Other than seeing my friend in Mui Ne, the destination highlight of my second trip to Vietnam was my short stay in Dalat (Đà Lạt). I had wanted to go there during my first stay, but the bus from Saigon was too long for a weekend trip and I didn’t feel like flying for just a weekend. So, when given the opportunity to get to the mountain town, I decided it was a must.
It wasn’t as easy getting to Dalat as I had expected. My friend didn’t know about transportation options, but I was fortunate enough to get some help at my deserted hotel. Communication wasn’t as smooth as it could have been, but it was good enough. I boarded a jitney bus in front of my hotel and marveled at the open door as we drove through town to pick up more passengers. Fortunately, the driver closed the door once all passengers were on the bus and we departed the resort town of Mui Ne.
This bus was far from comfortable for the six-hour ride and I was only able to doze for a little bit of the journey. There were some loud locals on the bus as well, including one playing a loud game on his phone, but they all got off more than an hour before we arrived. It was still a more pleasant ride than the ones I had in China.
This is a small city with about half a million people, but it can still be crowded, particularly as it is a popular summer destination for locals. Its location in the Central Highlands of southern Vietnam give it a pleasant climate — it was a little hot during the day, but not uncomfortable, and it got cool enough in the evening that my hotel room didn’t need air conditioning.
Dalat was a getaway for the French colonists to escape the heat and humidity of Saigon. It was turned into a resort town at the beginning of the 20th century, and it still retains much of that atmosphere today with domestic and international tourists flocking to the town.
The French also discovered that the soil in the region was great for agriculture and began growing a variety of fruit and vegetables. Today, the region is known for its produce — the people pride themselves on the quality of locally-grown fruit and vegetables, and everything at the market looks perfect. There’s even a local chain store that sells high-quality, locally-produced products including candied fruits, dried vegetables, coffee, and tea (I bought candied mulberries and tamarind and some coffee, and it was all delicious).
Arriving in Dalat
After getting dropped off somewhere in town with numerous motorbike taxis waiting to rip off whoever got off the bus, I consulted my offline maps and decided to walk to my hotel. It didn’t look far away, but the winding streets sure made it more difficult to find.
After checking in at Binh Yen Hotel and leaving my luggage in the room, I set out in search of coffee, lunch, and sights, in that order. I first stopped in a little coffee shop just around the corner from the hotel. As with all the cafes in Dalat, the little cup of bitter coffee came with a sweet herbal tea — I was told it may have been artichoke tea, but after buying some and drinking it I believe it may have been something else.
A long walk around the lake
Finding food was a little more difficult than expected. The route that took me toward Ho Xuan Huong Lake didn’t have a lot of options and most smaller restaurants were closed between the normal lunch and dinner hours. I managed to find a small place to fill my stomach and continue on my walk.
As I approached the lake, I noticed darker clouds moving in. I checked my map again and decided that I could walk around the lake quick enough. I’m apparently not a good judge of time and distance.
The approaching dark clouds didn’t deter me from taking a detour to see a Buddhist temple, which I discovered was inaccessible because it was under construction. Chùa Tâm Ấn was still a beautiful building and would be worth a stop to take in the views once it’s finished.
While the approaching storm threatened to impede my sightseeing, the clouds over the lake and around the hills made for some beautiful photos. As much as I wanted to hurry to avoid the rain, I had to stop a few times to take pictures.
By the time I reached the opposite side of the lake, I began to feel a few drops of rain. I hoped as best I could that the heavy rain would hold off until I could find shelter, preferably with coffee and food. As the sky opened up I was near Big C, a shopping center with two colorful glass structures that stand out in the town. One of the structures had a cafe that I could sit in for a few hours, plus it had wi-fi so I wouldn’t get too bored while waiting for the rain to let up.
As the rain let up, I headed back to my hotel to rest my feet a while before heading back out in search of dinner and a few drinks. As I saw that the clouds appeared to be clearing, I decided to go in search of the Bao Dai Palace, of which there are three in the city. I noticed that one was nearby, but it turned out to be a hotel with no public access. My adventure turned into an even longer walk than originally intended.
Between the bus ride and the walk, I was exhausted. I didn’t care what I ate for dinner, though I managed to find some amazing Vietnamese curry at a little restaurant not far from the market. After that I managed to go out for a couple drinks at a bar called Saigon Nights near my hotel before falling asleep from exhaustion.
I will be forever thankful that I had offline maps with GPS. In a town like Dalat, with winding streets and alleys that don’t necessarily connect where one would think they do, having guidance is essential.
While it did rain every day during my stay in Dalat, I had beautiful weather early in the day and in the evenings. The mid-afternoon rains gave me an excuse to sit in a cafe and enjoy another cup of coffee.