DA LAT - SOUTHERN VIETNAM


During our stay in Saigon, many people recommended us to visit the city of Da Lat, which is located 300 km North from Saigon, and still part of the Southern Vietnam. Looking at the pictures online, it really looked like a wonderful place, so it was on our list of must visit places. When we left Saigon we saw a good opportunity to stop there before heading to the North. 


We spent 3 nights in Da Lat. I think it's enough time to visit the main places and get a feel of the lifestyle in this small city. But of course if you have more time it will be even better! I would say one week would feel right, to have enough time to relax and enjoy every place with no rush, and maybe sit down and read a book in one of the coffee places. If you don't have that much time you can visit the places located in the centre, which are very beautiful, and maybe you don't even need to rent a bicycle or motorbike. 


Da Lat is slightly more expensive than other places in Vietnam, because it's a touristic place and it's in the mountains. But still cheap if you compare it to Europe.
About the weather, everyone said it's very cold in Da Lat, but we were very lucky and had sunny days; it gets pretty warm during the day! In the evening it gets colder and you will need a light jacket. 

How to go to Da Lat: 
You can either fly or go by bus. The night bus is the most popular option (inexpensive and you save one night in a hotel). Check the detailed options to go to Da Lat in this post.
We took the bus from Saigon to Da Lat, with the company The Sinh Tourist, one of the most recommended companies. It has sleeping seats and it took around 8 hours (10pm to 6am). The price was 199.000VND per person; we bought it directly at the office in District 1, but you can also buy it online (it may be a bit more expensive). Have in mind that there is no space at all inside the bus for the bags, so it's better to leave everything in the luggage compartment, or you will have to sleep with your bags/backpack on your lap. The space is very reduced, enough to lay down but nothing else. The trip was a bit crazy, the narrow mountain roads seemed dangerous at night and the driver wasn't driving very smoothly... but we arrived safe and sound!


To leave Da Lat we took a flight, because Hanoi is very far away and it can take more than 24 hours by train or bus. We flew with JetStar Pacific Airlines, the price was 30 euros per person, with 20kg checked-in baggage included. To go from the city centre to to airport, and viceversa, the two main options are: taxi (200.000VND ~ 8 euros) and shuttle bus (40.000VND - 1,80 euros). The shuttle bus stop is in front of the Ngoc Phat hotel, and it leaves every 2 hours before flights.


Where to stay in Da Lat: 
The best places to stay in this lovely city are homestays, the Vietnamese version of a hostel. They are family houses with shared dorms and sometimes single and double rooms too, with lots of common areas to meet other travelers and spend time with the family. The homestays are the best options if you are young and/or a solo traveler, and if you want to know more about the local culture (sometimes the family invites the guests to have lunch or dinner with them, or share a coffee).

We spent two months in a homestay in Saigon, so we looked for something more intimate this time. We found a small family hotel called Oriana, conveniently located near the Cathedral with lovely and cozy rooms and a superb rooftop with views. The room was inexpensive (11 euros per night) and they offer free breakfast (but we didn't have it because it wasn't vegan). We had the room 201, which has a lot of natural light, a balcony and views to the city and the mountains. The owner was very friendly and helpful, always smiling and ready to answer all our questions.

The views from the rooftop and our lovely room


What to do in Da Lat:
There are many places to visit in Da Lat, in the city and especially in the surroundings. It's a place in the mountains, so nature is definitely the main attraction here. 

Walking distance / bicycle distance
If you don't want to rent a motorbike there are many places that you can visit in the city on foot; you will save some money and you will contribute to pollute less, which is always good :) 
When I travel by myself I usually walk and walk around the place all day, I never get tired of exploring a place by foot. But when I travel with Manuel we usually find another way of transport, because he doesn't enjoy walking as much and he has ankle issues. 


We rented a tandem to pedal together through the city. It was the first time for both, and it was VERY FUN! We found a place with bicycles to rent on the street near the Café Nhat Nguyen, in the main road by the lake. They have bicycles for adults and children and tandems. The price was 60.000VND per person for the regular bicycle and 80.000VND for the tandem. We decided to try to ride the tandem, it's always fun to try new things for the first time, plus it was cheaper. 

Our tandem!

The following places can be visited by foot if you like walking, or you can rent a bicycle to save some time:

* Xuan Huong Lake
Right in the centre of the city, it's the reference point for all the other things around and the heart of the city (many hotels, restaurants and shops have the word Lac in their names- lake in French). It's a beautiful and peaceful lake that gives the city a clean and fresh atmosphere. We really enjoyed riding the tandem around the lake enjoying the view. There are coffee places around to have a local tea or coffee and if you feel romantic you can rent a swan pedal boat






* Lam Vien Square
It offers a nice view of the lake from an elevated point of view.  In the evening it gets packed with young people taking pictures, enjoying the sunset and chilling in the square.   During the time of the sunset there is a lot of great opportunities to take photos  with the interesting glass buildings, also with some costumed characters (Doraemon, teddy bears, etc.).  In the square there is also an underground shopping center with a Big C supermarket.



