Dalat, The Vietnamese Alps

15 01 2009

Dalat, Vietnam

As the bus pulled into the center of Dalat, Gage turned to me and said, “Let’s stay here for two weeks.” For a guy who had spent 23 years of his life in the Colorado mountains, this little city in the Truong Son Mountain Range instantly felt like home. We stepped onto a bus in warm Ho Chi Minh City and seven hours later we stepped out of that bus into the fifty degree air of Dalat. After three months of heat we were thrilled at the opportunity to throw on our neglected fleeces and thermals.

Lake, mountains, and city.

Lake, mountains, and city.

We also happily embraced the body’s natural desire for warm hearty foods and hot drinks to protect oneself in cold climates. Luckily the city of Dalat is home to some of Vietnam’s most fertile fruit, vegetable, tea, and coffee farms. Since January is winter time for Vietnam, all of the season’s harvest had been converted in the popular Dalat candied fruit snacks. Just like our dried fruits back home, but about 10 times sweeter, fresher, and more natural, the Dalat fruit snack stands could be found all throughout the center of town. Being homegrown specialties, the competition was stiff and the price reflected it; we bought a 1.5lb bag for a little over $3USD.

Fruit Snacks in Dalat

Fruit Snacks in Dalat

Two fruits that Dalat is particularly famous for are avocados and grapes. I had to talk Gage down from our balcony ledge when he learned that winter meant no avocados. By pointing out that preserved grapes translates to wine he decided to postpone his avocadoless-induced demise and console himself with some of the world’s most delicious and cheap wine. A glass of Dalat white or red ran about 15,000 Dong, or $0.85USD. Another delicious beverage grown in Dalat and enjoyed all over Vietnam is the ubiquitous Vietnamese coffee. Thanks to the French occupation of the country for a number of years, the Vietnamese have fully adopted and adapted the European espresso. Delivered to your table as a coffee cup topped by a small metal box that slowly drips the thick, strong liquid into your cup and is usually accompanied by a healthy dollop of sweet, condensed milk, at first sip is seemingly too strong and too sweet. By the end of the cup, though, this candy-covered crack will have you ordering a second cup before the synapses in your brain can connect and stop you. Nguyen Chi Thanh St is known as the city’s coffeehouse district as it is lined with little cafes all boasting free wifi and native coffee and tea. However, we decided to forgo the luxury and head to city’s classic coffeehouse, Cafe Tung in the city center. At around 3pm, this cafe’s dark leather-bound couches are filled with the city’s old men who sip thick coffees and chat under dark oil paintings.

Coffees at Cafe Tung

Coffees at Cafe Tung

By the end of the third day in Dalat, the magic of the cool days and the cold nights had worn off. It was cold. Our room had no heater and any time there was usually spent under thick comforters. About the only thing that had us dragging ourselves out from under them was the promise of clay pot fish at Lotus Cafe. On recommendation from our usually untrustworthy guidebook, I ordered this little house specialty and was blown away by the sweet salty caramel-colored sauce surrounding fish chunks that fall apart on your tongue. The beauty of the clay pot is that it soaks up the flavors of the spices and infuses them into all future dishes, making each dish move flavorful than the last. On our second visit to Lotus Cafe, we ordered two.

Clay pot fish and Dalat red wine at Lotus Cafe

Clay pot fish and Dalat red wine at Lotus Cafe

The only restaurant that could drag us from Lotus Cafe had to be Long Hoa. Aside from the truly delicious food and angelic staff, the place is decorated like a little romantic restaurant you would find in Breckenridge. In fact, this was not uncommon for the restaurants in Dalat, but Long Hoa just had the complete package. White clothed tables surrounded by slatted dark wood chair rail, low lighting, tasteful Christmas decorations (slightly past season), and lace curtains, all made this cozy little spot feel just like home. If it wasn’t for being seated next to the window, I would have sworn we were back in the US of A.

