Dalat, Vietnam: Escape to the Pine Paradise
The Story -- Dalat, Vietnam
I don’t know why we waited for so long to go to Dalat. I guess, like many of the mistakes in my life, I will blame other people.
“Two days in Dalat is enough” -- Balderdash! After visiting it, I feel like I could live there forever.
Sample Dalat Budget (for 2)
Bus from Saigon: 210,000 VND ($10.00)
Accommodations: 2 nights for 680,000 VND ($30)
Meals: 2 lunches, 2 dinners – 450,000 VND ($20)
Coffee/Booze/Snacks: 75,000 VND ($3.35)
Motorbike rental: 1 day -- 60,000 VND ($2.70)
Bus to Nha Trang: Local bus – 100,000 VND ($4.40)
Total: 1,575,000 VND ($70.50) – $17.60 each per day
“It’s a honeymoon destination — like Niagara Falls” -- No. I think you mean to say, “the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death — like Niagara Falls”
The truth about Dalat: It’s cooler there. The air smells like pine. Because of the hills, the city is not on the grid system, so it’s filled with random and interesting streets at different levels. It’s coffee country. They grow almost all of the best fruits and vegetables in Vietnam there.
Yes, it has that kitsch that makes me want to poke my eyes out with a freshly grown Da Lat carrot, but that’s easy to avoid. Instead, your itinerary can be filled with hillsides, lakes, and pine forests.
We drove to Dalat on our motorcycle. You can get details on making that trip here (Driving to Dalat from Saigon). The roads around the outskirts of Dalat are amazing, and traversing them on a motorbike is one of the main attractions in Dalat.
We stayed at the Du Parc Hotel, which is one of the oldest buildings in Dalat (built in 1932). We booked it because we wanted a bathtub to soak our sore asses in, but it’s not overly expensive for a 4 star hotel. It’s possible to get it for around $30 a night. Their breakfast, which is served across the street at the even older Le Cafe de La Poste, is worth spending some extra money for.
We spent 4 nights in Dalat, or about 3 and half days.
What to do in Dalat
- Tuyen Lake and the Cable Car
The 4 km long cable car offers a sweeping view of the area. For 70,000 VND return, it’s a fairly cheap ride and a great way to get to Truc Lam Pagoda, which we didn’t bother squuezing through the crowd to see. Instead, we headed straight to Tuyen Lake, where you can do a boat tour, or enjoy from dry land. We walked about 15 minutes to Pini Coffee and sat on their deck that overlooked the lake. If you want a cup of coffee you’re limited to overpriced weasel coffee, but fruit drinks, beer, or soda are also available. In case the view of the lake isn’t enough, Pini also has a collection of classic motorcycles.
- Langbiang -- Frankly, if you’re not up for a hike I don’t know if Langbiang is worth going to. It’s basically a large hill with amazing views. Most tourists take a Jurassic Park like jeep to the top where they are let out for 45 minutes before heading back down the road to the bottom (300,000 per jeep, but you can wait and they’ll fill it with other tourists making the cost 50,000 each). After our experience, that sounds like crap. We spent about 2 hours hiking to the top, and another 45 mintues hiking down. The hike was beautiful, not too strenuous, but a bit confusing. My map below will help you get a sense of the route. The hiking path is actually marked on Google Maps as a road, but I doubt any motorbikes in the area could handle it. If you decide to hike up, you don’t have to pay the admission (20,000 VND). The path’s starting point is just outside of the entrance gate to the right. Just follow that dirt road. After 15 minutes it veers right, but you want to continue going straight on a path that’s up on a bit of a ridge. It’s a bit difficult to notice, but you’ll know you’re on the right path when you’re surrounded by a barbed-wire fence.
The hike will give you incredible views of farmer’s fields, a cool pine-y breeze, and maybe even a look at some rare birds. We didn’t see anyone the entire time we were hiking the trail. Eventually, you’ll connect with the road that the jeeps go up. After a short walk on that, you can either continue on the road to the radar station lookout point (where all the jeeps stop), or go right where there’s a booth that will sell you a pass to walk to the peak of the mountain (20,000 VND). We decided to go to the radar station, mainly because we were out of water and it was the only place to buy it. Anyways, I read that the view from the radar station is better than the one from the peak.
Other than enjoying the view with a cold drink, there isn’t anything to do on the mountain. We spent about 30 minutes at the lookout point and then hiked back down. Rain was coming, so we inquired about taking a jeep down (even slightly muddy conditions would make the hike sloppy). The jeep guys wanted the full 300,000 VND because they’d have to take us to the bottom and come back to get the people that already hired them, so we walked it. It was a good decision. We managed to beat the rain back, and on the way we saw a recently born foal. One of the zebra-painted horses, which you can pay to ride to the top, gave birth to it at the side of the road.
