Dalat is located in the south of Vietnam and in many ways, has a very different aesthetic to a lot of the other cities in the country. The french made their way to Dalat in the 1930’s to enjoy the milder climate and escape the searing heat of summer in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon).
Fast forward to today, many of the holiday homes still remain, which gives Dalat an unusual European resort aesthetic, paired with the moderate climate, it has become a top destination for Vietnamese tourists, particularly honeymooners and for foreign visitors it has become the sports capital in southern Vietnam, offering opportunities for canyoning, mountain biking, white water rafting and more.
Shaun and I arrived in Dalat from Hoi An after yet another night bus, the more we travelled, the more I was getting used to them, but I still hated night buses and felt rubbish after every one. We had 3 days in Dalat but spent much of our first day napping after our night bus, settling into our hostel and familiarising ourselves with the area. The remaining 2 days however, we were raring to make the most of this adventure capital!
As with most our time in Vietnam, we were visiting Dalat during the wet season (the woes of travelling SE Asia during British Summer time). So it rained around 80% of the time we were there, but this didn’t bother Shaun or I, we had expected it and just donned our waterproofs and got on with our day. What I was not prepared for however, was the drop in temperature, for the first time during our travels I felt cold, it was a real shock to the system having gone from sunbathing on the beach in Hoi An, to wearing a jumper and waterproofs in Dalat and still feeling chilly only a day later, it almost felt like being at home.
Shaun and I stayed at Dalat Friendly Fun Hostel, during our travels we stayed in a mixture of hostels, hotels and home stays with private rooms. As a couple I think this worked really well, it helped keep us in budget, gave us a good opportunity to socialise and meet other people as well as have some privacy when we needed it.
The amenities in the hostel were quite basic, we stayed in a 10 bed mixed dormitory, but there were curtains on every bunk so you could draw them in the evening for some privacy when sleeping. Shaun and I really enjoyed our stay here, mainly thanks to our host who was extremely welcoming and made the stay memorable for us.
In the evening you could pay a small fee to join the family meal. Most of the hostel guests would take up this offer and everyone would sit around together and enjoy whatever the host had cooked that evening, the night Shaun and I joined we had pork, rice and vegetables, at the end of our meal our host even made everyone a mojto! This gave Shaun and I a great opportunity to get to know other people staying in the hostel, we were even able to get some tips on the best canyoning trips, and the ones to avoid! Another thing I really liked about the hostel was that there was a real sense of community and trust, the owners of the hostel would write all of the guests names on a chalk board in reception and we were trusted to add tally’s to our name if we had a family meal, took a drink from the fridge etc, which would then be paid at the end of the stay. I think this fostered a really nice homely and relaxed environment which Shaun and I really valued.
One of the most popular activities to do in Dalat is canyoning, we opted to go with a provider recommended by our hostel Highland Sport Travel – Dalat Adventure Tours. Jayce and Mackenzie were also joining us for the canyoning trip and as we were being collected from our hostel it did occur to me that the four of us were embarking on an ‘adventure tour’ on Friday the 13th (what could possibly go wrong?).
Our canyoning trip took place at Datanla Falls, the weather was pretty grim when we arrived and a light rain persisted all morning accompanied by a chilly breeze. Thankfully, we were going to be jumping in and out of rivers all day, so regardless we were going to be getting wet and soggy, so we put on our wet suits and embraced the cold. In addition to our wetsuits we were also presented with a bag of trainers, due to the fact we would be scaling down rugged cliffs, we needed to protect our feet. We were given the option to wear our own trainers or borrow some of the company issue trainers (which I suspect were a pile of used trainers that people had left after not wanting to pack soggy shoes in their backpack following the tour). As we had only packed one pair of trainers each and didn’t want to walk around with damp feet for the next 2 days we rummaged around for a pair of shoes that would fit, nothing was labelled and the shoes were all falling apart but it was better than nothing, so I laced up my battered trainers and waited nervously for the tour to start. (I’m pretty sure I ended up with a size 9/10 UK pair of shoes, when I wear a 6 UK – so I do look as though I have pretty comical clown feet in lots of the pictures)
Much to my relief, we started with a couple of rounds scaling down a practice wall, we had our harness and helmets on and our instructor Tony was stood firmly at the bottom feeding the rope as we went down. In my opinion, whenever you are taking part in activities like this, safety should be the number one priority, so it was very reassuring to see that all of the kit was well looked after and the instructors were very professional and took the time to get us all relaxed on the practice wall before heading to the falls.
