Saturday, February 11, 2006

What the *&%$ happened in Dalat?

I don't know what I think about Dalat. It is pretty much the Vietnamese equivalent of Niagara Falls, but without the falls. It is one of most touristy places I have ever traveled. Yet it was strangely fun, like when something is so bad that it is funny. I already know that telling people about how bad Dalat was was will make for good travel fodder, and my photos are so strange that they actually make Dalat look like an interesting place to visit.

On the one day tour of Dalat I saw some strange things. It started out innocently enough with a cable car ride that ended with a visit to a fairly non-descript temple. So I began the day thinking that Dalat was going to be boring. Our next stop was a barely-there waterfall that was leaking down the side of a rock face because it's not the rainy season. Everywhere there were Vietnamese men dressed as cowboys escorting horses and small children and women dressed like Indians. A small golden statue of a boy pissed into a fountain. Incomprehensible to me, these were tons of Vietnamese tourists - many on their honeymoon I was told- who paid for the opportunity to dress in Indian clothing and pose next to the falls. There was also a large pit of crocodiles laying in the sun next to the waterfall (obviously - ???). I watched as Vietnamese boys spat on them to try and make them move, without success. That was the highlight of the waterfall.

The next thing we saw was by far the lamest thing I have ever seen traveling. It was an attraction called "The Amazing Table". When I saw it in the leaflet, I was immediately intrigued. What could be so amazing about a table? When we pulled up to a tiny house on the side of the road a woman instructed us to place our hands lightly on the round table - like a Ouija board - and yell either "left" or "right" in any language. The table top was apparently supposed to spin on its own in the direction we commanded. We tried our best and yelled "left" and "right" a few times - trying different languages - but the table top did not spin. It was embarassing, four of us sitting with our hands on the table, being watched by the owner of the Amazing Table who was telling us that we weren't "believing enough". Eventually after much pleading and encouragement from the woman and our guide, the table began to move. I think that's because someone pushed it, although no one would admit to it.

Our next stop was a temple featuring a giant dragon made out of beer bottles and a Buddha backlit by neon. Yeah. This temple was followed up by a visit to the "Valley of Love", basically a small park overlooking a lake at the bottom of a valley. There were several sad looking caged monkeys (who deserve it - fuckers!) and, ironically, a handful of caged "Freedom Birds". Only in Dalat. The highlight of the Valley of Love was the lamest bumper car ride I have ever seen, featuring two Vietnamese teens trying to chase each other over a large concrete area, using brokendown bumper cars that play happy birthday in uneven whiny nasal music. We watched for a few minutes and only saw them bump cautiously once.

After lunch we visited a summer house of the King. At least this is what I think it was. Our guide wasn't all that informative and lead us through a 1950's house filled with retro furniture in about 5 minutes, pointing to several beds and couches without much comment. It was probably his grandmother's house. Next was the "Crazy House", which was actually quite interesting for the 15 minute we were there. It is a guesthouse that is built in a "crazy" way, featuring eery treehouse-like rooms and Salvadore Dali-esque stairways and gardens.

The best part of the day came when we ditched the end of the tour - flower gardens! - to visit a Monk that I had read about online. Known as the "Mad Monk" or the "Crazy Monk", this guy is a prolific artist and Buddhist monk with a studio in Dalat. When we arrived he was in the garden and invited us in to his studio. Inside, we could see that it was filled with thousands of paintings - self portraits, landscapes and pictures featuring zen-like sayings. I could not believe how much work he has created - three large rooms worth. We watched him work for a bit and I bought two of his paintings. He insisted that we write our addresses in his book and claims that he might come to Canada one day to stay with one of us - in exchange for 20 paintings. I wrote my brother Scott's address down. So Scotty, if a 60-year-old buddhist monk shows up at your house asking for me, let him in.

I would like to say that my second day in Dalat was better than the first, but it basically consisted of gorging on a bag of coconut-based pastries until I was going to throw up and getting burnt walking around a large man-made lake filled with paddle-boat swans.

So it will come as no surprise that my visit to Dalat ended badly - so very badly - when, on the bus ride into Nah Trang, the cute Vietnamese baby in front of me vomited all over my foot. So yes, what the *%$# happened in Dalat?


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