DALAT, VIETNAM: Weirdness at Datanla Falls, Part II

Scenes from the hike along the gorge below Datanla Falls, south of Dalat City, Vietnam.

Overlooking the lower falls. Image (c) 2014 Benjamin J Spen
Overlooking the lower falls. Image (c) 2014 Benjamin J Spencer
Butterfly at Datanla Falls. Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto
Butterfly. Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto
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Platform shoes. Image (C) Stacy Libokmeto
“Knock. Knock. Who’s there? Nobody!” A fake “minority” house Walt Disney would be proud of! Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto
Restricted Area. (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto
This is where I’m pretty sure the official told us to go. Maybe he was actually saying, “Only go there if you want to die.” We really need to work on our communication skills. Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto
Beej, happy to be alive! (c) Stacy Libokmeto
Beej, happy to be alive! Image (c) Stacy Libokmeto
Rapids at lower falls. (c) 2014 Benjamin J Spencer
Rapids at lower falls. Beej takes a moment from treehugging to take a phot.o Image (c) 2014 Benjamin J Spencer

 

They look plastic, but they're not! Really! (c) Stacy LIbokmeto
They look plastic, but they’re not! Really! Image (c) Stacy LIbokmeto

 

We got some swimmers! (c) Benjamin J Spencer
We got some swimmers! (c) Benjamin J Spencer
(c) Benjamin Spencer
Beej catches Stax secretly relaxing conveniently in front of his camera. (c) Benjamin Spencer

 

DALAT, VIETNAM: Weirdness at Datanla Falls

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.

Stax helpfully captures my archery fail on her phone. Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto
Stax helpfully captures Beej’s archery fail on her phone. Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto

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.

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Upper Datanla Fall. Image (c) Stacy Libokmeto

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:

Monkey warrior fight tourist! Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto

 

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Monkey warrior make conquest. Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto

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.
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But we are the only souls hiking on this peaceful trail.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Dalat, Vietnam: A lotta Dalat

We are driving our motorbike at sunset along a winding road atop a high mountain pass. Far below lies a landscape of intensely green rice paddies, dark turned earth, sprawling coffee plantations, forest glades, and copses of fruit trees.

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A panorama of the Central Vietnam highlands spreads magnificently out over the lip of the road. Peak after craggy peak marches over the spine of the country toward the coast, veiled in the smoke that is ever-present in rural Vietnam: the oily blue smoke of the rubbish fire, the dusty brown of farmers’ crop burns.

And still further out, white mists creep over the high distant peaks and fold into the deep green valleys, a blazing midsummer day exhaling into the cool of night.

We are just arriving back to Da Lat after a day riding around the countryside and hiking along the spectacular gorge below the hundred foot tall Datanla Falls ( more about this in the next post.)

For several days previously we’ve been hanging out in town at our favorite coffee shop, Urban Cafe, eating at our favorite restaurant, Chocolate Café, and exploring hilltop pagodas

Dalat, Vietnam. Image (c) 2014 Benjamin J Spencer
Dalat, Vietnam. Image (c) 2014 Benjamin J Spencer
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Recycling collector, Dalat, Vietnam. Image (c) 2014 Benjamin J Spencer
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Downtown Dalat, Vietnam. Image (c) 2014 Benjamin J Spencer

 

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Super Pagoda Man. Image (c) 2014 Benjamin J Spencer
Linh Quang Pagoda. Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto
Linh Quang Pagoda. Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto
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Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto

 

or driving our moto around the huge lake that takes up the east side of the city.

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One day we climb up a (very!) steep path through a fragrant pine forest to the top of Langbian Mountain, the highest peak in the Central Highlands and the second-highest in Vietnam. The next day we’re navigating the vine-shaped walkways of Da Lat Crazy House (more on these i the following posts).

Night comes on rapidly here in the highlands; tiny lights wink on all over the hills as we re-enter Da Lat and cruise down the narrow alley that leads to our guesthouse.

The time nears when we must leave this beautiful mountain city

Dalat, Vietnam from near our guesthouse. Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto
Dalat, Vietnam from near our guesthouse. Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto

and head back to Saigon to begin the next phase of our journey. Watch for the next posts where we’ll go more into the weird and wonderful moments we’ve experienced here!

To be Continued…