(A French tourist told his wonderful trip in Da Lat and gave useful suggestion to others)
I climbed a mountain today. Probably the oldest, fattest American ever to climb it, and I can hardly believe I did, but I did. We have pictures to prove it.
Looking down on Paradise lake from mountain
We signed up for the “easy” trek with Groovy Gekko, an outdoor tour company right next to our hotel here in Da Lat. Mercy. We went straight up the side of a mountain. No steps, no walkway, just tree roots and dead pine needles to give you traction. Our ever cheerful and encouraging guide Thanh and my companion Joseph both supplied a helping hand or shoulder for balance at times, but I actually made it all the way up on my own legs.
On the way up, a local Vietnamese mountain climber passed us as if he did the climb every day (I suspect he just about does). Later he came back down holding a bright yellow yard-long poisonous snake over his head. He let us “pet it” all the while Thanh was explaining to us how deadly it was.
At the top we took in the view, had our picture taken by one of the Buddhist monks camping at the top of the mountain who graciously broke from his meditation to come take pictures of the three of us at the summit, and then we each ate a couple of bananas. Okay, time to go down the other side. I was hoping for a more leisurely way down. After all, this was the “easy” trek. But, alas, no. If anything, the way down was steeper than the way up. After timidly progressing 20 yards or so down, I was ready to accept that I may just hae to stay there, and depend on passing Vietnamese to give me something to eat and drink now and then, and perhaps bring me a change of clothes now and then.
Paradise Lake, Da Lat
Luckily, our guide had a better idea. He was carrying a plastic tarp for us to sit on for our lunch later in the day. Instead, I used the tarp as a sled, and SLID on my butt DOWN THE MOUNTAIN. Thanh said he thinks he may have hit on a new sport–butt mountain sledding–for his company to promote. Needless to say, once we hit on the trick, going down was much faster than going up, and my rear end is only a little sore from the couple of times I completely lost control and shot out into mid air for a few seconds before coming down to earth again.
A bit about our guide: Thanh is a recent college graduate. He’s been leading these tours for about two years. He told me he’s lived in Da Lat all his life, and went to college there, but that his parents are from the north. Other than English, he also speaks Russian, which he said he studied in college primarily because his grandfather, who studied in Moscow, told him not to take it because it was too hard. I suspect grandfather was perhaps applying a little reverse psychology there.
The Crazy House in Da Lat
The whole trip today was truly incredible. Before the real mountain began, we went through a small family-run pineapple and coffee farm where I had my first taste of berries from a coffee tree. And after our descent we had lunch next to Paradise Lake in a lovely park filled with an amazing collection of flowering trees and shrubs, and with hundreds of butterflies, with seemingly no two butterflies alike.
After lunch, we shared a boat with a passel of drunken fishermen to cross Paradise Lake. They kept trying to convince us to share their wine, and two of them couldn’t resist the urge to rub the fat foreigner’s belly. I told Joseph my tummy should be pretty shiny by the time we get back if people keep rubbing it at this rate. One drunken fishermen stumbled and almost overturned the boat at one point, my reaction to which they all found very amusing.
Once across the lake, I faced the last challenge of the day, a 222-step climb to the largest Buddhist temple in the southern part of Vietnam (another way of saying it’s the second largest Buddhist temple in Vietnam). The place was just crawling with monks and nuns. If I remember right, about 250 live there. We got to listen in on a class taught by the head monk, an 84-year-old who lectured with a very VERY tranquil voice, which was nice to hear after our challenging day. It was only after our climb up the steps, and a tour of the place, that I discovered the aerial tram that takes most tourists from Da Lat on an easy ride right up to the temple – no steps required. Sigh.
The Chicken Village
After the temple, we jumped in the tourist company van and headed back to the hotel for a shower and to drop off my dirty clothes at the front desk for the evening laundry service. Then a stop at the bakery, and then finally here for beverages and a little Internet time.
Today was a truly amazing day. The last time I did a rough mountain climbs like this was in northern China, again a long climb up a mountain to visit a temple. I have friends who actually do things like rock climbing on purpose, but for me, walking up a mountain is almost always something I find myself surprised to be doing, not something I do by choice.) For that mountain in China, I was much younger, lighter, and more vigorous then – maybe 18 years ago or so. I’m not sure how long it will be before I try this again. Right now, though, I feel GREAT. We’ll see how I feel in the morning.
Tomorrow’s outing is sightseeing – mostly by car. I understand that a couple of the stops feature a lot of steps, like the temple today, but after today’s mountain, that will be like a cakewalk.
In general, I’d not recommend heading to Da Lat for these “sights.” But the surrounding countryside is beautiful, and if you’re into hiking, biking, or motorcycling, this is really a great place to visit, and the weather’s a real break from the sweltering humidity of most of Vietnam. A number of outfits here will rent you motorcycles or bikes so you can go exploring the surrounding mountainous terrain or your own, or even cycle or motorbike all the way back to Saigon. I have searched on internet and found an attractive website about adventure www.activetravelvietnam.com. So cool! I like Kayaking tour, I should come to Ha Long bay soon, I can’t wait anymore.
If we have time tomorrow, we’ll head for a southern district of Saigon that’s supposedly just crawling with monkeys. Who can pass up hanging out a few hours with a bunch of monkeys? Not me!
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