On a plane out of town, we trade the bustle of Ho Chi Minh City for the countryside of forested Dalat in the southwest highlands of Vietnam. Because of its alpine topography, large lake, and flowering parks, we’re amazed how much Dalat looks like Bavaria.
We stick to the German theme with a two-night stay in a German-run guesthouse called the Zen Café Villa. Our host Axel informs us how to get around town and whisks Greg away on the back of his moped to a rental office.
Greg returns on a shiny, red moped, fortunately equipped with two helmets, as we’ll need them. With some swaying on the initial descent down the guesthouse driveway, we motor off into town, careening through round-a-bouts and dodging traffic. Greg has more courage than I do to steer the contraption. Although taxi rides may be cheaper than moped rental, our scooter proves more fun and potentially more dangerous. Plus, I like the look of the helmets.
In Dalat, we visit “The Crazy House,” one woman’s twenty-year dream of an organic, psychedelic hotel of narrow bridges, stalactite ceilings, giant bees, even a kangaroo room. We take lots of pictures.
Afterwards, we park the bike in front of a downtown bookstore. We wander through a night market, selling mostly coats as these 60-degree evening temperatures cause frigid Vietnamese to bundle up. I buy two ridiculous owl bags.
We dine outside at a make-shift restaurant whose improvised kitchen recalls a Burning Man camp with outdoor stoves and sinks. We dig into grilled fish, garlic spinach, and fried rice – all simple and good, like most of the food in this country. We chat up two Americans on leave from English-teaching jobs in Hanoi.
We finish the evening at a little hipster bar, reminiscent of a Mission establishment with fancy cocktails and exposed wood. We drink the cheapest ($3) but worst Negronis. I do like their German dark beer on tap. Tired and woozy, we stroll home along the lake. Dalat may be the honeymoon capital of Vietnam, but this couple is asleep before 10pm again.