Once we decided to take a weekend trip to DaLat, I was thrilled. Though school was freakishly busy and it might not have been the best time to disappear for the weekend, a mountain getaway was a must. The fact that I was going back to a place that I loved with a whole group of friends made it even better. The group that I went with is awesome and young and fun and hilarious. Apparently when Rita and Melissa arrived 3 years ago, they were among only 4 young people (30s and under) in the whole school. Apparently life was tough. The following year, Stacy, Mark and Jason joined the school, and things got better. This year a slew of fabulous youngsters arrived and the plotting to join our groups began. I am lucky enough that their group adopted me pretty early because I live in the same neighborhood and Rita is my professional buddy. Our school appoints a person to be nice to a specific newbie, to reach out and answer questions before arrival and to hang out after arrival. I lucked out. Rita is pretty much perfect. She is from the Eastern shore; she is one of 5 kids; she is active and loves to dance anywhere at any time; she is good at her job; she is inordinately kind. Jackpot. Unfortunately, nobody else from my newbie family could join due to visitors and commitments, but we still have hope for a blending of the families.
The start of our trip featured a bit of misadventure. Rita missed school pictures because we were on Week Without Wall for the first bit, and she was out sick afterwards. So, even though we had to rush to the airport after school, she was put in photo detention. This was especially complicated because she packed two paddle boards for us to use on the lake in DaLat (sadly, we never had time for this activity). So, with the help of a dear student that Rita enlisted, I hauled them out to the guard station to wait for the others and hail a cab. We loaded them into the cab and were waiting for Rita. Melissa and Jason decided that they had to go to the smoothie shop a block away from school, and luckily while they were there, Rita was released from her ill-timed photo session. So we directed the cab to go pick up our smoothie loving friends, and we were off to the airport. Halfway there, Jason realizes that he did not have his phone. We called it; the lady from Fun Fruit World answered. We semi-successfully communicated that the phone belonged to our friend and we would send another co-worker to rescue it. Unfortunately for Jason, there was no time to return.
Despite this setback, we were having a great time talking and laughing in the cab. In fact, we had such a great time that we were at the airport in no time, we hopped out, unloaded our myriad of heavy bags (remember we had massive paddle boards), and paid the driver. He took off, and only then did we realize that we were at the wrong terminal. He had dropped us at the international terminal, and being the experienced world travelers that we are, not one of the 6 of us batted an eye. Oops. So then, some madness ensued where we tried to jam large carts into elevators that would allow us to descend some structures so that we could walk on a sidewalk that would take us to domestic. The boys had a roaring good time pretending to be on the Amazing Race though some suitcases tumbled off the carts and they were reprimanded by another traveler.
Eventually we make it to the correct counter. Rita and I had booked our tickets separately, but the other 4 had booked under one name. So, while they checked in at one counter, Rita and I went to another with the paddle boards. As we were checking in, the lady at the counter informed us that she had put us in the seats at the emergency exit so that we would have extra leg room. Neither of us is above 5’2″, so this seemed unnecessary, but whatever. She warned us to not let anyone open the door. When we boarded, the flight attendant came over to speak to us. Rather than the briefing that you get at home about helping people in an emergency and asking if you were up for the responsibility, this woman just said that if anyone tried to open the door on the plane, we had to stop them. We laughed about how ridiculous this possibility was, and then the flight took off. This flight was literally packed with children, young children. Now, as an aunt of really great kids who sometimes make noise, I am sympathetic to the plight of parents trying to keep kids quiet in a confined space that causes weird sensations and popping ears for children. I think about my dear sister-in-law solo flying with both her babies and the harsh looks she endured despite the great behavior of her kiddos. I try to never complain about kids on a plane, but holy cow. It was like a symphony of different wailings. Luckily it was only a 40 minute ride. It was clear after 15 minutes that the crying would not stop, so Rita and I put our books down and closed our eyes. As soon as we landed in DaLat, but before debarking began, we had our first runner for the door. A cute kid around 3 (who had not cried at all on the flight) made his way to the emergency exit and reached for the door handle. I stopped him. As Rita and I were laughing about the experience, his slightly younger sister toddled past to take a try at the door. We stopped her too. Then it became a game for these kids, and thank goodness Rita and I were there as a team. I stood guard and endured the beatings inflicted by their water bottles while she warned me when one slipped past. We are not quite sure why the parents never intervened. Maybe they realized that we wouldn’t all die if the door was opened on the ground. I like to think they would have participated in the discipline if we had been in the air. Eventually, we made it off the plane through an intended exit. We gathered our baggage and found ourselves a cab.
