VIETNAM DAY THREE
Our day 3 in Dalat began early. After enjoying a fantastic hot shower in Dream Hotels’ dreamy bathroom (jacuzzi jet sprays, anyone?), we trooped down to our complimentary breakfast. The breakfast spread put up is really quite incredible (especially for the USD37 that we paid for our room). Breakfast consisted fresh fruits- think mangoes, watermelons, etc- a baguette and all its usual fillings of bacon, tomatoes and the like, coffee & juice, and 2 eggs. Filling, indeed.
After that hearty breakfast, we filed into our rented car for the day (the hostel will book one for you for about USD50-60). First stop of the day was ‘Crazy House’, one of the top 10 strangest buildings in the world. An entrance fee of 20,000 dong (about SGD1.00+) later, and we entered cam-whoring heaven. Crazy House is an actual hostel/hotel, if I’m not wrong. The rooms are themed e.g. Kangeroo room, Tiger room, etc. but overall pretty spacious and comfortable-looking. The architecture of the place is difficult to describe (hence, its’ name), with winding stairs, narrow bridges, steep steps, and holes in the walls.
Crazy House is resplendent with weird-looking statues, random spider webs, gongs and so on that make for good photo-taking opportunities.
Next Stop, the Emperor’s Summer Palace. To be quite honest, the Summer Palace is not as elaborate as I thought it’d be. However, bearing in mind that this was built and lived in by the Royal Family in Vietnam in the early 1900s, I suppose it’s really not bad.
The palace grounds are filled with opportunities for posing with horses and the Monkey God, taking mini-horse rides and so on. Of course, those things come at a tourist price. I chose to skip those frills.
At the entrance of the palace, you will be required to slip on cloth bags over your shoes. It’s a little strange, but really quite a clever idea imposed by the Vietnamese. It keeps the palace as clean as it can possibly be from all that human traffic, and is not surprising. The Vietnamese, as I have observed, are very conscientious about keeping their property and the area around their property clean. Outside storefronts, you can spot store-owners and staff washing the street area (directly outside their store) with water, and sweeping it clean of rubbish. That’s something you don’t necessarily see in Singapore. A word of caution: if you have small feet like I do, the shoe slip might slip off your feet halfway through your tour. And you’ll be left retracing your path to locate the missing slip.
Within the palace, you become privy to the Royal Quarters. It’s nice to take a look, and the view of the garden from the King’s quarter is quite pretty.
Third Stop of the day was one of the temples/pagodas in Dalat. Apologies for I don’t remember the exact name. The area is home to monks, and if I’m not wrong, only a portion of the whole place is open to visitors. The real gem of the attraction is really the tranquility of the area (sans tourists).
Venture downwards, and a path through the trees will lead you to a lake. Not many of the visitors there did this, and it’s a pity for them (but awesome for us). Anyway, walking across the lake will lead you to a few stalls where you can rent a boat or a couple of Swans to pedal out on the lake. Beware, if you have shoes that lack friction (like mine), it’s slippery getting onto the Swan and falling is a genuine possibility. Getting laughed at is also a genuine possibility.
After all that walking and pedalling, ’twas time to break for lunch. Lunch was at another Lonely Planet recommendation- Trong Drong Restaurant. We ordered a number of dishes- a caramelised fish dish, some Vietnamese spring rolls, and a number of side dishes served with a sweet-tangy-spicy peanut sauce that just really hits the spot with all its paired with.
The caramelised fish dish is highly recommended. The fish is very fresh (and doesn’t have that fishy smell/aftertaste), and has a good balance of spicyness. The rich taste is complemented by the Asian staple- white rice. Overall, it was a very, very good Vietnamese meal, and quite affordable, really.
After lunch, we headed to Domaine de Marie, another religious attraction. The church itself and its grounds are pretty, although very recently built (1992). However, it’s probably an attraction you can skip if you’re pressed for time. The plus point about it is that it’s a great vantage point of Dalat.
You can apparently buy fresh produce like Strawberries from the Sisters that live on the grounds, although I did not see any.
Next, we moved our lunch-bloated bodies to gaze upon one of Dalat’s many waterfalls. The attraction offers you a ride downwards to the waterfall, if you’re in a rush, or in our case, kind of lazy. Pay about 30,000 dong for the ride down (and more for a return trip), and you’ll be treated to a pleasant surprise- the ride was unexpectedly fun, like a mini-rollercoaster.
The waterfall itself is not the most magnificent, but still a good sight to see. It’s a place to whip out those cameras and start snapping too.
The last tourist-y stop of the day was Dalat’s Railway station. It now offers 30mins (or so) rides to nearby areas, and has 2 of its old trains stationed permanently at the station for photo-taking opportunities. Or, if you’ve always wanted to examine the engine room/whatever you call it, you can as well. You can skip this attraction if you’re out of time. Entrance is free though.
Afterwards, we headed back to the hostel and asked for a recommendation for a place to get massages. The owner recommended a place about 400m away from the hostel. They offer Thai massage, and various hot oil and hot stone massages at 60mins, 75mins, 0r 90mins. Prices are extremely affordable and in my opinion, highly worth it. I love massages. I don’t however, recommend getting manicures there. Their cuticle cutting skills were rough around the edges, and left my fingers bleeding and hurting slightly the day after. Their nail painting skills are also not much to shout about. All in all, a 60min hot oil full body massage and manicure cost only SGD13.
While we were getting our nails done, the guys went to rent some bikes. We then took a ride around Town, determined to find a affordable French restaurant. We failed on the affordable aspect, but we did succeed on ‘French’. In the end, we dined at Le Rabelais, a place that Lonely Planet advised to cart in wheelbarrows of dong, just to pay for the meal. Our payment experience was not so dramatic, although we did have to pay in a combination of dong, USD and credit card. A 4 course meal costs USD65 each. The dress code here is not rigorously implemented- I was wearing leggings, an oversized shirt, and Toms with 3 holes in them (on each foot).
The restaurant is gorgeous and located in an equally gorgeous colonial building. Think of its as the Raffles Hotel of Dalat. The starters were alright, and I did enjoy the cheesey sauce/cream and meat pairing, although I thought the vegetable soup (as much as I adore vegetables) was really average.
I’m probably going to get shot by some for saying this, but it was the first time I tried Foie Gras and I liked it. Foie Gras is the fattened/overgrown liver of a Duck or Goose who has been force-fed. Okay, yes even the definition of it makes it sick. However, it doesn’t change the fact that it does taste terribly yummy & was possibly the best dish of the meal 😐 It was served with apple crisp and a side of vege.
My main was braised veal cooked in red wine, served with a stick of beef (or was it pork), garlic bread and a serving of tomato-sauce. The veal was on the tough side; it was a tasty but not very outstanding meal. By the time dessert was served, I was beyond stuffed. That said, I could taste the sweet (thankfully light) dessert through my full stomach. The sweetness of the apples and bananas were balanced with the biscuits, and the sorbet was really fantastic with the surprise of a muffin/cupcake below! Quite a genius combination I must say. Who would have thought of combining a sorbet with a muffin?
That night, we departed from Dalat on a night bus back to HCMC. With seats that recline by quite abit, complementary sleeping pillow & blanket, plus the lack of trafffic on roads(and fast driving by the bus driver), we made it comfortably back to HCMC in 4 hours.