Sunset from Lam Vien square

* French railway Station
This old railway station was designed by two French architects in 1932 and it has a very unique style.  We though it was going to be more of a museum because we had to pay to enter, but it was mainly a cool photo op.  Just about every visitor we saw was taking neat pictures on the train tracks or hanging off the railway cars.  There are also vendors selling souvenirs alongside the cars and they have other items for sale inside the station.  The entrance is 5.000VND per person, and the parking for motorbikes is 3.000VND. 





Inside of the station



* French quarter
It's a quiet area with big, beautiful and french style houses/villas. It's interesting to see the houses and to enjoy the peace of the place. Very nice to go for a walk or ride, and it has nice views of the mountains and forest. 




* The Crazy House
It's a very funny house, that doesn't seem real. But it's an actual homestay! So you can pay for the visit or you can sleep there and have a full 'crazy experience'. The architecture reminded me of Gaudi style. The entrance fee is 60.000VND and the motorbike parking is 5.000VND. If you go by bicycle the parking is 3.000VND. So the best option for your wallet and your health is to walk :) It's about 20 minutes walking from the city centre.
We didn't go in, it was very crowded and to be honest: we preferred to spent the money on a vegan brownie [info about that amazing desert below!].





This temple is located in a quiet street with just a few houses, so there is no traffic. The outside is very interesting, you can see some mosaic decorations that look like Gaudi's architecture. But the most beautiful part is the garden. You can cross one of the rooms and enter the peaceful and delighful garden, where the mosaic decoration continues. There are different areas where you can walk, relax and admire the beauty of the place. My favourite part was a small area with wall paintings, a bit 'decadent' and charming. 




My favourite part of the Pagoda




* Da Lat Night market
It's very big- it takes 4 streets and a roundabout. They sell mainly clothes (it's cold in Da Lat, so you will find many jackets, hats and sweaters to stay warm). Some of the stands have second hand clothes (prices from 35.000VND, which is a bit more of 1 euro). They also sell local food: strawberries, giant avocados, mangos, artichokes, nuts... Be careful with the motorbikes, they can be annoying and dangerous riding through the market. 






Motorbike / car distance
If you have time and courage, you can rent a motorbike to explore the surroundings of Da Lat. The city has stunning landscapes around and it feels amazing to breathe the fresh air, see the blue sky and watch the long, thin trees along the road, especially if you come from the polluted Saigon. 
For us it was the first time riding a scooter in Vietnam; we were a bit nervous at first, after seeing all the traffic in Saigon we thought we would never be able to drive in this country! But Da Lat is much smaller, so it was quite easy to drive, and once you leave the city and take the mountain roads it's even easier. Only in the evening it gets more complicated, there is a lot of traffic in the city centre. So try to leave early in the morning to avoid the traffic.

We rented the automatic scooter at the hotel; the price was 130.000VND per day (around 5 euros). I read that you can rent a bike for 50.000VND per day, and I'm sure we could have found it cheaper somewhere, but it was convenient that way and it's not that expensive if you compare it to the rental prices in Europe. The price to fill the tank was 85.000VND. 

Only a 10 minute drive from the city center. The waterfall is beautiful, although is was very busy when we went. If you feel like walking a little bit, you can follow the path by the river and enjoy a nice view, and no sounds except the water running. There is another waterfall that you can see from above. The entrance fee is 30.000VND per person. The parking for the motorbike was only 3.000VND. They also offer roller coaster, cable car, rafting and high rope course, so it can feel like an amusement park at some point. That's why we enjoyed so much taking the little path by the river and having a more 'natural experience'.



Vegan Banh mì by the waterfall for breakfast




Less crowded than Datanla, but more 'Russian': apparently all the groups of Russian tourists go there, and you will see all the signs written in Russian. The waterfall is very special, as it's short and wide and you can walk underneath. There are other things to do around, which we found totally touristic and unnecessary: traditional costume rental, elephant and ostrich ride [DON'T DO IT!], souvenir shop... Seriously, why do they have to turn all the beautiful natural areas into amusement parks for tourists?! The entrance fee is 40.000VND per person. The parking for the motorbike was 5.000VND.

  

Vegan & plastic free lunch by the waterfall



Walking under the waterfall 

* Golden Buddha Temple
Very impressive giant golden Buddha inside a beautiful zen garden filled with bonsais and trees. It's located 10 minutes from the city centre. There is no fee entrance, nor parking fee.
There is a vegetarian/vegan restaurant right next to the temple called Quan Com Chay Van Hanh, so if you visit the temple you can stay there for lunch or to have a drink. We didn't eat there because we already had our picnic breakfast and lunch.




Vegan Banh mì for breakfast with 'golden views!'

