The hill station town of Dalat works at a much more leisurely pace than much of what we have seen of Vietnam. Without suffering from the tropical heat of the lowland South, the inhabitants seem able to chill a bit more and trade aggression for assertiveness.
The central market displays a range of fruit & veg more familiar to European market shoppers than their SE Asian equivalents. Potatoes, lettuce, apples and strawberries are offered for sale along with the usual exotic fayre.
This French influenced town, nestled upon a series of hills tumbles down to a glistening man-made lake.
Set in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, the cool climate and relative tranquility of Dalat makes it a popular location for domestic honeymooners.
These lovebirds are given ample opportunity to demonstrate their feelings for each other by hiring out swan shaped pedalos by the hour in order to take a romantic paddle on the lake waters.
With a twinkle in my eye, I suggest we treat “The Boy” to a boat trip. Unfortunately his appreciation of my pseudo-romantic gesture and the joint efforts of our pedalling labours is quickly shown as he falls asleep within two minutes of us casting off our mooring.
I consider this behaviour to be totally unacceptable given that the swans are designed for use by Vietnamese boaters who are on average a mere one sixteenth of my size.
Talk about lactic burn? My legs were on fire for most of the hour.
Other Dalat “must-do” outings include a romantic visit to the “Valley of Love” and a dreamy stroll through the flower gardens.
With its series of incredibly kitsch and manicured parks, Dalat is enough to make a real man vomit.
The only half decent tourist pull in the town itself for any self-respecting hetero male is the so-called “Crazy House”, a fairytale quirk of architecture at once influenced by both the work of Antonio Gaudi, the novels of Tolkien and a sixth-form stoner’s bad trip.
With it’s soaring towers of masonry designed to look like banyan trees linked by a series of warped walkways, each structure within the crazy house complex hides a series of unique and idiosyncratic chambers that also double as hotel rooms.
This flight of fancy has been over twenty years in construction and stands in stark contrast to most of the contemporary architecture in Vietnam which appears to come straight from the communist handbook of brutal concrete construction.
After exploring numerous nooks and crannies, we made our way back to the hotel (I think we were the only guests) and prepared to spruce ourselves up.
For our last evening in Dalat was to be a special one.
Over the past days (weeks even) the country had been building up to the celebration of (Chinese) New Year, known locally as “Tet”.
Along the banks of the lake a huge quantity of firework had been assembled. Small kumquat trees were selling like hot cakes before being dangerously bundled onto the back of already unstable and overloaded motorbikes for the ride home.
There was a buzz of anticipation in the rapidly chilling air as the sun dropped behind the hills for the last time this lunar year.
By early evening the streets were filling with vendors of hot food and huge red balloons.
As evening turned to night, dancing dragons made an appearance on the streets, the youth of the town executing the well-choreographed routines they had been working on for weeks.
Then, at the stroke of midnight, the booming began, the sky lit up and we ushered in the year of the dragon with a greeting of “Chuc mung nam moi”, the Vietnamese equivalent of “happy new year”.
Welcome then “The year of the dragon”.
Now I’m not a superstitious kind of guy, but surely as the dragon is seen as being the luckiest of lucky symbols, then it’s worth a tenner on Wales for the 6 Nations this year?
So there you have it. My must-back nap of 2012.
I hereby claim my 10% cut of any wins.