From Mui Ne we decided to head to Da Lat (also spelt Dalat), after 9 very hot days the cooler climate in the mountains was very welcoming. We had the option to go to Nha Trang first, but it’s so much easier to travel north from Nha Trang via public transport, that it made sense to head to Da Lat from Mui Ne. If you have your own bike you have the freedom to do either, but using public transport I believe this is your best option:
We booked a bus to Da Lat through our hostel in Mui Ne. There were 2 options, 07:30 or 12:30 and we chose the latter so we could still have some breakfast at our hostel and squeeze in a bit more sunbathing before we left. The bus cost 120000 Dong (£4) and took 4 hours with some lovely mountain scenery along the way. We travelled with the An Phu bus company and this was probably the worst bus I’ve been on so far. It was tiny, with next to no leg room, but luckily the bus wasn’t full so I managed to sit sideways for 4 hours, just!! However I wouldn’t recommend An Phu, we were just lazy after our 9 days chilling so booked through our hostel. We stayed at the Dalat Backpackers Hostel in Da Lat which was great because if you let them know which bus company you are travelling with, your departure time and expected arrival time they will meet you at the bus drop of point and pay for your taxi to the hostel. Apparently there are a lot of scams and motorbike taxis which rip you off, even more so in Da Lat and they don’t want you to get caught out.
We knew that Da Lat was going to be cooler and wetter than the places in Vietnam we had been so far, due to its mountainous location, however I don’t think we quite anticipated how wet it would actually be. The town itself has an incredibly French feel and reminded me a lot of the French Alps, with pine trees and mountain cabins scattered around. It’s turns out the French built here when they occupied Vietnam as they much preferred the cooler, less humid climate and you really get a feel of this. At the hostel there were lots of options for adventure sports such as canyoning and options to do organised motorbike tours through the Eazy Riders bike company. However I didn’t come to Vietnam for that reason, I came to experience the Vietnamese culture and lifestyle, not to climb down waterfalls, so I decided to give that a miss (I’m saving that for another part of the trip). However the people I spoke to in the hostel who went on the trips said it was a great fun, so if you have the money and won’t be able to experience this anywhere else, then that’s the place to do it.
On our first full day we got up and took advantage of the free breakfast in the hostel. As I’ve mentioned before I always look for a hostel with a free breakfast as its great for the diabetes. If your sugar level is low in the morning you don’t have to walk the streets looking for somewhere to eat, its right there for you. It also forces you get up, even if you’ve had a few to many shandys the night before, you get up for the free breakfast so not to waste unnecessary time and money. After breakfast we walked over to the Crazy House, literally a Crazy House designed by a Vietnamese architect who studied at Moscow University. It is an outrageously crazy private house, with 4 different sections, joined together by thin twisted bridges resembling jungle vines. The bridges all have low hand rails and you can spend a good hour or so squirming your way through tiny doorways and scrambling up tiny ladders marvelling at the sheer weirdness of the design. It’s all good fun, costing 40000 Dong (£1.30) and is something a bit different to do. From here we walked for around 20 minutes to explore the alleys of Da Lat and stopped for a coffee in the Windmill Coffee Shop. This was very nice coffee, like all coffee in Vietnam, and they played 90’s music and had a very relaxed atmosphere.
We then caught a taxi to the cable car, which takes you over some lovely scenery to the Truc Lam Zen Pagoda. The taxi cost us 30000 (£1), we’d usually walk but for 50p each it seemed silly not to catch a taxi and the rain was just starting to come down again We arrived at the cable car at 11:45, not knowing that it shuts between 11:30-13:00 every day. This wasn’t too much of a problem as we needed some lunch and there is an all you can eat buffet for 49000 Dong (£1.60) in the restaurant upstairs. It’s very much like the hotpots we tried in China, they pile your table with noodles and vegetables, which you cook yourself in the bubbling broth in the middle. There was meat available for an extra cost but the amount of vegetables and noodles you got for the price you didn’t need to pay for the meat. The cable car costs 50000 Dong one way, or 70000 Dong (£2.30) for a return. By 1pm, when we eventually got on the cable car, the rain was really coming down hard so we didn’t have the best view and taking pictures of the scenery was difficult due to the rain on the windows. I’d recommend going as early as you can in the morning as from my experience it seems to rain less than in the afternoon. The Truc Lam Zen Pagoda was beautiful, but make sure you wear appropriate clothes, your knees and shoulders need to be covered, as it’s still a working monastery. The architecture is beautiful and there are some lovely flower gardens and a picturesque lake in the distance, it’s just a shame about the rain! From here we walked for 30 minutes to the Datanla Waterfalls which were beautiful, especially with the amount of rain that had been falling. There is a path down to the waterfalls or you can pay 70000 Dong (£2.30) to drive your own one-man rollercoaster down the valley. This was good fun and something a bit different. There are 7 waterfalls in total and you can follow the orange coloured river through the valley and the rainforest, just make sure you take a rain jacket. We then walked back to the cable car, caught it back to the start and got in a taxi costing 30000 Dong (£1) to the Big C Supermarket. Here you can pretty much buy anything you need, from electrical equipment, including headphones, to clothes and plenty of food making it a good place to stock up on food provisions for your diabetes. We then headed back to the hostel for free beer between 18:30-19:00 and a typical Vietnamese dinner cooked by the hostel owners. This was a really nice touch and the food was great. They lay a big rug on the floor and you all sit round on cushions, sampling the food and enjoying cold free beer.
The following day we decided to take a walk round the lake to the post office as I needed to send some Student Finance documents home and here there is plenty of ATM’s to withdraw money of needed. Some of them have different charges to others so it’s worth looking at each one before you make a decision of which one to use. We then walked to Da Lat Train Station to catch the 7km train to Trai Mat for the Linh Phuoc Pagoda. The is a stunning Confucius Temple a short walk from Trai Mat station. The train needs a minimum of 20 people to run, with a maximum of 80 and runs every hour and forty minutes costing 126000 Dong (£4 including a bottle of water). We, as usual, arrived 20 minutes after the train had left so went to find some lunch. If you turn right out the train station and walk for 100m you will see a sign on your left to a restaurant which is situated inside an old train carriage. This was really cool and a really nice setting, the food was slightly more expensive than usual, with mains between 80000-200000 Dong (£1.80-£6.80), but I’d say it’s definitely worth it for something a bit different. We then headed back to the station and caught the 14:00 train to the temple. I really enjoyed the train journey, the train was an old school rickety, clackety train with a train conductor and wooden benches as seats. The train arrives at Trai Mat, the conductor tells you when it’s departing again giving you about 50 minutes to explore the temples, before the short ride back to Da Lat.
I really enjoyed my time in Da Lat, but make sure you take some warmer clothes and definitely a rain jacket. The night we had dinner cooked for us in the hostel we met some great Dutch guys called Naomi and Jasper and ended up catching the bus to Nha Trang with them. The four of us are currently on a 10 hour train to Da Nang from Nha Trang before heading to Hoi An, but more about that and my time in Nha Trang and Hoi An in my later posts.