After yesterday’s insane and non-sensical events we were half expecting the curse of Dalat to permeate its way into todays plans. However we were pleasantly surprised that the problem with the ATM seemed to have fixed itself so we were able to get some money, the bikes we’d booked (a Husky and a Bonus) were waiting for us when we arrived at the Crazy Gecko Tours office, the sun was shining down from a perfectly clear blue sky and continued to do so for the duration of the day, and our drivers Tung and Hai were laid back, down to earth, amusing guys with an unfaultable grasp of the Englsih language.
As I’d given Pill the double bed in the attic room we’d had to move into this morning, she allowed me the first ride on the Husky. If you’re not a fan of motorbikes I guarantee you that a ride on this one will most certainly change your mind. The designers have not only given detailed consideration to the comfort of the driver but to his passenger also : the foot rests are in a perfect position and the back rest gives you the feeling of being seated in a comfortable sofa, whilst enjoying the sensation of the hot sun on your face, a cool breeze racing through your hair, and the absorbing sights and sounds of Dalat’s countryside. Comfort aside, the speed, appearance, and gentle roar of the engine meant that this bike totally and utterly rocked!
We stopped firstly at Hang Nga (Night Queen) Guesthouse, otherwise known as Dalat’s ‘Crazy House’. It’s designed by Vietnamese architect, Mrs Dang Viet Nga and is a cross between Gaudi’s innovative Barcelonean architecture and decorative themes reminiscent of Lewis Carrol’s ‘Alice In Wonderland.’ The design of the structure promises something unique, original and full of character, but unfortunately what’s actually delivered is closer to the countercultural kitsch we’ve witnessed largely throughout Dalat. Nevertheless exploring Hang Nga was a fun experience and the priviledge of staying in one of the guesthouse’s themed rooms will cost you between $26 and $62 per night.
We then drove deeper into Dalat’s beautiful countryside and up into the hills to reach the Zen Meditation Pagoda. Newly built in 1990, it’s worthy of a visit as much for the view of the surrounding valleys and across the Lake of Sighs as it is for the pagoda itself. The scenery was almost how I imagine Canada’s great lakes to look, with masses of tall pine trees dominating the foreground.
Our next stop was Datanla Falls, which lie at the bottom of a 350m descent through a diverse forest of trees and plants and wildlife, in particular numerous birds and butterflies. What’s good about this place is that it’s peaceful and pretty and natural – with the distinct exception of a large rollercoaster winding its way through the trees. Work is expected to be completed on this rollercoaster by the end of 2006, and it will transport visitors to and from the falls. I remember thinking that this was how Alton Towers began life. We rested for a drink with our drivers before beginning our ascent back up from the falls. Mine and Pill’s curiousity got the better of us so we sampled the ominous ‘Birds Nest’ drink, which was piled up with cans of Cola and Miranda and Winter Melon Tea. It does actually contain – as it says on the can – birds nest, as well as white fungus, sugar and water, creating a taste which resembles caramel. Not sure I’d drink it again though after learning what it contains!
Our favourite part of the trip (aside from riding around Dalat’s countryside at high speeds on the back of a Husky!) was a wander around Dalat’s minority village, nicknamed The Chicken Village due to a very large stone statue of a chicken greeting you as you enter. We bid the villagers “Nim Sa” (hello) as Tung led us through some beautiful fruit and vegetable gardens (where the residents were cultivating beans, beetroot, corn, grapefruit, papaya, guave, passionfruit, and dragon fruit). We stopped in a sheltered little flower garden decorated with artwork by Dalat’s Crazy Monk. We watched an old lady make insense sticks from the ground residue of the rubber tree and coat them in cinamon or sandalwood powder, and enjoyed fresh passionfruit (I’d forgotten how wonderful this tastes), guava, and bags of dried corn.
Due to their lack of appeal upon arrival at the following attractions, we rushed through our viewings of :
Valley Of Love (a picturesque valley and lake surrounded by kitsch little fairy-tale style houses, cheesy romantic music blaring from hidden speakers, and horses and carts adorned with garish pink flowers)
The Magic Table (a random wooden table in the middle of a woman’s driveway which is supposed to turn clockwise or anticlockwise ‘by magic’, depending on the thoughts you transmit as you rest your hands upon it)
Dalat’s Flower Garden (which we expected to be a beautiful jungle of tropical flowers but was yet again another display of decorative kitsch)
Our final port of call, after the necessary cafe sua-da at a little mountainside cafe, was the residence of artist, poet and scholar Vien Thuc, otherwise known as Dalat’s ‘Crazy Monk’. I could understand why some people call him crazy : the original and eccentric character has been painting for 52 years, and has churned out over 100,000 works of art, the majority of which fill every room in his pagoda. Masses of paintings are hung busily on the walls and stacked up on the floors. I bought a copy of his Zen Poetry, not because I necessarily liked his work but simply because I was in awe of it. The poems he writes are very much the same as their predocessors, just like his paintings, but he keeps on writing and he keeps on painting because that’s what he’s passionate about and I respect him for that.
I was a little saddened to finally say goodbye to Hai and Tung. They’d been fantastic guides and we’d had a wonderful day with them. And that bike . . .
Photo to follow.