If you find yourself in DaLat and awash in cash, you can book a motorcycle trip with one of the “Easy Rider” tours that leave from the center of town and visit such places as a mountain lake populated by tribes of elephants, silkworm farms, and other far-flung locales around the highlands..
But if you are on a miniscule budget (like us) you’ll probably end up bicycling or motorbiking to less ambitious destinations. Enter Datanla Falls, a mere 15 km south of Da Lat, but still a must-see in it’s own peculiar way.
We arrive at the falls just ahead of a giant, multi-bus Pegas tour – uniformed Vietnamese guides shouting orders into megaphones to overheated Russian tourists. We hang around the entrance eating ice cream sandwiches until the hordes have passed. Then we buy our ticket.
The info about the falls mention some sort of hike. This is false advertising to say the least. If there is a trail, we certainly don’t see one (likely it exists, but became overgrown through disuse). The real “hike” consists of, hilariously, a” toboggan” ride down to the upper falls, then a short amble to a cable car that whizzes you through the gorge, and finally a very strenuous, air-conditioned elevator drop to the lower falls. This is Vietnam, after all, where people REALLY hate to walk.
(Though this is partially true, it’s not entirely fair. Vietnamese family outings almost always include the very aged – they would never leave revered parents or grandparents behind – and these oldies cannot practically hike around Vietnam’s incredibly rugged terrain.)
But if the country’s aversion to walking incites them to construct such glorious apparatus as toboggans, it can’t be all bad. The ride is thrilling. You basically fly down the open mountainside in your own personal roller coaster car around hairpin bends, the only catch being that there are no hydraulics or electronic controls, so you must brake for yourself around the corners to avoid hurtling off the rails and somersaulting the rest of the way down like Andy Samberg in that forest dancing scene in “Hot Rod”.
We want to do the toboggan again as soon as the guy has stopped our cars at the bottom. But we restrain ourselves. At any rate there are other diversions. Like the archery range just above the falls.
Yes, an archery range, complete with real, extremely sharp arrows (suck it, Disneyland!) and bows – and no safety net of any kind in case an arrow flies wild, say toward the Russian tourists milling around the falls a few meters away.
Never being one to resist a test of skills, Beej opts to pay the lady 2 bucks for a chance to hit a target shaped like a critically endangered Asian tiger (you can’t make this stuff up) and win a big bottle of Da Lat wine. Hey, at least they don’t give you the wine before you handle the extremely sharp arrows.
It doesn’t go great – either Beej’s archery skills have declined since the last time he drew a bow at age 14, or he’s still jittery from the toboggan ride. The lady encourages him by laughing in unrestrained delight at every missed shot.
At one point she takes up her own bow and arrow to demonstrate to Beej how easy it is for her to hit the targets, which she proceeds to do effortlessly, several times in a row. This gesture doesn’t quite have the bolstering effect on his performance that she intends. Well, at least someone got joy out of it.
After the archery debacle we walk over to the upper falls.
A thing to do here is to have your wife or girlfriend dress up in traditional garb, smear on tons of make-up, and pose for highly unnatural portraits in front of natural wonders like waterfalls. There are at least two groups of people staging these bizarre shots in front of Datanla Falls – standing on rocks with arms raised like nature goddesses, etcetera. And it’s fascinating to watch.
A hulking figure in a full fur suit, previously camoflauged, suddenly arises from where he’s been lounging in a plastic chair near the cliff beside the falls. He springs toward us monkey-like.
In his frozen white mask, he bades us, with gestures alone, to take photos with him. We decline.
Whatever tourist outfit he works for hasn’t done enough research into Western horror movie tropes to know that having large mute furries in horrifying masks brandishing spears lurch out of the shadows in front of you might not be the best way to earn tourist dollars from Americans.
Fortunately for the monkey creature’s bottom line, others are not so shy:
A guide has informed us there are three even better falls down the gorge. Ready for a proper walk, we excitedly set out along the trail, the first we’ve seen so far here. Some have boarded the cable car which soars overhead.
But we are the only souls hiking on this peaceful trail.
TO BE CONTINUED…