". There had been a terrible typhoon that hit the coast in the same area on October 1st and this one was shaping up to be just as devasting. Anil went over to the internet in the hotel lobby and looked at the weather maps in detail. Sure enough, we would have to delay our departure and perhaps give Hoi An (the delightful old port near Danang) a miss completely if the typhoon stayed on its current path.
I just want to take a minute to tell you about a strange coincidence with the name of the typhoon. Our daughter Adia's boyfriend Geoff had applied for a permanent job with the BC government in Victoria and had given Anil's name as a reference. Geoff has managed the Tempo website for Anil for several years so Anil could happily give him a work-related reference. Anil received an email asking for a reference for Geoff - from a man whose first name is Cimarron. Now I ask you, how often have you ever met someone by that name? It was an eerie coincidence and we took it as an omen that Geoff would be successful in getting the job.
This meant that we had another day to spend in Dalat - not really a problem at all. We were really enjoying the cooler weather - most local people were riding around on their motorcycles with toques, gloves and sweaters or padded jackets. For us it was a "beautiful summer day temperature" and then the typically "cool evening temperature" that we get in the summers in Edmonton. We decided to take a ride on the new cable car that had been built two years earlier - and chose to walk across the city a distance of several kilometers to reach the cable car station.
Along the way we stopped at a simple restaurant for a light lunch. When we asked for menus, they indicated that there were only two items they served - beef noodle soup (pho bo) and "wrap your own" spring rolls. We decided to try the full meal deal and ended up having one of the best meals of our trip so far. The soup arrived with a large plate of mint, green onions, fresh coriander and bean sprouts. These are all added to the soup in whatever quantity one wishes and serves to individualize the meal to suit the diner.
The "roll your own" spring rolls were tasty, crunchy and ultimately filling. We tried our limited Vietnamese vocabulary on the restaurant staff, but found that our empty plates and big smiles spoke volumes about our satisfaction with the meal.
We finished our long walk to the cable car station and climbed aboard for a wonderful birds-eye view of the surrounding countryside. We started out passing over the small houses at the outskirts of the town, and then found ourselves looking down at fields and gardens and the farmers going about their daily tending activities. We brushed the tallest of trees in several places as we dipped down into a valley and then began to climb again to end off at the end of the ride - at the top of a mountain that houses a contemplative monastery and a temple. Just as we disembarked, the skies opened for a quick shower - only the second day we have seen rain during our trip. David attributes this lack of rainfall during our journey to his frequent kowtows to the "rain god". Not sure if he has anything to do with it (it is the tail end of the rainy season after all) but we were happy to humour him.
Jeong Ae had done more that her share of walking to get to the cable car, so she stayed on the terrace of the station and played solitaire, while we wandered through the grounds of the monastery and the temple. On the far side of the mountain top, there was a path down to a viewpoint overlooking an idyllic lake. I could not resist taking several photos there - I have put my favorites on this entry. We were happy to have a return ticket as the view from the cable car was so worth seeing once again. Our walking quota was used up for the day so we hailed a taxi back to our hotel for a much-needed rest before dinner.
We walked across the street to a lovely little restaurant and found some fellow guests from our hotel eating there as well. The atmosphere was most inviting and I was happy to see that no one was smoking going on inside. The only thing that was a little odd was that there were karaoke rooms upstairs and although we could not hear any music from them, every now and then, some very drunken Vietnamese teenagers would stagger out through the restaurant past our table. The tables all had white cloths on them, folded napkins and fresh flowers. The contrast with the antics of the karaoke revellers seemed strange to say the least.
We ordered an assortment of dishes, some cooked in clay pots and in the end declared this to be one of the best meals that we had on the trip. Our fellow diner told us that he had eaten frogs (yuck) and they were delicious. I gulped at the pile of tiny bones heaped on the edge of his plate. We discussed our plans for heading to Nha Trang and as he had just come from there, he recommended a beach cafe called "Louisianne" that has a micro-brewery and serves great draft beer. As we were only planning to send a few hours in Nha Trang before taking the overnight train to Danang, I could see from David's eyes that we would be taking in the beach scenery at Louisianne. He had been bemoaning the fact that there was no draft beer available anywhere in Cambodia or on the first part of our trip in Vietnam.
Morning dawned sunny and we were ready for our four-hour bus ride to the sea at Nha Trang.