Delightful Da Lat

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Da Lat, a city of beaty and spoils

The second stop on our motorcycle adventure around Vietnam was Da Lat and we knew little about it.

We knew it was coffee country, has spectacular scenery and some historical value. It’s also a much-loved domestic holiday destination, but other than that, we didn’t know much more about it.

None the less, we couldn’t wait to encounter this new destination and our first real piece of Vietnam. One that isn’t bursting at the seams with foreign tourist.

One thing I will say is that riding those last ten kilometers into Da Lat, was one of the most enjoyable roads to ride.

Cool air breathed new life into our tired bodies as we wound through the wide easy-going roads. Carving through dense jungle covered peaks, peppered with produce of all sorts.

It was a spectacular welcome, that’s for sure!

Leon and Tash Vlog

When your planned five hours of first day riding a motorbike in Vietnam turns into a 16 hour battle against traffic, exhaustion and almost getting killed.

Arriving in Da Lat

Our smiles were soon replaced with furious concentration as we hit the city dead on peak hour traffic. It was almost like we were back in Ho Chi Minh!  It came as a bit of a shock and we weren’t expecting a city this size, not the chaos of heavy congestion.

One of the first things we noticed was how clean and beautiful the city was. Precisely manicured gardens in all shades and sizes. Even a topiary VW Bug sitting in the city central round about proud as a peacock.

The other was the noticeable difference in temperature. It was the first time since February we can remember being cold. Actual, ‘I need a jacket and jeans’ cold and we loved it!

But first things first. We had to find our hotel and hit some much-needed hay. For us, and the bikes. They did a tremendous job of delivering a couple of newbies to their destination and without so much as a sputter. Respect earned!

We were incredibly well looked after at Maxim Hotel and thoroughly enjoyed our stay.  Have a read of our full review here.

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Not sure where to start looking for bus tickets, time tables and the like?

Da Lat is the transportation hub of the Vietnamese highlands. Everything from buses, trains and private transport scoots in and out of this busy city, making it easy to get to and from!

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Showing the beasts some love

After an epic 400 kilometer or so trip up from Ho Chi Minh, it was time to show the Waves some love.

The plan was to get them washed, followed by a much-needed service. Ha gave us some ideas on where to find bike wash places and we had Honda dealership lined up for servicing.

Rua Xe (bike wash)

The rửa xe we chose was a short push from Maxim and the Honda dealership a short five-minute ride from there.

When we arrived at the bike wash there was a bit of a language barrier to get over. But after a few laughs we managed to convey what we wanted and set off to find a coffee.

Within an hour we had two shiny bikes back and made another new friend. The hospitality was simple but great and we didn’t expect that for a man sharing yard space with a beauty salon.

(On a side note: Before we left Da Lat, I went and had a pedicure done at that very same beauty salon. I couldn’t help but giggle as I watched Mr. Bike Washer expertly drying a customer’s hair while entertaining the waiting customers.

It’s moments like that I look for. That pure why of life, uncut, uncensored and you just melt into the medley with those in the moment.

My half hour pedicure turned into almost two hours of chatting, and laughing. I almost forgot I was in a foreign country all together. All from a ‘two chair out the front of the family home set up’. And it was the best thing ever!

Another memory that will stay with me forever.)

Washing the bikes cost us VND 50,000 (~USD 2.00 / ~AUD 3.00) per bike.

 

Genuine Honda service that didn’t break the bank

Servicing didn’t quite go to plan, but despite that, we still had a great experience with the team at Thang Loi 1 Head Honda.

We wanted a full service but due to the language barrier we only got an oil change and brake check on both bikes and my tail light fixed. Still for the VND 180,000 (~USD 8.00 / ~AUD 11.00) it cost us, we weren’t complaining.

Da Lat Attractions

It was hard not falling in travel-love with Da Lat. It has a lot on offer, both in the city and the surrounding areas.

We arrived at the beginning of the wet season and thought we’d be okay with it being the start but we wrong.

Wet season is wet season and when it kicks in, its long downpours and lots of cold, cloudy spells in between. But mostly rain.

We wanted to go to a few things like Elephant Waterfall and visit to a well-known coffee plantation. (The latter offers weasel coffee and you can meet the famous critter in person.)

Plus, a number of other things. Sadly, we missed out on much of the outdoor attractions due to the wet weather.

I caught a nasty cold three days into our visit and was finding it hard to shake it. Ending up in a doctor’s room was not happening either.  We had travel insurance but I’d prefer to not have to use it.

