Friday, 18 March 2011


Friday 18th March 2011

MP3 track of the day: Umbrella - Rihanna

Weather: Mixed; it's been heavily overcast all day, with heavy rain showers this morning until 9:30am. After wards light showers occurred sporadically, with temperatures rising during the middle of the day. At around 5pm a huge black cloud loomed over Da Lat, which was my signal to head for shelter.


I did indeed awake early, and I was out of my guesthouse around 8:30am. As I proceeded out of the front door I was a little disappointed with the 'free breakfast'. I was paying a lot more money, for my accommodation, than usual and I had the same breakfast – bread with butter and a bottle of water – as I did in Ho Chi Minh City. I was out in the porch, looking at the two-tier fountain to my right. Fierce rain drops were bombarding the water within the fountain. I took my bag off my back and placed it on a chair. I had already got my coat on however I needed to apply my 'bag rain cover'. Once 'wet weathered up' I strolled out determined to make the most of my day.

I had decided to tackle Da Lat in an anti-clockwise manor. This would therefore take me south towards 'Lam Ty Nil Pagoda' and 'Bao Dal's Summer Palace'. My guidebook described the pagoda as 'one of the most popular attractions in Da Lat' however I couldn't find it. Neither could I find the palace. I went up and down the streets within the area but no matter how hard I tried, and how far I walked, I still couldn't find them. It didn't help that the rain was bucketing it down, therefore any quick glance at my guidebook's map was out of the question. After quite a while of searching I decided to leave these two attractions for later, I headed to the cities cathedral.

It's quite difficult to miss a cathedral, due to a huge spiked tower that all cathedrals seem to have. This one was no different. I didn't go inside, though from the cover of a tree, I took a couple of photos of the exterior. I then proceeded slightly north and down a rather steep slope. It appears that, within Vietnam, they pave their pavements with beautiful stone slabs. This may look pretty, and be fine in the dry, however these become as slippery as ice with water rushing down them. I took the decision to walk on the road.

At this point I was supposed to turn right, towards the huge lake; however, to my left, I saw a small park and so I investigated it. The entrance to the park was across a wooden half-circle footbridge. I had to tread carefully as this too was pretty slippy. It would appear that this park is just being constructed; many flower beds were in full bloom however most of the walking paths hadn't been completed. Whats more, on the northern side of the park, there seemed to be a shanty town. Well what I should say is what's left of a shanty town. Some wooden 'sheds' were still standing however a lot had been flattened leaving only the foundations. I left the park, heading north, along a rather dodgy path with rubbish all around and broken bricks plugging water logged holes. I climbed up a few steps and looked back. All around Da Lat are posters advertising a massive flower festival in 2012. All around the city you can see big plots of land being developed with architects drawings showing how that particular flower park was going to look. I wondered if these buildings – which probably are peoples homes – were being knocked down to make way for the flower festival. If the people currently living in them are re-housed in better accommodation then I have no objection, however I do fear otherwise.

As I was now on the northern side of the city my 'anti-clockwise' route had become some what redundant. Instead a new 'figure of eight' route was devised and off I went, heading north-east around 'Lake Xuan Houng'. Man-made, the lake sits on the eastern side of the city and provides a welcome walk; it wasn't that big and so I knew it wouldn't take long to complete. Walking around it brought me back to happier times when I was in New Zealand, or Canada, walking within their national parks. The only difference was that I had to walk on a path adjacent to a well used road and, therefore, I still got offers of a lift on a motorbike. So it wasn't as quiet -or, if I'm honest, as picturesque - as either Canada or New Zealand however for the time being it'll do. I continued to walk around the perimeter stopping to take a couple of photos of said lake, or the numerous small flower gardens that hung to the waters edge. Once at the top, which only took thirty minutes or so, I stumbled across 'Flower World', Da Lats botanical gardens. As it was only 10am, and with the rain ceasing, I paid the 10,000 dong (30p) entrance fee and went in.

'Flower World' was pretty good. The flower displays were well cared for and there was a tea-pot, plus many animals, made out of hedges. I also saw Cinderellas carriage amongst the flowers and, overall, it was a pleasant and worth while hour spent. The unfortunate parts about the park were the numerous retail outlets selling a whole range of stuff, even if there was no relevance to the park what so ever. There were also horse rides available where you could wear a cowboy hat, and carry a plastic gun, whilst the horse trotted around said park. After several times of trying I failed to find the logical connection between the 'Wild Wild West' and 'Flower World', Da Lat, Vietnam. I finished my visit by viewing some public art, within a garden, before exiting 'Flower World' and continuing on my way. It was now 11am; firstly it was getting rather hot and so I placed my coat within my bag. Secondly 11am meant 'elevenses' and so, with only a bread roll to eat this morning, I set to completing my walk around the lake ... but also keeping my eye out for a cafe.

