HO CHI MIN CITY (Saigon) DA LAT

Discussion in 'Vietnam - Road Trip Reports' started by Rod Page, Aug 11, 2011.

  1. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    The clock waits for no-one. Being on a whirlwind tour of SE Asia before age wearies us & we return to 'fish our lives away' in our beloved Tahiti, French Polynesia, & after 3 absolutely wonderful years in Chiang Mai we're drawn to Vietnam to continue our journeys. This was a quick trip to Da Lat, Vietnam's 'Ville des Amoureux', enticed by reports of a comfortable climate, french ambience, sensational food & cheap red wine.

    HCMC, or Saigon as many of us remember her, was our first port of call. My research lead me to understand that in VN all matters are best handled through a local agent! We were booked into the Empress Hotel in the Pham Ngu Lao area of District 1; close to everything, the hotel had won a best boutique hotel award in 1999. Comfortable, in the style of that era, it's good value at $US30/night inc b'fast.

    We'd been impressed by the vibrance of the city in our taxi in from the airport, mesmorised by the number of motorcycles, stunned by the incessant honking of horns. Night had long fallen when we hurried out for dinner. We headed to Huong Lai, a famed Vietnamese restaurant set in the attic of a character-filled, small French colonial building not far from the hotel. The attraction of this place is not just the good food but the fact that all staff are drawn from disadvantaged families, or just street kids given a chance.They receive on-the-job training, an education & a place to stay under the excellent guidance of the Japanese proprietor:

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    An after dinner strowl to HCMC'c own Notre Dame Cathedral before continuing at that pace back to the hotel. We loved our first night in Saigon - the french influence, the logical lay-out of the streets, the abundance of parks, wonderful tree-filled avenues, a tantilising mix of commerce & culture, of skyscrapers & wooden barns, the very chic & the markets, aromas of every kind imaginable.

    It was an early start the next morning - a bus trip of some 300kms north to Da Lat - Myriama is not fond of planes & the bus offered the chance to see the countryside in greater detail - but not before a look around our hotel's neighbourhood:

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    People exercising everywhere in the parks, even through dancing where the young at heart can join in:

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    A bottle of 'fix all' for the bus trip north;

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    (Transport note - Phuong Trang operates buses across VN. HCMC-Da Lat in a modern 96 seater air-conditioned coach was $9/person one way with a company car picking you up at your HCMC hotel & dropping you at you hotel in Da Lat. Its a 6hr min trip - & what a trip it is, if you wish to have the wits scarred out of you!!! Many a wise man advised us not to ride in or around Saigon but no-one mentioned how these guys pass whilst heading fully laden on up-hill twisting roads!)

    The first 150kms or so shows HCMC's thirst for expansion; this place just keeps growing. Past rubber plantations & the odd point of interest its nonetheless not a route one would ride by choice; the coastal route, though longer, must be more attractive. On commencing the steep climb through thick pine forrests to Da Lat, however, things change. The arrival at Da Lat at 1500m is anything but 'Vietnamese' - after passing through many a 'typical VN town' en route you suddenly burst through the pines to a stunningly set mountain town; an easy lay-out, sweeping boulevards (well almost), an abundance of French colonial mansions, a wonderful centrally set lake some 7 kms around, chic cafes, good hotels, an excellent golf-course, botanical gardens rarely found in VN........for Sydney-siders its "like transporting Double Bay to Jindabine"!

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    (TO BE CONTINUED............)
     
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  3. Ian Bungy

    Ian Bungy Ol'Timer

    Well I will be Sorry to have You leave once You finally Go Rod but No doubt You will be back from Time to Time and keep Us all informed with Your Excellent Posts on Your Adventures! Your Portrayal of Vietnam sounds better than most reports I hear and the Pictures seem to confirm it? So well done and Continue enjoying Your Travels!
     
  4. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    (CONTINUED...................)