While it was a nuisance, it wasn’t the end of the fun. Oh no, there was still plenty of that in the city itself.

Below are some of the things we did get to experience.

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Affiliate disclosure: The information in this posts contains affiliate links for our travel partnerships.  You don’t get charged extra for using these links and we may earn a small commission from them which goes towards finding and managing all the awesome content on our site.  You are under no obligation to use them but if you do, we want to salute and thank you for your support, we appreciate it!

DA LAT CENTRAL MARKET

If you love fresh fruit and veg then Da Lat is your haven! The best place to find all the best fresh goodies, was the Da Lat market. Or better known as Cho Da Lat by the locals. The varieties on offer looked mouth-watering.

Situated in the heart of the city and you can find anything and everything needed for everyday life here. The stalls and shops weren’t limited to food either.

Clothes, shoes, hardware, homeware, wet market, dry market you name it. The best part was they were all within a ten to fifteen-minute walk of each other.

The markets came in handy for our preparations of the next leg of our ride.

At night, the market transforms into food stalls of every kind with a delicious selection of local and well-known treats on offer. We didn’t get to try the night market due to bad weather but will try it out on our next visit if it’s drier.

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XUAN HUONG LAKE

At the heart of Da Lat is a large man-made lake called Xuan Huong Lake. It’s named after a famous Vietnamese poet of the mid-19th century.

The lake sits in the general area where several of the indigenous people of the central highlands use to live together. Da Lat got her name from one of these ethnic groups, the Lat. In their language, Da Lat means “Stream of the Lat”.

The lake offers a few of its own attractions. You can take a paddle boat out onto the lake or a ride around it in a horse-driven carriage.

If gimmicks aren’t your thing then there is plenty of green grass on offer to chill or have a picnic.  You don’t even have to pack food, there are snack vendors everywhere.

Heck you can even go finishing if you have the gear.

DA LAT LAKEFRONT

One of Da Lat’s most recognizable icons is Doha Café and the unique lake front she sits atop.

From a distance it looks like nothing but a large paved area with two strange looking structures on it. As you get closer, you realize one of the structures resembles a flower bud made of glass.

We’re a couple of natural curious cats and decided to go check it out. We have a vlog and blog about the experience, feel free to have a read and a look.

There’s a what, where?

After Doha, we headed over to the other strange shaped building and never actually made it there lol. Turns out there is a whole underground mall below the two glass buildings. The entrance was cleverly disguised as a glass spiral ceiling coming out of the ground.

There we found three levels of shops, a very large supermarket, an arcade and kid’s playground area and a food court.   We later found an underground cinema too. You’d never know all this was there just by looking at the area from a distance.

We decided to leave the mall to head back to the hotel, only the torrential rain had set in and for the night by the look of it.

No taxi, no worry

Trying to hail a taxi turned out to be a little harder than anticipated.  So, we opted for a movie instead.

The Cinestar cinemas were lower in height than we’re used to but it didn’t take away from the experience. If anything, it felt really cozy.

As luck would have it, it was cheap Monday and we only paid VND 90,000 (~USD 4.00 / ~AUD 6.00) for the two tickets. Then decided to splash out VND 105,000 (~USD 5.00 / ~AUD 7.00) for a two drinks, medium popcorn and M&M’s combo. Score!

It turned out to be a fun night, despite the weather and we had to catch a taxi back to the hotel as it was still raining. For the VND 30,000 (~USD1.00 / ~AUD 2.00) we paid, it didn’t break the bank and kept us dry!

UNIQUE TOURIST SPOTS

These two experiences were so unique that we gave them each their own blog.

The first is the 100 Roofs Cafe with a strange labyrinth of nooks and crannies wedged into a tiny four level building with a pretty spectacular view from the rooftop.  If you can find it!

The second was Crazy House, also known as Hang Nga Guesthouse.

One of the craziest experiences you’ll ever have in Vietnam, for sure!

ALL THE KING’S PALACES

If you follow our vlogs you would have seen our visit to the Imperial Palace in Hue and the reference to Boa Dai, the last emperor of Vietnam.

Boa Dai was an avid hunter and pleasure seeker and Da Lat was his favorite playground. So much so that Da Lat boasts three of the late emperor’s palaces.

Two of the three palaces are open to the public. The third is for dignitaries visiting Da Lat and while the public are welcome to roam the garden, they cannot enter the palace building itself.

We create a blog with all the juicy bits on these two soon, so keep your peepers peeled.

