Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Dalat Vietnam: Paris of the Highlands

Like the French before us, we sought refuge from the relentless heat around Saigon, and so decided that a field trip to the highlands was in order. It’s a 6 ½ hour drive, on dusty roads, crammed with motorbikes, buses belching out black fumes, and cows wandering alongside, but the rewards of the cool crisp air, gorgeous flowers and semi-relaxed pace makes Dalat well worth the drive.

We stayed at a Vietnamese government run hotel that had an incredible flower garden, and we woke to a view of bougainvillea spilling over the roof and wide valleys dotted with red roofed homes.

Dalat is known as the Paris of Vietnam, but I actually thought it reminded me more of the hillsides outside of Florence. Bay told us that when the French colonized Vietnam, they forbade the Vietnamese from entering Dalat. Now it is a honeymoon destination and vacation spot for the Vietnamese.

While we saw a few westerners, it wasn’t overrun with foreign tourists like Chiang Mai Thailand, but still had the funky vibe of that town due to the tribal influences and the array of activities for vacationers. For centuries tribal people have lived in the area; the French called them Montangards, or mountain people. They are identified by their dark blue sarongs, and often by the beautiful baskets they carry on their backs.

While in Dalat we read about two very interesting places, and had to visit them. Hang Nga Gallery, also called the crazy house by the locals, is where a fantastical world of storybook rooms had been created in concrete trees and mountains. It is a guesthouse, café and amusement in its own right and one of Dylan’s favorite things about Viet Nam.

The other place was the home of a prolific monk, Vien Thuc, who has been painting every day since he was ten, and who has created hundreds of thousands of paintings that he sells to tourists. The paintings are dubious in quality, but the monk’s enthusiasm makes them all the more endearing. He is saving the money he makes from his paintings for a round the world trip he hopes to take, where his plan is to visit travelers who have been to see him and the homes where his paintings hang. So if you see a man at our house who is dressed in brown robes and what looks like a knitted aviator cap on his head, don’t worry, he’s just checking out the picture he painted of Dylan and perhaps enjoying a cup of tea before he gets back on the road.

We just had to include this picture: it’s a family of 5 we passed on the way to Dalat. Coming from a country where we strap our babies into painstakingly designed and exhaustively tested car seats, where they are protected by a couple tons of steel and belted within a inch of their lives, and where we get excited by the number of cup holders in our cars, somehow this picture seems funny, crazy, insane and a bit sad at the same time.


Anonymous LuLu said...

Hey Guys! Looks like yer still having fun! Sorry I haven't been in touch. I do like the choice and distribution of what safety equipment the scootering family has: Dad protects his noggin with a helmet, Mom and the 2 boys don't mind a head injury, but are mindful of the air pollution and poor squished girl child is on her own...

February 09, 2006 5:02 PM  

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