We spent about an hour at the Flower Park in Dalat on my birthday. They had some rather impressive displays all around the park including hundreds of hydrangeas which are my favorite flower. There were also some nice statues and some green houses. I'm not sure if we were allowed to go into the green houses, but they were open, so we did. It was fun to see all the "baby" plants.
Again, this park had a prolific number of kitschy statues, some sad looking ponies pulling carriages, and far too many people taking selfies. It was very crowded, so we paid the extra fee to have the tram take us around the park so we could see everything without being constantly bumped by other tourists. We were also willing to hike up the stairs to the statue area which a lot of people seemed completely disinterested in doing.
After walking around the park, and mostly avoiding the mosquitos, we walked across the street to the lake to do some swan boat riding. The boys were ridiculously excited to do the swan boats, so despite the fact that we had to wait about a half hour on a sketchy dock, we made it happen. All four of us crammed into a two-person swan boat. They had other, family-sized boats, but they were not swans, so the boys wanted nothing to do with them. Silly guys!
Dalat is considered a prime honeymoon destination amongst the Vietnamese. Because of that, there are a lot of couple-themed attractions around the town. We checked out a park called the "Valley of Love" or rather "Vallée D'amour" according to most of the signage. It was horrendously cheesy. The park may have been nice at some point, but the whole park has been completely overrun with tacky hearts, statues of animals, and knock-off Disney characters. We were expecting this, so it didn't come as a shock or disappoint us in any way. In fact, we were highly amused by the couples taking ridiculous photos with all the different creatures. I've come to love the kitschy Vietnamese statues.
We did enjoy riding a trolly/train down into the actual valley. The ride was peaceful, and the mountain air felt wonderful. Oliver fell asleep in my arms almost immediately. At the end of the ride there was a kids' playground and a very cool looking ropes course. Owen wanted to do it so badly, but it was closed due to the rain.
It was a unique experience, and I am glad we went. However, it's not a place one would need to visit twice.
High on our list of things to see in Dalat was the Crazy House, so we attempted to go right away on the first day. We were disappointed to discover that it was closed for renovations on the weekends, and we were worried it wouldn't be open at all due to the holiday. Luckily, it was open on Monday, so we went there after visiting the weasel coffee farm.
The boys had a wonderful time running around the grounds and exploring the many (treacherous) stairways. It was clean and well kept, but there was an awful lot of construction occurring. The stairways made me nervous with two little kids--especially since there were no handrails to speak of and it would have been a very long fall.
It felt like a large tree house and was like something out of Harry Potter. Owen made the comparison that it must be similar to what a squirrel feels like when running around on the branches in trees. I especially liked how much the architect incorporated nature into the building.
Owen did wonderfully leading the way through the maze-like passageways, and Oliver was good about holding someone's hand the entire time. They have rooms for rent, and it would be very tempting to return to Dalat just to stay a night or two at the crazy house.
On our second day in Dalat, it rained nearly all day. We hired a tour guide for the morning to take us around to some of the main tourist attractions. The guide that showed up was named Bay (pronounced "bye"), which is Vietnamese for "Seven." Being a bit cheeky, we asked if he was the seventh born child. He said "Yes! Number 7 out of 10." Derek then asked if the last one was named Muoi (Ten), and of course, he was. Oliver was very taken by Bay, and thoroughly enjoyed being a kangaroo with him and Derek.
The first place Bay took us was a cable car running up a hill to a temple. The view was lovely, but the top with the temple was overly crowded. Far too many people for my liking due to the long holiday weekend. Despite the sheer number of people, we were able to see some interesting flowers and plants, and Oliver pushed his way into the temple and mimicked the others by bowing to pray the way Buddhists do. His actions caused many smiles and even more pictures.
After the gondola ride, we drove to the first of two waterfalls. This one was called Datanla and has a bobsled down into the valley where the waterfall is located. The boys both had a blast on the "roller coaster" as did Derek and I. We were able to ride the bobsled back up to the top after looking around a bit, but the wait to ride it up was ridiculous! The boys were pretty grumpy after having to stand in line so long.
While we were at the waterfall, we took a few pictures and walked around a little bit. Again, it was very crowded due to the holiday. The weirdest thing about this place was a creepy, monkey-like cave dweller keeping watch over the waterfall. I have no idea what purpose this costumed creature served other than to completely freak out young children (and me too). He wasn't doing anything besides sitting there, slowly moving his head around, and staring at people. So weird.
