There aren’t many sight more wonderful than seeing spicy meatball stew being poured into a crispy baguette banh mi, stuffed with herbs and veggies, while wearing your jumper for the first time in months. For this Da Lat we salute you!
The city is 1500m above sea level in the mountains, meaning the temperature is much cooler and you can understand why it’s often referred to as the SE Asian French Alps. Hills surround the city and the drive to it twists and turns through them. This is also top choice for Vietnamese tourists escaping the heat of Saigon, often for couples on their honeymoons, which explains all the tandem bikes and swan shaped pedalos you can hire everywhere in town!
After a disappointing stay in Mui Ni, where we looked at a dirty beach and learnt more about Russians on holiday than Vietnam, our guest house in Da Lat, Happy Hostel, in the centre but on the non touristy side of town, was perfect. In fact for the first couple of days we were confused…we knew there should be western tourists but we couldn’t find any of them. Until on our last night when we stumbled upon the ubiquitous ‘tourist street’, complete with souvenirs shops and western breakfasts…clearly we’d been staying in a different city!
Apart from looking at the beautiful surrounding countryside there are some other things to do in Da Lat. Nothing says SE Asian tourist attraction like something to have your photo taken in front of and the Crazy House is just such an attraction. A hotelier, with connections to those in the government, was able to flaunt planning regulations to build quite possibly the least disabled access friendly building ever conceived by drunken architects! Think stairs on the ceiling and fire places in the shape of giant animals and you basically have the picture. If you haven’t taken enough selfies there, why not try the Summer Palace and home to the last emperor of Vietnam? They have cars, fake elephants and even costumes to have your photo in…
But even with all the tourist trappings we really like Da Lat, selfies and all! One reason was the great local food we got to try, honestly everything we ate during our stay was delicious. With the help of Binh, the guest house owner, who took us to some of his favourite spots we had pork sausage spring rolls with peanut sauce, BBQ’d coconut/banana sticky rice with coconut milk custard and delicious beef stew with bread! I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.
Cementing the comparison of Da Lat to the French Alps, there is a cable car sailing over mountains to a lake and monastery outside of the city. After our months in SE Asia, riding in a cable car, looking over fir trees wearing a jumper as it drizzled felt very weird…but it was beautiful. And the monastery at the other end felt enormously zen, even in the rain.
The reason most western tourist go to Da Lat and almost the only activity they do there, is ‘canyoning’. A term neither of us had heard before but were to learn meant being very wet and slightly scared. Really canyoning is absailing and jumping into a series of waterfalls and pools along a canyon about 15k outside of Da Lat. Now I didn’t think walking slowly down a 25m waterfall, with a torrent of freezing water pouring over you, before the rope ran out and we had to jump into a pool of water would be fun…but it actually was! There was a hairy moment when Ella forgot how to jump and accidentally fell through a bush, but apart from that it was one cold adrenaline filled day. But I don’t think I need to do it again for a while…
Da Lat we had a fabulous time and most importantly the food was to die for….