Ho Chi Minh Trail ~ we arrive at our destination ~ Dalat, “the City of Thousands of Pine Trees” ~ Viet Nam

After taking a spill on the motorbike, Peta decides to give her body a chance to rest by taking a mini-bus to our next destination – Dalat, after a week on motorbikes and 700+ kilometers…  This turns out to be very easy.  There is a bus from Lak lake at 8 a.m. And we make it to the bus stop by 7:59.  Bus arrives, Peta squeezes in and she is off. We plan to meet end of day in Dalat.  Peta will take 4 hours and we think perhaps 10 hours for the motorbike ride.
Adam and I (Ben) get on the road and to our relief and surprise, it is pristine views and smooth riding all the way from Lak Lake to Dalat. We have the road to ourselves.. So much so, that we make it into the “City of Eternal Spring” by 2 pm (a total of 6 hours) .
Peta awaits us in the beautiful Zen Cafe and hotel, where she is relaxing in the garden. The German owner has access to multiple grand villas where he rents out rooms on behalf of owners.
The garden at Zen Cafe ~ a lovely spot to enjoy the cool fresh air of Dalat. 
View from Zen Cafe
The immediate striking impression of Dalat is the amazingly beautiful cool climate and pure air.  Surrounded by hectares of pine forests, Dalat is referred to as the Alps of Viet Nam, and the comparison is apt.  Built up by the French as a  mountain destination, the architecture is reminiscent of many French or Swiss mountain villages, pointed roofs and tall church spires included.
View of the roof tops and lake.
Agreement was made between North and South Viet Am during the American War that Dalat would be spared from any bombings. Today it is mostly Vietnamese tourists who come for holidays here and it is the most popular city for honeymooners!

The city also has a San Francisco feel — the climate, the pine forests surrounding the city, the steep streets.

Central point of the city is the lovely tree lined (man made) lake, one of the noticeable features of Dalat  is the ploliferation of cafes everywhere ( many with their own unique charm). Not surprising considering coffee is one of the main products from the area, but nonetheless adds to the European feel of the city.

Adam is once again on the hunt for local delicacies (by rented mbikes) and the city does not disappoint. Banh mi xiu mai is a variant on banh mi with tasty meat balls inside; banh canh small circular fluffy bites with a tangy sauce which includes thin strips of mango and peanuts and has a distinct taste from its Hoi An more crispy counterpart. We had a particularly good goat curry one night, loved the crispy grilled rice paper with sesame seeds which had a wholewheat taste, and other added toppings such as egg, chives, chili and tiny chewy fish. Hot fresh silky tofu with a coconut sauce was memorable as was a soup with mushroooms and tiger lily flower.
Tiger lilly flowers for lunch anyone?
Delicious soup with mushrooms, spinash and tiger lilly flower.
Novel ingredient, often seen in gardens and on the side of the highway in Illinois.
Funny anecdote: At a restaurant known for its goat dishes, and filled with locals, no English spoken or understood, Adam gestures that he wants to SEE the dish before he ordered it, by making a “universal” sign pointing to his eyes.  
Within minutes, A goat stew arrives filled with what we realize fairly quickly are goat eye balls! Classic case of cultural misunderstanding. One cannot assume that gestures in ones own culture mean the same thing in another one.  (However for the most part we have managed to communicate very well with very little Vietnamese, as in a week on the trail, we saw virtually no foreigners and locals clearly were surprised and often very amused by the sight of us on bikes and by our pantomines to try to communicate.)

Adam has reached a rhythm whereby each culinary adventure consists of no less than three and often four stops at single dish vendors on the streets. I wonder how long he will be able to keep up this pace of discovery of new yummy foods, lest, horror of horrors he may just have to repeat a dish.  There is a high premium placed on novelty of course ~ new tastes, flavors and combinations.

One of the features of street food in Viet Nam we really enjoy is how much pride the vendors take in their food and their own unique “twist” to a particular dish. Many times a vendor has prepared the “perfect bite” for us, by combining the greens, sauce and content in just the right proportions.

The markets are abundant with beautiful produce, most notable being large and delicious artichokes,  huge avocados and strawberries.  Artichokes are used for soup and to make artichoke tea, however we buy them, boil them and eat the flavorful hearts.


Dried artichoke used for making pungent artichoke tea.
Largest avocadoes EVER.  Hard to tell from picture, but these avos are HUGE.

We visit green houses filled with bounty… Zucchini, cabbage, strawberries… huge and healthy looking.
Dalat is known for its flower industry.
Dalat becomes a well deserved rest stop between the Central Highlands and our next adventures into the Mekong Delta.  We take advantage of downtime to hike in the pine forest.
Beautiful pine forest
We discover a stone temple, atop a hill in the pine forest.
Perfect spot for a break and some stretching…

7 thoughts on “Ho Chi Minh Trail ~ we arrive at our destination ~ Dalat, “the City of Thousands of Pine Trees” ~ Viet Nam

  1. Pingback: The bounty of food markets of Asia ~ Viet Nam – Empty Nesters on a Green Global Trek

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