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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Good Morning Vietnam! Part 9: Da Lat Honeymoon: Music, Trains, & Dress-Up!

The Dalat Honemoon Experience: our Pumpkin Coach!
Emperor Dan & Empress Elisse!

On our marvelous month in Vietnam, we went from Nha Trang inland, heading for the Central Highlands, taking the really nice "Sinh Tourist Bus" to Da Lat, the Honeymoon Capital of Vietnam!

Da Lat (or Dalat) is a relatively new city, dating from around 1907,  and is famous for its French Colonial architecture, pretty lakes and kitchy waterfall-amusement parks, but our main reasons for wanting to go there were for the Dalat Wines we'd grown to love on our last trip through Vietnam in 2008, and to take the Excursion Train to Trai Mat- the only excursion train in Vietnam- that leaves from the restored 1938  Dalat Railway Station, a fascinating Art Deco building on Vietnam's historic register, that has the high, pointed roofs characteristic of the Cao Nguyen communal buildings of ethnic minorities from Vietnam's Central Highlands. I had posted some queries about possible train trips on the "Rail Thing - Railways and Trams of Vietnam on Facebook, and we'd also learned of a cute Train Cafe in Dalat that we wanted to visit. There are no trains going inland from the coast, so the Nam Hai Resort concierges had helped us book the "Tourist Bus", and we had a very pleasant ride to Dalat, in comfortable seats, with bottled water and a/c!
Steam Train Cafe at the Dalat Station!

Elisse having a coffee in the cafe!
Working on the excursion train...

Dan at the station, with the engine for our excursion train

Dan, relaxing in the restored Train Station

At the Station...

At the restored Train Station

All aboard!

At our destination: Trai Mat!

We found the temple!

Back at the Dalat Train Station

Elisse at the station!
Pretty things along the way...

The beautifully restored Dalat Train Station

We arrived in Dalat and literally walked across the street from the bus and up a little hill to our hotel- the very pleasant 4-star Muong Thanh Da Lat. The coolest thing about the hotel, however, was that it's home to THE hot music bar in Dalat right now: the Escape Bar! We went down to the basement bar not expecting much, to be frank, and were truly rewarded with a great bar- NICE bar staff, and EXCELLENT live music every night- acoustic, blues, jazz, and rock 'n roll! We even got to do a little swing dancing to impress the young locals and Russian tourists! LOL The leader of the band is Curtis King, who is a multi-talented and passionate musician, fluent in Vietnamese, the owner of several places including V Cafe (where we had drinks and listened to some live jazz one night)...
Curtis (on the harmonica) and the band!
and the 
Train Cafe Villa & Cafe, (where we had a lovely dinner in the adorable restored train car), AND one of the die-hard Railfans on the "Rail Thing" Facebook page- he's the guy behind the restoration of the Dalat Railway Station! Dan started to chat to him at the bar, and the next thing you know, he looked at me and said "YOU'RE the one who posted on Facebook?!" It is a SMALL, SMALL WORLD, folks! My birthday is April 1st- yes, April Fools Day- and we spent my 56th birthday evening at The Escape, celebrating, with Dalat wine, live music, and dancing, along with another birthday girl- a Ukrainian gal who has a bakery in Mui Ne- and her friends!

Train Cafe

Train Cafe & Villa
We started our Dalat holiday in true Vietnamese Honeymoon style, with lunch on the lake and a horse-and-carriage ride around the lake in a Pumpkin Coach!

Lunch (and ice coffee) on the lake!

When you find Cinderella's Pumpkin Coach you just HAVE to take a ride!

Swan Boat- a Dalat honeymoon tradition!

Yes, we rode in Cinderella's Pumpkin Coach!

Cool Dalat!


One of the specialties of Dalat is artichokes, and so we had to find a place where we could try Artichoke Soup!
Dalat Artichoke Soup!

After artichoke soup, Dan had his hair cut in a local salon, entrancing a group of students who studiously followed every move made by the stylist! He got exactly what he wanted- basically a high-and-tight!
Dan getting a haircut!

We took a tour from our hotel, with a car and driver, to see some of Dalat's famed area attractions, first taking the cool cable car over the pine forests, to the new (1993) Truc Lam Buddhist Pagoda, which is also known as the Truc Lam en Monastery:

Up, up and away!

View of Dalat from the Cable Car

Coming in for a landing!

At the Truc Lam Pagoda

The beautiful gardens at Truc Lam

Truc Lam

Our driver then took us to the Lam Dong Museum, a very interesting museum focusing on the culture and history of the "ethnic minorities" of Lam Dong Province and the Highlands.

Traditional Central Highlands Stilt House
"Ethnic Minorities" of the Central Highlands

We then had another of the jolly, hair-raisingly Vietnamese car rides we've come to know and love and laugh though... the  Prenn Waterfall , one of the famously kitchy (and frankly, odd) amusement park complexes that Dalat is famous for- and like the Second Honeymooners we were, we took selfies in front of the little waterfall, rode an elephant, and bought a souvenir bottle of local jar wine!

Kissing under the waterfall!

Prenn Waterfall...

Lulaphants getting a bath!

Our lulaphant!

View from atop an elephant!

our elephant snacking on trees!

More oddness at Prenn...

Yes, we thought this was funny...

But the highlight of the day was-surprisingly- at the Bao Dai Summer Palace, a rather ugly 1930's block (I mean Art Deco... LOL) building, full of overstuffed 1930's furniture and appliances, where we had the opportunity to be Emporer and Empress! Used as a retreat by the family of King Bao Dai, the last king of Viet Nam, it was built from 1933 to 1938, and has 25 rooms; going through the palace room by room, we stumbled into the Throne Room and were invited (for a fee) to turn ourselves into royalty and be photographed on the throne! I mean, seriously- how can you turn down an opportunity like that?! My Vietnamese coworker had told me we could do this in Hue, but we didn't have the chance, and I was rather bummed... so I was Ecstatic when we found this opportunity, and Dan actually said "let's do it!" before I could! Yes, it felt a little silly at first, being decked out in satins and opulent headdresses, but the minute the cameraman started to shoot, we both "worked it" and gave it everything we had!
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Emperor Dan!

Our only disappointment in Dalat, was that, try as we might, we couldn't find the Dalat Wine vineyards or even get a tour of the factory! We took a cab to the factory, and found it "closed for lunch", and everyone we asked in the tourism business in Dalat told us that they won't let anyone inside. :-( (Dumb, because winery tours could seriously put Dalat on the foodie-winey tourism map...) So we settled for drinking ("tasting" LOL) a variety of Dalat wines, and discovered their new and REALLY GOOD STUFF- Dalat RESERVE wines- thanks to the great young bartender at The Escape Bar!
One of our great finds in Dalat was Urban Station Coffee an adorable, chic little coffee bar that's what Starbucks wants to be when it grows up!
Having a latte at Urban Station Coffee!

We'd walked through the market in daylight, but our last evening in Dalat we wandered through it again after dark, when it became a brightly lit night market- with everything from the gorgeous flowers and produce the Dalat area is famed for (sweet potatoes, potatoes, artichokes, strawberries, cabbage, persimmons, bananas, mango…), to beautiful wood carvings, and new and second-hand clothing- and treated ourselves to some tasty street food- the famous "Vietnamese Pizza"!

Dalat Night Market


Dalat Night Market fun: flowers, fruit, food, & footwear!

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