VIETNAM TRAVEL

 

Central Highands

Da Lat - Around Da Lat - Di Linh - Bao Loc - Dan Nhim Lake - Ngoan Muc Pass - Buon Ma Thuot - Around Boun Ma Thuot - Pleiku - Kon Tum

DALAT

IDD Code: ( + 84 ) 63
Dalat is quite different from anywhere else you'll visit in Vietnam. You would almost be forgiven for thinking you'd stumbled into the French Alps in springtime. This was certainly how the former colonists treated it - escaping to their chalets to enjoy the cooler climate. The French feel is compounded by a radio mast shaped like the Eiffel Tower and the local bohemian artists' predilection for swan-ning around in berets. Dalat is small enough to remain charming, and die surrounding countryside is blessed with lakes, waterfalls, evergreen forests and gardens. Local products include silk, garden vege-tables and flowers (especially beautiful hydrangeas), which are sold all over southern Vietnam. But the biggest contribution to the economy is tourism: more than 800,000 do - mestic tourists and another 80,000 foreigners visit here every year. It's the country's favour ite honeymoon spot and still retains the final word in Vietnamese kitsch. The Dalat area was once famous for hunting and a 1950s brochure boasted that "a two-hour drive from the town leads to several game-rich areas abounding in deer, roe, peacocks, pheasants, wild boar, black bear. wild caws, panthers, tigers, gaurs and elephants'. So successful were the hunters that all of the big game is now extinct. The closest you'll get to the formerly diverse fauna are the taxidermied specimens about town. The city's population includes about 5000 members of hill tribes, which make up 33 distinct communities in Lam Dong province. Traditional dress can occasionally be spotted in the market places. Hill-tribe women of this area carry their infants on their backs in a long piece of cloth worn over one shoulder and tied in the front. The City of Eternal Spring, Dalat's temperature hovers between a pleasant 15°C (average daily minimum) to 24°C (average daily maximum). Effectively Dalat has two seasons - dry (December to March) and wet (April to No-vember). Despite the mild temperatures, by the end of the dry season the lush green surrounds turn to brown. Even in the wet season, mornings normally remain dry - allowing time for sightseeing before the deluge begins.
History
This area has been home to various Montag-nard (hill tribe) groups for centuries. In the local Lat language, 'Da Lat’ means 'River of the Lat Tribe'. The first European to 'discover' Dalat was Dr Alexandre Yersin in 1893. The city was established in 1912 and quickly became fashionable with Europeans. At one point during the French colonial period, some 20% of Dalat's population was foreign, as evidenced by the 2500-odd chateau-style villas scattered around the city. During the American War, Dalat was spared by the tacit agreement of all parties concerned. Indeed, it seems that while South Vietnamese soldiers were being trained at the city's military academy and affluent officials of the Saigon regime were relaxing in their villas, Viet Cong cadres were doing the same thing not far away in their villas. Dalat fell to North Vietnamese forces without a fight on 3 April 1975. There is no problem with leftover mines and ordnance in the area.
Orientation
Dalat's sights are spread out and the terrain in and around the city is hilly. Still, trekking or cycling is made easier by the cool temperatures, The Central Market, set in a hollow, marks the middle of the town. To the south-east the 'Eiffel Tower' of the main post office is a useful landmark, rising above the southern shore of Xuan Huong Lake.
Information
INTERNET ACCESS
The main post office (right) has fast, cheap connections.
MEDICAL SERVICES
Lam Dong General Hospital (Tell: 821369;4 Đ Pham Ngoc Thach)
MONEY
Agribank (Tell: 827 740; 36 Hoa Binh Sq)
Incombank (Tell: 822 586; 1 Đ Le Đai Hanh) No ATM, but this big branch exchanges travellers cheques and foreign currencies.
Vietcombank ( 7 Đ Tran Phu) ATM outside the Novotel Dalat.
POST
Main post office (Tell: 822 586; 14 Đ Tran Phu) Opposite the Novotel Dalat; has international telephone, fax and email (2000d per hour).
