May 13, 2016, Fri, Ho Chi Minh City

Early morning we have our final plunge swim, dress, pack up, and check out of the Amano’i.  It is about an 1 1/2 hour drive to the Can Ranh Airport (major US airport in American war).  A 35 minute flight and we arrive back in Ho Chi Minh City where we pick up our previous guide – Joe – and driver.

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Since we spent little time exploring in the central city area, we decided to do some walking starting around the Post Office, Notre Dam church toward the Opera House (above).  The construction of the subway has torn this area up almost to non recognition in some areas.  The old hotels, Rex, Continental, Caravel, have received or in the process of receiving make-overs.  The era of high end retail has managed to capture the street real estate’s eyes and wallets of visitors to this area.  We checked out the lobby of the new Revierie Hotel- on par with a Dubai Lobby.

We checked out the Park Hyatt for a Vietnamese lunch at SquareOne.  It remains an excellent refuge in the city.  The salon lobby of the hotel was packed.

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To round out our tourist edges we visited the Bao Tang Phito, Fito Museum, the museum of Vietnamese traditional medicine.  The wood house of one of the Vietnamese fathers of traditional medicine was moved from Hanoi to the south to this site.  The wood structure and carvings are extremely detailed.  The artifacts of herbal pharmacology including early jars, grinders, and potions stored in rice wine were worth seeing.  We managed to obstain from purchasing any of the local healing aids.

The last temple of the day was the large and more recent Chua Vinh-Nghiem Pagoda.  Since the Buddhists were celebrating the date of baby Buddha’s birth, many people were in the temple chanting along with the monks.

 

 

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May 12, Thur, Amano’i

Seemingly redundant, we spend the day in the water and at the beach.  Mid- morning we went out in the bay on a Hobie Cat to check out the view from off shore.  The wind cooperated for a fun and beautiful ride.  We both took turns captaining the boat to make the trip more challenging.

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We finish our stay at the Amano’i tonight before flying back to Saigon and then Hong Kong.

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May 11, 2016, Wed, Amano’i

Time is flying and yet we have a leisurely swim in the morning, followed by breakfast and return to reading poolside until lunch time.  We adventure out of the resort by car up the highway 20 minutes, then take a boat to have lunch on the Binh Hung Island Floating Restaurant.  As the name suggests it is anchored off of the island in a beautiful inlet bay.

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Lunch is still alive.  We walk on the deck of the floating structure checking out all of the varieties of fish and sea food waiting for selection.  It is difficult to chose from jumping snails, crabs, lobsters, squid, mackerel, sea bass, etc.  Our appetizer/teaser are snails followed by a main course of fish (in the net). Jon abstained from the sea snails.  Our guide from the resort set us up “Aman” style with china, silverware, linen napkins, etc.  It’s all about the sauces – we like spicy so our three choices are green, red, and black (chilies and pepper).  We gorged ourselves since it was so fresh and inviting.

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When finished, we stopped in the nearby fishing village of Vinh Hy, also situated in the Nui Chua National Park.  This small town has been a hub for fishing for over a hundred years. Early morning and overnight fishing creates a sleeping daytime atmosphere while the men are sleeping.

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We return to jump in the pool.

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May 10, 2016, Tues, Amano’i

The temperatures are hot.  We swim at 6 am in our pool, breakfast, and head on down to the beach.  This is our introduction to the Beach Club with its pool, restaurant, and water activity center.  We spend the day on the beach reading and swimming in the bay to cool off.  Lunch is at the restaurant on the beach.

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Late in the afternoon, we check in at the spa for our treatments.  The day is complete with dinner and a post dinner swim.

The resort has 2-4 rooms occupied this week providing a very quiet and lazy environment for our stay.  We understand that Thur will be the onset of a wedding party and things will change dramatically.  Because of the slower pace, we have enjoyed talking with the chef about the fresh fish caught today and recommendations for preparation of our dinner.

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May 9, 2016, Mon, Nui Chua Natl Park

Waking up to fog reminded us of home. Quickly we realized that we are in Dalat listening to the early morning sounds of church bells, roosters, dogs barking, motors, etc.

After  checking out of the Ana Mandara, we start our drive to the coast.  The hills surrounding Dalat are filled with plastic covered green houses in every direction.  Flowers, fruits such as strawberries and melons, vegetables including artichokes are cultivated under these white incubators.

Since Dalat is in the mountains, the next couple of hours were spent on windy narrow roads decending down through the forest to the dry flatlands.  The temperature differential was significant when we stepped out of the car at sea level.  Our route takes us on a big loop through Nha Trang, the beach town and major center of Russian tourists, Can Ranh, the former US base, Phan Rang, and on to Vinh Hy Village.  We stop briefly at the Po Klong Cham Towers in Phan Rang to view the ancient temple still used by the Chams for pilgrimages.

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Our driver and guide had never been to the Amano’i resort so we had some frantic phone calls to obtain accurate directions.  Thirty minutes later we arrived at the resort and the Aman staff took over.  Our ocean pool pavilion overlooks Vinh Hy Bay and we settle in for a quiet afternoon with tea and a plunge before dinner.