At this point, you should know that we were booked into 2 separate hotels. While Stacy, Mark, Jason, and Melissa had decided to splurge on DaLat’s finest – The Palace -, Rita and I had opted for its cheaper neighbor – The Cold City Hotel. This led to lots of jokes about Downton Abbey and poor relations. The cab dropped us off at our respective homes and we unloaded our goods and scoped out the scene. Then Rita and I walked back to The Palace for some hot chocolate while we waited for our rich cousins. We thought about charging our drinks to their rooms, but decided not to rely on their generosity.
After the crew joined us, we walked to dinner at a nearby restaurant, and then went on a shopping adventure in the market. What started as Rita noticing how great a tacky sweater she saw would be for an ugly Christmas sweater party turned into a mad search for ugly sweaters for all of us. Amazing.
After a successful sweater hunt, we turned in for the night with plans to reconvene by 9 am to start a hike. When Rita and I arrived at the Palace the next morning, we took a moment to pose by the car in the driveway. Past that you can see the lake. I guess the Palace had a slightly better view than the Cold City Hotel.
Then we were off to hike part of the trail that I had hiked with my guide last time. We took a cab to the tourist entrance at the bottom of the mountain where you can rent jeeps to take you to the top. I hadn’t actually entered that way with my guide the previous time because we started elsewhere and walked through some farms and other places beforehand, so even though I was the one that “knew” where we were going, I didn’t really know how to get there unless we stayed on a paved road with jeeps whizzing by us. No fun. So we set off on a slightly misguided adventure. Nobody wants to pick me as their Amazing Race partner.
Essentially, to find the trail we wanted, we had to go through a pine forest. There is a trail through this pine forest. We didn’t find that for quite some time. Instead, we just scrambled along. Though, on this slope we did stop for a pinecone war. Mark proposed that we split into 2 teams and throw pinecones at one another as if they were paintballs. We all agreed this was brilliant. I didn’t realize until Jason nailed me in the leg that pinecones are sharp and hard and that this game had some flaws. Of course, we didn’t want to go down defeated, so despite our welts, we went for a best out of 3. In the end, my team lost 1-2. Boo. I guess Rachel needs to give me more throwing lessons.
The good news is that we got to climb things and that makes me happy. The bad news is that the amazing views I loved at the end of this hike were all shrouded in clouds. Even the pictures are just gray clouds.
Eventually, we gave up on the clouds lifting and headed back to town for a late lunch. We had packed no food because I underestimated how long this part of the hike would take. I love that the group didn’t mutiny, and I think it is fair that I would be the first one voted off the Amazing Race. After lunch, we returned to the hotels to shower and prepare for a Christmas sweater photo shoot and dinner at the train cafe. We met back at the Palace for some of that great hot chocolate.
The Palace must have known that we were hankering for a Christmas sweater photo shoot because they decorated gorgeously for the occasion.
After eating dinner at the train cafe which was just as cute as the first time, we headed back to the hotel, had a night cap and went to bed. The next morning I woke up early to get some grading done at a cafe downtown, and then we reconvened for a day of exploring.
We decided that we would take a train to a temple, but when we got to the train station, we had missed the morning train. we bought tickets for the afternoon train and then had about 3.5 hours for lunch and fun. We decided to go to a waterfall that featured a sort of amusement park surrounding it. Amazing. To descend to the bottom of the canyon, there were many modes of transportation. The first was hand controlled roller coaster. I was too afraid to drive and brake, so Melissa bravely volunteered to be my partner and to do the driving. She was great!
Then we took a cable car to get even lower down the canyon.
Then, once you got off the cable car, there was an elevator to take you even deeper into the canyon.
At the bottom.
Then we made it back to town to grab a quick lunch and return to the train station for our trip to the temple.
Once we disembarked from the train, we had to walk a bit to find the temple. I didn’t expect to be impressed, but I loved it. The entire thing was made of gorgeous mosaic. It was vibrant and lovely and surprising. The backdrop is the beauty of DaLat and a really great blue sky. This was a hit.
The train ride back to town was even more interesting. This time there were more people than seats, and we couldn’t all get in the same car. Some older Polish men and women invited me to join them on their bench, but when Rita and Jason came, there was no more room. Melissa, Stacy and Mark went to another car where they could sit, but we decided that we would stay with our new Polish friends and dance instead of sitting. We did our best with what limited music we could access on our electronics, and the ride home was a blast.
When we returned, we had just enough time for a little swan boat ride around the lake before we had to leave for our flight. There were only 2 seats with pedals, and I learned during my turn that it is not easy to pedal the weight of 6 adults. But it was lovely to be on the water.
Please believe that this is just the 2nd of many trips that I will make to DaLat. I love my new home, but it lacks mountains and waterfalls. Good thing these are only a 40 minute flight away. Bring on the screaming children who are determined to open the safety door; I will be back soon!