- Crazy House -- Dat shit’s crrraaaazzzy. The crazy house lives up to its name. It’s worth the 40,000 VND and an hour of your time. I felt like a kid climbing the crazy stairs, into crazy rooms, driving Sara crazy as I said ‘crazy’ over-and-over again. Some people call it gaudy, but I thought it was fun and imaginative.
- Dalat Market -- The market and the area around it makes for an interesting walk. There are plenty of opportunities to get lost in its many stairwells and aisles. Since Dalat is one of the main sources for food in Vietnam, the selection of fruits and vegetables are amazing. Because we live in Vietnam, markets aren’t really a tourist attraction for us anymore, but the Dalat market is different.
- Train Station, Train Ride, and Linh Phuoc Pagoda
The railway station in Dalat opened in 1938, but ceased operation during the Vietnam War. In 1990, a 7 km stretch was re-opened for tourists. The 30 minute train ride rumbles past farm fields to Trai Mat, where you will be let out for 45 minutes… just enough time to visit one of my favourite pagodas in Vietnam. Linh Phuoc Pagoda is decorated with broken pieces of ceramic. You could study the walls for the entire 45 minutes, but I recommend climbing the 36 meter tall tower, seeing the giant bell which contains many messages from hopeful Buddhists, and saying ‘what up?’ to the giant flower-covered Buddha.
- Waterfalls -- There are 3 waterfalls in the vicinity of Dalat. The most visited is Elephant Waterfall. The most ruined by tourism is Datanla Falls. The most natural is Pongour Waterfall. Pongour lacks the tacky animal statues, costumed photo ops, and downhill sled rides (that might have been fun), but it also lacks tourists and vomiting in your own mouth due to gaudiness.
When it was time to roll out of Dalat, I felt a bit sad. There were plenty of things left unexplored. We barely even touched the downtown. I think we would have easily filled another couple days, but we were on a schedule -- one that had us on the road at 7AM. Goodbye cool air. Goodbye pine trees. Goodbye Dalat.
The Video -- Dalat, Vietnam: Cool, Cool.
The Facts -- Da Lat, Vietnam
Getting in and out of Da Lat, Vietnam
Of course, riding into town on your hog is the coolest way to get to Dalat, but I guess not everyone can be as wicked-cool as me.
Flights to Dalat’s airport can often be picked up for very cheap from VietJet and JetStar. From Ho Chi Minh City it could be as low as $20 one way. There are also flights from Hanoi, Hai Phong, Hue, Phu Quoc, Nha Trang, and Da Nang. Lien Khuong Airport is 30 km south of Dalat, but there is a shuttle bus that will drop you off downtown. You can buy your ticket for it in the airport (60,000 VND each).
Buses from every direction go to Dalat. The ride from Saigon will take about 8 hours and cost 210,000 VND ($10). Most buses leave from Mien Tay (the West bus station). I like riding with Futa because they offer a free shuttle to your hotel, but there are other companies.
Nha Trang is only 4 hours away and 100,000 VND.
Phan Rang is about 2.5 hours and 80,000 VND.
Sinh Tourist will go directly to Mui Ne, a 7 hour drive for 100,000 VND.
For anything else, I recommend checking Vexere.com
The Best Budget Hotel in Da Lat, Vietnam
Since there are a plethora of hotels in Dalat, sometimes it’s possible to get great deals on high quality hotels, but if you just looking for something cheap and cheerful Paris Hotel will do just fine. Upgrade to a deluxe double if you want a balcony. The location is convenient and the price is right ($15-$25).
The Best Budget Restaurant in Da Lat, Vietnam
For good local eats, head down Nha Chung. There you’ll find dishes like banh can (quail eggs fried into little cakes and served topped with a salad mixture — tough to describe but very tasty), bánh canh xuân an (thick noodle soup that’s famous in Dalat), banh trang nuong (grilled rice paper with egg, cheese, green onion, and more -- folded like a calzone), mi quang (the famous noodle soup but they do it different in Dalat). We wandered down this street several times and always found something tasty.
If you want a sit down dinner, my choice is Chu BBQ, a relatively new place that is a little different than the rest of the BBQ places in town. They don’t have an English menu, in fact their menu is on a giant chalkboard on the back wall, so you might struggle to order. Someone should be able to help, but if you get stuck “bo” is beef, “heo” is pork, “com chien” is fried rice — what else do you need? Instead of the open flame mini BBQ that most Vietnamese BBQ restaurants have, Chu brings you a piping hot granite tile and then proceeds to dump the raw meat on it. Their special spicy beef will pour out a deadly smoke. Grease might splatter at you. Be ready to get out of your chair and move away. At first you might think ‘this sucks’, but after you cook up the food and taste it, sucks will turn to rocks. As you eat, watch as other patrons retreat from the hot meat bomb. So entertaining.