Long Hoa Restaurant, Dalat

Long Hoa Restaurant, Dalat

Now before you all run out the door to your nearest travel agency to book your next vacation in Dalat, I should warn you that there were some peculiar aspects to this town. While the former French residents and current rich Vietnamese seem to treat this like a resort town, the peasantry of Dalat is alive and living on the edge of town. A stroll down to Anh Sung Park had us both admiring the adorable Asian-style bridges and nicely landscaped lawns, as well as marveling at the shanty town lining said park. We even averted our eyes after stumbling upon a lady urinating on the side of some steps. This isn’t really disgusting so much as it was a reminder to the current challenge that faces Vietnam. Just like the moto packed streets of Saigon suggested, Vietnam has a bit of an overpopulation issue, with population increasing faster than civic planning can keep up. The result is lack of basic facilities (public toilets included) and clean water. So go ahead and book that trip to Dalat as you won’t be disappointed, but while enjoying the high life at the local resort, restaurant, or golf course, keep in mind that the people who make Dalat as wonderful as it is are not enjoying it at the same level you are.

Park Anh Sung, Dalat

Park Anh Sung, Dalat

For more pictures from Dalat, click here.

Suggestions:

  • As tasteful as the cafes on Nguyen Chi Thanh St look, you’ll find coffee that tastes just as good and costs half as much on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St. The people will stare at you, but they appreciate the business. Just say ga-fay soo-a and hold up the number of fingers you want.
  • The local English school appreciates native speakers dropping in to help with lessons. Just stop by 21/5 Tran Phu St.
  • The best restaurants with the best prices are definitely Lotus Cafe and Long Hoa, both located in the city center. You can also find some creative dishes at Tu Anh’s on Truong Cong Dinh St.
  • Beware the Easy Riders! These guys usually hang out at one of the number of Peace Cafe’s on Truong Cong Dinh and offer tours of Dalat’s surrounding provinces including the waterfalls and villages. The tours are probably fine, but expect a pretty average experience as nothing is tailored and usually only one of the guides speaks nominal English (which means that questions off the script go unanswered). It helps to shop around. On our last day we met a pretty cool guy named Hai who runs Mr. Ocean’s Advenure.  He spoke great English, organizes motorcycle tours, and has great prices.
  • Stock up on fruit preserves, fruit candies and Dalat wine. You can find it elsewhere in Vietnam, but not at these prices.
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6 responses

15 01 2009
dad

When I complained, the Army told me that all ANYONE in Vietnam ate was C-Rations.

Bet it wasn’t true even back then.

15 01 2009
Garrett Bryant

mmm… candied fruit snacks…

15 01 2009
Rondad

It’s hard for me just to keep up with your wonderful postings and here you guys are actually living it all. The Long Hoa Restaurant, inside, does look like it could be in the U.S. and the lake, mountains, and city, a little like Estes Park. Shanty towns seem to be a common feature of so much of the world, would you say?

15 01 2009
Rondad

It’s hard to keep up with even what you’re able to post about your wonderful adventures, yet you guys are actually living it. I’ll try a little harder to start keeping up with comments – especially now that I’m really missing you guys. The inside of that restaurant does look like it could be in the U.S. and the lake, mountains, city shot reminds me a little of Estes Park. Shanty towns on the edges of cities would seem to be pretty common in the world, would you say?

16 01 2009
HMaxwell

Hey Honeymooners….just wanted you to know the “old guy” is enjoying your posts. As our Swiss Army Rep say, “Life’s an Adventure”….peace to you…Haines

17 01 2009
farnham

Sounds like you guys are having fun. Gage, Hockey Hair is GO!!!!

Keep up the good work of educating all us boring mainland folk about the grand world outside our american doorstep. (do you guys have a twitter.com account i can follow?)

BTW. Cathy (wife) is about to have a lil baby. will post a pic of Brady on blog asap.

Carry on.

mike

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