Da Lat is so very much off the radar, in terms of Vietnam. Located in the south between Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang, it is a very quiet, quaint town. Rich in French architecture and oddities, you’ll feel miles away from Vietnam here. It shares none of the characteristics of other Vietnamese towns, such as the hustle bustle of daily life, thousands of motorbikes and general noisiness. Why more people don’t visit is beyond me, but with a little time to explore you can uncover some gems in this beautiful town. Here’s a run down of my faves.
1. Dalanta Falls
Dalanta Falls is situated 5km outside of Da Lat. The road is a long windy one up the hills, with stunning view of the valley and endless tea and coffee plantations. The waterfall itself is really cool. Walking around across the rocks is certainly good fun and again, the views are absolutely stunning from the bottom of the fall across the valley. The greatest part of the falls is certainly the toboggan. Yep, you heard right. When you arrive you have the option to travel to the bottom of the fall by roller coaster. It costs around 25,000 Dong for a return journey and it is totally worth it. The track is 1km long and takes about 2 minutes to complete, winding down the side of the mountain through woods and ending up at the foot of the falls. So much fun.
2. Crazy House
Built by Dang Viet Nga, a daughter of a Vietnamese communist party leader, it was opened to the public in 1990. It was quickly dubbed ‘the crazy house’ and it’s easy to see why. There is hardly a square edge in the tree shaped building. Staircases intertwine with branches to take you up and over the roof. The garden comes complete with toadstool chairs and fake, giant spiders. You could be forgiven to think you have fallen into Alice’s Wonderland. You also have the option to stay here for one night. It costs around $35USD per night, and you get to stay in one of the country themed rooms, or the wedding suite if you are newly weds. This is a real cool place to visit and well worth the walk if you are in town.
3. Street food
The street food in Da Lat is some of the best I tried in Vietnam.. and I’ve tried a lot! We took a walk to the town square to sample some of the delights on offer. First up were the classic meat skewers. Flavoured to perfection, the meat melts in your mouth. If you’re feeling adventurous I would recommend the chickens feet or intestines. We found both really flavoursome and cooked beautifully. There is so much to choose from, it is easy to full up before you’ve completed a circuit so pace yourself. Watch out for the police though. Some of the vendors are not licensed to vend and will disappear into thin air at the first sight of the law, with your paid order possibly to never be seen again. So as a quick tip: pay for your food after you get your meal. And if you’re looking for something sweet to wash it all down head to the buffet restaurant (next to the market) for treats and ice creams.
4. Relax by the lake
The Xuan Huong Lake in Da Lat is man-made. At 32ha with a perimeter of 5 miles, it is huge. Take a walk along the lake, soak up the views of Da Lat and stop for a coffee at the floating coffee house along the way. Da Lat is famous for its coffee and tea so getting a good cup of whatever you fancy is easy. I dare you to try civet cat coffee, which comes from the cat’s poo, surprisingly not as gross as that sounds! While it’s different to say the least, if you enjoy it you can pick some up quite cheap in the local market. If you still want more of Da Lat’s lake, hire a swan or rowing boat and enjoy a leisurely paddle across the lake .
5. BBQ your own meal
Once you have covered off the local street food move on up into some of the local restaurants and try the ‘self BBQ’ style of eating. With menu’s written completely in Vietnamese I recommend taking a local (we took our Stray Guide) otherwise bring a translation book along. We went for goat breast, duck tongue and octopus, as well as a few jugs of local rice whiskey. A concrete pot of smoldering coals is delivered to the table and set inside a custom hole. A tile is placed on top with oil to baste the surface. From here it’s up to you to cook the food to your taste. While the goat breast had an odd taste and texture, the octopus and duck tongues are actually very good. I never realised ducks even had tongues, let alone how big they are. Wash it all down with rice whiskey and you have the recipe for a fantastic local style evening.
These were some of my favourite things to do in Da Lat. But don’t take my word for it. Get there with Stray Asia, lap up their local knowledge and then make your own mind up!
To discover Da Lat’s waterfalls, lake and other local wonders, check out Stray’s Vietnam tours.
Our guest blogger Rick Tunbridge hails from the UK. He travelled through southern Laos on the Lot pass in December 2014.