Thursday 29 March 2012

To Da Lat and Beyond

Despite the morning's strong coffee, 3:30am was simply too early a start for sunrise at the sand dunes, and I napped heavily afterwards as the bus took us to our next destination. Along the rugged coastline the photographers stopped the bus in several places to capture scenes of rural life from what seemed like a bygone era.

Beasts of Burden - oxcarts hauling riversand up the banks. On the road to Dalat
We visited the 13th century brick Po Klong Garai Cham Towers perched on the top of a hill, built in honour of the king of Champa. Although the Cham kingdom no longer exists, its people and culture still survive as a minority ethnic group in Vietnam. Malcolm our tour leader organised for this wonderfully photogenic Cham man in his traditional garb to play instruments and flash his wicked, toothless grin.

Windblown Cham Man - Po Klong Garai Cham Towers
Cham Man Drumming - Po Klong Garai Cham Towers
We stayed the night in a plush hotel with an awesome sunset view over the town of Da Lat.

Sunset over Da Lat
The wooden train ride from old Da Lat train station to Trai Mat was brief but very scenic, passing through colonial town buildings and hilly farmland. We visited the Chua Linh Phuoc Pagoda which was covered entirely with coloured tiles made from broken pottery (notably, made in china), with the exception of some dragon scales made of glass pieces from beer bottles. We climbed the nine levels of the bell tower pagoda, avoiding temptations to ring the massive 8500 kg elaborately decorated brass bell. Sipping cups of yogurt and coffee, we observed several bus loads of elderly Vietnamese tourists disembarking. Enquiring, we discovered that these women were "hero mothers", mothers of North Vietnamese soldiers who had died during the war. The government provides these women with a pension and occasionally offers free tours around the country, but this benefit does not extend to mothers of killed South Vietnamese soldiers. Ah, the spoils of victory.

We visited the new age Cao Dai Temple near Da Lat, with its cool hall and bright colours. An east-meets-west faith/philosophy originating in Vietnam, it combines aspects of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Christianity, declaring such prophets as Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, Jesus, William Shakespeare and Victor Hugo. Women were requested to only enter the temple from the left, and men from the right. Also perched on top of a hill, it held commanding views of the countryside.

Cao Dai Temple - Da Lat
Another Buddhist temple (this time we snuck in a solid ring of the bell) where a slightly nutty old local man regaled us with tales of the war against the VC. He didn't speak much English but his charades of bombings and injuries were easy enough to understand.

Memories of a War Veteran - near Da Lat
The photographers spread themselves out for different shooting angles at the popular Datanla Falls. Walking about was made super easy by way of bobsled ride, cable car and glass elevator, but this was a luxury tour after all. We rewarded ourselves for our hard work with yummy chocolate ice creams.

Datanla Falls near Da Lat
Datanla Falls near Da Lat
We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the beauty and serenity that was the grounds of Truc Lam Zen Monastery. This was a peaceful place for devout Buddhist monks to live, where even their pet husky was a strict vegetarian. The gardens, tucked into the hills beside a lake, were stunning in full bloom, as was the shadehouse of shapely orchids carefully tended by the monks.

Budding Yellow Orchids - Truc Lam Zen Monastery, Da Lat
Pink Orchid Row - Truc Lam Zen Monastery, Da Lat
Dinner was Vietnamese beef hotpot, a communal meal whereupon a plate of thinly sliced raw beef is cooked by the diners themselves in a common hotpot of boiling broth and eaten in a make-your-own rice paper roll alongside piles of fresh herbs and vegetables. This was followed by another common hotpot of an aromatic slow-cooked beef stew eaten with cook-your-own noodles. The rest was a little hazy, as the entire meal was interspersed frequently with Khanh calling us to shots of the local herbal flavoured ruou (rice wine).

Thankfully, the rice wine did not erupt in a painful hangover, so we woke up to a fresh early morning at Da Lat's bustling central market. It was a wonderfully colourful fresh produce market, and we loved the sights, smells and atmosphere of this outdoor street affair. It was interesting to note that there is always something new to see at the markets as we travel through different regions.

All the Ways of a Coconut - Da Lat Central Market
Coconut, Coffee and a Stone - Da Lat Central Market
Coloured Bowls, Coloured Peas - Da Lat Central Market
Returning from Da Lat Central Market

1 comment:

  1. You have such a good eye. Totally love your work