Updated: Nov 14, 2018
28 Apr 2009
Next stop on the grand tour is Dalat, about 100km inland and up in the hills. It was originally settled by the French in the 1890’s as a resort from the maddening heat and humidity of the coast.
There’s no direct flight from Nha Trang, so for our daily dose of adventure we decide to take the bus. When we booked our seats yesterday the tour office sported pictures of sleek, modern coaches with reclining, ergonomic seats and young, nubile attendants passing out cocktails and moist towels along the way (I might be a little hazy on some of the details). As it turns out, that was the other bus; ours was a little more basic and down to earth. The trip however was a beautiful and enchanting cross section of Vietnam, and some of the climbs up and down the hills along the way provided for a bit of heart racing excitement along the way. At one point our journey was brought to an abrupt halt by a landslide that had only very recently blocked the road. When we pulled up, a very dinky little bulldozer had just arrived from God knows where and was diligently nudging the mud and rocks around to try and clear a path. We all piled off the bus and stood around making educated and insightful comments on the probability of getting through before lunch (we did).
Driving on, you begin to realise that they really did just hack this road (it’s the ‘new’ road and only recently opened) through the hills without a great deal of thought to what they left beside the cuttings and embankments. With my eyes open to the newfound possibilities and landslide, I could see plenty more opportunities for road blockage in the months and years to come.
Dalat was beautiful. Approaching the town we see hillsides covered in patches of greenhouses, interspersed with long stretches of pine forests. Closer in there’s a random smattering of wonderful old French colonial villas, left over from the prior century. The town itself is built centred around the appealing Xuan Huong Lake and a central market that surrounds a big fountain. True to it’s French roots, the town even sports a mini-Eiffel Tower on the hillside.
For the next few nights we’re splurging and staying at the Ana Mandara Villas. The resort is built around seventeen original French villas that have been restored and converted into suites. Needless to say the rooms and the general ambiance of the place are magnificent.
Our first lunch in town is at Long Hoa, as recommended by Frommers. The food was excellent and both the staff and fellow dinners very friendly. Over the next couple of days we’d come back here occasionally to eat or simply recharge on caffeine, and each time they remember us and welcomed us back as long time customers.
After lunch, we take a stroll through the centre of town and begin to appreciate how much this place is dedicated to horticulture. There are beautiful gardens scattered around the town, and it seems to be an ideal climate for fruit, veg and flowers. Everything seems to be incredibly vibrant and larger than life. We stop off at the tourist office to pickup the obligatory moped, an the guy behind the counter identifies the state flower on my NSW driver’s license (a Waratah) and tells me that they grow them up here, and Banksia also.
Dinner at was at Ngoc Hai, right next to the central market. The food was OK, but the menu made interesting reading. It included a ‘wild animal’ section that offered porcupine, ant eater, deer and boar.