Sunday, January 24, 2016

Return to Da Lat

Da Lat, a city in the mountains about 300km northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, has a different feel from the rest of Vietnam. The altitude cools the air to a temperate level, the air is fresh, the skies are blue, and evergreen forests abound. Before my first trip to Vietnam, my Vietnamese friend told me, "Are you sure you want to visit Da Lat? Only honeymooners go there." Indeed, by myself I found the city to be nice and quaint but rather dull.

My fiancee admires the sunflowers in Da Lat Flower Park

However I recently got engaged to my Vietnamese girlfriend (now fiancee) and we needed to spend some quality time together on a retreat to gather ourselves and discuss some of the meaty issues of our future life together – for example, now I know how many children she wants!  (we are mostly aligned)  Da Lat provided us with the fresh air we needed. Almost every time we are visiting each other outside of Vietnam, my fiancee will mention that some tree-lined area outside of the city in Korea or Taiwan or USA "looks like Da Lat". So I figured we must go there together.

Flying to Da Lat is 100,000 times better than driving from Ho Chi Minh City. Flights are cheap and you cut the travel time from 8 hours to 4 hours. And Da Lat airport is a nice little facility. We arrived at a quaint boutique hotel called Stop & Go, away from the motorbike noise of the city center, and the staff had set up a nice little romantic flower arrangement in our room. After enjoying a peaceful lunch we took a taxi to the Truc Lam pagoda, my 2nd time visiting and perhaps my favorite place in Da Lat. It's a majestic and peaceful Buddhist temple with many monks and trees and flowers. It was a wonderful place to walk around and chat. I was sad that we missed the lake below the pagoda (gates close at 4:30pm). We enjoyed a participatory dance show of local villagers with an audience that was half Vietnamese and half Russian ... Russian tourists are amusing :)   We finished the Friday night at a roudy barbeque restaurant full of loud youths grilling meat.

Peaceful hike at Cu Lan Village

The next morning we hired a car to drive us to the Golden Valley, a lovely park with lakes, hills, flowers, and large coniferous trees. It had some decent walking paths and was a great place to lay around for awhile. I enjoyed breathing in the cool, fresh air and felt a bit like I was back home in the US. We enjoyed lunch at Cu Lan Village, a cultural resort with horses and grilled meat and more hiking in forested hills. In the afternoon we hiked Lang Biang, an easy hike mostly up a road, with some shortcuts through the woods available for the adventurous. My fiancee was quite tired from the walk up but even she was able to make the climb in only 90 minutes ... I guess I was pushing her a bit to hike faster! The top has a decent view but the humidity drowned out the opportunity for a nice picture with the valley below.

After a lazy Sunday morning at our boutique getaway my fiancee decided we needed some more exercise. We rented kid-size bicycles from our hotel and we strained to ride up the hills of Da Lat. After a rest for lunch and a post-lunch frozen fruit dessert, we pushed our pedals to the Da Lat Flower Park near the Xuan Huong Lake in the center of town. It has a decent array of flowers and is worth the $2 price of admission. From there we biked halfway around the lake to the Rooster Cathedral, and I sat for the beginning of a Sunday Catholic mass in Vietnamese! It resembled Catholic masses in other countries. From there we biked around the night market and took in some easy time at a coffee shop.

Big coniferous trees in Golden Valley

On Monday morning we caught the airport shuttle bus and flew the short 1 hour flight back to Ho Chi Minh City. Amidst the traffic and heat and pollution of Saigon, I was missing our clean, peaceful weekend getaway destination.

No comments:

Post a Comment