I reached the part of the lake where a road should have lead to the train station. I investigated a few roads but I couldn't find the station, or any signs to direct me there. Feeling ever more hungry I left the area and completed my circular route around 'Lake Xuan Huong'. At the end I found myself in the middle of Da Lat. I found a rather posh restaurant with, unfortunately, small portion sises; I ordered a sandwich with a side of fries. As I waited tentatively for my meal to arrive I searched out my guidebook from my bag, I opened it to the correct page, and scoured the map of Da Lat once more. Three out of seven attractions, I circled, I hadn't been able to find. Add the 'Jade Pagoda' from Ho Chi Minh City and either I had lost my 'mojo' for seeking out places, or Vietnam needed to invested in some better signage. There wasn't anything else on my map that I wanted to see and so, after eating and paying for my meal, I basically started the day again.

I decided, again, to seek out Bao Dal's Summer Palace; this time though, I would approach it from a different road. I still managed to find myself in the back streets of another hillside shanty town however, heroically, I eventually found the palace. You couldn't really see it from the car park and so I had to pay the 10,000 dong (30p) entrance fee just to get a glimpse. I wouldn't call it a palace as such; rather a very well preserved 1930's house. This building had been Emperor Bao Dai's summer palace; Bao Dai was the last emperor of Vietnam before the country was overrun by the Japanese. Due to Hanoi and Saigon signing an agreement not to bomb, or use, Da Lat during the Vietnam War the building stood as it did seventy years ago. I love the 1930's use of squares and circles within its architecture; I took quite a few photos before entering the building. As I entered the porch I was confronted by a row of chairs and some plastic washing bins. Within the bins were black, and dark green, pieces of cloth that each guest had to place over their shoes to stop any mud from entering the house. I thought that this was a rather good idea (and could be adopted for home use) and it was certainly less of an annoyance than having to continually take your shoes off. However it did make walking a rather slippy affair. It wasn't long before I tip-toed across polished wood onto carpet. I relaxed and I took in the view. All the furniture, from 1938, had been left exactly in it's original positions. I usually don't like viewing the insides of buildings however this one different. I loved viewing the rooms with their 1930's furniture and d├ęcor schemes; it felt as though I had truly being brought back in time. With only two floors, with a maximum of eight rooms on each floor, it didn't take long to look around. I gave back the covers for my shoes and investigated the gardens which, just like the house, weren't that big. The exit gate was 200 meters from the entrance gate. I wasn't sure why as the flow of people entering wasn't exactly at 'crowd control' levels. It all became apparent a couple of steps from the exit where I saw a massive line of shops. The exit had basically been moved, to a rather inconvenient location, just so that all tourists had to pass by the tacky souvenir stores. I breeze straight through and headed away from the palace, towards 'Lam Ty Nil Pagoda' … again.

Apparently the pagoda is home to 'Vien Thuc', a mad monk. In his time off from being mad, he's a painter, sculpture and a poet and has many objects for sale; I wasn't sure if I actually wanted to see this pagoda however, considering it was only 2pm, I had plenty of time to seek it out. Maybe it wouldn't be up to me if I saw this pagoda as I still couldn't find it. I went down every street I had been down this morning, plus others, and still no pagoda … it can't be that small can it?

During my quest to find this $%^&£ pagoda I walked down a road for, what seemed like, forever. In the end I admitted defeat and stopped at a guesthouse to ask for directions. I was fortunate to arrive at the same time as an Australian / Vietnamese lady who translated my query to the guesthouse manager. She was so good at translating that, at one point, a guy from the guesthouse was going to show me where the pagoda was. Before the guy and I left, as I could see a fee looming, I asked where in Da Lat I currently was. The man put his finger next to the 'Cam Ly Falls', an attraction I was saving for tomorrow. As, apparently, it was just around the corner I decided to go and visit with the intention of finding this damn pagoda later.

They were right about the falls being just around the corner. I paid what seems to be an attraction standard fee of 10,000 dong. Oh I wish I hadn't. As I entered I could smell a pungent sewerage smell and I soon realized that the falls carried Da Lats waste water from the city. What's more these falls were obviously man-made and so, very quickly, I went down one side of the falls, took a few photos at the bottom, and climbed back up the other side (passing another opportunity to ride a horse with me looking like a cowboy on top). It appeared that I was the only 'tool' who had entered. It also felt like, due to having big piles of white chemical foam within the waters, that this attraction was closed for the 'off-peak' season ... only someone had forgotten to tell the ticket salesman. I left, after spending a record four minutes there.

