Saturday morning Da Lat was colder than it was the previous day. I couldn't tell if it was going to clear up or pour down rain on us. Regardless, Tien and I decided to rent a scooter for the day and go explore the town.
A man who worked at the hotel said we could rent a motorbike from him for 70,000, which is roughly $8 USD. We walked across the street to another hotel that was owned by the same people and Tien told them we were there to rent a moto. A girl from the hotel disappeared under the stairs into what I thought was a fountain but ended up being the way into the car port. We sat there for 5 minutes listening to that poor girl trying to start that motorbike and I couldn't help but wonder when the last time it had been ridden was.
Eventually they brought round another moto for us that had very little trouble starting. They said that the cops in Da Lat wouldn't pull me over for not having a license, which made sense since it's one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam. Tien was happy that I would be driving. She is a bit timid on a bike, then there is the masculine feminine factor, and then there is romance. Of course, it could also be that she just doesn't like driving... Anyway, I got on in front, started it up and headed off in the wrong direction. As I was pulling a U turn I realized that riding a scooter is different from a motorcycle, and riding and automatic is different from a manual. Also, I had only once ever taken a passenger on a motorcycle, and that was just to give Lisa a ride around the block on my Honda CM450C before I sold it. This scooter took some getting used to, but I got the hang of it in a few hours and felt as comfortable as ever on two wheels.
The first thing we did was buy a map of the town that showed local attractions. This proved to be both useful and useless, depending on just where we were busy getting lost.
The first place we went was Da Lat University. Tien said she had seen it on TV and it was beautiful. We got gas and got lost before finding it on top of a hill north of the lake near downtown. We parked and walked into the campus and discovered that this was not the place Tien had seen on TV. While I took some photographs Tien cleared up the confusion by asking a student where the place she was looking for might be. He showed her on the map where it was, the Teacher Training College.
We left the campus and got lost again before finding the other college which was on a hill opposite the big lake in the center of town. It was indeed more picturesque, but Tien was disappointed that it wasn't more beautiful. There was a couple taking wedding photos by the brick archways along side the building.
It was mid day by then and I got the brilliant idea to have lunch on the lake. The day was bright, and too breezy to open the awnings to shade is from the mid day sun. The restaurant was a tourist restaurant and the food was accordingly disappointing. Tien barely ate any of it and I was just hungry enough to choke most of it down. Beer cost 4x what it was other places and the "classic club sandwich" had eggs on it.
While we were at the restaurant I tried out the GPS on my iPhone and for the first time ever in Vietnam it worked. I pulled up the geocaching app and found that there was a geocache by Trúc Lâm. I also pulled up lonelyplant.com and found a few choice attractions, one of which was not on the map. We paid for our terrible food and left.
After what must have been 30 or more minutes of driving around in circles we found our way to the Hang Nga Crazy House. This place was not at all what you'd expect to find in Vietnam. In fact, this was more like Disneyland or something, but it was actually a persons house at one time. An employee there who was very hard to understand told us that the architect had gone to school in Russia and had come home to build this in 1990. I couldn't understand much else of what she said, and I wondered how on earth people who spoke such awful english got jobs at tour places while the man at the front desk of our hotel spoke English almost impeccably.
Tien and I wandered the house for a while and I took a bunch of photos. It was a very dificult place to photograph though because of the odd shapes and orientation of everything. One of the interesting things about the house was that so much of it was made from wood. Vietnam is a country that does not have much timber. Most of the homes are made from brick and mortar or cement, even up in the highlands like Da Lat where there are evergreen trees. The crazy house was almost entirely wooden on the inside.
We found our way to some parts that were still being built; there is always construction in Vietnam. We found a really old car in a glass garage and I wanted to photograph it but had a poor time through the glass even with a polarizer. I photographed some construction in a new mountainous tower and then we left.
Next stop was the geocache, but we certainly couldn't do that without first getting lost and finding some more construction. We ended up taking a narrow muddy road, which was precarious on a scooter, and then merged onto what must be the smoothest street in Vietnam. It was welcome and I enjoyed it much as it swayed through a small farming valley and up into a forest.
We were unable to find the geocache by Trúc Lâm, partly because I didn't want to reach into a hole in a brick wall that was guarded by a large spider, though I suspect the cache might be missing anyway. I didn't care that we came all that way and didn't find the cache, I had wanted to return to Trúc Lâm anyway since we got rained out the previous time we were there.
A tour group of older people had just gotten off of a gondola that stops at the temple and we had to wade through the crowd to get to the temple. This time it was sunny and beautiful. There were beautifully tuned wind chimes making wonderful tones in a gentle breeze and I hoped in vain that I would be able to buy such a beautiful chime at the gift shop out front. I am a fan of neuroacoustic science and had learned that monks use chimes to entrain their minds. It was evident here because you could hear the slight detuning, the binaural beat. I started to explain the science of it to Tien, but decided it was too complex for her vocabulary or at least better suited for another time. This was photography time.
We went down by a small lake where there were picnic tables looking over a forest on a hill and down to another lake with gentle forested mountains beyond it. We sat for a while and rested, then decided to head back to town. The sun was beginning its descend and I wanted to find somewhere to watch it set.
We headed to a train station where there was a museum of old trains but it was closed. We went to look for the Buddha and got severely lost and never once even caught site of it sitting up on its hill. Giving up, we got smoothies from a shop in the town center and went back to the lake. The ride there was cold because the sun was almost completely set by then and when we finally found a nice lawn it was mushy and wet. We opted to sit on the sidewalk to see the last bit of the sunset. The smoothies were awful and added to the coldness. We called off our miserable sunset experience and headed back to the hotel to rest for a while.
We were soon hungry since we hadn't eaten much for lunch so we decided to go back out for food. We took our moto down to the town center and got hu tieu, headed back to the hotel, returned our moto, decided to head back to Saigon the next day and went to sleep.