 

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May 8,2016, Sun, Dalat

The church bells ring at 5 AM, 5:30 and then they stop.  It is just enough to time to wake up and go back to sleep before the second round.

This morning we first visit the Dao Dai’s Summer Palace.  It is located on the opposite side of the lake along with the more upscale neighborhoods of Dalat.  Built in the 1930s, it has many moderne touches but none of the high end Art Deco artistic architectural elements  of a true collection.  The King and his wife and 4 children (1 boy-crown prince) used the Palace until his wife picked up the children and moved to Paris.  The King brought in his concubine to inhabit the Palace until he too disappeared to turn up again in Paris with a new wife.  Basically, he was a figurehead during his reign.  The grounds and setting are picturesque for this hill town.  However, there are a number of hucksters offering pony rides, pictures in old MG car, falcon on your arm picture, flowered Vespa ride with picture, etc.

Proceeding on to the rail station, we are going to take a small train to an adjacent neighborhood to visit the Linh Phuoc Pagoda, or Ve Chai Pagoda.  The rail system is virtually non-existent in Dalat but this remnant remains as a reminder.  Our 20 minute ride brought us to a small station where we disembarked and walked up to the Pagoda.  The complex of buildings are covered with decorative mosaics from broken ceramics inlaid on every imaginable surface.  The Mother Buddha composed of flowers  is 25 m and inside the temple another statute of the Mother is even taller.  Surrounding the hall of the temple are golden statutes of the same Mother Buddha donated to the temple.  In between the statutes are live size replicas of monks who previously were associated with the temple.  They are lifelike including hair and dress- a form of Madame Trousseau monastery style.

We leave this area and drive up to a Lac minority village.  While the people still live in traditional wooden houses, they have traded the base level for concrete.  Passing through we continue to the base of the Lang Biang park.  Here we transfer to a park jeep, Soviet vintage, for a ride to the summit.  We are able to get a good view of Dalat’s system of hills and valleys from this vantage point.  Again there are a number of people waiting to sell things including pony rides on a pseudo zebra (peroxide dyed stripes on chestnut horse).  It is a picnic destination for local people as well.

Returning to the city, we lunch by the lake and enjoy the cool weather.  Amazingly a group came into the cafe with 4 Siberian Huskies.  Although originally from Thailand, the Dalat climate is more suited for their coats

We visit the new public park performance area around the lake.  Both of the architectural elements on the mall are in “renovation” after only 1 year of opening.  The retail space underneath the plaza has not been adopted as planned.

After a stroll around the Flower Park – Dalat is called the “City of Flowers” – we finish our sightseeing at the Crazy House.   Designed by the daughter of a Vietnamese official who studied architecture in Russia, it is an organic presentation of Gaudi meets Disney themed.   Some of the rooms are rented for those who want to experience the thematic bedrooms (ant, tiger, bear, honeymoon, etc).  Navigation is tricky and narrow ladders and stairs make it difficult to move very quickly through the spaces. The owner continues in the same vein to develop and add on to the original house while selling tickets for tourists and lodgers to subsidize the building.

 

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May 7, 2016, Sat, Dalat

After arriving in the dark last night ,it is a surprise to view our surroundings in daylight.  We are situated on a hillside in a 20-30s villa of stylized French architecture.
The Ana Mandara Villas are a little funky as individual rooms have been crafted from the original villas.  Our room opens with French glass doors directly into a room with a footed bath tub.  The bedroom sits behind the entry room and there is also a remodeled shower-bath in another room.  It is a bit stuffy in smell but comfortable when you get used to literally entering a tub room.

We start our day traveling to the Elephant Waterfall outside of Dalat.  Although warned that it was a difficult hike down to the bottom, we were unprepared for the primitive nature of the route down and did not complete the entire descent.  Metal piping assisted in some treacherous places but not consistently.

Our next waterfall was a more successful visit.  The park was set up for tourists including an alpine slide, a cable car, mountaineering groups, etc.   Instead of walking down the falls, we used the alpine slide to take us partially to the bottom and then jumped on the cable car and final elevator descent to take us to pool used for rock repelling groups into the water.  Our return trip was a reversal of our multi-modal descent.

Following lunch, we take a different cable car to Truc Lam Monastery on Phoenix Mountain.  It is a lovely setting for the temple and monastery with forested grounds backing up to Tuyen Lake.  When we return to town, we visit the Long Dong Museum, a mishmash collection of minority information, history, war and political information and archeological recoveries.

Our touring is completed at the Rooster Church with the weathervane of the fowl capping the largest Catholic Church in Dalat.

Our night on the town commenced with dinner at a local restaurant, Nhat Ly, followed by a walk through the Night Market.  The market for “Selfie sticks” must be unlimited since it seems every vendor had a handful for purchase.  Music, street food, clothing, trinkets, cotton candy, all available for bargaining.  We even saw a red Siberian husky enjoying the cool evening.

Red Dalat Wine – not a Parker favorite

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