Hit East One-way ticket to somewhere…

New Year in the flower capital of Vietnam – Da Lat

January 5, 2012 / by zygis

With Christmas behind us, we’ve had quite a few lazy days on the beach, walking up and down the one main road in Long Hai and occasionally renting a motorbike to explore the sights around the town. It turns out there are numerous sandy beaches for miles north of Long Hai, with nobody there but an occasional fisherman and young couples for pre-wedding photo shoots. Long stretches of beach are actually owned by large “everything’s included” resorts, and while we hardly saw any tourists staying there, it seems many more guests are expected at some point in the future as we saw no fewer than 10 resorts still being built.

Another memorable place we visited was Minh Dam mountains – it is here where during the Vietnam War a large number of the Viet Cong soldiers were located. Their legacy are the numerous natural caves that were adapted for various purposes of the war business (hospital, training, planning, propaganda). The mountains are covered in a dense jungle and it was nice to walk around in surroundings of weird vegetation and unfamiliar noises too. One of the smaller paths even led us to a huge rock on top of the mountain, where we had to stop for breath after the steep climb and enjoy the amazing view.

We found a fixture for a flagpole there and later we learned that this is where the Viet Cong proudly raised the communist flag during the war, seen for miles around. We also met a couple of monkeys there, very cute, till one decided to block our path, with no intention of going away without getting some of whatever we were eating at the time (a cucumber). We had to give-in; we suspect we weren’t the first tourists with snacks that fell into this trap :)

Going back to the main topic of this post.. One evening in Long Hai, Zygis visited a pharmacy and met Mrs Lieu, an English teacher working in the local high school. The next day we both paid her a visit, hoping we could get a chance for visiting an actual Vietnamese school. It turned out that the Teacher (that was the name we gave her at the time), was actually going away to Da Lat to celebrate the Western New Year (that’s how Vietnamese call it). It didn’t take long for the Teacher to invite us to come along with her and her family to Da Lat too and we didn’t think twice about accepting the invite – getting to know a Vietnamese family was also one of the things on our wishlist :)

Da Lat is about 300km away from Long Hai, but the journey took an incredible 6 hours. Its difficult to tell why traveling on the roads always takes so long in Vietnam, but it can be due to the lack of motorways (all roads are single lane, even the main highway #1), bumpy and rather narrow roads, dozens of motorbikes always surrounding the vehicle like a swarm. Or maybe because of the one dominant (the only?) rule in the Vietnamese highway code book – the guy with the biggest vehicle has the right of way, so everyone has to get out of the way of the buses and trucks. The journey wasn’t boring though, as we spent hours asking the Teacher all those questions we had gathered since the day we arrived in Vietnam, played some games with Misa, Teacher’s 12 year old daughter, that involved speaking in English and of course stared out of the window at great landscapes of mountains covered with coffee and tea plants.

Da Lat is a city in the mountains and is also known as the flower capital of Vietnam. And true enough, as soon as we’re in the city, they’re everywhere – flower sculptures, huge flower signs, flowers decorating the small tower in the middle of a roundabout.. There’s a lot of activity from the many visitors to the city, mostly Vietnamese we are surprised to see. The Teacher looks after us well and not only introduces us to some great Vietnamese dishes, but also takes to visit the great flower gardens of Da Lat and the many markets and fairs running for the occasion of the flower festival.

The streets fill up even more on Saturday afternoon, especially around the glistering lake in the center of the city – everyone’s buying souvenirs or snacks from the many saleswomen around and are slowly aiming to assume a comfortable position for the firework display coming up later. We too soon feel the New Year excitement building up inside us :) Eventually, running half an hour behind schedule, the fireworks go off. We gasp at the relief and beauty of the display, they were as great as we were told and lasted an incredible 10 minutes – our necks hurt afterwards from looking up for so long. After the display, around 10pm, most of the people head home and so do we. After a brief rest though, we head back out to the main square in the city where earlier we spotted a stage being built. Not too many people there, all the western tourists included, are awaiting for the countdown to 2012 – 10, 9, 8,…3, 2, 1 – Happy New Year by Abba blasts out of the speakers and another load of fireworks go off. We’re now satisfied and can happily go back to hotel for a good night’s sleep :)

Happy New Year to all our readers! :)

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