Monday, March 23, 2009

Weekend In Dalat

Saturday morning we woke up at 6:45 and had a quick breakfast before getting on the bus to Dalat. On the bus going up to Dalat we were approached by a Vietnamese guy named Bao who started making small talk with us. His English was really good so I asked how it became so.

It turns out that he grew up in Paris because his father was a Vietnamese diplomat but ran away to Italy when he was 14 because his parents wouldn’t let him follow his dream of being a dancer. There he met a lesbian couple from San Francisco that took him in and for the next 6 years he lived in SF. He got trained in graphic design and culinary arts and got a job with a large 5 star hotel, whose name I forget. Since then he has traveled around the world working at different branches of the hotel. 18 years ago he was transferred to the branch in Madrid, and in Madrid he realized his dream of being a dancer. He studied flamenco dance and opera singing rigorously and now performs in Madrid and all around the world. He still works for the hotel part time as the VIP hospitality director.

He took a year leave from his job and is traveling all around the world, but is in Vietnam for this month (he is gay, and he made it sound like him and his partner broke up recently). He had been in Ho Chi Minh where he performed Flamingo dance at a hotel and was being interviewed and videotaped for a documentary on Vietnamese performers that sing and dance in foreign styles.

Pic: Bao holding 2 pictures of himself dancing. 

A couple from Oregon that adopted a Vietnamese girl 10 years ago wanted to come back so she could see where she’s from, and they had a mutual friend with Bao who put them in touch with him. He offered to meet them upon their arrival in Hanoi as well as in a few other cities to show them around and act as a translator. One of those cities was Dalat. 

His family is originally from Dalat, and he still has friends there. One of those friends runs the Ngoc Lan Hotel, the only 5 star hotel in Dalat, and asked him to come and test the quality of service there and give the staff training in exchange for all expenses paid. He consented and had the family from Oregon meet him there. He also invited us to come and dine with them at the hotel.

At 3 pm we pulled into Dalat. We hadn’t yet booked a hotel so after looking around for a few minutes we settled on the Mimosa Hotel. Although we were tired from staying up so late and from the bus ride we decided to go take a ride on a cable car over a valley to the local reservoir. It was almost sunset and there was a mist over the hills, it was really picturesque. 

Then we went back into the center of town and got dinner at a restaurant on the lake. Then we went to a tour guide office where we booked a tour for Sunday. We were so tired that we went home and crashed at 9:30.

The next morning we went to the Ngoc Lan hotel at 7 to have breakfast with Bao. It was a really nice buffet, complete with a chef making omelets to order and before we left Bao made us promise to come to dinner at the hotel along with the family from Oregon, and we agreed.

We were picked up by the guide at Ngoc Lan, and we first went 20 km out of town to see a coffee plantation, a silk worm farm/silk factory, a rice wine distillery, and Elephant Falls.  Seeing the coffee farm was really cool, I had never seen a raw coffee bean before. I don't even think it can be called a bean but rather a berry...

The distillery was a joke, just a basement in a house with a small boiler.

The silk factory was really cool, I had no idea it was such an involved process to make silk. It takes 20 women 2 hours to make one square yard of silk. All of the machinery was really ancient, it was too complicated for me to understand how it worked. I can tell you this though: there definitely were no computers aiding the process.

Elephant Falls was the coolest thing we saw in the morning. It was a really broad and tall waterfall, and the guide knew a way to walk around the back of it, the second picture is Emma just behind the waterfall.

Next we went to the last King of Vietnam's summer palace. It was kinda dumpy for a kings palace, but we got to dress up in his traditional clothes for a picture.

After the palace we went to the Crazy House. This is a hotel designed by the daughter of the successor to Ho Chi Minh's post in government. It felt like a mix of Disneyland and Alice in Wonderland, it was way out there.

We stopped for lunch then went to Dalat Falls, the most famous of the waterfalls in the area. We took a roller coaster type thing down the 3 km to the falls, where there were lots of tourists taking pictures. Our guide told us that a few km down the mountain there was another waterfall that's much harder to get to that no one goes to, so we hiked down. It was even bigger than the one higher up, and it had a big pool in front of it so we decided to jump in.

After the tour we rented motorbikes and cruised around the hills outside of the city for a few hours. It was my first time riding a motorbike, but I picked it up pretty quick, it really isn't hard at all. 

Then at 6 we met Bao and the family from Oregon for dinner at the hotel. Bao had pre arranged the 7 course meal with the chefs, and for the next 3 hours we had really good conversation and ate great food. Before dessert came out we convinced Bao to give us a performance. We got the waitstaff to put his ipod over the restaurant's speakers and he danced to the Flamenco music. Then he sang an excerpt from an Italian opera (he sang both the soprano and tenor parts). He was really good, I never expected a tiny Vietnamese guy to have such a large voice. The couple from Oregon had to get the daughter to bed, so at 9 we all parted ways. It was so nice of Bao to take us under his wing, we had a great evening.

We stopped in a pool hall on our way back to the hotel and played a few games, then went home at 11. The bus left at 7:45 Monday morning back to HCMC, and we didn't get in until 4:30. 


  1. King Jerbear: a scary thought. Is it flamingo or flamenco? Those two girls are hot

  2. hahahaha, you caught me.... i gotta change that. haha