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DA LAT ART DECO RAIL STATION

French influence is evident across Da Lat and none more so than the Da Lat Rail station.

Designed in 1932 by two French architects, Moncet and Reveron. Then built and completed by Swedish engineers in 1938.

The story goes that the French were great at design, but in this instance, the Swedes were better at building it. They could build rail lines at an altitude and landscape like that of the Da Lat plateau.

The design was unusual for a building of this period too. It was both art deco and traditional Vietnamese communal house. Very clever!

At inception, the line connected Da Lat with two daily runs to Nha Trang and Saigon respectively.

Like so many other icons, it got destroyed in latter part of the Vietnam war.

In 1991 the rail station reopened to the public after 7 kilometers was rebuilt. The new line takes visitors to nearby Trai Mat and back in an hour round trip, five times a day.

We got there a bit late and missed the last train for the day.  But we were still able to walk around the rail station and see some the carriages and fixtures. One of the original locomotives is still on display and you can enjoy a coffee inside a carriage for a bit of fun.

Only thing we found bothersome was the hawkers clogging the old platform. The fact that they were trying to make a living was fine. It was the fact that they were selling wares that had no connection to the rail station and her history.

But if you can look past that, it’s still a neat hour’s visit to a piece of Da Lat history.

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EATING LIKE A LOCAL IN DA LAT

As we mentioned before, Da Lat is famous for her produce.

Hà, again was kind enough to take us to some of his local favorite eateries. He introduced is to some very different kinds of dishes and we loved them all!

We tried so many new things that we’re writing another blog piece covering all our favorite morsels from Da Lat.

We’ll leave you with a hint of what we experienced for now though.

There were the sweet smelling fried balls from the side of the road, the deep fried pig’s lung (yeah, we had that look on our face too), and a green rice porridge with salty boiled eggs.

Leon and Tash Vlog

Pig's fried what now?? Find out how to eat like a local in Da Lat

THE GOOD STUFF – DA LAT COFFEE

We love the coffee shops in Vietnam it’s not secret. Da Lat was an exception to our usual experiences in that we were IN coffee country.

The fact that there was no Cong Ca Phe or even a Highlands Coffee had us intrigued at first. But, the more we explored the local coffee shops, the more we realized what was on offer was amazing in its own right. Coffee in its most delicious form.

We tried different coffees from different cafes and they were all good.

At one cafe, we attempted to order using the words on the menu only as there were no pictures. We had a good laugh as we ended up with a cà phê đá which is basically a cold coffee mixed with condensed milk and poured over ice.

Not so great on a cold, wet day ha-ha!

 

Stand out coffee moments

There were two stand out coffee moments during our visit to Da Lat.

The first was the Da Lat Nights special coffee. We’re not sure what was in it as it seemed to be a guarded secret lol. It was strong, slightly sweet and had something extra in it, but we’re not sure.  It was a thick, slow coffee and it was very enjoyable. We do recommend giving it a go!

If you’re ever in Da Lat looking for something to do at night, go visit Da Lat Nights Café. It’s worth the trip up there to enjoy a view of the city from a different perspective (wink).

The second was more of an experience (thanks to Hà again) as we went to a café owned by actual coffee grower. At Là Việt you can enjoy an expertly made coffee, and also learn about their beans and the roasting and blending processes they undergo.

We were also lucky enough to walk away with two of their blends. Leon’s favorite is the 100% Arabica Traditional blend which is a bold, dark roast that is suitable for most methods of brewing.

I preferred the 100% Arabica Classico blend which is a slightly lighter roast and again suited to most methods of brewing. Great choices to take on the road with us. We’ll let you know what they are like once we cracked those bad boys!

A huge thank you to Hà and Là Việt for a great evening.

What we thought of our visit to Da Lat

Our overall impression of Da Lat is nothing but happiness. We extended our stay here twice, despite the weather, that’s how much we enjoyed it.

Even then we didn’t get to do it all.  We will definitely try to get back to this amazing slice of heaven tucked away in the Vietnam highlands. If we do, we’ll let you know what we find next time.

From a practical point, the city is easy to navigate, foreigner friendly, relatively cheap with plenty of amenities. It was a winner for us.

On offer is loads of fresh air (a godsend after Ho Chi Minh City), and plenty to keep you busy. You can enjoy amazing food and refreshing beverages at an array of cool, quirky and unique venues.  Da Lat has it all!

Leon and Tash Blog

Things to do in Da Lat

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