Dalat

Dalat Dalat is a hill town, founded by the French colonists in the late 19th century. Its primary draw card is its climate - being situated amidst forests at a relatively high altitude means that the average temperature is significantly lower than the rest of southern Vietnam, allowing a wide range of crops, fruits and flowers to be grown. Naturally, the lower temperatures also mean that it is a popular destination for Vietnamese tourists seeking to escape the all-pervading heat of the rest of the country. If I'm honest, my first impressions weren't at all good. My first random wander from the hotel after I arrived found only a typical built-up town - lots of five storey blocks, scooters everywhere, a smelly (and unattractive) market, and not much of the promised 'historical French colonial architecture'. I wondered if I'd actually arrived in the right place - although I did notice the temperature drop, which was a welcome change to the coastal heat. My second day's amble, however, bore more fruit due to a little pre-planning. The first stop was the Crazy House, a combination hotel/modern art project by a local architect Hang Nga. The building(s) resemble a group of twisted trees, with 'vine' walkways linking them, and hotel rooms inside the tree trunks. Of course, everything is actually made out of concrete, but the design of the structure, and the decoration of the rooms (each with its own animal theme) made it a very interesting place to wander round. It's still under construction, despite complaints from some snobby locals, and it would be good to see it in its finished state. The next stop in my tour was Dalat railway station, to see the station itself, and hopefully catch the train on the only route that it now runs to a nearby village. The station was built by the French, and looks the part - three pointed roofs, a spacious hall inside, stained glass - when inside you could be fooled that you were actually in Europe. Well, if you ignored the glaring Asian-ness of the car parked in the station lobby, several just-married couples having photoshoots done in front of the elderly steam train, and the fact that all of the mornings trains had been cancelled. I didn't fancy waiting around the station for three hours to catch the next one, so I moved on. A circuit round the large man-made lake passed some interesting Italianate buildings on a hilltop, and a large botanic garden, but the onset of a big thunderstorm sent me scooting back to my hotel. I booked an Easy Rider motorbike guide for the next day, and had an early night watching Johnny English on the hotel TV.
Xuan Huong Lake

Xuan Huong Lake

The Crazy House

The Crazy House

Dalat Railway Station

Dalat Railway Station

Easy Rider Tour My Easy Rider (the name came from a Lonely Planet journalist, apparently) guide was quicker, had better English, and was far more professional than my previous guide from Hue. My main plan for the day was to see one of the big waterfalls in the area, around 40km from Dalat, but there were various stops on the way - some more interesting than others. The first, a Buddhist temple, wasn't really somewhere I'd wanted to go, but it did have some pretty interesting statues outside - including some giant dragons, and the cast of Monkey! Other stops were a coffee plantation, greenhouses (Dalat exports vast numbers of flowers across Vietnam), a silk weaving factory, and a hill overlooking the city. Marginally interesting, but mere appetisers before the main course. The waterfall was amazing - a big horseshoe with the water falling around 30m to the boulder strewn river below. A short tunnel at the side led to the back of the falls, where a powerful water-filled wind gave me a horizontal shower - I was pretty drenched by the time I returned to the top of the falls for lunch. Unfortunately, the weather turned soon after, and we had to take shelter in a rice wine distillery for nearly two hours - the 70%-alcohol wine did liven things up for a short while, but the rest of the day was really lost to the rain. At least I'd got to the falls, and I was still well pleased by the time I got back to my hotel.
Pongour Waterfall

Pongour Waterfall

Dragon statue at Buddhist temple

Dragon statue at Buddhist temple

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