Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Vietnam 2016 Day 4. Dalat

The morning was cold and overcast, but I was not going to be deterred from exploring my surroundings. Dalat is a typical mountain city, in that it spreads over ridges and valleys in a maze of contouring roads, just about perfect for going up and down in my scooter. It is a funny combination of big villas in the French style, tall houses built helter skelter, grand and boutique hotels, and shops. Eventually I discovered that besides the touristy front there is a good size village where “normal” people live, work, study, and play. It also has a nice university, imposing government buildings, and several large parks. The crowning jewel is a large man-made lake that provides a great backdrop for the European skyline of the city (the communications tower is shaped like the Eiffel Tower, so if you ignore the odd pagoda you could imagine yourself in the suburbs of Paris).

As I was cruising around the lake I noticed two colorful and futuristic buildings, which turned out to be a Big C shopping center. Big C is a perfectly modern supermarket that I had also encountered in north Vietnam, and among its associated small shops I found a bookstore where I was finally able to find a good Vietnam road map. 

I feel I have been remise at visiting tourist spots, which I inconsiderately blame on the lack of English signs. One difference between northern and southern Vietnam is that in the north signs are in Chinese script, Roman script, and English. Here in the south, however, they favor Vietnamese written in Roman script (with all sorts of accent marks and dashes to indicate subtle variations in the words), but rarely do you see a sign in English. Is this because they feel they have made enough of a concession by dropping the Chinese script, or a backlash to the American occupation? In any case, it makes it really hard to distinguish between a museum, a military post, or a school, so it is difficult to just drop by as a tourist. There are plenty of Buddhist temples and Catholic churches, but most of them have closed gates and do not look very welcoming. I must mention, however, a temple with an enormous gilded statue of Buddha that you can easily see from different vantage points in the city, which also included some beautiful wood carvings of Phoenix birds.

There are also three or four theme parks that are apparently very popular with visitors. I looked over the Flower Garden, but hesitated about visiting The Valley of Love (a theme park that caters to loving couples) or the kids parks. Where is Ronaldito when I need him?

Half of my sightseeing had been done under a steady rainfall, so by noon I was ready to throw in the (wet) towel. Fortunately I took a wrong turn and soon found myself out of the city, in a relatively lonely mountain road. I figured I could follow it for a few kilometers to “see what was on the other side”, and eventually found myself in a valley of great beauty, where vast extensions were dedicated to the growing of coffee. It turned out to be land inhabited by one of the minority ethnic groups, the Lat, who besides coffee are known for the quality of their weaving and other handcrafts. I managed to get a good lunch out of them as well.

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