Day 4-Awesome Architecture
We ate eggs and a baguette for breakfast from this average looking spot we found, granted it only cost 90 cents, but were used to being spoiled for 60. Our destination today was the Linh Phuoc Pagoda and we found it pretty easily after stopping a few times to peep the vague Lonely Planet map. Without bullshitting, just entering the gates put me in a peaceful state. Surrounded by an insanely detailed temple, entirely constructed of broken bottles, glasses, cups, delftware and ceramics. The entire temple was hand-painted with a mosaic of colours and then decorated with animals, gods, temples, Buddha’s all out of the broken materials- truly an incredibly dedicated masterpiece. To its side stood a towering sister temple that housed an immense bell, which we both rang after we attached prayers to it via sticky notes. And to its side was a 51 foot Buddha statue, that from a distance looked as though it had spent a lifetime undersea and was entirely covered in tiny barnacles and crustaceans, but as I walked closer and closer until standing by its side with my head reaching its shin, I saw that statue was covered in flowers, little plucked chrysanthemums, all at varying ages of life, some decaying, some full bloom- beautiful.
Behind these three monuments was a fourth in the process of construction. Outside sat buckets of broken materials and little pallets of paint alongside brushes- it was a glimpse of art in progress. Inside the entrance, which was nothing more than a wall of rough concrete, we walked into a room of 50 to 75 six-foot golden Buddha statues that surrounded a lone Buddha that towered to the ceiling of the four-story structure. The concrete Buddha must have been set recently, standing there like a giant cookie cutter in the sky… on a table were brochures that displayed an image of the golden Buddha it was to become. With a box of incense to its side and prayer matts in front, we slipped off our shoes, lit the incense, stuck them in a giant vase, and prayed- for what, I cannot tell you; it’s with Buddha now.
Leaving the grounds was just as peaceful as entering and until I arrived at our next destination, I was engulfed in pure self reflect. Arriving at the self-titled Crazy House, we were submerged into a whole new level of respect and astonishment for its architecture that cannot be genuinely described without using the word crazy.
Where do I start? Perhaps with WTF is the Crazy House? Well, it’s the expressionist vision of Hang Nga. Graduating with a PHD in architecture from the University of Moscow, she moved back to Vietnam (during the Vietnam War- she’s pretty badass), to create her vision amongst the hills of Dalat. Using animals and nature as her inspiration she set out to dismantle principals. OK there are the facts! Ok, Ok… I’ll get to WTF is it? It’s a huge tree house, more like a tree mansion. It’s like a real life Salvador Dali painting. There are winding narrow staircases on the roof, staircases wrapping in circles, mini rooms that seem impossible to get to, ladders and descents, all entwined with nature. A dozen or so guestrooms all dedicated to a theme, whether it kangaroo or bamboo- each room is built from the inside out crafting round beds to fit into the natural space. It’s a giant playful guesthouse, where Hang Nga lives at the top. At the epicenter of her work in progress, she resides in a giant fairytale like room elevated above the grounds, with giant antlers above her door, a giant gong on her front porch, a bulls head & horns attached to her banisters, and broken mirrors like shining silver decorating the facade…which is reached by floating paths that weave throughout, like a dream in motion. All of which I just stated, is about 1/100th of what the Crazy House embodies!
We left with our minds blown. Today was a tribute to the creativity, dedication and skill that we all possess once it is tapped and unleashed. After that we just went to a night market to grab some chow mien.
Day 5- We hiked a lot. We hiked Dalat.
Breakfast: Eggs and baguettes yadda…yadda nothing special. With bag packed we cruised out of the city, past a quaint pint-sized hamlet, bursting with produce, flowers and coffee and onto the grounds of Lang Biang, a 2167m mountain in the clouds. Lonely Planet said it would take 4-5 hours up, while the guide said 2… I figured we could do it in 1:37- we are Canadians. I was wrong. It turned out to be 2 hours on the dot. Like seriously on the dot. Just outside the grounds a guy rushed out onto the street and ushered me into his restaurant/parking lot. He said “$1 dollar parking (equivalent to 21,000 dong)”, beside was a sign that said 5000 dong and some random word above- I took it to be parking… he said “ok, 5000″. Katie pulled up behind me to park, and with the park grounds perhaps 100 feet from the restaurant I saw a bunch of bikes parked up there and wanted to investigate. As I started backing up, the guy says to me “ahh, no parking”… I checked anyways. Pulling up to the gates, I paid, and they told me to pull my bike ahead. Mother!! I waved Katie over and she slid on through.