TRAVEL AGENCIES
For guided tours by motorbike, see the boxed text, Dalat Travel Service ( 7 Đ 3 Thang 2) Offers tours and vehicle rentals. Groovy Gecko Tours (Tell: 836 521; ggtour@yahoo.com; 65 Đ Truong Cong Dinh; 7.30am-8.30pm) Offers tours, trekking and mountain hiking. Sinh Cafe ( 4A Đ Bui Thi Xuan) Tours and open-tour bus bookings.
Sights
XUAN HUONG LAKE
Created by a dam in 1919, banana-shaped Xuan Huong Lake was named after a 17th-century Vietnamese poet known for her daring attacks on the hypocrisy of social conventions and the foibles of scholars, monks, mandarins and kings. The lake can be circumnavigated along a 7km sealed path that leads past several of Dalat's main sights, including the flower gardens, golf club and the majestic hilltop Hotel Sofitel Dalat Palace.
HANG NGA CRAZY HOUSE
A perfect combination of Dalat's bohemian tradition and its taste for kitsch. Hang Nga Crazy House (Map p309; ĐT: 822 070; fax 831480; 3 ĐHuynh Thuc Khang; admission 8000d) is a guesthouse in the form of a giant surreal artwork. The architecture is Gaudi-meets-Alice in Wonderland and cannot easily be described: there are caves, giant spider webs made of wire, concrete tree trunks and scary-looking animals with glowing red eyes. Yes it's tacky, and exceedingly commercialised, but many are astounded to find such a countercultural construction in Vietnam. The owner of Hang Nga Crazy House, Mrs Dang Viet Nga, gained a PhD in ar-chitecture in Moscow, where she lived for 14 years. Hang Nga, as she's known locally, has designed a number of other buildings that dot the landscape around Dalat, including the Children's Cultural Palace and the Catholic church in Lien Khuong. The Dalat People’s Committee has not al-ways appreciated such innovative designs. An earlier Dalat architectural masterpiece, the 'House with 100 Roofs', was torn down as a fire hazard because the People's Commit-tee thought it looked antisocialist. However, there is little chance that Hang Nga will have such trouble with the authorities. Her father Truong Chinh, was Ho Chi Minh's succes-sor, serving as Vietnam's second president from 1981 until his death in 1988. There's a fascinating display on his history and achievements in the main hall. Probably the strangest thing about this construction is that people can actually stay here (rooms range from US$19 to US$84), although the constant -stream of tourists and the glowing red eyes of the giant kangaroo would surely take some getting used to.
CREMAILLERE RAILWAY STATION
Dalat's pretty station (Ga Da ;Tell: 834 409, 1 Đ Quang Trung; return ticket 70,000d; 6.30am-5pm) is now largely decorative. Railway enthusiasts will be interested in the old locomotives on display, including a Japanese steam train. From 1928 to 1964, when it was closed because of VC attacks, the cog-railway linked Dalat and Thap Cham. It's unfortunate that the line has never been fully replaced, as it would provide a great tourist link to the main north-south lines. A section of track has been re-opened, allowing you to ride in an historic carriage 8km to Trai Mat village (30 minutes) and back again. Although there are scheduled six trains per day, in reality this varies according to demand - they won't leave unless there's a minimum of two passengers. Once in Trai Mat, most travellers make a requisite stroll over to visit the ornate linh Phuoc Pagoda. This colourful pagoda was built between 1949 and 1952, and recent renovations included the installation of an 81/2-tonne bell in a seven-tiered tower. Remove your shoes when entering the main temple building, where an amusement-park dragon guards the gate. Once inside, visitors are greeted by a 5m-high Buddha sporting a five-ringed neon halo. From the ground floor, take the left-hand .staircase up to the 2nd-level balcony area for great views.
LAM OONG MUSEUM
This hilltop museum (Tell: 820 387; 4 Đ Hung Vuong;admission 40,000d;7.30-11.30am& 1.30-4.30pm Mon-Sat), housed in a lovely French-colonial style villa, displays ancient stone artefacts and pottery as well as costumes and musical instruments of local ethnic minorities, it was once the abode of Nguyen Huu Hao, the richest person in the Go Cong district of the Mekong Delta and the father of Vietnam's last empress.
