Vinh, one of the many friendly 'pretend' Easy Rider bikers who will try to earn your friendship & business in Dalat.
‚ÄúPraiiiiiiiiiise the Lord!!!‚ÄĚ etc, etc for I am finally, FIIIIINALLY, thankfully arrived at a destination where there is a cooler climate! ‚ÄúPhewf!‚ÄĚ. Well, in the evenings anyway. Seriously, I would never really be so audacious as to moan about all the perfect weather I‚Äôve experienced these last 7 months, but my word, another few weeks of solid sunshine and I don‚Äôt think there would have been a drop of moisture left in the body or soul of the desiccated little Englishman. Cool, cool high-up ‚Äėn‚Äô hilly Dalat. A French colonial town built entirely with the sentiments that I have heretofore expressed. The purpose of getting the f**k out of the heat. Kinda the French version of the British hill-station retreat of Simla in India.
And there‚Äôs no doubt about this European heritage.
Much needed Vietnamese coffee whilst I await Gray's arrival in town.
A sense of which in resides in almost all facets of the modern day town (city?) of Dalat. About 80 kilometres in land from the coast and sitting at an elevation of about 1,475 metres above sea level Dalat is a perfectly primped and preened, manicured and clean little snapshot of what could be almost anywhere in the mainland Europe. With its picturesque Xuan Huong lake sat at its photo-friendly heart it does just feel like when the tidal waters of colonial rule ebbed away with the passing of the last French administration, this was the little bay of rockpool water that got caught, and left behind in the mountains.
Gray hires a bike for the day to go in search of some of the sights if they are to be found. It‚Äôs hilly around here and frankly, enjoyable though my recent forays on bikes have been, I don‚Äôt wanna be on one again for some time after my day at Angkor not so long ago.
Dalat after sun down.
Hard work! I‚Äôm resorting to feet for today and set off for a walking tour of the town. I head out around the circumference of the lake and my first intention is to catch the little, colonial era train that runs from Dalat train station (Vietnam‚Äôs oldest) to the little village of Trai Mat.
Unfortunately this falls of some spectacularly bizarre administration and my temper at the station. I arrive at 9.00am to get a ticket for the 9.50 train. They only run about 4 times a day and can be subject to demand; minimum of 5 persons per trip. ‚ÄúHi I‚Äôd like a ticket for the 9.50 train to Trai Mat please.‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúSorry. No ticket.‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúOh why‚Äôs that, is it fully booked?‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúYes, full booked.
‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúOh well, how about the 11.30 train?‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúNo train 11.30.‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúOh, but the timetable says that‚Äôs the next train.‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúNo. Next train 2 o‚Äôclock.‚ÄĚ. 14.00. Sh*t that‚Äôs quite a while away. ‚ÄúOkay, could I please buy a ticket for the 9.50 train tomorrow instead?.‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúNo.‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúOh, how come?‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúCannot book tickets for tomorrow.‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúYou can‚Äôt buy tickets in advance?‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúNo. Can‚Äôt.‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúSo you‚Äôre telling me that today‚Äôs train is fully booked, all by people that have arrived more than 50 minutes early for the train and are no longer waiting here right now at the station?‚ÄĚ.
Xuan Huong Lake
‚ÄúNo. They booked on paper.‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúUmm? Booked on ‚Äėpaper‚Äô? Right, I see. Then can I please ‚Äėbook on paper‚Äô for the 9.50 train tomorrow?‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúNo you cannot book tomorrow.‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúBut other people did for today so why can‚Äôt I for tomorrow?‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúNo, only sell tickets on the day. You can come back here tomorrow at 9 o‚Äôclock and buy ticket.‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúSo what happens if I walk the 2 kilometres to get here at the same time tomorrow and you tell me again that the train‚Äôs sold out?!‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúYou come here tomorrow, buy ticket.‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs just doesn't make sense.
Dalat Train Station : the oldest (and most frustrating) in Vietnam ;D
How about I buy a ticket now for tomorrow, and in the unlikely event that tomorrow there are less than 5 people at 9 o‚Äôclock I‚Äôll be happy to hand the ticket back for my money back? Not a problem.‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúNo we cannot do you come back tomorrow.‚ÄĚ. F**king hell! My temper(ature) is rising a little by now.
