Da Lat Travel Blog› entry 7 of 20 › view all entries
From Nha Trang the bus followed the coast south with views over fine beaches and islands. The Diamond Resort "Had the honor of hosting the 2008 Miss Universe". We passed Cam Ranh Bay, home to the US fleet until the 1970s then to a Russian one until 2004. The route then turned inland and wound uphill to Dalat, 1500m above sea level and overlooked by Vietnam's 2nd highest mountain, Lang Bian. The French developed the town as the hill station for Saigon, and certainly the climate is lovely. Visible from all around is the radio mast shaped like the Eiffel Tower and lit up at night. So Dalat is very pleasant with lots of pretty gardens, including one on a central roundabout where plants have been trailed over trellises in the shape of dolphins. In fact clever but mainly kitsch topiary is common throughout the counry in the many well kept public gardens.
Travelling in Vietnam, you'd hardly know it's still communist. There are red flags with the hammer and sickle and large posters of happy socialist workers, but they are not common. So our day around Dalat with our guide Hiep was instructive. He took us to all sorts of cottage industries and farming activities, which showed real business spirit. The area has long been a rich farming one, but now there are 3 crops a year of strawberries and Dutch techniques have been brought in to grow flowers and veg in large plastic tunnels. A coffee plantation had a fish farm with a lovely coffee house on the fish lake; a small brewer of rice wine used coffee kernels as his fuel and the mash leftovers to his pigs. Hiep explained how families helped each other to raise capital.
But he also told us of the past. His father had been a tailor for the US army, and after the 1975 communist victory had been sent for "re-education" - luckily only 7 months. An old friend had tried to leave Vietnam illegally several times, unsuccessfully, and was now virtually destitute after some years of "re-education". Life had been very difficult in the south, he said, until 1986 when the new economic freedoms came in. Now people could work for themselves and make money. But the Communist District Committe still wielded power and influence, its members all government nominees (well, you voted, but the government put forward the candidates)
He contrasted his family's situation, where it had been tough for his parents and their 6 children (he was now 42) with that of his uncles who had lived in the north, been communist, and prospered under the post 1975 regime.
So - a little insight into life in Vietnam beyond the tourist trail. We'll give a final opinion after our stay in HCM City - still generally called Saigon by everyone. Off for a 6 day stay.