Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Vietnam, day 14: Free Skirts and a Buttockful of Modesty

Da Lat, Vietnam
27 May 2017
Hopping off our overnight bus, we had arrived at a time when only flower sellers were out and about. 
We briefly went a-wandering in the hopes of finding a café to relax in for a while, but nothing was open.

Instead, we found a park where we could sit and book a hotel, as we had not been prepared enough to do so beforehand. Unlike much of Vietnam, Da Lat is quite temperate and I needed to keep my cardigan on! I could count the times I had previously worn my cardigan in Vietnam on one elbow. Despite the clement temperature, the humidity levels remained very high.

After successfully finding an available hotel with a 24-hour front desk, we dropped off our bags and prepared for the day by finding a nearby café in which to bolster our spirits. For me, that meant green tea and fruit. As we carelessly hadn't researched activities or sights before arriving in Da Lat, we took that opportunity to do so and quickly decided on taking the gondola to Truc Lam Monastery.

After walking to the gondola office, we hopped on an available capsule and off we zoomed above the treetops. The views were incredible, and we could see for ages across the beautiful forest.

A gondola staff member had happened to share a ride with us, and offered to take our photo!

Disembarking from our treetop vehicle, we discovered that the entrance to the monastery was super touristy. On one side of the road was a giant carpark full of tour busses, and on the other was a long row of stalls selling food and tacky souvenirs. This was quite off-putting and we considered not even going to the monastery after all, worrying that the interior would be just as bad, but as there was no entry fee we pressed on through the selfie-mad masses.

Before we could go further, I was required to don a buttock-scarf in order to shield my sinful legs from holy eyes.

Despite the kitsch-heavy entrance, the monastery complex was quite nice, and we enjoyed wandering around the different buildings and gardens. 

Even with the crowds, there was a sense of tranquility among the butterflies and Buddhist monks that floated around the grounds. 

Returning the modesty skirt, we strolled down to a nearby lake, which was also very popular among tourists (notably those who seek out swan boats). It seemed to be a so-called romantic location, as there were photographers capturing brides and bridegrooms' special days, but to me it came off as altogether too cheesy for my liking. 

Instead of catching the gondola back into town, we decided to walk. Unfortunately, the road proved less than ideal for pedestrians, having no footpath, and we ended up scrabbling our way up an earthen bank into the forest to ease our fears of accidentally being run over. It was quite mossy, and much more pleasant than the road.

Eventually, we left the forest and came upon a road lined with strawberry farms. Da Lat, with its particular climate, is famous for its strawberry production. We found some very reasonably priced berries from one farm, and a packet of strawberry lollies from a shop.

Desiring a break for our weary feet, we stopped at a café for drinks before continuing. Kan Coffee had yummy passionfruit and lime sodas, and of course Yannick had to fulfil his daily ca phe sua da fix. The menu had a quote I find very true, being a tea fan: "If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are too heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you."

Pressing onwards, we walked through a residential area which was hilly and felt strangely Mediterranean. 

There were loads of little run down houses clustered together, with very steep driveways where scooters were parked haphazardly.

Our last attraction for the day was a place called Crazy House. Originally a personal project of the architect, Dang Viet Nga, Crazy House was opened to the public in 1990 for sightseeing and as a guesthouse due to increasing debt. It remains uncompleted, with works ongoing (scheduled completion is for the year 2020). It's a bit difficult to describe succinctly, but basically it's a large complex of weird structures joined by a spider-themed courtyard, winding staircases and precarious suspended pathways.

Dang Viet Nga lives on the premises, continuing to design the various structures. She has cited Antoni Gaudí as one of her influences, though I have to admit that I much prefer Gaudí's work. Overall, the construction seemed a bit cheap, with poured concrete and painted plaster. 

After spending the afternoon napping, we headed out again in the evening for a nice restaurant meal. Clearly, some sort of event was taking place in the town centre and there were hordes of people! Many were feasting on delicacies fried up at roadside carts, so perhaps the crowd was a nightly dining experience. Instead of joining them, we visited Ganesh Indian Restaurant because I was craving Indian food. Inside, it was much more peaceful and we tucked into a delicious chana masala curry with vegan garlic naan on the side! Yannick also ordered a red wine that was produced in Da Lat, which we found to be odd: not sharp or strong, but different than any wine we had tasted and not in a good way.