The first descent was down a dry cliff, ‘excellent’ I thought, ‘ just a repeat of what we did on the practice wall’, no water to think about yet, this will be easy’ – wrong! Our guide then informed us this would be the highest cliff we would scale down, peering over the edge it was significantly higher than our practice wall so definitely not ‘just a repeat’. However, slow and steady won the race and I made it down the first cliff (eventually).
After we had all taken a swim down the lazy river, we made it to second descent, smaller than the first but with an overhang which made the first few steps pretty scary, but once I’d made it past that, the rest of the way down was pretty easy.
It was time for a break from abseiling, but not a break for my nerves – after some leisurely natural water slides we came to the top of some rocks, we had two options; jump off into the pool below or climb down. I’ll be honest, even climbing down seemed pretty scary and I thought this option probably had the most potential for injury, from slipping on the wet rock as opposed just jumping in. There were three heights you could jump from 7, 9 and 11 metres . We started at the 7 metres and worked our way up, 11 was definitely the scariest, not only because it was the highest but you also had to jump out as well as jump up, due to there being a rock jutting out just below which you would catch yourself on if you didn’t travel forward enough. Worried that I would chicken out if I had too long to think about it, I insisted I did the jump before Shaun (I think everyone else in the group thought this was confidence, but it was most certainly fear driven). Before I knew it, I was resurfacing from the water and feeling pretty pleased with myself. Shaun, as usual, took it all in his stride and didn’t seem at all phased by any of this.
Finally, we had made it to the last cliff and our biggest abseiling challenge. Tony (our guide) had informed us that this particular part of the course was called the ‘washing machine’. Now, this immediately struck fear into me, I had visions of me being thrashed around like one of my poor socks in the wash. In my defence, my visualisation wasn’t too far off, we had to abseil down the waterfall, however before reaching the bottom, we had to release ourselves from the rope, drop into a rock pool where we were swilled around and spat out into the river. I had to repeat each step over and over in my head before even attempting this one, but thankfully I made it through unscathed.
Located at Datlana falls, the same place where we did our canyoning trip, is the alpine roller caster which takes you through 2,400 metres of forest trail.. Starting at the top of the hill we sat in a little 2 person cart, with a brake between our legs to control the speed. Now, it’s definitely not the kind of roller coaster to go on if you’re thrill seeking, but it does give you amazing views of the forest and you do pick up some pretty decent speed (for anyone from South Wales, imagine the toboggans at Oakward park but x10).
The really interesting thing about this alpine coaster, is that it ends right by Datlana waterfall, so as well as being an attraction at the falls, this is also a legitimate mode of transport to access the waterfall.
Hang Nga Guesthouse, also known as the ‘Crazy house’ was designed by architect Đặng Việt Nga, who commented on the house:
I wanted to create something original, pioneering — different from anything else in the world.
I think she certainly achieved that goal, it’s as though she took the rule book on conventional buildings, shredded it, painted the shredded pieces multi colour and then threw them out the window.
The house is a mixture of multi colour walls, narrow winding staircases, surprise entrances and spectacular themed rooms, it is unlike any ‘real’ place I have every seen, the closest comparison I have, would be a scene from Alice in wonderland.