By this point it was 3pm and I had been on my feet for over six hours. They were tired, I was tired but yet my stubbornness wouldn't let me give in. I went back to find the pagoda. I went up the same streets as before, triple-checking, until I found a road that didn't seem familiar. I walked down said road and there it was, hidden within a housing estate, 'Lam Ty Ni Pagoda'. I couldn't believe it, looking back up the road I had missed this path by a few footsteps each time. There was something else that I couldn't believe …

It was shut.

Looking through the bars, that blocked the entrance, the grass was uncut and damage to the building hadn't been repaired. I reckoned that 'Vien Thuc' hadn't lived at this address for many a year. Either he had gone totally mad, and was now living in a field as a sheep, or his time had come. Either way I took a photo of the location, laughed a little, and headed away from the pagoda. This left one attraction that I hadn't managed to find earlier, the train station. 'Ga Da Lat' was it's name and it was located on the south-eastside of the city, where as I was currently located on the south-westside. To make matters worse heavy rain was starting to pour again. I put my coat on and walked a little, taking shelter within a porch of a posh hotel. Whilst there I got my map out to get an idea of my bearings. The hotels doorman wandered over and peered over my shoulder. I hadn't noticed this bold move and so, when he asked if he could help me, I was a little startled. I asked him if he knew where 'Ga Da Lat' was (the name of the train station). He smiled and gave me directions which sort of mirrored my own thoughts. I thanked him, put my book away, and off I went.

Not to make the same mistake as last time, I choose to veer away from the lake and take a road that climbed above the city. It was a pain to walk up, but it gave me a great view and I could look down into the valley to try to find train tracks, or a building that looked like a train station. It took a while but then, in the valley below, I could read the words 'Ga Da Lat' on this three triangle-roofed building. It took a lot longer to make my way down, from my elevated position, than I thought. I eventually made it onto a road I had walked down early today and, just five minutes after I had turned around previously, I made it to the gates of the train station.

The station wasn't at all busy; there is only one train service, departing four times a day, to a pagoda in 'Trai Mai'. The round-trip, costing around 100,000 Dong (£3.30), was a lot more expensive than any other attraction I had done here, however it did sound rather good. It didn't matter anyway as, due to it being 4:15pm, I had just missed the last departure by ten minutes. As the first departure tomorrow is at 7:30am I do have enough time to make the journey and be back for my coach, however I dare not risk it. The station itself was very interesting; it's an art deco building completed in the 1930's. As the waiting room had been left, just as it looked back in the 1930's, I took a few photos (plus I tried to take a photo of the security lady falling asleep at her desk; however she noticed and walked out of the building) before heading back outside. With only four shots left, on my camera memory card, I took more photos of the station. As I did I noticed a big black cloud looming over Da Lat and I knew that this was my signal to leave.

On my way back I picked up a mars bar and a bottle of coke (the coke only cost me 30p!). My feet ached something chronic as I stumbled up the final hill to my guesthouse. I immediately went upstairs, into my room, and put my feet up with great relief. The time is now 8:30pm; I'm not sure if I'm going to have tea tonight. Now my feet are up they seem determined to remain that way. As I saw the only attraction, that I was saving for tomorrow, today I think a lie-in will be implemented. After checking-out I'll quickly go around the main part of Da Lat and take a few photos. I've already seen this part of town so I'm not really that bothered about walking around it again. This is a good thing as I'm still not sure what time my coach will leave tomorrow for Hoi An. In fact all of my forthcoming journey is a mystery; I don't know if its a direct service or if I'll have to transfer somewhere. All I know is that I should be arriving on Sunday morning therefore you won't hear from me until after then.

Have fun!

Toodle Pip!

P.S. News Flash! I've just been informed that my booked coach journey for tomorrow doesn't exist. The owner of the guesthouse told me that there is no bus at 4pm. It's 9pm now and I'm supposed to leave tomorrow, what am I suppose to do? In the end I've booked a coach to leave at 10am to Da Tang. I have to wait there until 6pm for a bus to Hoi An. It means I've lost half a day here, which is gutting, but can't be helped. I asked the guesthouse owner to book my ticket yesterday, if he had done it when I asked it wouldn't have been a problem.

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