    We were booked into the Da Lat Empress, set perfectly overlooking the ever popular & brilliantly located Blue Water Restaurant at lake's edge, a stone's throw from cafes & restaurants, the markets & so on. Formerly a mansion overlooking the lake it was transformed into a comfortable hotel with a modern wing being added in 1997. Our room was $32/night inc b'fast; $60 over the internet if you try direct - so forget it & save money, time & worry by using Flamingo Travel, well-known to GTR riders:

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    The accommodation wing of the hotel which can be seen in the left of the above photo:

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    After a brilliant sleep in the no humidity, cool temperatures of Da Lat - this place is between 18-26 degrees all year, a little colder on winter nights - we were up early to join locals walking, running, exercising, laughing, even posing around the lake. The tourists, mostly from Saigon/not foreigners, take breakfast at Blue Waters; the locals take coffee at a cafe directly opposite across the lake. We headed straight to the famed fresh produce markets - these are, bar none, the freshest produce markets we've ever seen with an incredible variety of fruits & vegetables found only in such temperate climates. To be back stuffing our faces with peaches & plums, persimmons & mulberries was a delight:

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    The lake & its surrounds 'hum' throughout the day; from exercisers to lovers, from those paddling on the lake to those flying kites around it, from the adjoining golf-course to the botanical gardens, from those on horseback to those moving by horse & carriage.... Day & night it 'revs'!

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    A true Ozzie could not resist 'Planking in Da Lat' before the newly-weds embraced before a moonlit 'Eiffel Tower':

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    (TO BE CONTINUED..............................)
     
  5. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    (CONTINUED..........................)

    Flamingo had arranged for us to hire 2x110 Honda Waves (there's not much choice in VN) - tel Anh on 0937389238 whose husband rents the bikes, though its easier to go through Flamingo - so we spent the balance of the day cruising around Da Lat proper. It does not take long to get a feel for Da Lat, its market, Hoa Binh Square, it array of patissieries, cafes & restaurants, its smaller market lane-ways & its ever-visible 'Eiffel Tower'! Da Lat is a beautiful place, so much so that in the 'American War' as its called in VN, the town was handed over via a signature without a shot being fired:

    Lunch???? Just park anywhere:

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    One of the smaller cobble-stoned laneway markets that can give a town great character:

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    Here she is:

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    Looking over the central market area, cleaned after morning market, & on down towards the postal radio tower (Eiffel Tower):

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    The coffee shop/bar strip overlooking the markets at night. The area is closed off to other than pedestrian traffic on Saturday evenings from 7-9.30pm - a popular spots with bands playing in Hoa Binh Square:

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    It was time to explore a couple of tourist traps. We headed to the Valley of Love, a beautifully scenic stretch of water ruined by the kitch (though quite amusing to see):

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    So off to see the less touristic Tuyen Lam Lake - a nice spot, its water a true emerald green. Massive mansions being built overlooking the lake, a most confusing sight in a communist country where the basic wage was only recently raised to $80/month:

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    Onwards then to Lang Bian Mountain offering sensational views over Da Lat, even on a damp day:

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    We were in Da Lat during Nock-Ten tropical depression, so headed back quickly to the 'security of the bar'!

    (TO BE CONTINUED...............................)
     
  6. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    (CONTINUATION........................)

    Now itching to test the Waves a little further afield, but knowing we were on small bikes & uncertain roads, we were up to see the sun rise:

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    We were headed for Ngoan Muc Pass via Trai Mat & its Linh Phuoc Pagoda. This was a great run giving us our first real taste of what it will be like touring VN - we were blown away; LOVED it.

    A house & its occupants that caught our attention:

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    The roads are in very mixed condition so great attention is required. Linh Phuoc Pagoda is in Trai Mat, a small town just under 10kms from Da Lat. The pagoda is magical, decorated in broken ceramic pieces, so very different from Wats in Thailand. I'll let the photos do the talking:

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    This 8,500kl bell was inaugurated in 2000 to ring in the new millenium. Today pilgrims come from far & wide to write wishes on slips of paper which are then adhered to the bell before each writer in turn tolls the bell using the large wooden instrument in the lower picture 'to send their wishes to Buddha':

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    Onwards over mountain passes, amidst forrests, down across valleys, through sleepy dusty towns we finally reached Ngoan Muc Pass (Davidfl - you just have to get a VN map out there; there's simply nothing of quality or more than little use. VN will force me to use GPS.) The French called it Bellevue Pass & its that good! You look down over the road which winds its way down the mountainside to the plains that extend to the sea. On a clear day you can see the coast many kilometres away. Marvellous:

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    Lunch & a bottle of local red, roadside on the return leg:

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    Da Lat has a home-grown range of wines of the same name - reds are cabernet sauvignon & merlots whilst the sole white is a chardonnay. Fantastic value at $3.50 - $6 depending on quality.