BAO DAI'S SUMMER PALACE
This Art Deco-influenced vilfa (Dinh3;offt Đ Trieu Viet Vuong; admission 5000d; 7-1 lam & 1.30-4pm) was constructed in 1933 and was one of three palaces Bao Dai kept in Dalat. The decor has not changed in decades, except for the addition of Ho Chi Minh's portrait over the fireplace, but the palace is filled with artefacts from decades and governments past and is extremely interesting. In Bao Dai's office, the life-sized white bust above the bookcase is of the man himself;the smaller gold and brown busts are of his father. Emperor Khai Dinh. Note the heavy brass royal seal (on the right) and military seal (on the left). The photographs over the fireplace are of Bao Dai, his eldest son Bao Long (in uniform), and his wife. Empress Nam Phuong. Upstairs are the living quarters. The room of Bao Long, who now lives in France, is decorated in yellow, the royal colour. The huge semicircular couch was used by the em-peror and empress for family meetings, during which their three daughters were seated in the yellow chairs and their two sons in the pink chairs. Check out the ancient tan Rouathermique infrared sauna machine near the top of the stairs. Bao Dai's Summer Palace is set in a pine grove, 2km southwest of the city centre. Shoes must be removed at the door. There's an extra charge for cameras and videos.
DALAT FLOWER GARDENS
An unusual sight in Vietnam, these gardens (Vuon Hoa Thanh Pho; Tell: 822 151; Đ Tran Nhan Tong; admission 5000d; (7.30am-4pm) were estab - lished in 1966. Flowers here include hydran geas, fuchsias and orchids. Most of the latter are in special shaded buildings to the right of the entrance. All in all it's a very nice and well-kept cross section of Daiat foliage, along with some crazy kitsch topiary. The Dalat Flower Gardens front Xuan Huong Lake, on the road that lead.s from the lake to Dalat University.
DALAT UNIVERSITY
Dalat's climate has made it something of an education centre; before air-con it was one of the few places in Vietnam where it was possi -ble to study without working up a sweat. Datat University (Map p316; 1Đ Tran Nhan Tong) was founded as a Catholic university in 1957 by Hue Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc (the older brother of unpopular South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem) with the help of Cardinal Spelman of New York. It was seized from the church in 1975 and reopened two years later as a state-run institution. There are presently more than 13,000 students studying here. Foreign visitors are generally welcome.
DOMAINE DE MARIE CONVENT
The pink tile-roofed structures of this hill-top convent (Nha Tho Domaine; 6 Đ Ngo Quyen; admission free; 7-11.30am &2-5pm), constructed between 1940 and 1942, were once home to 300 nuns. Today the remaining nuns support themselves by making ginger candies and selling the fruit grown in the orchard out the back. The French-speaking nuns are pleased to show visitors around and explain the work they do for orphans, the homeless and children with disabilities. The shop sells handicrafts made by the children and nuns. Mass is celebrated in the targe chapel, Sunday to Friday.
LINH SON PAGODA
Built in 1938, this pagoda (Chua Linh Son; 120 Đ Nguyen Van Troi) is a lovely ochre-coloured building that fuses French and Chinese architecture. The giant bell is said to be made of bronze mixed with gold, its great weight making it too heavy for thieves to carry off.
DALAT CATHEDRAL
This gingerbread-style cathedral ( Đ Tran Phu) was built between 1931 and 1942 for use by French residents and holiday-makers. The cross on the spire is topped by a weathercock, 47m above the ground. The church itself is rarely open outside of mass times.
DU SINH CHURCH
This church ( Đ Huyen Tran Cong Chua; was built in 1955 by Catholic refugees from the nỏrth.The four-post, Sino-Vietnamese steeple was constructed at the insistence of a Hue-born priest of royal lineage. The church is on a hilltop with beautiful views in all directions. making this a great place for a picnic. To get to Du Sinh Church, walk 500m southwest from the former Couvent des Oiseaux (Đ Huyen Tran Cong Chua), which is now a teachers' training college.
