“Easy Rider? Do you want Easy Rider?” queries the approaching local. He looks nothing like a biker. Nor does the bike behind him look like a Harley Davidson. Instead of the touts at the beach offering pedicures or bracelets, I’m accosted relentlessly during my stay in Da Lat by biker touts.
After two weeks of lounging around on Vietnam’s beaches, a stop-over in the Southern Central Highlands town of Da Lat sounded like a breath of fresh mountain air escaping from the coastal humidity.
One of the first things you notice when arriving in Da Lat is the Xuan Huong Lake with its cheesy swan-shaped paddleboats. I read somewhere: “Da Lat is a favourite destination for company weekend outings, family getaways and honeymooners.” I wonder if it is not a bad way to recover on the first morning of your honeymoon sitting in a plastic swan.
Hiring a $US10-a-day self-drive scooter, I ride away from the main streets to find the waterfalls Da Lat is famous for. The Hostel cleaning lady had advised me to visit a place called ‘Thac Cam Ly’, two kilometres out of town.
The entrance fee is $US1 and as I walk behind the gates I notice there is no one else is around. Within five minutes, torrential rain begins and I take refuge under a leaking roof awning. When the storm eventually passes, I wander around what appeared to be an extremely poor excuse for a theme park.
A white pony, painted with black stripes to look like a zebra, stands around bored. I attempt to pat another pony harnessed to a cart but it shyly scrambles away as if it was going to run off with the cart over the nearby ledge.
I pass tepees scattered around with locals dressed as Indians inside playing cards.
Near a small lake and café area, I come across a boy teasing an angry monkey. The monkey attempts to run away but the chain around its neck jolts it back. I decline the boy asking if I want my photo taken with the snarling monkey but let him get me a drink as he is also the café worker.
At the end of the path I find the waterfall. After the downpour, the water is foaming orange sewage overflowing from the street canal that feeds it. The only exit is to walk under the spray which smells and splashes on my face.
Next day I find that four kilometres out of town is the Datanla Waterfall. There is a toboggan ride down into a jungle-like valley to a semi-impressive waterfall, surrounded by a busload of tourists.
A guide is re-telling a “K’Ho legend” about fairies who often stopped there to bathe and play. Couples nearby are having photos taken on a short bridge over the water. There must be a lot of photo albums in middle-class Vietnamese homes with plastic swan and waterfalls pictures from their honeymoon.
For a deeper look into Vietnamese culture, Da Lat is a worthy short stay destination. There are also wineries and markets to fill in time or scoot straight out of town with an ‘Easy Rider’ and see better waterfalls, if that’s your thing.