Despite a quick search of the blogosphere indicating otherwise, it is possible to get a massage in Dalat where there masseuse doesn’t try to earn some extra Dong by trying to grab your dong (hahaha, you so funny Ryan).
So decided to get a massage in Dalat, as to be honest, we had to find something to do. Sure its a nice town, set in the central highlands where the weather is cooler (its funny to see the Vietnamese people donning North Face jackets and beanies when the temperature drops below 28), but aside from drinking the incredibly strong local coffee (coffee houses are everywhere), the town is light on when it comes to attractions. There are plenty of outdoor activities (such as abseiling down waterfalls or hitting the fairways on Vietnam’s best golf course) – but it was all a bit too expensive for us, and the tenacity of the local ‘easy riders’ who hit you up every 50 metres to go on a tour on their motorcycle killed our enthusiasm for that pretty quickly.
Plus, the further south we went in Vietnam, the more we realised we were starting to see the beginnings of the monsoon season – torrential rain for an hour or two, usually later in the afternoon. So outdoors activities came with a very high chance of getting rained out.
Most of the massage parlours we saw looked more than dodgy – dimly lit, seedy establishment with long corridors and weird stains, which offer regular massages for 100,000 dong ($5) and VIP massages for double that (whatever that entails). So we decided to a find a well reviewed place to get a massage online, but a google search for Dalat massage just brings up a heap of warning tales of massages gone bad.
Well, for anyone heading to to Dalat, there is a great new place called Powerpoint Reflexology, in the centre of town (right near Art Cafe). Very professionally run, no dodgy private rooms, but good massages and great customer service (foot washing and ginger tea were tops). Just try and get one of the more experienced masseuses – as they are new, they are training up at least one new girl, who may or may not have left Asha with a strained upper-back/neck muscle the next day (it could also have been caused by wrenching a heavy backpack onto her shoulders).
In Dalat, one of Asha’s dreamed was finally realised when went for a paddle in a Swan boat on the lake in town. But despite what Asha may remember of it, it was pretty much terrible, as we sweated and our thighs burnt as we pedalled the giant fiberglass swan into a serious headwind.
We tried to go on the Dalat cable car, but first a taxi dropped us at the old train station on the other side of town, and then when we finally waved another one down, we arrived during the two hours that they are closed for lunch. That is one serious beef i have with Vietnam – why the hell do so many things close for lunch? what are people doing on a two hour lunch break? We were at a museum the other day, and soon after arriving a horn went signalling the museum was closing for 2 hours for lunch. Booooooooo.
The real standout of our time in Dalat had to be Dalat’s coffee and wine.
Apparently Vietnam is the world’s second largest producer of coffee (i think i read that on a napkin in a coffee shop – it could be true), and the hills around Dalat are covered in coffee bushes, just as the streets are covered in local coffee houses. Be warned though, Dalat coffee is incredibly strong – even by Vietnamese standards. And the standard Vietnamese coffee is a thick brew with a similar neurological affect to crystal meth.
Vietnamese coffee involves adding ground coffee beans to a filter cup, which is filled with hot water and placed above a glass containing a liberal amount of sweetened-condensed milk. The coffee is dark and very strong. It is often also served as iced coffee – the same sweet, rich brew is served in a glass of ice.
Dalat wine, which at less than $3 a bottle for red or white, is a bargain. Wine has been a real luxury item for us – the locals don’t really drink it which leads to huge luxury taxes in countries like Thailand – so the highlight of each day was ordering a bottle of wine with dinner. Dalat wine has a terrible reputation, which may be deserved, but we found we didn’t mind it. Maybe it had just been too long since we has tasted wine. Or perhaps we are just uncultured swine.
I don’t have the most mature or well-worn palate for wine at the best of times, and especially not after months over here, but we really enjoyed the white, served nice and cold (seriously, as cold as you can, so cold you cant taste it), its better than the red, which is probably a bit to watery and weird.
The other foodie highlight of Dalat was the fantastic Banh Mi – fresh crusty bread rolls filled with pate, shredded pork, pickled vegetables, chilli sauce, oh I’m dribbling just thinking about them. While available in the north of the country, it is usually from dodgy looking street vendors with huge lumps of pate sweating in the sun. In the south it is taken a lot more seriously, and the rolls are a gourmet knockout (for 0.50 cents or less a roll). But there will be more on this in our next post, as Banh Mi is even better in Saigon – so for now here is a delicious picture:
To get to Dalat, we had taken a local bus, where it seemed every passenger smoked onboard, ate boiled eggs and did weird fish burps. So we decided to do something naughty – and caught a 45 minute flight to Saigon, instead of the 7-9 hour bus ride. The seatbelt light went off for just over 2 minutes before we prepared for the decent. Nice.
UPDATE 2014: Apparently the massage place has gone downhill – way downhill, according to a comment on this article by Sully JV.