We paid for tour 5 and get tour 4. But, it works out OK.
19.04.2008 - 19.04.2008 69 °F
We had paid for a tour of DaLat the day before, $9. We picked a tour that had Prenn Waterfall, Datanla Waterfall, the cablecar ride to Tuyen Lam Lake, and the 'Chicken Village'. I had seen all of these before, but my friends had not. I was particularly eager to visit the 'chicken village' again and buy more handmade souvenirs from the ladies of the Koho minority. It all started out OK. We left on time, 12 of us in a large van. First stop was the cablecar, paid the separate fee of 35,000VND and off we went. Decent photo ops from the cable car and worth doing once. This was my 3rd trip, so not too excited, but wanted to stay with my friends. The ride ends at the Tuyen Lam Lake. But first you look at the Truc Lam Monastery. I took a few photos, but unless you are Buddhist, it is not too significant. The lake is a bit of a walk downhill, but plenty of pine trees make it a nice setting. Mostly VN people here, enjoying being out of the city and with their families. Plenty of photos being taken of varous groups posing together. I volunteered my services many times as I know everyone wants to be in the shot. The tour gives you about 40 minutes at this stop. Back on the van to Datanla Falls. Wrong, we go right by it. I did this on my own last time in DaLat and I know you hit Datanla before Prenn. No, we stop at Prenn Waterfall and run the gauntlet of souvenir sellers that swarm once you are out of the van. A polite "no!" and keep walking. Unless you are in dire need of: film, gum, breath mints, candy, cigarettes, lighter, hat, umbrella, T-shirts, snacks, etc. If you slow down and decide to buy something, then the problem is: who to buy from? At least 4 or 5 are pestering you to buy something, anything. Keep walking is my advice. Prenn admission is so cheap the tour company pays for it. Mediocre waterfall and plenty of cheesy things for VN newlyweds. Such as: dress up in ethnic costumes and: ride an elephant, ride a horse, take a jeep ride, ride in a carriage, climb a treehouse, walk across a swinging bridge, pose by a hut or by the waterfall, all the while being photgraphed by one of the many pros stationed at Prenn. Even VN citizens now have digital cameras, but these guys do get some takers. Go figure. This was my 3rd visit and I was not remotely interested in the kitschy options offered or having my photo taken. But, many in our tour group do. Most of the VN ladies dress up in costumes and get on an elephant or horse or swinging bridge or pose by the waterfall. They want their photo taken in a costume. The men? not so much. The highlight for me came as I was walking up the stairs to leave. A lady in ethnic clothes said: "hello, how are you?" in very good English and ask me if I want to buy something. I took a look and recognized the patterns as the ones on my eyeglass case. I took it out and showed it to her. K-Dong said, "you bought this at my village." I then took out my photos from my previous visits to the 'chicken village' and we had a good laugh. K-Dong was in one of my older photos. We had a very nice chat and I promised her I would visit her relatives when I got to her village. I also had a photo of Mike, a guy who toured DaLat with me several years ago. (photo is in my gallery, sitting on his motorbike) I showed his photo to K-Dong and she said; "I know this man, his name is Mike." I told her we were friends and promised to contract him once back in the US. He has helped this village with water and sewage issues over the years. Meeting K-Dong made the stop at Prenn worthwhile for me. Prenn is OK once, not 3 times.
After Prenn we headed back towards DaLat on the new road. Now I was concerned. The 'chicken village' is farther down the road towards HCMC. Our guide announces we are now heading for the Cremaillere Railway Station. This makes no sense and I ask our guide why are we heading back towards DaLat. He brushs me off and contines with his spiel, first in VN and then English. The railway station is OK, not worth more than 15 minutes, IMO. There is an old engine here, but the railroad is not in real use, just a tourist ride now. A bride and groom were there at the same time, so that was a bonus. Congrats to the newlyweds, a few photos of them and off we go. Lunch is next up on our busy agenda. They try to get you to eat at a designated restaurant, but a quick check of the menu and we walked down the street. Our group of four picked another place within 30 meters and paid about half of what the rest of our tour group did. You are not obligated to eat where the tour guy wants you to. A decent lunch for 35,000VND. When the guide came to fetch us, I asked him what was next. He says; Bao Dai's Summer Palace. Now I am not happy. I point out the tour we signed up for does not include Bao Dai's Palace. We toured it yesterday. Why would we sign up for a tour that included Bao Dai's? Now the truth comes out. Not enough signed up for our tour, so they combined groups. No Datanla Falls or 'chicken village'. I let him know I was not a happy camper and wanted to be taken back to the hotel, right now! I knew we were not very far from the hotel and he certainly wanted to get rid of this angry American. They dropped me off the at Pacific Hotel and I told the front desk lady what had happened. She knew I had signed up for a different tour, but could do nothing about it at that point. I rented a motorbike from the Pacific Hotel for 40,000VND plus 25,000VND for petrol. I insisted on a full faceshield for the helmet and she found one. Light rain was falling and getting hit in the face with rain at 60 km/hour is not much fun. I took the new road that puts you on the main highway right at Prenn. It is a longer route, but safer for a moto. Not much traffic on it. 20 minutes after going by Prenn, I was at the turn off for the 'chicken village'. I had done this two years before and remembered where you get off the main road. I stopped by the ladies doing their weaving and got out my photos from previous visits. I also scrolled through my camera and found the photo of K-Dong. I showed it to the ladies and they yelled out something to a small boy. He ran down the lane and came back with K-Dong's sister. Since I was a 'friend' of the village, I got royal treatment. I showed her Mike's photo, she knew him and ask when he was coming back to visit. I told her I did not know, but would tell him that they all asked about him and want him to return. I then visited the school, met the teacher and her students. We then visited a Buddhist lady that makes incense sticks. You are encouraged to buy them, but I had no use for incense. I did give her a 'photo fee' that equaled her price for incense. Smiles all around. It is very small money for us, but makes a difference to those that are not nearly so well off. Photos of everybody and it was time to buy my handmade souvenirs, $20 total. I tried to spread my spending around and bought from all three groups of ladies. I like to buy right from the makers of the product when possible. Here you have a chance to help at the grassroots level. I said goodbye to everyone, mounted up and started back to DaLat. I stopped by the central market and had my photos developed. Took 20 minutes. I walked over to a small restaurant that the 'Easy Riders' frequent and showed them my photos. One of the guys recognized K-Dong and her sister. I gave them to him and asked that he give them to the ladies when he returns to their village. He said he would. It was raining on/off since I started out and was happy to turn the bike back in w/o any damage. You will be held liable if you damage the bike. A real downside to renting motorbikes anywhere in SEA. I was ready for a hot shower and a bit of rest before meeting my friends for dinner. All in all, a memorable day of bumping around DaLat.