After Datanla, we went to another waterfall called Prenn. This one was even more touristy with camel and elephant riding as an option. The cool part was that you could follow a little path and walk behind the waterfall. There was also a little rope and bamboo bridge over the water which was fun (albeit not very safe) for the boys. There was also a small "zoo" and an orchid garden. It was pretty, but the water was muddy due to the steady rain over the past couple of days.
The tour also included a few other things, but by this point the boys were exhausted. We went to lunch and then had Bay take us back to our hotel for a good, long nap.
While it was a lovely morning, I think Derek and I realized that we really aren't the type for tours. We felt that the guide rushed us and didn't really let us explore sites like we are used to doing. We find that part of the fun is getting lost and figuring things out on our own.
On our first day in Dalat, we took the historical train up into the highlands to a small village called Trai Mat where we were able to check out Linh Phuoc Pagoda. It was about a 45 minute ride to the village, and we were able to see countless green houses and farms. The boys quickly fell asleep (they were tried from our late arrival into Dalat the previous night), but Derek and I loved looking at the crops of produce and marveling at the flowers.
The ride to the village was peaceful, and then we were given 45 minutes to wander around Trai Mat. We didn't know anything about the town, and our phones were of little help due to zero internet connections. We wandered around a bit and were able to find our way to the Linh Phuoc Pagoda. It was an incredible site in which several statues and buildings were covered in tiles. I love seeing the care and detail put into these structures, but I don't think I will ever get over the shock of seeing swastikas used for peaceful, religious purposes*. I also still find it a little off-putting that people set up shop and sell their wares from within religious sites. Though, we did get some delicious sweet potato chips for the ride back to Dalat.
After our train ride, it was lunch time. We went to the Dalat Train Cafe which was a bit more than walking distance away from the train station (with two little ones at least). The cafe is inside an old train car on a hill overlooking Dalat city. It was lovely, and the boys loved getting to eat a nice lunch "on the train."
*It is important to note that swastikas do not have the same meaning in Asia as they do in Western culture. They have been used for thousands of years by everyone from the ancient Greeks to Buddhists to Taoists with different meanings. The symbol represents well-being, eternity, the sun, the life cycle, and generally nice things to most cultures. In modern Western cultures, there are some places were it is illegal to display swastikas due to the symbol's affiliation with Nazism and white-supremacy. After teaching in a public school in the US for so many years, I find that seeing a swastika still puts me into "alert mode" despite the fact that I am well aware of the completely different meaning here in Asia. It's interesting to me that my children will most likely equate swastikas to temples and peace instead of Nazis and hate. I am also amazed at how much meaning a symbol can have and how much it can vary from one culture to another.
Kopi Luwak or "weasel coffee" is rumored to be the best tasting coffee in the world. It was even featured as one of the must do items in the movie "The Bucket List" with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. This special coffee comes from the droppings of a weasel that is native to SE Asia. The animals eat the berries from the coffee bushes, then people collect the beans after they've been through the digestive track. They are rinsed and cleaned and the roasted before consumption. Most weasel coffee that you can find is 10% Weasel Beans and 90% regular coffee, but we had the chance to go to an actual weasel coffee farm in Dalat and drink 100% Weasel Bean coffee. This stuff goes for $1000 USD per kilo.
The farm we visited was on the outskirts of Dalat and was an all organic farm using plants that produce Arabica beans. The weasels were not wild, but they were kept in clean, well-maintained cages and fed a diet of chicken soup, eggs, and local vegetables. During the coffee harvest, the beans are offered to the animals as a supplement to their regular diet. The farm grew all its own coffee beans, raised the weasels, and also raised chickens and turkeys to help feed the weasels. It was a beautiful little place, and the boys enjoyed seeing the plants and animals.
After a short tour of the farm and weasel cages, we got to enjoy a cup of the world-famous drink. For 200.000 VND (a little under $10) we got two cups. The lady who gave us the tour (and spoke impeccable English) brewed the coffee using a special vacuum pot which Owen loved watching. The coffee was enjoyed black, of course, because its already the best coffee in the world.
The taste was smooth, a little sweet, and mildly earthy. It was an incredible cup of coffee. It may have been the fresh air with the pleasant sound of chicken clucking in the distance, but it was an amazing experience all around.
By far the best birthday coffee I've ever had!
The blog entries from our trip to Dalat, Vietnam in September 2014.