It was time for some mountain scenery again. Rather than following the traditional tourist route, along the coast, we decided to rent a car and drive to Dalat, in the hills between the coast and the Cambodian border.
Dalat was established by the French in the early 20th century, as a hill station and escape from the coastal heat. It is at an altitude of around 1500 m, giving it a very pleasant climate year-round. There are two roads from Saigon. A new road follows most of the coast for a while and then cuts into the mountains, but we preferred the old road via Bao Lac, a nondescript town which derives its fame from the nearby Dambri Falls, perhaps the highest waterfalls in this part of Vietnam. Right! Ready for the next culture shock!
Getting out of Saigon, even on a Sunday, is a major exercise, working our way through multiple industrial areas, together with many other cars and trucks, and the ever-present minivans we got to know so well, all limited to one lane only, because the other lanes are… clogged by motorbikes. And by the occasional minivan, of course – I don’t know what is worse, being inside a van, or being on the other end of it, in a car sharing the same road.
What we had already noticed in the Mekong delta is equally true for this part of the country: the country is full, it is busy everywhere, the road side is an almost fully built up area, dusty front yards, small business enterprises and houses on both sides, mostly unattractive concrete, interspersed with the occasional bad-taste mansion. There are many churches here, and the larger houses all have Maria looking down from the balconies.
Whenever there are no houses, there is rubber and rubbish: large plantations, and every kind of plastic you can throw out of a car window. The rubber disappears again, after a while, the rubbish stays. It is only when the road briefly climbs from the lowland into the hills that the scenery becomes somewhat more interesting, with densely overgrown mountain slopes, but soon after we reach the plateau things are back to normal, not particularly nice. However, Dambri Falls were waiting!
The truth is that Dambri Falls has very little to do with waterfalls. OK, an 80 meter drop is tucked away somewhere in the corner of this huge entertainment complex – and to make things easy, there is an elevator shaft next to falls to transport you down, allow you a view of the falls, and after you are done, take you up again. But in reality people, whole families, come here to enjoy the fun fair, a rollercoaster, a miniature train, the restaurants. This is Vietnamese tourism at its best. In the event the falls weren’t very spectacular, which, to be fair, has more to do with the dry season than anything else. Well, dry season? It was pouring down the sky when we got there, and we got totally soaked. Which didn’t help, of course.
(1) Dambri Falls, and elevator shaft next to it!
(2, 3) A total lack of photos today allows me to say a little more about the motorbike fashion. Everybody wears a helmet, clearly compulsory, and strictly enforced, but type of helmet is a free for all. I have seen one army helmet – an exception, obviously -, plenty of building site hard hats, but most entertaining are the fashion-aware women with their designer helmets.