05 Apr Escaping to the Dalat Highlands
The five-hour bus journey up to Dalat was pretty standard for Asia; uncomfortable, overloaded and bumpy. The air visibly cooled as we climbed higher into the central highlands and the scenery morphed from seashores and sand dunes to hills and forests. It was the week before Christmas but it certainly hadn’t felt like it as we’d sweated in the fierce heat of Mũi Né and strolled along the beach-front. So, I was feeling much more festive when we arrived in Dalat, zipping our jumpers against the nippy evening air and inhaling the scent of pine trees on the breeze.
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Dalat Vietnam, Our Mountain Getaway
Aside from jetting back to Europe or heading to Lapland, Dalat was the perfect place to spend our first Christmas away from home. The cool climate suited us and we found a great hotel to hole up in for a week and relax, watch TV, work and recover from a hectic couple of weeks of whizzing around Vietnam. We established a daily food routine which alleviated my fussy-eater anxieties; a £1 bowl of muesli, fruit and yoghurt from the Bistro down the road at breakfast, a trip to the bakery for fresh baguettes at lunchtime and dinner at one of the restaurants on our road. This was our kind of place.
Dalat is a lot bigger than it looks at first glance. The heart of the city lies around the wide lake, which reflects views of the surrounding mountains, green-covered with spiky pine trees. Tourists float around the glassy surface of the water on swan-shaped pedalos while vendors patrol the perimeter, hawking sunglasses and postcards to passers-by. Just a five-minute walk from the lake lies a central market filled with Dalat’s famous flowers, yoghurt and strawberries as well as knitted hats and rugs. We stayed on one of the steep roads surrounding the market, which are all crammed with hotels, restaurants and shops.
Waterfalls, Crazy Houses and the Valley of Love – Biking around Dalat
While we spent plenty of time in the city centre, biking around the lake, strolling around the colourful flower gardens and eating in the restaurants, we also took time to rent a scooter for a day and explore the outskirts of Dalat.
Our first stop was the beautiful but cheesy Valley of Love; a kitschy park filled with bizarre love-themed models. The place was mostly packed with Vietnamese tourists, including gangs of teenagers who were in their element posing for thousands of photos with each other. Eventually we gave in and got in on the action, admiring the views of the lake and hills as we went on a posing frenzy.
An even more bizarre attraction lay ahead of us, the Dalat Crazy House. Designed as a giant architectural art-project doubling as a hotel, the place is indeed pretty crazy. Alien, hive-like, buildings are connected by winding outdoor staircases to fairytale gingerbreadesque houses and sparkly grottos. As if in a fun-house, rooms are oddly shaped and strangely furnished; bear statues and giant giraffes, huge spider webs and clusters of toadstools were just a few of the weird things we encountered. I can definitely say I’ve never been anywhere quite like the Dalat Crazy House.
As we sped along on our scooter we occasionally paused to take pictures of the views and the brightly-coloured roofs stretching off under a cloud-studded sky to meet the furry hills beyond. Hungry from all the fresh mountain air, we stopped for lunch at the Dalat Blue Train Café, where we sat in a converted train carriage and ate delicious veggie lasagne and slurped down fresh fruit shakes.
Back to more conventional attractions; as a mountain city Dalat has plenty of waterfalls to visit but they’re not quite the natural oases you might be expecting. At Camly Falls, an underwhelming, slightly smelly waterfall, we found more odd animal statues dotted around and locals, inexplicably dressed as cowboys, were charging tourists for a photo opp on their horses.
At the more impressive Datanla falls we took an exhilarating bobsleigh ride down to the foot of the hills, where we took a short cable car ride across a gorge; you can even ride a great glass elevator down to the bottom of the waterfall, which we decided against. Datanla was crammed with tourists and felt a bit like a theme park, proving that the Vietnamese love a bit of commercialism.
Despite a long and varied day of sightseeing we still hadn’t seen all Dalat had to offer, so we decided to book ourselves on a much-hyped Easy Rider tour of the surrounding countryside for the next day, you can find out how it went in our next post.