    Our apetites wetted, so to say, we decided to ride out to Lake Lak the next day, north of Da Lat up towards Buon Ma Thout (maps again; you have no idea how hard it is to find turn-offs, roads they call 'major roads', signage..........). We rode up through mountain scenery as good as anything I've seen in northern Thailand:

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    We were exhilarated but some 80kms out of Da Lat disaster struck in a small village as we moved slowly through - Myriama was skittled from her bike at very slow speed (it seems by a alsation puppy playing with kids). Wearing only the 'upside-down plate' helmet available in VN she finished up with a nasty gash & a very swollen black eye. This would have been absolutely a non-event with proper gear (bring it with you!):

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    It was clearly something which completely changed our plans. The change in circumstances explains why this report is somewhat more clinical than my usual format covering riding adventures, the countryside & its people. The time was not wasted & I trust the information I've supplied - see VN General Discussion Forum - in an associated report on Da Lat itself - its restaurants, cafes & bars, accommodation options & tourist spots, indeed first hand information on hospitalisation & pharmacies (!), mundane information but I trust of use to others travelling.
     
  7. Ian Bungy

    Ian Bungy Ol'Timer

    Hell Sorry to See the Accident at the end of the Report! All the best to Myriama and I am sure You will make a quick recovery and be on Your Travels again ASAP! Fantastic Photos and Report besides the Accident Guys so keep it up and Enjoy Yourselves! As You said "Time Waits for No One"!!! All the Best.
     
  8. ronwebb

    ronwebb Ol'Timer

    Thanks for this report Rod, it gives us a taste of what's to come (the scenery and not the accident I trust!) when you relocate there. All the best to Myriama for a quick recovery.
     
  9. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Wow! What a start. I hope Myriama gets well soon. Talk about a lucky accident.
    It sure sounds like you're going to enjoy Vietnam & I look forward to hopefully many scintillating Page reports.
    A big thumbs up too, to the guys at Flamingo Travel for helping you out. Always excellent service.
     
  10. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    Ian, Ron, David,

    I join with Myriama in thanking you one & all for your kind thoughts & well-wishes. Its been a swift recovery & we're both ready to rock & roll once the rain stops.

    It seems the photo of her accident grabs all the attention. What, however, did you think of the report & associated information posted under the VN General Informatiom Forum? Da Lat - very atypical of VN but well worth a visit.

    Cheers & again many thanks for your concern.
     
  11. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    There are more riders contemplating visiting Vietnam these days.
    At this time of year its particularly hot & humid in many areas of the country, particularly along the coast, where most tend to ride. So a suggestion to anyone planning a trip at this time - consider taking in Da Lat (& the HCM trails).
    Easily accessible from HCMC, Da Lat is a great base from which to explore some absolutely wonderful countryside nearby.
     
  12. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    Da Lat Flower Show - 29/12/2014 to 05/01/2014.

    The International Year of Tourism (2014) in Vietnam is to get away to an early start in Da Lat with the city celebrating its 120th Founding Anniversary this month in conjunction with the start of the Fifth Annual Da Lat Flower Show.

    The Da Lat Flower Show is nothing short of sensational, a spectacular showing given the cities altitude (1500m) offering the chance to grow many exotic species in a display covering many hectares.

    Well worth seeing if you are in the area (as is Da Lat, of course, arguably Vietnam's most beautiful city as the report above shows).
     
  13. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Just re read this thread. It's a stunner for an introduction to Ho Chi Min & Dalat; & then suddenly you're hit by by that bloody picture of Myriama. Sort of takes your breath away for a second.
     

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