Dalat, Vietnam

This town is in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, and we arrived around 5pm having taken a bus around 5 hours earlier from Saigon. The first thing that hit us as we got off the bus was the temperature. It was absolutely bloody freezing, and having been in the sunshine for so long, we had actually forgotten how painful it feels like to be cold. So for the first time, jackets and socks would have to be pulled out from the darkest recesses of our backpacks. The other thing we noticed straight away was that the place had the look and feel of a Swiss Alps Mountain Resort. The buildings looked European in design, and all were painted with various pastel shades of blues, pinks, and yellows and of course white. The town is set within a valley, surrounded by misty topped mountains. It would only be an hour before dark, so we could get to know the place later, but for now it was time to sort out accommodation and then head out for some food – something wholesome and hearty seemed to be the consensus.

We decided to share a room with 2 large double beds to keep our costs down. Sometimes when you get in later at night you lose a bit of bargaining power, but one night together is no problem, you only see the bed and the shower in the morning as you are out and about most of the time anyway. The hotel was covered throughout in marble and had a large staircase leading upstairs – very posh by our usual standards. Taking a short walk up and down the hill just outside the hotel, we happened across the Peace Café, a Lonely Planet recommendation as the food is supposedly good and there is friendly service. A lot of travellers hole up here swapping tales and having a good few beers together. A woman called Tu Ahn was at the front door and was enthusiastically waving us over. She was very friendly and full of buzz, telling us how great her food was. We ordered drinks while we perused the menu, and having made our choices, sat tight waiting for the food to arrive. There was very little atmosphere in this restaurant, the place was silent apart from the rattle of pots and pans from the kitchen at the back. The food eventually arrived – Mark had ordered a chicken and cashew nut stir fry – which was the first dish to be placed on the table. Without saying a word, we all sat there looking at the dish slightly confused. The sauce seemed to be a thick transparent glutinous slime. We all grimaced as mark began to spoon the dish to his rice, and this gloopy sticky mucus slowly slid from the spoon back onto the plate. It was like a scene from Alien. Stacey’s noodles seemed to be a bit better, although it was a bit bland and just like those cheap packet instant noodles from a supermarket. Michelle’s Hotpot looked exactly like the food served in Shawshank Prison. My “Beef Curry” arrived, and was even more impressive, it was an anaemic thick grey gooey sauce, and what’s more, the beef was oozing blood making the sauce turn a lovely salmon pink before my eyes. We all just looked at each other in complete disbelief – this was the worst food we had ever been served in our lives, never mind Asia.

Tu Ahn had been annoying us as soon as the food was delivered, she was over eager to please but it was just all just a bit too much, and she was just becoming intrusive. She actually tried to spoon Michelle’s hotpot onto her plate, and I was sure she was actually going to start tasting it for Michelle! The food was inedible really, and most of us left a lot of food on the plates, with my dish actually untouched. I think Tu Ahn got the message, she seemed to be really confused that we were not really eating much. That didn’t stop her from rattling up the full bill, and not even bothering to ask if there was a problem. We later found out that this is not the genuine “Peace Café”, which was a 2 minute walk further down the road. Tu Ahn was trying to pass the place off as the genuine article, and was grabbing every tired unwary traveller and coaxing in them in before they actually got to the real deal. Since we were staying in Dalat for a good few days, every time we walked passed Tu Ahn’s, Mark would shout “Don’t do it! Just don’t do it!” to any tourists reading the menu displayed outside.

In the end, we ended up buying baguettes, cheese, ham and other goodies and headed back to the room. We did find the real “Peace Cafe” and had a wicked breakfast with the most sublime Vietnamese Coffee, and all with really reasonable prices too.

Stacey seemed desperate to hire motorbikes, and actually, although it is great fun and very practical, it is really the only way to get around Dalat and the surrounding countryside. The countryside is pretty scenic and very lush. Vietnam tends to be all over, with exotic Tropicana and vivid green terraced rice fields rising up through the hills and mountains.

We managed to rent the bikes from our hotel for $5 a piece, and were also handed a tourist map. The Cable Car just outside town has no real practical use other than a being a novel way to see the place from height without having to trek up any mountains. We made our way to do a loose circuit taking in the cable cars, then the waterfalls followed by the Crazy House.

The Cable Cars were great fun, and the views were really nice. Why is it with a modern piece of technology that is probably as safe an escalator or elevator, that we always feel slightly wary? At the opposite end of the cable car ride was a massive manicured park and lake with some little touristy craft shops. There was a girl weaving and she showed us how this was done on a very old rickety wooden loom.

Next stop was the Datlana Waterfalls, and apart from being very scenic, there was little a rollercoaster with individual bobsleds that you could jump on and control your own speed as you whizzed down the side of the mountain. This would have been great fun, if it had not been for Michelle being in the buggy in front of me crawling down the track at about 2mph. I think there were 2 year old kids going faster.

We made our way around town afterwards and found The Crazy House, a house designed by a local architect with an obviously outright vivid imagination. The place was quite surreal and reminded you of something from Alice in Wonderland. The house is still under construction, and we were surprised no one has been killed yet or at least seriously maimed while exploring this construction. The Health & Safety Executive would have a field day here.

We tore off into the countryside, and ended up high in the mountains, stopping for a wee picnic. We ended up on the top of a hill right next to a graveyard with elaborate shrines, and there was a herd of wild horses roaming around the hilltop. Off we went again, this time stopping off at the old railway station, before heading back out into the countryside, getting lost and suddenly realising we were on the same road from earlier that day. The weather was warm during the day, but as soon as the sun started to go down, you could feel a nip in the air. Dalat had been nice, but we were not enjoying the cold nights, and it felt too soon that it was time to move on and catch the sun again. We had decided we were all heading to Nha Trang on the coast.

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