The park cost 10,000 to enter. And unknown to us we found ourselves on a one-hour hike up a road, yay, the same road speeding jeeps ran tourists up and down every other minute without breaks or without any concept of space or safety- many times were we pushed up against a side railing as they revved up and swept past us, with two open lanes- pure ignorance. After about one hour of ‘hiking’ we reached a park entrance. It was a little wooden cabin with a smiling woman inside who was eager to speak to us. “Oh, I’m so happy to talk to people.” We soon found out all the jeeps were continuing up the hill to the radar station, a smaller peak, and a much shittier one since it’s now filled with all the lazy gusses bussing to what they think is the top.
The woman, who introduced herself as Blui (blu-ee), told us that we were the first ones to go through the park today. We were thrilled to find out that we would actually be hiking through nature today and not some goddamn devils racetrack. Blui told us that just last year they started charging to enter this park (lucky us- and to think we just paid 10,000 to climb up a road). We happily paid the $1 each and our feet touched soil for the first time that day.
The hike was 2.2km. Blui said it takes her about one-hour to climb- I guessed 37 minutes. I was once again wrong. It was an hour on the freaking dot too. First we walked through a pine forest, then down a valley, and then up a steep climb to the mountaintop. Heaving like a pregnant woman the whole way up. Once we broke through the clouds we knew the peak was close and it rejuvenated us both. Hopping up the last steps it led to a cleared out summit. Katie was jumping up and down, and we were soon immersed in a 360 degree white backdrop- not even the faintest decimal of pigment broke through.
Posing for shots with the elevation placard, on our feet, then on our hands we got a bunch of touristy business out of the way before we perched up on a cliff and looked out into a true abyss. In peace and solitude, the only sound made out was the chirps and flutters of finches at play weaving and cutting through the clouds. Katie looked over and with a shot of surprise she shouted in my ear, something to the tune of “ahhhhh”, I instinctively looked over my shoulder, and it was as if a magician appeared and unveiled the land below.
The clouds had opened up for us, and below, once a blank canvas before our eyes, was filled with an image of a rolling jungle that led to the edge of a town. Soon the entire cloud vanished and the peak became brand new playground for us to explore with ooh’s and ahh’s around every degree of shift. After spending an hour on the peak, we started our descent when we ran into a French couple making their way up. We were the only four people on the mountain out of the four to five hundred that took the jeep up throughout the day. And we found out from Blui that foreigners are really the only people that come to hike the mountain, and in her own words, we also tend to respect nature much more than the locals.
When we got back to the cabin, we had some time to get to know the real Blui. And she turned out to be a marvelously interesting woman. At 31 she was single, which is a little old for Vietnamese culture, if not the world, but she is outdone by her 40-year-old single sister. She is actually part of the hill tribes known as the K’ho Lat, and actually isn’t Vietnamese. There are 5 K’ho tribes, of which I could not repeat. In her culture, the women search for a husband, and when she wants to propose to a man she has to buy a buffalo as an offering. At the moment buffaloes don’t have much grazing area in her region, which brings the price of them up- with current market price in the range of $1200 USD a head. Although she’s not interested in anyone at the moment, and she’s quite happy being single. You go girl!
We pried into her family life and she told us that she had one brother who died of cancer and another of epilepsy, and another who is an alcoholic, who wakes up at 4:30 in the morning to find people in his tribe to drink with- and since it is well known that he is an alcoholic and women search out the men to marry, no one is interested in marrying him (at all).
We had some questions about the Lang Biang Mountain we had just climbed. There was supposedly five peaks along the range, with the tallest being the male and a shorter one following suit as the female. *Blui told us the story behind the two mountains in which is inscribed with an air of love & tragedy.
A woman named Biang had fallen in love with a man named Lang,
as the story goes, and the two went into the mountains to pick wild
fruit and basically just enjoy the nature. Behind the scenes, a man who also
had desires for Biang, wore the mask of a magician, and turned some of the
fruit poisonous. When the two separated in the forest to pick fruit-
Lang ate a piece and fell ill to poison and died on the spot.