"Now all stay together children!" :)
I move away to cool off for a bit. This is about the only thing I knew for sure I wanted to do in Dalat so this is proving quite exasperating. By 9.20 a laaarge group of school kids are swarming into the station for their day trip in their identical pink caps and it‚Äôs soon clear why there was no room on the 9.50 train. ‚ÄúHello! Hello! Hello!‚ÄĚ they all enthusiastically squeal at me. By coincidence Gray‚Äôs turned up on his bike by now to try the train and is standing back whilst I attempt to cut through the ticket bureaucracy crap.
We‚Äôre happy for the time both to just take snaps of all the cute kids and the quaint old train that‚Äôs just pulled into the station.
Whilst I‚Äôm in the midst of this the ticket lady‚Äôs walked all the way along the station to me to say ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs okay. It‚Äôs okay. You can go on this train!‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúReally?! This train right now?! That‚Äôs fabulous! Thank you so much!‚ÄĚ. We both dash back to the ticket office I hand over my 80,000VND ($4.50) and get my ticket. Thank G.!!! I run up the station, stand behind the kids and get ready to board. Suddenly, a hand is planted on my chest ‚ÄúNo! You cannot get on this train!‚ÄĚ the train ticket officer declares. ?!!?? ‚ÄúBut I have a ticket, look! You‚Äôre lady just sold it to me.
‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúNO! you cannot get on this train!‚ÄĚ. There‚Äôs no winning with him. In a complete rage I dash back to the ticket office and tell her what‚Äôs happened. She looks rather blank. ‚ÄúOh this train, it not go to Trai Mat.‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúWhat do you mean it doesn‚Äôt go to Trai Mat?!‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúTrain go there, come back. Not stay Trai Mat.‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúSo you‚Äôve sold me a ticket for a train I‚Äôm not allowed to board and doesn‚Äôt leave me where I wanted to go anyway?!‚ÄĚ. She looks blankly. My voice is very raised by this point. I throw the ticket back through the window. ‚ÄúGive my f**kin‚Äômoney back!! This place is a f**king farce!‚ÄĚ.
The so called 'Crazy House', or a part of it.
Steam evaporates from my flaming rage hair. Gray just smiles, ‚ÄúSteeeve, this is Asia my friend!‚ÄĚ. What f**king ever! I hope you guys have better luck than me should you ever attempt this journey.
Cam Ly waterfalls... doooon't go!
Gray jets off on his bike. I‚Äôm left to mooch back towards town. Everything about Dalat is so immaculately presented and composed. Because of its favourable climate Dalat is famous for its flowers (and vegetables too). There are numerous large, landscaped public gardens, all of them fairly beautiful and quite unusual to see here in Vietnam one feels. Good scenery for me to walk through and try and regain my calm. The surrounding areas are filled with such poetic sounding sites as ‚ÄėThe Lake of Sighs‚Äô and ‚ÄėThe Valley of Love‚Äô both of which sound fairly avoidable to me.
A nice bit of tack at the Cam Ly Falls park.
I stroll along the south westerly sway of the city. I arrive and stand outside the ‚ÄėCrazy House‚Äô, some architectural oddity bequeathed by some former princess or other but I‚Äôm not in the mood to splash the $1 entrance fee. I walk on to the Cam Ly Falls, one of a whole bunch of waterfalls, some more accessible and impressive than others. This little dribble of a water feature is smothered in the tackiest flippin‚Äô touristy park surroundings I have ever seen! Fibre glass type animal statues and lonely abandoned horses and fake scenery. Awful!
I head back to town, feet getting pretty tired now and stroll along the streets and market areas of Dalat. I‚Äôm so p**sed off and uninspired with how the day has gone that I actually do recon tact one of the many, many bikers that have their base in town, now renowned and referred to as The Easy Riders.
I‚Äôve got to do something a little fun if not per se ‚Äėdifferent‚Äô whilst I‚Äôm here so I agree with An ‚ÄėThe Man Who Can‚Äô to pick me up at 8.30 the following day for some riding into the hills. Gray and I hook up to concur over dinner as to how pretty, in a slightly false feeling way central Dalat is, but how flippin‚Äô little there actually is to do here. Gray even had the folly to cycle to the Valley of Love. Lord knows why. Just him & his camera and 16 Vietnamese couples escaped to be amorous in that delicate, restrained Asian manner together. ‚ÄúWhat was I doing there?!‚ÄĚ
he quite rightly exclaims.