Activities
ADVENTURE SPORTS
Dalat's cool climate and mountainous sur¬rounds lend themselves to all manner of outdoor activities. Unlike many operators in Vietnam, who use it as a licence to charge higher prices, Phat Ttre Ventures ( 73 Đ Truong Cong Dinh) takes the term 'ecotourism' seriously. It offers canyoning, abseiling (rappelling), rock climbing, kayak-ing and treks to minority villages. It also runs a range of kick-arse 'fat tyre' cycling tours of the Dalat area (US$30 to US$38), as well as a two-day ride 120km downhill to the sand dunes at Mui Ne Beach (US$135 including accommodation). Groovy Gecko Tours also offers ex-tended trekking and mountain hiking trips, including single-day descents to Mui Ne or Nha Trang for US$60.
CABLE CAR
Dalat's newest attraction, this cable car (CapTreo;Tell:837 938; off Đ 3 Thang 4; adult/child return 50,000/25,000d; (7-11.30 am & 1.30-5pm). dangles along a 2.3km wire to Quang Trung Reservoir . Needless to say, the views are stunning but it's not for the faint-hearted.
GOLF
The Dalat Palace Golf Club ( Đ Tran Nhan Tong), established in 1922, was once used by Emperor Bao Dai. Visitors can play 18-hole rounds on this attractive course on the shores of the lake for around US$65 (inquire about its Twilight Specials). There are some reasonably priced golf-package tours available if you book from HCMC (Tell: 08-8243640).
Sleeping
Dalat is one of the few places in Vietnam where you will not need to bother about air-conditioning. Its popularity with local tourists has meant there's a wealth of budget options, while its attractiveness to colonial fantasists has resulted in some extraordinary properties at the top end. While there is not a great amount of accommodation options in between, many of the cheapies offer comfortable midrange standards.
BUDGET
Phuong Huy (Tell:520 243; 5 Đ Bui Thi Xuan; r US$5-8) This clean, new minihotet has good facilities and a wonderfully kitsch Last Supper reproduction and mirrored crucifix in reception.
Viet Thanh (16 Đ Bui Thi Xuan; r US$5-9) Further up the same road, this is Buddhist equivalent. Ask for the quiet rooms at the rear facing over the market gardens.
Phuong Thanh Hotel (Tell: 825 097; fax 836 521; 65 Đ Truong Cong Dinh; s US$4-5, d US$6-7) You can 'r beat the prices at this friendly, modest, villa-style home. The cheapest rooms are located in the basement.
Hotel Phuong Hanh (Tell: 828 213; fax 838 839; 80-82 D 3 Thang 2; r USS7-30) A larger place on the side of a killer hill, the better rooms are spacious and have balconies while the very cheapest are windowless and basic.
OurpickDreamsHotel(151ĐPhanĐinhPhung;rUS$10-15; Sweet dreams are indeed made of this. We get constant fan mail about this super-friendly spot, offering tidy rooms (some with balconies) and a breakfast complete with such rare delica¬cies as Vegemite, Marmite and peanut butter. There's no hassling over tours - it doesn't sell any and although it will help you make arrangements, it doesn't take any kickbacks.
Ocean Hotel (130 Đ Phan Dinh Phung; s/d U5S8/12) Very much a Vietnamese hotel, with motorbikes (available for hire) in the foyer and a restaurant on the first floor, the staff don't speak much English but try hard to please.
Hotel Chau Au Europa (76 Đ Nguyen Chi Thanh; s US$8, dUS$10-15,tr US$18;Another affable family-run place, the Europa has a shared terrace overlooking town and free wi-fi,
Thien An Hotel ( 272A 0 Phan Dinh Phung; r US$12-15; Carrying on a family tradition of hospitality, this smart new hotel is owned by the brother of the woman who runs Dreams. It follows the same winning formula - great breakfasts, modest rates, sincere friendliness and no hassling for tours. It's a little further out, but free bicycles are provided.
Dreams Hotel ( 164B Đ Phan Dinh Phung; r US$ 15-20; A re¬curring dream, this is a new, more upmarket companion of the long-standing budget favourite. Rooms are larger, with Jacuzzis and massaging showers.