Biang in search of Lang eventually found him dead, and for two days she
lay beside him crying, with her tears flowing down the mountains creating
a lake at the bottom called Dankia (the golden stream). And as for the mountains, they
symbolized each of their tombs, and over the years earth grew over
them making the mountains grow higher and higher .
*Now this is just one version, I had found a varying version online- but who am I to dispute which story is more accurate than the other.
We parted ways with Blui and began our descent down the mountain. Nearly at the bottom we ran into a bunch of bus drivers awaiting the tourists at the top- they were all set up on a blanket on the gravel in front of their busses drinking shots of rice wine. As we passed they offered us a shot, which we took with a smile, hoping that they wouldn’t barrel into us on the way down. We left after having conquered the mountain, just as a new busload of people were called to enter the jeeps. The two of us sharing an experience that none of the one hundred plus busloads will ever get to experience.
We cruised back into town with calves of iron and ended up back at the night market filling our faces with chow mien.
Day 6- Last night in Dalat
Today was a chill day that would make Bob Marley proud. With nothing on our agenda, or perhaps nulling everything on our agenda- who’s to say? We grabbed a breakfast, tuna baguette for me & egg baguette for Katie then just hit a café. The rain perhaps halted our potential plans of going to Elephant Falls, but we hit the road tomorrow and we both decided we could get on board with a relaxed day.
So the café turned into pizza, which turned into another café which turned into a six hour writing session at Café 13 filled with coffee, tea, cane sugar coated peanuts, chicken sandwich and French fries… and… and…. Yeah, let’s call it a cheat day… Cheers to us! The owner, My, of café 13 is this voluptuous middle-aged hippie that leaves a trail of euphoric musk as she sways about her abode. Needing to have that smell in my life, I pry and she tells me she makes it herself. Although she speaks fluent English, she does so with a Vietnamese drawl, quick and nasally, and almost all of her words escape me. I’m left nodding, saying yes, smiling politely- all the tell-tale signs of an ignorant traveller. I let a few hours pass before I tried her again… you need to tell what the name of the scent is… it’s enchanting, I need the recipe… please!!” I might have begged, but one will stoop low to get what they want. She smiled and went to another room to write it down…. She came back, handed me the paper, and promised me not to tell anyone. So, this is where you’ll hate me. I asked her what proportions she mixed together… which I also didn’t really get a tangible response- so I have a little guesswork it in for me. No harm in a little challenge.
The café was a cesspool of starry-eyed backpackers, all lured in like a bohemian bug-light. Throughout the night, our table sat a couple of Aussies and a solo-traveller from Holland- all of us exchanging our version; where we came from; where we’re going- the same flagship conversation that ignites all relationships on the road.
Throughout the night the sounds of beating drums and screams and laughter filled the air. The beating drums snaked through the streets as giant colorful lions ran into homes and anywhere with life- underneath the wild lions were children controlling the puppets rhythmic swing. It turned out to the first day of the Mid-Autumn MoonFestival, and these lions danced through the streets bringing good fortune to those who let them into their homes. As we were curled up in blankets on the outdoor couches of the café, a stream of lions came in gyrating to the beat of the drums down the street- all doting masks and ordinate costumes that draped over two children operating this colorful beast. The lion, now in my face, unhinged its wild jaws, and as I took out my hand and placed money in its mouth, it took the donation leaving my limbs intact. Snapping its jaws in a thankful manner, it danced off, leaving me with a blessing of fortune.
The legend behind the festival goes something like this.
A couple were out in the woods, though it seems like this is how all stories start in
Vietnam, and the woman ended up urinating on a sacred banyan tree. And would you
guess what happened? The tree uprooted and started to float away- wherever trees
float to. The man, trying to bring it back to earth, jumped up and grabbed onto the
roots, but it was no use- he and the tree ended up floating away to the moon. Since
then, the Vietnamese burn fake money and light incense and send out lanterns to
guide the man back down to earth. All I can say is…good luck Apollo.
All right enough stories…I’m done writing for the night- so go find something else to do with yourselves… I can’t entertain you all night… ok? Now go on… get!