Summer is upon us in the Central Highlands and Da Lat is a hive of activity just like every year at this time.
Yahoo! That’s great news!
It’s a blessing to live in such a beautiful place, but, wow, has it ever become busy around here?
Over the years I got bored of the congested cities and hot beaches of Southeast Asia, so stumbling upon a cool weather habitat was just right for me. Da Lat is never too hot nor too cold, a rare phenomenon in this part of the world, so I jumped on the opportunity to drop my anchor here.
Add to that the European architecture and ambience, beautiful rolling hills, gorgeous natural sights, welcoming people, and it’s a little slice of heaven.
Turns out I wasn’t the only person to have that brainwave.
I thought my idea was at least somewhat original at the time, only to learn that many other people were thinking along the same lines. Make that a ton of other people were thinking along the same lines, so Da Lat has become a very busy place.
Most of the new arrivals are locals from the big, stifling cities, who cash out of Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi and buy property here. As a result, real estate has skyrocketed for the last couple of years, putting Da Lat land among the priciest in the world, believe it or not, it’s true.
In addition to that mass exodus from the big urban areas to the highlands, kids are now out of school for summer so anyone who can squeeze out a few days for fun and relaxation sets sail for either the beach or the cool weather of the Central Highlands.
Fortunately, most of the world has no idea what or where Da Lat is, but they’ll find out sooner or later, and when they do they’ll come running. It’ll be like Bali or Phuket, and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it.
Interestingly, there is easily enough available land to double the size of the city going forward, so the big job will be upgrading and maintaining infrastructure to handle all the growth.
The benefits of living where others go on vacation always come with a cost - the summer months tire out the locals because the city is inundated with boisterous tourists from the big cities.
The tourists’ time is short and they’re getting the most out of every minute, and they’re all so excited, it’s fun to watch, but it’s a lot of long hours for locals trying to make cash to last through winter, like squirrels storing nuts.
It’s pretty easy to spot the vacationers around town: They sport the trendiest and most unique hair colours (green, orange, blue, or pink anyone?) and slickest clothing styles. Young ladies wear French berets like in the old movies (which are not particularly popular in France, but don’t tell the visitors that - it’ll spoil their fun).
Kids don those rabbit, dog, pig, and unicorn-styled hats - you know the ones I mean: Pull down or squeeze the dangling paws and the ears stand up. Those kids sure look cute with the hats, but we need a unique new style to take hold.
|The Cối Xay Gió selfie wall|
Some of the visitors’ behaviour is odd to say the least. The selfie photo situation has deteriorated to the point where I’m convinced that many come here just to take strategic photos rather than actually enjoying the beauty of the city and environs. They strike one kitschy pose after another trying to hit the right chord that will result in a load of likes on social media.
The absolute topper so far this summer was two young women who each brought a large bag of shoes to the renowned bright yellow “Cối Xay Gió Selfie Wall” at Hoa Binh Square recently, rotating pairs so they could get just the right poses with each shoe type.
Life imitates art!
Other visitors seem shocked by the cooler weather and remain indoors for the most part, staring at their phones and dozing in the lobby or their rooms even during the most beautiful days. I guess it’s their first trip to Da Lat and they didn’t realize how cool the weather can be.
I confess all the commotion wears me down after a few weeks of high seasons but I’ve figured out a few ways to cushion the blow. I avoid the hubbub and keep a low profile, steering clear of all the touristy areas such as the Big C shopping complex and the lakeside promenade, both of which are mob scenes day and night.
I also skip the night market which draws thousands of visitors every evening and reaches the bursting point on weekends. Anyway, the market features overpriced produce and substandard banh trang nuong (the famous Da Lat grilled rice paper crepe) for the most part, so it’s no big loss.
|Night market view|
Instead, I cringe and cower in my local haunts, which are too grungy to attract tourists for the most part, eat in hard-to-find holes in the wall in my neighbourhood, and actually cook myself sometimes (wonder of all wonders). Otherwise, I seek refuge in my room, especially in the evenings when the streets are wall-to-wall people.
My hotel room is on an upper floor, somewhat shielded from much of the commotion, but I’m kept on my toes by people banging on my door at 6:00 am not realizing that some rooms are occupied by guests unrelated to their groups.
Some don’t even bother knocking - they just barge right in, so I’ve learned to keep the door locked to avoid an embarrassing situation. (“You won’t believe this! I opened the door and there was a big, hairy, old white dude in his underwear!”) Those unwanted visits are not a rarity by any means - it happens every few days in summer and on weekends year-round.
It finally dawned on me that many guests are unfamiliar with hotels and how they function, so they think one room is the same as another. Reception checks them in and tells them which floor they’re on, then they jump in the elevator without noticing the room number on their key. When they reach their designated floor they randomly pick a room and enter, as if they were visiting someone’s house, which is what they’re used to.
They struggle with door locks and seem intimidated by the elevator, so I offer technical and moral support, locking and unlocking, shepherding into the elevator and sending it to the right floor, and so on.
I think that’s much of the reason guests like to come in groups: Safety in numbers, hoping that some other group member knows how to do things on the trip because they themselves lack travel experience.
The bottom line is despite trials and tribulations, it’s well worth toughing out those crazy summer months in Da Lat just to enjoy the tranquility of the city during the remaining months of the year.
The moral of the story is:
“Half a loaf is better than none”
We remain grateful for living where others go on vacation and wait patiently for high seasons to end…