Thursday, May 11, 2006

Fine Lodgings at Dalat - Bao Dai's Summer Palace

Bao Dai's Summer Palace
Bao Dai was born Nguyen Vinh Thuy. He was literally the last emperor of Vietnam, ending the reign of the Nguyen Dynasty when he abdicated to live in France. The Summer Palace was built by the french but has a modern feeling to it. Their furniture and furnishings were left intact. A visit to his home gives you an insight to how royalty would have lived in the 1930s and it feels like some fine folks live in better homes today!!

The Queen
The King was married to Queen Nam Phuong, a southern Vietnamese of great beauty. Her fine features and delicate skin are evident in this photograph. However, the playboy King took many concubines and lived with a French woman when he moved to France in 1954.

Surrounding the Palace are manicured gardens which still have beautiful blooms of roses and various cool climate flowers

One of the more interesting rooms was the laundry room which had something like a sauna...or is that where you would dry dishes?

The Prince's room
The King had six children with his beautiful queen. The eldest son's room in the royal colours of yellow was considered luxurious for its time.

Her Majesty's room
The Queen's feminine touch is seen in her room

The Family Room
The family had a common place to sit together.

Fine Lodgings at Dalat

Outside the Sofitel
The French have left some beautiful architecture that have been transformed into hotels. One of them is the Sofitel at Dalat It had been a palace built between 1912 and 1922 and still retained the charms of the bourgeoisie. Firstly, it has a grandview of the lake and secondly, surrounding it are green gardens and silent fir trees. Finally, across it are other fine buildings to match.

Inside the Sofitel
The LE RABELAIS, the hotel's main French restaurant is a must for fine dining (a four-course dinner was only about USD$18 for a fine meal indeed. If you want something more informal we enjoyed the cosiness of LARRY'S BAR and somehow their freshly baked and cheezy pizzas tasted warmer in the cool evening.

It seems that there are rooms in the Sofitel that still retain a working fireplace. This one's in the main hallway of the hotel and yes, that is a real fire
No, we did not stay at the fine Sofitel but at the vintage Novotel. Unfortunately i didn't get any photos of the hotel. It does have a nice 1930s gated lift, that if you are patient enough to wait for, will bring you riding back through time.

The Dalat Church is nicknamed the Cockrel Church. It stands beside the hotel we stayed at and is named for the cockrel that sits at the peak of its rooftop. The Catholic church is a faded shade of pink. Many of its windows which presumably had stained glass, seemed patch up and the place remained dark, although there were people praying inside.

Around Dalat - Sights and Views

Taking the Crazy Riders
The best way to see Dalat is not the tour bus nor by trekking. Its taking the crazy riders. They're experienced bikers not quite on Harleys but their bikes are definitely big and strong.

The ride gives you an inside look at the villages as it winds through back alleys in Dalat which only the locals take. You will also get to take in the pure scents and sights of the country

Please get your Crazy Rider via a reputable hotel. Do not hitch rides from the cluster of bikers who hang around the main post-office. True Crazy Riders would also show you a valid license and offer to let you read the various compliments from various patrons in their small black book.

We were first brought to a large temple not far from the township of Dalat. The grounds opposite this temple saw some of the fiercest battles during the war. A family of six was obliterated after severe bombing. Villagers could only find remnants of bones and placed these in a single coffin and buried it not far from this hillock. The memory of this harrowing incident is still being told today

Rebuilding the temple
However, new life seems to flow even in the spring season at Dalat. Here the temple dragons are being rebuilt. Around the temple grounds are large statues of various deities such as Quan Yin and the Buddha, in the painted colours of the rainbow.

Wild life in the woods
There is much wild life in the woods of Dalat. Basically an evergreen tree life exists on the hills (though we didn't see much natural forest as it seems most had been wiped out by napalm bombing...). Look carefully between the trees and you will see the wildlife in the woods of Dalat here. These 'wild' creature are native to Vietnam's farms = translated... they can be found aplenty in the rural villages of Vietnam and they're made into the famed Vietnamese dish "pho bo".

Wild life in the trees
These creatures are prevalent throughout Vietnam (and infact all over the world). However, for me, it was first in Vietnam that i saw their prevalence in trees. Even in my own quiet home in Ho Chi Minh City, these creatures climb the lowest of trees. Somehow, in Vietnam there seems a strong affinity between these creatures and trees.

Coffee Beans
The hills are alive with the scent of coffee! We popped by a plantation and took a handful of beautiful red berries. They were Mocca and Arabica coffee bushes. But the berries didn't taste exactly like coffee. Almost sweet with a tinge of Mocca or Arabica...

Drying coffee beans The coffee beans a laid on floors in homes, by the roadsides, beside pens. They are raked to even the lot so all are equally baked in the sun. No wonder our coffe here are so flavourful - full of the flavour of the "earth"!

Just off the road, even the granite stones offer work. Painful, backbreaking work but these men can be found throughout the granite lined roadways chipping away at these large rocks as if they were gold

Finally a view of beauty but a high price to pay for it. Bonny almost collapsed (for fear of heights, of climbing, of slipping, of falling, of climbing again...!!) but survived to take this photo. It was either the waterfall or what-a-fall... Ben, the next time you're climbing the falls yourself!

to our Crazy Riders

Around Dalat - Children in Home Industries

Besides the pigsty is a whole pot of fermenting rice which results in the potent Vietnamese moonshine possibly 90% alcohol (based on whiff level!) This little girl is helping to stir the brew... The fermented rice is discarded for the pig's consumption making their meat both tasty as well as tender(ised).

This little girl is helping her mother pack the earth into plastic packets. Each packet will hold the spores of future mushrooms. Each packet is strung up and kept hanging inside a dark, stank tent. But under these conditions the mushrooms flourish best and the sweet, thick meat of mushrooms bloom. These mushrooms were being readied for a harvest for Tet when they would fetch a good (read exhorbitant) price!

Bamboo grows easily but try splicing them WITHOUT splicing oneself. It is an art. Cut bamboo also offers dangers as the plant itself has a sharpness that can hurt. However, these children seem at ease in this family business. The older boy splits bamboo into strips for further work by his siblings

The girl splices them further, smoothens the edges and refines the bamboo strips so they are ready for weaving.

Two boys barely older than six battled it out to weave two strips of bamboos with their feet. Each completed woven strip took only 10 seconds to complete. They did it with such intensity and speed it was incredible! It is uncertain what the final product would be used for. Maybe fences, maybe rooftops - but these children were having more fun than if they had been playing computer games.

Mummy, can i help with the flowers?


Just beside this tank of water where the children have gathered for their Kodak moment, their father was chipping at an uneartherd bomb to retrieve the firearm's gunpowder. Could the firearm explode whilst he chipped at it? What would happen to these children? Yet without the financial returns from his work, what would happen to these same children.