Happy Vietnamese Valentines day, and what better place to celebrate it than the former French hill station of Dalat, where romance is a ‘serious’ affair. Not only did the French leave behind their beautiful French-colonial villas, they left behind their language d’amour and the local boheimian artists’ predilection for swanning about in berets! And just in case the language d’amour was bit too cryptic, the Vietnamese added their own (less subtle) visual twist on the topic of love – such as the Eiffel Tower shaped radio tower, or the aptly named ‘Valley of Love’ with its sickeningly kitsch heart-shaped cut-outs for posing with your loved one. And what would love be without a horse-drawn carriage ride or a go on the swan pedalos? Dalat had everything we could have wished for, to make our valentines, an uber kitsch day to remember.
Our Room Only 10 Dollars Per Night
Looking Down to the Motobike Filled MAin Road
Le Tour Eiffiel
Waking up huddled in our fluffy duvet, in a cool room, was a welcome change to the tropical heats we had been experiencing for the last 5 months. Dalat is always in a state of spring time, but when we hit the streets we became aware that the locals were dressed as though we were in a ski resort. The temperature was a balmy 26 degress and there they were, teeth chattering behind their fur trimmed bomber jackets. There were even a couple of wooly hats knocking about! We made our way into a local ‘patisserie’ as I kept calling it – well we were in petite-Paris after all. Nothing took my fancy (it all looked a little stale to be honest) so we set out to find a café. We were hoping to find one where we could gaze out at the Tour Eiffel (radio station) but no such luck. We settled for one with a patio that overlooked the busy streets from above. Random choice, honey and Lemon tea and a tuna baguette for my breakfast; my stomach sadly still wasn’t ready for any Vietnamese food quite yet and I only managed half the baguette. Next a stroll down some decaying and decidedly dangerous stairs to the lake front. There was barely another tourist in sight, but still we were approached by women attempting to sell sunglasses. Our slightly irritated faces seemed to scare them away and we managed to stroll along the front without too much interference. There were horses which should be pulling carts of tourists, grazing along the grassy front and we sat a while contemplating a Swan Pedalo. What the hell, we thought, it could only be a couple of dollars surely! Well it turned out to be 5 – a day’s wages for some Vietnamese people, but it wasn’t worth the hassle of bartering over a couple of dollars.
View of the Lake
Our swan was a little grotty inside and as we pedaled out I started to get swan envy - some of the swans on the lake had a much glossier coat than ours and a better sunroof! But there was no time for jealously, as I noticed Ste’s steering to be slightly awry; we were going round in circles! I thought a swan pedalo was supposed to be a relaxing experience but when the rudder seems to take you in every direction apart from the one you desire, it can get a little irritating. Of course this was all Stes fault and a great opportunity to question him, that if he couldn’t drive a swan how would he ever be able to drive a car. He obviously then found the need to prove himself and our swan finally made it more than a few metres away from the shore. We were heading into open waters now; some serious pedaling was needed “do you think there is a Guinness record for making it around the world in a swan pedalo?” I asked – Ste was doubtful. We wanted to head to the end of the lake, but the wind had other ideas, and as soon as we stopped pedaling, we twizled around and started head back off in the direction we had come! I started to think we would never make it back to shore and end up owing 3 million dollars or even worse there would be a news report ‘Two tourists die in Swan Pedalo’ but with sheer determination we eventually made it back – on time and a man fished us out of the water.
Next on our list of kitchness was the Crazy House, this place honestly exists, you couldn’t make it up! Lonely Planet has it down as ‘a free wheeling architechtural exploration of surrealism’ Some compare it to the work of Antoni Gaudi – I just thought it looked like something that should be in Alton Towers – the Nemesis to be precise. It looked like a playground, but you wouldn’t let your kids run around here – there were stairs and walkways over 15 metres high, with barely any sides and on one certain roof, the walkway wasn’t even finished and just dropped off the side without any warning. Tunnels with fleshy coloured walls wound their way like a labyrinth to different rooms, where it is possible to stay; if the kangaroo with red glowing eyes at the end of your bed doesn’t put you off! At one point we found ourselves climbing up a rather precarious giraffe’s neck to reach some of the rooms! Bizarre. But this house wasn’t built as a theme park, it was actually the brainchild of the owner Mrs Dang Viet Nga, who has a PhD in architecture from Moscow. One of her previous masterpieces ‘House with 100 roofs’ was ripped down for looking antisocialist, but to make up for it the Crazy House is expanding and becoming more ‘crazy’ every year. An hour was plenty in this nuthouse and we flagged a taxi to The Valley of Love.
Steep Stairs With No Sides!
Labyrinth of Passageways
We were prepared to reach new heights of kitchness, but when we climbed out of the taxi and heard the tacky love music emanating from the gates we couldn’t help an ‘oh…my…god.’ It was surprisingly busy, not with tourists, but holidaying Vietnamese and we seemed to become more of an attraction than the park they had come to see. Ignoring the stares I saw the park was dotted with various tacky statues, all symbolic of love, including a Mickey and Minnie one! How romantic! However tacky the valley was there was no denying the view was stunning looking out across the lake and the gardens blooming with flowers. To be honest we were having a brilliant time, the whole thing was so utterly cheesy, it had us giggling for a good couple of hours. We strolled down to the lake and onto ‘Human Paradise Hill’ which had even louder love ballads blasting out into the otherwise peaceful countryside. We didn’t stay for long and headed back up through the beautiful flower beds and into the rickety little funfair. Not much there, except some people firing bows and arrows over the edge of the valley to win prizes; safety first! Fearing our taxi driver might desert us, we headed back to the road and we could see he was still waiting. I stopped to take one more photo and when we looked back he had vanished. Fantastic I thought. The man on reception was surprisingly helpful and called us a taxi, which didn’t turn up for a good half an hour. So there was plenty of time to be harassed by a little old woman and her artichoke tea and also the moto drivers who were pretty insistent that we would be getting a lift with them. Fortunately the taxi eventually turned up and we could make an escape back to Dalat town Centre.
Naked people! A bit risque for Vietnam
Venus De Milo
We talked about having a valentines meal but as I wasn’t feeling that well we settled for fresh baguettes and ….CHEESE..yes cheese, proper cheese, Edam to be precise. It wouldn’t be my first choice at home, but this was the first cheese I had seen in 5 months that wasn’t a ridiculous price (usually about 7 pounds!) So we grabbed a small feast and headed back to our hotel. We used our spare bed as a table and our penknife to slice the cheese. YUM! I loved our tacky day, it would certainly be the most memorable Valentines I’ve had.