It can be translated as 'House of the Youth'. It's a big MUST VISIT! It's only 5 minutes far from the city centre by motorbike (30 minutes walking), but away from the traffic, quiet and peaceful. It's surrounded by plants and trees and it feels extremely cozy. They serve local coffee, tea made from their own garden herbs and homemade desserts that you can enjoy at the gardens or inside the Tree house (so cool!), and there is no set price, the place is run on donations, so pay whatever you feel is worth it. The best part of this place is that the young people working there are deaf, so this is a wonderful way to support and encourage them.



There is also a little shop with handmade soaps, essential oils, dried fruits, candies, coffee and plastic free/reusable items. The soaps were only 25.000VND (around 1 euro) so I bought two: lavender and chocolate-mint. Very well spent money to support a good cause.

The shop
Right next to this coffee place there is a homestay called Langboho; you can stay in a wooden house in the nature and have a 'bohemian' experience. 


* Trà và Cafè
A little coffee place where you can enjoy the traditional tea ceremony. The place is very cozy (everything made of wood), with a strong Chinese atmosphere. It's outside of the city, in a small street downhill where there are some of the coffee plantations. We had a really nice afternoon there. I had a mango smoothie (30.000VND, a little bit more than 1 euro) and we both had the Oolong tea ceremony (50.000VND for two people, about 2 euros).




Places a bit further - that we didn't have time to visit: 

* Valley of Love
Located 6 km from the city centre. It's the most romantic place in Da Lat, or that's what they say! It offers wonderful views of the valley and hiking areas. The entrance fee is 250.000VND (~ 10 euros).

* Lang Biang Mountain
The roof of Da Lat, it is 2.169 m. and the most stunning views. You can go by car or motorbike and have a nice 3-4 hour hike. Some hotels and tour offices offer trips to Lang Biang and special packages.

* Elephant waterfalls
The biggest waterfall in the area, located 30km southwest of Da Lat city. You can go by your own transport or take the local bus (20.000VND one way). The entrance fee is 10.000VND (20.000VND during the Tet holiday)

* Linh An Pagoda
Next to the Elephant waterfalls, so it's worth a visit if you are in the area. It's a huge pagoda with many attractions: a 54 m high statue of Bodhisattva, a giant white Buddha, rows of identical white 3m high statues of Bodhisattva, etc. all in a peaceful environment with the sound of the water.



Where to eat vegan in Da Lat:
As always, type 'vegetarian restaurants' on Google maps and you will have a big selection of places to eat. There are many Buddhist temples in Da Lat, so it's easy to find vegan places to eat. Here are the ones we tried: 

Family restaurant next to the Linh Son Pagoda. They offer the usual food from all the Chay restaurants: broken rice, vegetables, all kinds of tofu and all kinds of soup. The soup was 30.000VND and the broken rice with veggies and tofu + little soup was 40.000VND.



They have a big variety of vegetables and tofu, and the cool thing about this chay restaurant is that the cooks prepare the food at the front, so you can see how they do it; a kind of show cooking. Another thing we liked: one day we asked the food to take away to have a picnic at the waterfall and they filled us the reusable container, no plastic at all! The price for the rice plate + pumpkin soup was 35.000VND per person. 



Well, after so many people recommending this place, we had high expectations about it, and we weren't disappointed at all! Wow, what a place! It's a family homestay and a fully plant based restaurant & coffee place. The food is simply amazing, and for the deserts we have no words to describe them {especially the Brownie!}. The staff is really friendly and helpful. And they sell plastic free products, like straws, toothbrushes, containers, cutlery, bowls or phin (Vietnamese coffee maker). Of course they serve the drinks with reusable straws. The only 'con' is that the prices are as Western as the dishes. 
Brownie, cookie and smoothie bowl


* Quan Com Chay Au Lac
Buddhist restaurant run by female monks. Prices from 25.000VND. We didn't have a good experience here: we went for dinner and we ordered two different dishes, but they gave us the same thing (on the photo), which looked like the leftovers of the day... We went the day after for lunch, to give them another chance, and this time they tried to charge us more, although the prices are set and written down on the menu and on the wall. 



I add this place to the list to NOT RECOMMEND IT. We had a bad experience eating there: the Bun rieu (tomato soup) had a funny smell and a strange taste, and I don't know what ingredients did they use exactly but the noodles had a bright pink color; I couldn't finish it. Manuel ordered spicy pasta and it was terrible; again, we don't know what kind of ingredientes do they use to cook, but the sauce was bad, it had a syrup texture; he didn't finish it either, and he ALWAYS finishes his food. And the prices are higher than the regular Chay places: the soup was 45.000VND and the pasta 50.000VND. Not recommended at all. 



And that's our experience in the lovely city of Da Lat, the first and hopefully not the last one! Let us know if you have any other recommendations regarding places around the city and vegan restaurants!

Our last sunset in Da Lat




Comments

Popular Posts