I don’t know if it was because we had spent close to a month in fast-paced Ho Chi Minh City beforehand, but Da Lat was like a breath of fresh air.
The seven hour trip from HCMC was typical of most South East Asian bus trips – full of tooting horns, irratic swerves and unexpected stops – but rolling into Da Lat brought about a sense of calm.
The first thing we noticed when jumping off the bus was the crisp air, a cool 20 degrees compared to the 35 degree weather we were used to. Our very friendly hostel transfer met us at our stop and drove us on motorbike into town. On the ride in, it immediately reminded me of somewhere in Europe. It was beautiful.
That night, we were treated to a few beers and a free welcome dinner with the other new arrivals, which gave us a chance to meet the other guests and exchange travel stories. We became friendly with a couple from England and two lone travellers, one from Holland and one from Melbourne. After dinner, we all decided to walk into town to check out the night market and get our bearings.
The night market was unexpectedly massive. Probably one of the biggest we’ve seen outside of Bangkok. After covering what felt like kilometres of market, one of the guys suggested that we all check out a bar that everyone seems to recommend without explaining why. We rocked up to ‘100 Roofs Cafe’ expecting a rooftop view, or a flashy decor, or something along those lines, but boy were we wrong. This place was straight up bizzarre, but at the same time intriguing. The best way I can explain it is a forest within a multi-level bar, full of spiralling narrow tunnels and stairs. I know, bizarre, right? You could honestly get lost in this place, especially after a few shandys. After half an hour of curious exploring mixed with confused laughter, we decided to head back to recharge for the next day.
The next morning Anita and I enjoyed breakfast on the rooftop of our hostel before walking to the cable car which takes you across the mountains to the Truc Lam Pagoda. When we finally reached the cable car, we were welcomed with impressive views across Da Lat city on one side and lush, green mountains the other. We jumped aboard and made our way to the temple.
We found that Truc Lam itself wasn’t that impressive. Sure, the gardens and surrounding area were nice, but not worth the trip. In fact, we probably enjoyed the cable car more than the temple. We decided to make our way back to town and grab some lunch.
We stumbled across an eatery selling one of the tastiest things Anita and I have had in Vietnam so far – nem nuong ninh hoa. It’s essentially grilled pork meatballs served with plates of lettuce, cucumber, fresh herbs, pickled vegetables, fried rice paper rolls (for crunch) and fresh rice paper with a dipping sauce. Now these sound like your average build-your-own rice paper rolls, but trust me, they’re next level. The best bit is, like most meals in Vietnam, it cost us next to nothing.
The following day we met a friendly Latvian, Sandras, at breakfast who joined us on a motorbike ride to Elephant and Pongour waterfalls, about 50km south of Da Lat. Elephant waterfall was surprsingly fun! We were able to climb through caves and over rocks to see the fall from all angles, so close that you would emerge from the mist with wet clothing. Pongour was probably the largest fall we’ve seen by far, but unforunately not as accessible.
After a long day of chasing waterfalls, we returned back to the hostel to rest up for our bus ride to Nha Trang the following day.