Saturday, March 16th, 2013 – Around Da Lat

Distance travelled today 0 kilometres – Total distance travelled 660 kilometres

We had decided that, whatever the future impact upon our plans and our schedule, we really needed another day of rest. Travel on such a small machine was far more tiring than we had anticipated. In the morning, I drew up a list of the things that we should really try and see, with a few other things if we had enough time.

Before we left our room, a notice that we both found humorous was revealed when we opened the curtains …..

I am a botanist and so, at the top of my list was the gardens of the Linh Son Pagoda. To get there, we set off through Da Lat on foot. First we came to the Buddhist temple of Tịnh Xá Ngọc Tín and spent some time in the tranquil grounds.

On our way through town, a very strange thing happened. A Vietnamese man on a moped called out to us, in CZECH ! I could not help but talk to him and his command of the language was exceptional. It appeared that, like so many Vietnamese, he already had family in the Czech Republic and he was studying to go there. We had quite a conversation.

Then we took a leisurely stroll down hill and around a large lake in the centre of the town. It was very quiet and peaceful. People were fishing and there were some interesting birds also looking for a meal.

David got quite excited about this moped. When he was young (and cars were called “chariots” !) something like this would have been the ultimate teenage transport !

The Linh Son pagoda was traditional, well kept but nothing unique. The gardens that surrounded it, however, were simply magnificent

There were so many bonsai trees, many extremely ancient, in one place that it was almost unbelievable. As for the flowers, there were various varieties of Lace Leaves (anthuria), Canna (dosna), Peace Lilies (spatiphylla), carnation beds, poinsettias, hibiscuses, cacti, orchids, etc., There was just about everything you can imagine, including a number of topiary dragons.

The walk around the lake was beautiful, but we had to be firm with our time or we would easily have spent the whole day there. It was really the bonsai trees that probably impressed me the most. Here are a few pictures of what was on offer, if you want to see some more, drop us a line.

We had dithered a bit and so had to continue to the railway station by taxi and we quickly bought tickets for a train ride to an adjacent village. The railway station was a delight to see as it had been beautifully restored.

We made the wait more pleasant with a coffee, ie ca phé ða. That was one of the few words I had learned correctly. I could also say “mot” and “hai”, which is one and two. I am quite good with languages, but it was really hard when I had no idea what to pronounce. There were a number of ancient trains in the station but, sadly for David, the one used to transport us on the trip, which was to be about seven kilometres was a diesel, not his hoped for steam locomotive.

The carriage was very old though, with hard, wooden seats.

The train was so slow it hardly seemed to be in motion. I doubt that it was as fast as Minh. We proceeded slowly across fields with greenhouses or, more accurately, structures roofed with tattered plastic sheeting, under which every single fruit and vegetable one could imagine was being grown. These included kohlrabi, artichokes, strawberries and tomatoes, as well as ornamental flowers and many plants that I had never before seen in my life.

We finally trundled into the village of Trại Mát. It was very cute and, obviously very centred on amusing the tourists.

There was a surprisingly beautiful temple, so we were not bored. Inside the temple, in addition to the other 150,000 kinds of standard tourist kitsch, they sold carvings and carved furniture. This was not mass produced, you could watch it being made. The furniture was really beautiful, solid and heavy. Because it was doubtful that any of it would have fitted through the door of our Prague apartment, we decided that, once we have our own Summer Palace, we would buy some for the hall or for the east wing.

We had a nice lunch, some kind of spicy pancake, filled with vegetables and cooked in the street.

We took an equally slow ride back down the track to Da Lat. We had found out that after the Vietnam war, a lot of railway track was “borrowed” to repair the more economically significant routes. We hoped that more sections of rail had not been taken since we had journeyed up the hill.

Once back in the city, our next destination was to what we called the “haunted house“, but which was correctly called the Crazy House.

It was supposedly a museum, but if it was, I do not know what of. It was also a hotel, where the rooms (individually themed and named after animals) were located in variously connected towers or houses. It was a mishmash that it is really difficult to describe. One house looked like a dilapidated tree stump and another had an almost normal roof. Everything was intertwined with gardens, sitting areas, bridges and stairs. It was a total madhouse. Although the rooms were actually functional, you could look at them, but you could not rent them, they were so called artworks. The site had received various awards – but I did not even look at them. David is a Virgo star sign and he has a phobia about a lack of order and regularity. He said he could never stay there, even if it had been possible and in this I would probably agree. But otherwise, I really liked it and they were still constructing more parts. The architect Hang Nga is a big name in Vietnamese art. I read that, originally, she had problems with the regime because her style was ideologically unsatisfactory. Luckily for her, she is the daughter of the second communist president and was saved by her father !

At the Crazy House, we took so many pictures that we ran out of battery power in the camera and had to ask ourselves what to do next. We had seen all the obligatory attractions and one optional one, so a return to the hotel for a shower and a rest won. The only remaining landmark evaluated by us as an optional place to see was the the palace, but we left that out.

In the evening, we found that, due to a faulty plug, our camera had not recharged ! We did not hesitate but moved straight back to the Japanese restaurant Ichi. We tried a total of 6 dishes, including semi-raw tuna and sushi. Everything was, once again, sinfully good.

We had prepared plans A, B and C for our onward journey but knew we would probably end up with Plan D. Whatever happened, we still had a long way to go on poor little Minh.