20 October 2011

The Happiest Buddha in the World [Dalat, Vietnam]

The weather patterns in Dalat leave an even shorter opening for sunshine than Nha Trang! At least there you had the morning to enjoy before the thunder clouds roll in. In Dalat it rains in the morning, there is a couple of hours of early afternoon sunshine, then back to rain. But the rain didn't put me off. A lot of travelers I have met put Dalat up there on the Vietnam to-do list, so I had to get out and explore.

In some parts of Dalat it is easy to believe you are somewhere in Europe. The French used this small highland town as their get-away from Saigon, building plenty of European style houses and churches. There even a small Eiffel Tower-ish construction in the center of town (or maybe it was just a radio tower) and a Moulin Rouge. This combines with the beautiful green landscape, colorful gardens and a picturesque lake makes for a perfect spot to spend a few days. I was lucky to catch Simon and Yona for a night before they moved on to Saigon. We had a quick catch up and they introduced me to the most epic bakery of all time! (OK, maybe slight exaggeration, but it was so so good!).

While the city is beautiful, the countryside is where it's at. I hired a scooter for a day and drove way out into the highlands. The rain was constant, sometimes just a light shower and other times bucketing down, but I kept on. And it was totally worth it. Driving through the lush green forests, huge coffee plantations that cover the hills and small highland villages was a highlight of my time in Vietnam. I called in to a cafe and tried the coffee, and I am converted. It is freakin' amazing!

I visited Linh An Tu (temple) with the happiest Buddha I have ever seen! I think this is the best Buddha statue in existence. It is so cool! The temple is worth a visit too. And just down the road is Elephant Falls, the largest falls in the area. The track down (when you can find it) is thin, steep and with all the rain; extremely slippery. I am surprised they actually let me attempt it! And with all the rain the falls were bursting at the seams. At one point you can walk under the falls, but it was just not possible with the volume of water running over the falls; I couldn't even get close!

One final thing I did in Dalat was visit the 'Crazy House'. It is one Vietnamese woman's endless project, which reminded me a little of Gaudi's buildings in Barcelona (but on a smaller scale). The main building is designed as a tree, with rooms built into the trunk. Each room has an animal theme, and the detail is impressive. The paths around and up the tree are like a maze, twisting, turning and crossing each other. The garden is also really amazing, with HUGE spiderwebs in the trees and small paths and bridges leading you through the thick foliage.

Random bits and pieces from Dalat:
- The food is cheap, but the accommodation is expensive. Well, relatively. I paid VND 120,000 per night for a single room in Dalat, which is about US$6 / £4. But Simon and Yona showed me this awesome place that did hamburgers for VND 10,000!
- The Vietnamese have this interesting desert sold by special shops. There are a large amount of plastic containers, each with different types of jelly or custard and a whole lot of other things (I have no idea what they were). They take a little of each thing, mix it up into a disgusting looking goo, and wolf it down. I tried one when in Dalat and it actually wasn't that bad. But I wasn't rushing out to buy another.
- There was this freakin' weird poster on the wall in my hotel room. Check it out below. It says 'Get Well Soon' on it. WTF?!


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