Da Lat is a hill station in Central Highlands and a popular destination among the local tourists. Due to its elevation, the weather is cool throughout the year. Da Lat is a relatively large city where the attractions are quite scattered. Apart from a lake in the city centre and a huge, lively market, one can visit the surrealist Crazy House, or have a ride on a chairlift to visit a monastery with scenic gardens. Outside the city, there are some waterfalls and Lang Biang peak accessible both by road and on foot.
NIGHT JOURNEY AND A NASTY WEATHER SURPRISE
Unfortunately, the bus journey to Da Lat wasn’t a particularly pleasant one. It was the second time that I travelled by a Vietnamese-style sleeper bus. On this occasion, I got the upper berth in the middle row where I suffered from the scarce leg space. I didn’t sleep very well and on top of that we arrived at Da Lat an hour earlier than scheduled, at 4 am. At least we were entitled to use the free drop off service…
It was dark, bitterly cold and pouring with rain when we arrived at Da Lat station. We hadn’t found the accommodation yet and we thought it’d be way too early to check in so we spend an hour wrapped up in all clothes we had, browsing through Booking.com and Agoda offers. It didn’t look promising as Dalat seemed much more pricey than the places we visited in the south.
After much deliberation, we settled for a room 10 minutes walk from the Dalat market, the cheapest we could find online. It was a large but drab and shabby quadruple room with a window.
DA LAT MARKET
Thankfully, we checked in early without any problems. The temperature increased somewhat and the rain wasn’t so heavy anymore. We dropped our bags and went to the market in search for breakfast. Da Lat market was an enormous, multi-storied affair spilling out to the streets and the large square in front of it.
I got from a street hawker something that looked like steamed sorgo and sticky rice with mung beans and ate it with pleasure. Shortly afterwards, I finally managed to find a com chay (vegan rice) I read about on Wikitravel. It was a tiny place in the main building of the market, located on the 2nd floor. I couldn’t resist a bowl of steaming hot vegan pho (noodle soup) with tofu while Sayak got a meaty equivalent of this Vietnamese staple from a nearby stall.
Da Lat market was full of new and exciting products. I bought large bags of red puffed rice and vegetable crisps which served me as snacks for the next two weeks. I also wanted to purchase from a street vendor a kilo of plums and guavas – fruit which could grow in the cooler climate.
We were asked to pay a ridiculously high price for those fruits. As it was the second time I got cheated that day (after being charged double for deep fried sweets), I had already started developing a dislike for that place, its climate and people.
Later during the day my mood improved, thanks to the rising temperature and the emergence of the sun. We decided to have a long walk to the Crazy House, one of the main attractions of Da Lat.
Crazy house was designed by a daughter of Ho Chi Minh’s right hand but the place had nothing to do with austere soc-realistic style. It was described in guide books as Gaudi-esque though for me it was more of a kitsch than Gaudi.
The problem with the Crazy House was that it was also a working hotel (at the time of our visit undergoing expansion). The lack of any information whatsoever meant I wasn’t sure which parts of the compound were original and which ones were made just for the purpose of tourism.
Despite all that I still enjoyed the visit. This place certainly managed to awaken an inner child in me and other visitors. I was having fun going up the narrow staircases, through the labyrinthine passages and climbing the ladders cut from the tree trunks.
I also enjoyed the expansive views at Da Lat and the surrounding mountains from the top of the buildings.
WALKING THROUGH DALAT
We spent around 40 minutes at the Crazy House and as the weather was surprisingly hot and nice, we decided to walk all the way to the cable car. The cable car leading from Robin Hill to Truc Lam Pagoda set picturesquely at Tuyen Lake was quite a tempting option to spend an afternoon. Google maps showed a distance of 3 km in the straight line. The problem was, walking in the straight line wasn’t possible.
Google maps led us through narrow, winding streets, up and down the hills, some of which were finishing abruptly with a dead end. We walked through the areas where no tourist would ever get to, attracting curious looks of the local kids.
The walk was pleasant enough and after a while we could clearly see our destination: two hills connected with a cable car. Unfortunately, the time was against us. By the time we reached the hill, it was almost 5 pm and the cable car was about to get closed. To make things worse, it started raining again.
Thankfully, we realised that the bus station where we arrived in the morning was very nearby. After a bit of searching, we found a public bus stop from where we caught the bus back to the Da Lat market.
DA LAT MARKET BY NIGHT
We went out again in the evening to experience the famous night market in Da Lat. I was amazed by the masses of people we saw at the huge open space between the market buildings on one side and the lake on the other. It was a weekend so Da Lat was teeming with domestic tourists.
Everywhere on the streets one could buy ‘Dalat pizza’- roasted rice paper with various meat toppings and ketchup. Sayak tried one along with homemade, sweet yoghurt. I couldn’t find much vegan food around so I assembled a dinner from roasted sweet potatoes, a glass of hot soya milk and a sweet pancake with coconut. It had to suffice me since the nearby vegetarian restaurant was already closed.