Dalat and the Central Highlands of VietnamDalat is in the south of the central highlands of Vietnam. The area is well suited for vietnam tours, with waterfalls, hill tribes, nice scenery, etcetera. Dalat itself is just a base to start tours from.
Just south of the middle of Vietnam is where the central highlands begin. Several hill tribes live here, although the ethnic Vietnamese are gaining ground here as well, since the government is trying to create new locations for the overcrowded coastal area. The roads through the highlands are not very good, which is the reason for us only to visit Dalat. Because of its vicinity to Saigon, this city is popular both with local and foreign tourists.
The bus rideWe appear to have the same bus and bus driver as we had on our way from Hoi an to Nha Trang. This time, however, the bus is full and the roads are a bit better. It seems as if the driver is taking it slower this time, but that might be our imagination. On the way to Dalat, we stop at the site of a few Cham towers. These are better preserved than the ones at My Son, and are well worth the climb to the top of the hill.
At noon we arrive at Dalat. At first sight, this is just another big city, and we are a bit disappointed. This feeling gets worse when we check in at a hotel, and search for a bank and a restaurant. Later that afternoon we settle down along the shore of the artificial Xuan Huong lake in the center of Dalat. At least here it's a bit quiet.
We realize that the popularity of Dalat does not come from the city itself. But around the city are lakes, waterfalls, hill tribes, temples, and other things drawing people to this region. So we need to book a tour for the coming days to bring us there. Luckily, there is an alternative to the numerous motor bike drivers offering their tours, and we book a jeep tour for the next day.
Jeep TourThe first stop on our tour is at the Truc Lam meditation center. It is a temple with several gardens around it, and a view over the Tuyen Lam lake. We are a bit more introduced to Buddhism, and marvel at the dragon-shaped hedges in the gardens.
Next, we move on to Lien Kuong, a volcanic waterfall. Because of the dry season we can walk over the molten lava, very close to the waterfall. The falling water always gets to us, especially in a nice scenery.
Chicken VillageThen, our jeeps moves ahead to Chicken Village. It is the village of a hill tribe, featuring an enormous concrete Chicken. There are different stories why the government placed the chicken here 30 years ago. It was probably a tribute to the chicken farmers, who returned to their village after fighting in the American war. The chicken seems useless, but we guess attracts tourists, end thus some income.
In the village, where the hill tribe doesn't dress in their traditional clothes, people earn a living by growing different crops. We get to see flowers, mushrooms, coffee, etcetera. Still, the people are poor, and the kids dress in dirty clothes. In the local school, the dentist is just paying a visit. But as we pass by, we draw all the children's attention.
Around the village we visit a mushroom farm and a silk farm. The silk caterpillars are imported from China. Here they are fed until they make a cocoon. Then, they are exported back to China. Strange, but it seems that the animals are reproducing better in China, but grow better in Vietnam.
Just before noon we arrive at Prenn waterfall. This one is commercialized, there are bridges and even a cable car. There are also gardens around, and animals in cages. It is unclear to us whether they are recovering from injuries here, or just for display to the tourists. Either way, the conditions in which they are kept aren't very good. Apart from that, and from the fact that the waterfall doesn't seem like a natural one anymore, it is a nicely built park.
Crazy house and crazy monkAfter lunch we are visiting the Crazy House. It is a hotel, built in the Alice in Wonderland style. The buildings are like hollow trees, and there are numerous statues of animals in and around the rooms. It all looks like being in a fairy tail, and that's the intention of the owner.
Next stop is the pagoda of the Crazy Monk Vien Thuc. This Buddhist monk is actually an artist, and his gallery (more like a barn) is full of his paintings and sculptures. Many self portraits ("Me"), and portraits of Vincent van Gogh ("Me in the past"). Buddhists believe in reincarnation, but we don't know if he's serious. Anyway, it's an excentric guy, and it's fun to wander around in his gallery and gardens.
TrekkingThe following morning we wake up early for a trek through the mountains. We are dropped with 5 tourists (2 australian girls, a Scottish guy, and us) and 2 guides 13 kilometers away from Dalat, from where we start our walk. Through the pine trees we walk down, where we arrive an hour later at the Tiger cave waterfalls. Here we take a swim, and although the water is very cold we have a lot of fun with the natural slide over the rocks. After warming up in the sun, we move on.
Further downhill, we pass streams and coffee plantations and reach Langbian river. We walk alongside it for a while, until a point where we have to cross it via an enormous suspension bridge. A number of the wooden steps are broken, so we have to have faith in just the iron wire at some points. But we make it across safe, and move on to the next bridge, where we have to do the same again.
Chil hill tribeNext part of the trek is a steep ascend. One by one we reach the top gasping and puffing, where we enjoy a nice view and lunch. Then we move on to Liengtro, a tiny little village of the Chil tribe. These people live completely isolated on the top of a mountain. We give some candy to the shy children. Few tourists come here, and therefore the children haven't learned to beg for money.
We pass a few vegetable fields and a few Chil people on our way back down. We also pass numerous streams and some small waterfalls while we walk and climb through the mountains and woods. On several places fires are burning, created by foresters, thereby trying to prevent larger bushfires. Finally, after 6 hours of walking, we reach the minivan that brings us back to Dalat.
Back in Dalat we know the places where to relax. Yet, we do not understand why this city is called "Honeymoon city" by the Vietnamese. Unless a honeymoon here consists of one large tour through the surroundings...
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