1. Linh Phuoc Pagoda: There’s a massive roaring dragon sculpture and two golden beasties making googly eyes at you! What’s not to love? Walk around the back and see that Mr. Dragon’s tail undulates up and down through the pools of water. Then up the stairs, a jolly fat Buddha smiles and invites you to rub-a-dub his creamy belly. Nice!
2. Strawberry Fields Forever. Pull up at the top of a rolling green hill and gaze down at cone-hatted farmers picking strawberries, cabbage, onions, and other delectables. Little kids beat you up until you take a photo with them, then beat you up until you show them. Yank that camera away before that two-year-old puts his grimy paw on your lens! Aww– cute kids.
3. The Gorgeous Random Hill. Your excellent driver, Lulu, pulls up at a sun-glistening swath of green and points up a mountain. “You climb now. Some exercise. Nice view.” “Um, what?” you stutter, thinking of landmines and ticks and possibly being stranded as Lulu zooms away cackling. He calms all your fears and pushes you to the swaying emerald expanse. “Up!
Very soon you see why this was necessary. Puffing that crisp mountain air, you arrive at the crest and take in wave after wave of blue, green, misty purple, and rich gold! What a view! The sun and the exertion feel incredible, the pine trees smell sparkly, and it’s nearly an hour of scampering around before you return to your grinning driver. Wise man.
4. The Flower Farm! “Dalat sometimes called ‘Kingdom of Flowers'”, Lulu says proudly. You stride into one of the many extensive greenhouses you’ve passed and gasp in delight at the rows of roses and unidentified sunny-happy splashes of orange and green. The family who owns this farm is all eating mint ice cream– even the two tiny infants!– and it looks lovely next to the flowers.
5. Vistas, a Lake, and a Coffee Farm!!!! Up and down serpentine mountain roads you wind, feeling a sense of love between you and every other chugging vehicle on that path. Everyone waves and smiles. Stop several times to try to capture the stunning scenery on film. Rich, rich, rich green! Glide by a wide brown lake and get chased by a possibly rabid dog.
Coffeeeee!! As a veteran of the arise-at-5am-every-morning Boston Public Schools clan, I am officially addicted to the stuff. Grab those chubby green berries and marvel at how they can turn into a toasty cup of joe. Lulu snaps a reddish one open and a creamy white bean emerges. “You eat!” he says. “Ew, no,” you squeal. “People like! You eat!” he says. Well, he’s been doing this for nine years, so you might as well. Munch, munch… Um, it’s basically a hard seed. What’s the point? But smile, say, “cool,” then spit it out.
6. Elephant Waterfall. According to Lulu, there used to be wild elephants around here, but they were all murdered by poachers. Now there is just a statue and the title to remember the majestic animals by.
The waterfall is giant and gushing, but turns into an utterly disgusting endeavor as Lulu leads you UNDER the waterfall, via a crack into a particularly muddy cave. Squelch! Once under the surging stream’s arc, Lulu hollers, “Stand over there, I take picture!” “Noo!” you whine, “It’s wet and nasty over there!” “You go! You go!” he demands, and you grumpily obey. The picture ultimately stinks, but it’s really your own fault for that surly expression.
7. Giant Blue Smiling Buddha! Pagoda with multi-armed goddesses! Lulu points to the pudgy azure face silhouetted against the sky. “That Chinese Buddha,” he says. “Very happy. Children like him. Go touch!” You eagerly bound up the stairs and attempt to hug him.
Inside the temple are figures with dozens of arms. “Can we take pictures in a pagoda?” you whisper to a British tourist. “Um, I’ve taken loads and they haven’t killed me yet, so go right ahead,” he replies.
Outside, rays of sun sparkle down on the low green mountains and a storm cloud puffs purple far off. An unidentified plant has stung you, so pull out the spines and sterilize the red lines with hand sanitizer.
8. The Church that Looks Like a Pagoda. You have low expectations. I mean, sure it’s funny to mix religions, but will it really be beautiful? Ooh, it is. As you pull up the steep gravel path, deep purple storm clouds are rolling above the rainbow hill houses of Dalat. Juxtaposed with the curves of the yellow pagoda-church, it is a four course meal for the eyes. “HELLO!!” yell the children by the gate. “HELLO!!” you scream back. Everyone titters.
9. The Crazy House! Like, really crazy. Um, wow. So there was this Vietnamese architect woman who decided to create the weirdest guest house on earth: a mix of a dripping cave, an LSD trip, a sculpture museum, and (hellooo really high, banister-free staircase bridges!) a lawsuit waiting to happen. Trudge up, down, and around with an utterly bewildered look on your face and squeeze by other tourists doing the same.
Can you imagine actually sleeping in this guest house?! Worst idea ever. No wait– the worst idea ever was walking across that spindly stair bridge which turns out to lead to… an empty space thirty feet in the air! How clever! The Crazy House is still under construction and thus has gaping holes.
You’ve been on the road from 9am to 4pm, and now you shake Lulu’s hand, pay him the $10, and nestle into a free Wi-Fi cafe to write this article so others can re-take this strange tour with you. Hope you didn’t get too sunburned!