MIDRANGE: Fortune Hotel (Khach San Dai Loi; Tell: 837 333;fax 837 474; 3A Đ Bui Thi Xuan; r USS18-26) Typically Dalat, the Fortune Hotel is a riot of fairy lights, fake flowers and pink paint. Rooms here are spacious and comfortable; some have balconies overlooking a quiet park-like back lane and corner baths.
Trung Cang Hotel ( 4A Đ Bui Thi Xuan; s/d/tr USS20/25/30;A new addition to the Sinh Cafe empire, Trung Cang is an easy option for open-tour ticket holders. The rooms are attractive and clean, and the buses arrive right outside.
Cam Do Hotel ( 81 Đ Phan Dinh Phung; s US$30-35, d US$38-45, steUS$40-60;A one-time backpacker's oasis, Cam Do has been completely transformed into a smart midrange hotel.
Novotel Dalat ( 7 Đ Tran Phu; s US$49-64. d US$55-70, ste US$79-85;Nearly opposite the Sofitel, the Novotel was constructed in 1932 as the Du Pare Hotel. It retains much of the original French-colonial feel, with an old-fashioned gated lift, sombre wooden corridors and period light fittings. Its simple, smallish rooms are probably more authentic than the sumptuous fit-out across the road.
Golf 3 Hotel (46 Đ Nguyen Thi Minh Khai; r US$52-70,steUS$80-100;This centrally located property has a roof-top cafe commanding great views of Dalat. The top-end rooms have wood and tile floors, nice linen, sunken bathtubs, views of the lake and DVD players.
TOP END
Hotel Sofitel Dalat Palace (12 Đ Tran Phu; s US$148-178, d US$160-190, ste USS258-310; This grand old place was built between 1916 and 1922. Major renovation work has perfectly preserved an Indochine fantasy of French-colonial life, right down to claw-foot tubs, working fireplaces, 1920s desk lamps and faux period telephones. Even the reception staff, in their immaculate ao dai, have cultivated a whiff of Parisian snobbery. Panoramic views of Xuan Huong Lake can be enjoyed in the expansive ground-floor chandelier-illuminated public areas, where one can sit in a rattan chair and sip iced tea.
Evason Ana Mandara Villas & Spa (Đ Lelai;rUS$179-224.$teUS$322-460;Not quite open at the time of research, this incredible complex is set to be the most desirable location in Dalat. This luxury hillside compound encompasses a collection of unique French villas dating from the 1920s and '30s, nestled among the pine trees. Each unique villa has its own butler, kitchen and outdoor barbecue area. Most have been converted into three to five magnificent rooms or suites, with one being set aside as a spa complex, another as a top-notch restaurant and yet another as the pool house for a heated outdoor pool.
Eating
Making the most of the local produce, Dalat has an appealing selection of smart eateries scattered throughout the town.
VIETNAMESE Trong Dong (Tell: 821889; 220 Đ Phan Dinh Phung;mains 24,000-55,000d; (lunch & dinner) A good place to sample superb Vietnamese food, house specialities include grilled shrimp paste on sugar cane and fish hotpot. It's is a bit outside the centre, but well worth the walk.
Art Cafe (Tell:510089; 700 Truong Cong Dinh; dishes 30,000-45,000d; (lunch & dinner) Owned by an artist whose work adorns the wails, this elegant, bamboo-lined eatery has intimate tables sporting white linen tablecloths. The menu features Vietnamese dishes with a twist, including plenty of vegetarian options.
Da Quy (Wild Sunflower;Tell: 510 883; 49 Đ Truong Cong Dinh; dishes 25,000-70,000d) With an upmarket ambience (white linen, fresh roses) and great service, this newcomer has won lots of fans. The traditional clay pots arc excellent.
HNL (Tell: 835 505; 94 Đ Phan Dinh Phung; dishes 25,000-75,000d) Painted in kooky pastels and with a classic motorbike as its centrepiece, HNL serves interesting Vietnamese dishes -along with pizza to keep the kids happy. There's a fun karaoke lounge upstairs.
VEGETARIAN
There are vegetarian food stalls (com chay) in the market area. All serve up delicious 100% vegetarian food. with some meals prepared to resemble and taste like traditional Vietnamese meat dishes.
