Well, it turns out that WordPress, like Facebook, is blocked in Viet Nam. (I switched the blog from Livejournal to WordPress after some Russian oligarchs bought Livejournal and ran it into the ground with heavy-handedness and ad-flooding; it seems I can’t win, though). As a result, I’m doing some convoluted rerouting via Polish IP addresses in order to post this; let’s hope it works. I thought I’d send you all a photo post this time, with a few words for those that don’t like my attempts at photography.
Do you remember back in the 1960s and 70s when American reporters in Viet Nam shocked us into life, bringing what was going on in that country right into America’s living rooms? Well, that’s what I’m doing with today’s post.
Main square, Da Lat
Xuan Huong Lake
street scene, Da Lat
Central Market, Da Lat
Kid on some steps, Da Lat
In any case, I’m in Da Lat (Đà Lạt, properly), in south Viet Nam, up in the hills. While it’s been about 95+ degrees in Saigon, here we find a nice 60 degrees or so. As a result, it’s not all that popular on the foreign tourist trail: people who come to Viet Nam want sun and beaches, I believe, and cold mountain places don’t really appeal to this brand of fun-loving tourist. The town is heavily on the domestic tourist trail, however; the Vietnamese come here to experience drastic climate change, coo at the pine trees, eat produce not available elsewhere in Viet Nam, and do romantic things. They dress up in scarves and big jackets, though it’s only 60 out. It’s a bit like the Indians in Shimla- and there’s a further similarity; Da Lat was a summer escape for the colonial French, as Shimla was to the colonial British in India. So the French built a number of chateaux here and there, and some of the locals, usually the 70+ crowd, still go about in berets– I saw three or four of them today. One fellow, aged about ninety, sitting on a park bench, wearing dark glasses and a beret, told me “Bonjour!” with a cough.
There’s not all that much to see in Da Lat, so I like it just fine. It’s the sort of town I end up in and can’t see much reason to leave. It’s got most of what I need, and is minus the sweltering heat found elsewhere in the land. Here are a few things in Da Lat, with photos.
CRAZY HOUSE. This is the ‘Hang Nga Crazy House’. A wealthy woman, daughter of the successor to Ho Chi Minh, Hang Nga by name, has been building this house for about the last twenty years. It features a number of Disneyland-esque caves, stairways, unfinished concrete, steps to dead ends, funny little rooms, and the like. It’s the top attraction in Da Lat, and is particularly popular with Russians: the woman, Nga, got a PhD in architecture from Moscow University, likely in the days of close ties between the USSR and Viet Nam; one assumes this place is in all the Russian guidebooks as the place is overloaded with Russians and the Vietnamese give guided tours in Russian. The French also like it; there are French newspaper articles here and there taped to the walls calling the place “insolite” and “delirant“. You can also stay in some of the little chambers for the night, but the rates start at $25 and go up to hundreds, all the while tourists wandering about taking photos. It is comparable to the Nek Chand Rock Gardens in Chandigarh, Punjab. Entry: $1.75
Crazy House hotel room
Top of Crazy House
Wall at Crazy House
VEGETARIAN FOOD. Very good vegetarian food can be found here. None of it seems particularly Vietnamese; it seems like the typical Chinese-style stuff, heavy on the fake meat, so I am very happy indeed. It’s also in the way we often see in Taiwan, or Thailand I suppose, with lots of different dishes that they pile on top of rice.
The first place is in the central market, second floor. Rice with many things on top. I’m not sure of the name of the place, but if I go back I’ll check. They give you soup along with your meal, and are pretty nice. The woman there spoke good English, wanted to know why I was traveling alone, and hoped I found a good wife one day. Excellent meal to be had at this place. 30,000 dong ($1.50).
In Central Market (sorry - shooting under florescent light)
Delightful veg dishes
The second place is called “Au Lac“, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it must be French, but it has Vietnamese diacritics on it. I looked it up and it is apparently the name of an ancient Vietnamese kingdom. They are nice people too, and they have two outlets. The food is not quite as good as at the other place, but it’s cheaper, and you get a free pot of tea, which must be hibiscus or chrysanthemum or jasmine or something; it has a real smell about it. This is a top-notch restaurant. It’s also of the things-on-top-of-rice style, though there’s also a menu. The things on rice cost 18,000 dong (95 cents). I’ve also had pho there.
Half-eaten meal at Au Lac
delicious food at Au Lac
people that run Au Lac
Owner of Au Lac
CAFES. There are a couple of good ones I visited today. The first, Cafe Tung, was a place that was right out of the 50s, and that the guidebook said was “popular with Saigonese intellectuals”. Given that we are about nine hours from Saigon, it’s hard to see why the intellectuals would come so far. It’s like a place in Minneapolis that’s a favourite of Seattleites. In any case, I got typical Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk, but I got confused as it wasn’t already made for me and I had to ask a fellow intellectual at another table to help me. What confused me was you get a pot of tea for free with coffee in Vietnam, and I couldn’t figure it out. Anyway, the coffee was nothing special, but there was a nice atmosphere– however, I was astounded to hear what Vietnamese intellectuals are listening to these days– Soft Hits! I heard while in there Lionel Ritchie ‘Hello’, George Michael ‘Careless Whispers’, the Titanic song, the Jets ‘You Got it All’, Air Supply ‘All out of love’, Chicago ‘You’re the inspiration’, Styx ‘You know it’s you, babe’, Kool & the Gang ‘Cherish’, Elton John ‘It’s No Sacrifice,’ the Escape Club “I’ll be there” (I actually appreciated this one- a lost gem) and the Bee Gees ‘How Deep Is Your Love’, and I’m not entirely sure that all songs were by the original artists. There’s also a Mona Lisa reproduction hanging on the wall (such being very popular in Vietnam). Price: 15,000 dong (80 cents).
iced coffee and tea, Cafe Tung
Next we have a more working class, open-air cafe, Cafe Trang. This one seems to be popular with grimy labourers, and is of the little-plastic stool variety. No music was present, but a TV was on inside. There were a few women there as well, and lots of smokers. You can watch traffic go by. Overall, also a nice place. I got espresso there, and it came, of course, with a pot of tea. Top place. Cost of espresso and pot of tea: 5,000 dong (30 cents).
Tea at Cafe Trang
OTHER THINGS. That’s really all there is here. I visited the Catholic cathedral as well; within mass was going on and they were chanting in a Buddhist style. However, after what I took to be the Gospel, they launched into a piano-led hymn that could best be described as tone-deaf honkytonk; I inched out the back door at that point.
Catholic cathedral, Da Lat
Here are some more photos of Da Long.
long live something
They have their own Eiffel Tower here in Da Lat
Streets of Da Lat
Signs of a colonial past: an electrical substation from the 1920s bearing the insignia CEE (Compagnie des eaux et d'électricité de l'Indochine)