I decided to skip Nha Trang – a beach resort – and head straight to Dalat from Hoi An. I had to first take a sleeper bus from Hoi An to Nha Trang, where I arrived at 6am, and then wait an hour for a 4 hour sitting bus to Dalat. I had booked Mr Peace Backpacker hostel in advance and the bus dropped me off nearby, so I walked the 10 minutes to the hostel (where I was hugged on arrival), checked into my room and then headed out to explore. I immediately liked Dalat as it is has more of a city feel with wide roads and high rise buildings but it also has a beautiful, big lake in the middle and a typical Vietnamese market lined with goods and food stalls. Plus, the traffic was less crazy than Hoi An and the locals far less intrusive towards tourists – I walked for a good half an hour without being hassled once.
My first stop was Crazy House; a “building” designed by Vietnamese architect Nga to look like a treehouse, its purpose was originally purely personal but now is a guesthouse as well as a tourist attraction (despite being strongly opposed by locals, whom fought to have it torn down). The whole area has a forest-like feel to it and you can almost lose your bearings weaving around the winding, linking staircases connecting the various structures; almost a building version of what you would expect the Secret Garden to feel like. The bedrooms were quirky and cosy and, budget dependent, I would have loved to spend the night in one (although presumably guests have to vacate during the day for the arrival of tourists paying 40,000 dong to enter), plus the highest point offered good views of the city. It was definitely worth a visit.
After that I walked about 45 minutes to the cable car entry point that takes you on a 10 minute ride through the mountains to Truc Lam Monastery. I arrived at the entrance at 3pm as I heard you avoid the tourists in the monastery either early morning or late afternoon (and the last cable car back is at 4:30pm), plus they close around lunchtime for an hour. A return ticket on the cable cars is 70,000 dong (£2.40) and, as it wasn’t busy, I had a cable car all to myself. The views across Robin Hill and Tuyen Lam lake at the bottom are beautiful and it is quite a peaceful journey across.
Once you arrive and exit the cable car it takes a few minutes to walk to the monastery, passing street vendors and swarms of tourists. It feels quite modern and there is definitely something peaceful about it, but unfortunately the noise of other tourists got in the way. I took the 10 minute walk downhill to the lake for a bit of peace but soon after I headed back up to the cable car entrance to return to where I started. It was nice, but I wouldn’t go out of your way for it.
Once back at the hostel I got chatting to a few guys from the UK who were heading out for some food, so I joined them for dinner at Eslow Korean BBQ – you order your meat, then the waiters bring it out rare and cook it on a hot plate right in front of you. It was interesting to watch it being cooked but also a massive tease having it right there but not being able to eat it! I shared pork neck and marinated pork belly with veg with Jake and we all shared the fried rice – the meat was absolutely incredible and it was one of the best meals I have had in a long time (and for 110,000 each – including a beer – it was such good value).
After eating we went back to the hostel to drink more beer at the outside terrace area and play cards before heading out to 100 Roofs Cafe; a bar that has a quirky design that rivals Crazy House. It is quite narrow but has multiple “floors”, which are more like layers, that you climb/scramble to move between, almost like a cave-style maze. There are cubby holes, wooden doors, winding staircases, secret coves and random holes, some well lit and others not. You think you have uncovered everywhere to then discover a whole new section you have previously not come across. The 4 of us decided to play hide and seek; ridiculously fun considering our age but also tricky when you lose someone for half an hour. Add in mojitos for 45,000 dong (£1.50) whilst crawling through small spaces and you’ve got yourself a great night out. I haven’t laughed – or bruised – like that in ages.
The following day we had all signed up for canyoning – an activity that involves rocks and water, we spent the day abseiling down cliffs with waterfalls, throwing ourselves down a shallow waterfall backwards and jumping off cliff edges into water. Canyoning tours range from 30 to 40 dollars for half a day and we ended up paying 38 dollars (£30) to go to Datlana falls with Highland Travel sport, starting at 9:30am and returning at 4pm, with an amazing bahn mi lunch included. The safety during the tour was impeccable, the guides talked us through each activity and how to complete it properly and safely, and they spoke to you throughout your descent so you knew exactly what you should be doing at each point. I was pretty nervous at first but quickly got into it and picked up the technique required, and built up enough courage to jump off the 9m cliff into the water (I hate how fear increases with age!) I don’t know how to describe it without sounding like I’m advertising for family trips but it was a really, really fun day out and you cannot go to Dalat without doing it! Oh and we got to wear a really sexy wetsuit, so you’d be foolish not to go for this fashion opportunity alone…
Back at the hostel we opted in for the Family Meal for 50,000 each, eating home-cooked curry with about 20 people from the hostel. I was pretty wiped out from the activities (and adrenaline) of the day but the outside terrace was livelier than the night before so we headed up again for beers and card games, although this time I thought it would be a good idea to also add in Dalat wine (not bad!) and Vietnamese rum. Most people in the hostel were going to 100 Roofs but as we had already been there we hooked up with Mr Peace and went to BeePub; a place we thought did karaoke but actually had a live band playing songs from Lenny Kravitz to Chili Peppers. I was pretty enthusiastic and alive by this point and got stuck in with both dancing (no one else was – it’s a pub after all) and requesting songs from the band. We also got chatting to some locals outside but I have no idea what it was about (the wise combination of beer-wine-rum had probably kicked in by this point). We later left to go to 100 Roofs again, and this is where my memory gets hazy – all I know is I left before it shut (midnight), picked up a snickers and got into bed at 2am.
I woke up the next day feeling pretty ropey, had a frozen coffee by the lake and booked a bus for 12:30pm to Mui Ne. Dalat, it’s been swell…