An Lac (Tell: 822 025; 71 Đ Phan Dinh Phung; meals 10,000d) There's an English menu here. and options range from noodle soups to rice and banh bao (steamed rice-flour dumplings stuffed with a savoury filling).
An Lac (Tell: 833 717; 26 Đ Bui Thi Xuan; meals 10.000d) Yep, it's another one of the same name and incredibly popular with the locals.
INTERNATIONAL
V Cafe (Tell: 837 576; 1 Đ Bui Thi Xuan; dishes 25,000-59,000d);(breakfast, lunch & dinner) A longtime traveller's favourite, this cute place hung with Chinese lanterns serves a mix of Eastern and Western mains, along with some beautiful desserts (try the chocolate pie).
Ie Rabelais (Tell: 825 444; 12 Đ Tran Phu; set dinner US$23-33; (breakfast, lunch & dinner) For fine French dining, the signature hotel at the Sofi-tel cannot be beaten - but bring a wheelbarrow full ofdong. This impressive dining room is the place to indulge yourself in grand style. If the kids are under 12, they're not welcome in the evenings.
Drinking
Saigon Nite (Tell: 820 007; 11A Đ Hai Ba Trung) The best late-night place to shoot pool and share a drink with expats and visitors.
Peace Cafe (Tell: 822 787; 64 Đ Truong Cong Dinh) A popular gathering point for backpack¬ers and Easy Riders, it also serves food.
Stop & Go Cafe (Tell: 828 458; 2A Đ Ly Tu Trong) Hidden along a quiet back lane. this little bohemian oasis is run by a poet who always sports a beret and a smile. It's not open at night.
Cafe Tung ( 6 Hoa Binh Sq) During the 1950s, Cafe Tung was a famous hang-out for saigonese intellectuals. Old-timers swear that it remains exactly as it was when they were young. As it did then, Cafe Tung serves only tea, coffee, hot cocoa, lemon soda and orange soda to the sound of mellow French music. There's a lively strip of bars overlooking the market on Đ Le Dai Hanh.
Shopping
In the past few years the Dalat tourist-kitsch market has really come into its own. Without any effort at all you can find that special something for your loved ones - perhaps a bat-tery-powered stuffed koala that sings 'Waltz-ling Matilda' or a lacquered alligator with a light bulb in its mouth. The Central Market is one big buy and sell, and a great place to pick up clothing at a good price. The hill tribes of Lam Dong province make various handicrafts. Lat products include dyed rush mats and rice baskets that roll up when empty. Koho and Chill people produce the split-bamboo baskets used to carry things on their backs. The Chill also weave cloth, including the dark-blue cotton shawls worn by some of the Montagnard women. If you're interested in Montagnard handicrafts, try Lang Dinh An (Chicken village ; or Lat village. A fascinating place to visit is Cuong Hoan Traditional Silk Centre Tell:852 338) in Nam Ban village, near the Elephant Falls . Here you can see every part of the miraculous process, from the live silkworms spinning out their precious cacoon, to the vats where they're boiled up and the threads separated, to the loom where the shimmery cloth is woven. You can even sample the cooked grub - they taste kinda nutty. For those of us concerned about fair trade, the women here arc paid reasonably well and work only standard government hours. There are some beautiful garments and lengths of fabric for sale, including kimono-style robes for US$10
Getting There & Away
AIR
Vietnam Airlines (Tell: 833 499; 2 Đ Ho Tung Mau) has daily services that connect Dalat to HCMC and Hanoi. Dalafs Lien Khuong Airport is located 30km south of the city.
BUS
Dalat's long distance bus station ( Đ 3 Thang 4) is 1km south of Xuan Huong Lake, although many private services wilt (if asked) pick up and drop off at the hotel of your choice. Services are available to most of the country, including several to HCMC (60,000d, six to seven hours), Phan Rang (40,000d, 4l/2 hours), Nha Trang (60,000d, seven hours) and Buon Ma Thuot (65,000d. four hours). Dalat is a major stop for open-tour buses. Sinh Cafe has a daily bus to Mui Ne (US$7, 51/2 hours).