As well as being a tourist attraction, Crazy house is a fully functioning guesthouse. Whilst i’m sure it would be amazing to stay in such an unusual place, I’m not sure if I would enjoy having hundreds of people walking by my room every day and trying to peer through the windows.
Food and Drink
Shaun and I visited here for our first meal in Dalat, the restaurant has great TripAdvisor reviews and is very vegetarian friendly. Run by a couple from Hanoi, they have an extensive menu offering spring rolls, noodles and curries among other things. Shaun and I must have been feeling particularly brave that day because we opted for the hotpot, we were presented with a simmering broth surrounded by some raw ingredients for us to cook our dinner. I must admit, it wasn’t the tastiest meal we had ever eaten, but i’m almost certain this was mostly down to our abysmal hot pot cooking skills as opposed to anything else. Nevertheless, it was a fun experience to use the hot pot for the first time and we had a giggle trying to fish our food out of the broth with our chopsticks (by this point, our chopstick skills were pretty decent)
We decided to head here on our second night after we had been canyoning with Jayce and Mackenzie, we thought this was likely to be the last time we would see them before they got their flight back to Canada (cry). We had spent a fair bit of time walking around looking for somewhere to eat, by the time we passed this place we were all starving and damp from the rain so just decided to give it a go.
I was pleasantly surprised when we went inside, in addition to Vietnamese cuisine they also offered some western dishes. Me and Mackenzie had pasta and and wine and OH MY GOD I almost forgot how much I missed pasta. Now, this was a fairly mediocre plate of pasta, however, I hadn’t eaten any for over 2 months so being able to finally eat some with a glass of wine made it feel like a 5* meal.
We also had great company with Jayce and Mackenzie, so I don’t think I would necessarily feel confident recommending this place to other people. However, we had a really nice meal here and all walked away happy with our food and the overall experience.
Jayce, Mackenzie, Shaun and I found ourselves in Escape bar unexpectedly after walking around looking for a bar to visit following our dinner, we found escape bar and were really pleased to find out there was a live band, and friendly locals who kept sending drinks to our table!
The maze bar was designed by a student of the ‘crazy house’ architect Đặng Việt Nga, upon walking in the bar you can instantly recognise the distinctive decor. The bar offers great cocktails and seemingly endless supply of hidden rooms and stair cases which you can explore. However, be warned it is disorientating at the best of times, never mind after a cocktail or two.
Shaun and I visited here after our final night out with Jayce and Mackenzie and it was safe to say that we were both feeling a little bit rough. The cafe is run by a very lovely Australian lady and the cafe describes itself as serving “great coffee, amazing cakes and desserts and all the food you miss from home“. I would say this a very accurate description, bearing in mind of course where you consider ‘home’, but for us I would say it definitely offered lots of those homely dishes we hadn’t eaten since coming away. Shaun and I found two comfy chairs and I ordered coffee and a jacket potato and beans (a staple British dish if you ask me). It was just what I needed in my fragile state
Being a self confessed coffee addict, when I heard there was a great coffee shop in Dalat I dragged Shaun along (I have also now manged to convert Shaun into a coffee fiend but at this point in time he wasn’t really that into it).
The shop itself has a very industrial look and feel, this is in line with the fact that it is the production place for their coffee. However, amongst the metal and machinery are tables and chairs where you can sit and enjoy a cup of their amazing brew. Shaun and I ordered some to share and took it black as recommended by our server, and we both really enjoyed.
Shaun and I weren’t aware of this prior to visiting, but you can also take a 10 minute tour of the facility, so I would recommend this place for any other coffee lovers out there. Firstly for the great coffee and secondly for the unique experience.
Shaun and I really enjoyed Dalat. However, I couldn’t help but feel we may have had an even better time if had visited in dry season. Whilst we had the most amazing time on the canyoning trip, regadless of the weather, the persistent rain did mean that we weren’t able to drive around on the bike and enjoy the various parks in Dalat like we would have been able to if it had been dry.