Le Petite Paris

We shuttled early out of Nha Trang three hours south to the turnoff for Dalat. Minh played a Christmas carol tape and it was funny to think it was Christmas Eve as we drove into Vietnam's low desert area. The sun was bright and it was satisfying to see everyone lathering on sunscreen. After a brief stop at Po Nagar Cham ruins and photos of the cactus fields we saddled up and filed down the road for what would be an all-day truly epic ride.

40 miles up the road past poor rice villages, a few inhabited by Vietnam's Cham population, lies the Ngoan Muc Pass that snakes for ten long miles up onto the Central Highlands Plateau. For those who had not had enough by then, there would be another five mile climb after that to reach Dalat.

The sweltering heat felt good as the sweat rolled off. The lighter traffic on this side road was an extra bonus. Horst was soon gone, as was Jim -- flying up the pass and leaving the rest of us to push one leg at a time. By the top of Ngoan Muc, clouds had rolled in and the weather cooled a lot. A few of us opted for the van having already spent several hours in the saddle. Barbara determinedly pedaled onto our rendezvous with bus, finishing the hardest ride of her life.

However, most of the group went on and finished the ride in semi-darkness. David spent 8 hours in the saddle - the longest, and hardest ride he had ever done. We celebrated an epic riding day and Christmas Eve with beers, hot pot soup and rice wine Tim and Barbara had picked up.

The next day we explored Dalat under sunny skies in T-Shirts, rolling past the ubiquitous villas, pine forests, strawberry and coffee fields to the Valley of Love - a popular destination of Saigon tourists.

That evening we had a delcious Christmas meal in the city center where Santa took the form of Debbi and David who doled out presents to the group, including a can of Texas Spam to Ichibod who had earlier claimed there was no finer training food.

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Dalat has been described as both the "petite Paris" and as the "Disneyland" of Vietnam. No matter what yeor opinion, Dalat is definitely Vietnam's most intriguing city. A former French Hillstation, Dalat was built up with hundreds of villas as an escape from Saigon's heat but was also a popular hunting destination.

As we approached the Po Nagar Cham ruins near Phan Rang, Tim was inspired to perform some Tai Chi. It was that kind of day for all of us. Soldiers working on road detail near Phan Rang ham it up during a break. Hot? Their helmets were also for sale as souvineers. Picnic half way up the pass. Nuts, sodas, bananas and sticky rice to fuel tired legs as Barbara contemplates the climb ahead.

Debbi and David wind thier way up ten mile Ngoan Muc Pass into the Central Highlands. The day would be much longer with David arriving in Dalat over four hours later.

The pine forests cover the red earth hills around Dalat -- if not for the hundreds of French villas and maze of boulevards it could be Lake Tahoe.

Barbara explores Hang Nga's treehouse, called the "crazy house" by locals, it is a maze of passages, wacky statues and caged animals. It also serves as a guesthouse with theme rooms.
Dalat has a very large Catholic population, some of whom are shown here celebrating Mass on Christmas day. The Lam Ti Ni Pagoda in Dalat is home to a sole monk who has become the richest man in the city by selling his paintings. Vien Thuc displays one work out of the thousands that hang from his temple/studio walls.
Photographs by VeloAsia 1999 [More Photos]

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