CAR & MOTORBIKE
From HCMC, taking the inland (Hwy 20) route to Dalat via Bao Loc and Di Linh is faster than taking the coastal route (Hwy 1 A) via Ngoan Muc Pass. The following are road distances from Dalat: Di Linh (82km), Nha Trang (205km). Phan Rang (108km), Phan Thiet (247km) and HCMC (308km). There are secondary roads connecting Dalat to Buon Ma Thuot and other parts of the central highlands.
Getting Around
TO/FROM THE AIRPORT
The Vietnam Airlines shuttle bus between Lien Khuong Airport and Dalat (20,000d, 30 minutes) is timed around flights, leaving from the door of the terminal and, in Dalat, from in front of 40 Đ Ho Tung Mau, two hours before each departure.
Private taxis can be hired to make the trip for around US$10, while a motorbike taxi should cost from US$3 to US$5.
BICYCLE
Pedal power is a great way of seeing Dalat, but the hilly terrain and long distances between the sights make it hard work. Several hotels rent out bicycles and sometimes provide them free to guests. It's also well worth looking into the cycling tours on offer .
MOTORBIKE
Dalat is too hilly for cyclos, but a motorbike is a good way of touring the environs. For short trips around town, xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers can be flagged down around the Central Market area for l0,000d. Self-drive motorbikes are available for US$6 to US$8 a day.
TAXI & CAR
Taxis arc easy to find and a one-way trip to just about anywhere in Dalat costs US$2 or less. Dalat Travel Service can arrange daily car rentals (with a driver) for around US$25.
ARE YOU EASY?
Dalat's notorious Easy Riders started off as a witty, informal crew of 30-odd freelance motorbike guides offering reasonably priced day trips and longer journeys throughout the highlands. Like all good ideas in Vietnam, this has spawned a thousand clones of varying quality. Now you can hardly walk down the road without some clown trying to get you on the back of his bike and parting with your cash. You may even get harassed in your hotel room. That said, this is still one of the best ways to see the country, and numerous visitors rate it as a highlight of their trip. Some have even adopted their drivers and ridden with them ad the way north to Hanoi. So how do you go about rinding a good ride? Firstly, if should be noted that not all Easy Riders are good, and many non-Easy Riders are excellent. Many of the originals have done extremely well for themselves and demand ever-increasing rates. Day trips that were US$8 to US$10 a few years back arc now being offered for up to US$30 (US$15 is fair, but you'll be asked for US$20). These invariably come with a hard sell for a longer trip (usually around US$50 per day). For those planning a lengthier excursion, it's a good idea to take a day trip first to try to reduce the odds of choosing a suicidal maniac. Make sure you'll be comfortable keeping in close quarters with him for an extended period. Check that the bike is large enough, with a thick padded seat, and that a satisfactory helmet is provided. Most riders can produce portable guestbooks containing raving testimonials from past clients. Sometimes your hotel can recommend good riders, although less reputable establishments may have vested interests. There should be no problem finding a rider who speaks good English;some speak French or German as well.
DELECTABLE OALAT
For French colonists craving a taste of home, Dalat's climate was perfectly suited for growing fresh garden vegetables. Peas, carrots, radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, capsicums, lettuce, beets, green beans, potatoes, garlic, spinach, squash and yams are all grown here, making for meals unavailable elsewhere in the country. The Dalat area is justly famous for its strawberry jam, dried blackcurrants and candied plums, persimmons and peaches. Apricots are popular, and often served in a heavily salted hot drink. Other local delicacies include avocado ice cream, sweet beans (mut dao) and strawberry, blackberry and artichoke extracts (for making drinks). The strawberry extract is great in tea. Artichoke tea, another local speciality, is said to lower blood pressure and benefit the liver and kidneys. Dalat wine is served all over Vietnam and some of it's quite good. Don't go stressing over grape varietals - your choice is white or red. The reds are pleasantly light in style, while the whites tend to be heavy on the oak. Dau hu, a type of pudding made from soy milk, sugar and a slice of ginger, is one of Dalat's specialities, as is hot soy milk (sua dau nanh). Both are sold by itinerant female vendors, who walk around carrying a large bowl of the stuff and a small stand suspended from either end of a bamboo pole. Most vendors in the Central Market will let you sample a bit of something before you buy.