Da Lat, the City of Flowers. A third stop in Vietnam, 13 hours by bus from Hoi An with a short stop-over at Nha Trang. It is the third highlands I have visited so far after Cameron Highlands
in Malaysia and Bolaven Plateau
in Laos. All the three are very different to each other and Da Lat is almost taiga-like with very little resemblances to the tropical nature. It is also the most developed of the three and in fact is a sizable city with population of 120000 (and probably the equal amount of tourists), bustling traffic and flourishing tourism industry. Da Lat itself is rather boring. If you go by the recommendations of Lonely Planet, it will be most certainly a big disappointment. There are many places to eat, drink and have fun, but not a lot in terms of sights. There a lot of pretty French built villas, who built them back in the day to escape the heat of lowlands, so Da Lat shines on the architecture front. There is even a mini version of Eiffel Tower or at least something that looks like one.
One fascinating thing is Crazy House, which fully lives up to its name. It is a partly hotel, partly tourist attraction designed in Alice In Wonderland meets Middle Earth style. Very bizarre and very not socialist art-like. The architect studied in Moscow back in the Soviet Union days, which makes it even crazier. Room rates start from 32$, but I would imagine constant hordes of tourists (dominated by Russians) would make the stay well rather crazy. Flower Park, another attraction in Da Lat, is rather bland. I would rather go see the nature instead flowers planted in an organized fashion.
The beauty of Da Lat is outside the city. Just rent a (motor-)bike and go to any of four directions to marvel at the beautiful nature of highlands. Сoniferous forests, greener than green hills, some waterfalls, vegetable plantations and at least one climbable mountain, Lang Biang. Elephant Waterfall is nice, but after seeing so many amazing waterfalls in Laos, I was not all that impressed. The waterfall and cave quota is exceeded on this trip. Lang Biang, on the other hand, was more exciting. There are two peaks. The lower one with a paved road leading do it and a restaurant on the top and the higher one just a mud path. Motorbikes and bicycles are not allowed, but visitors are encouraged to hire a mountain taxi to go to the top. I opted for walking to both peaks instead. I made it to the first peak just minutes before the storm, waited the storm to calm in the cafe and continued to the second peak after. The end result was climbing up a really slippery mud path in a rush and trying to make it there and back before the sunset. Made it to the top, took a couple of pictures and almost immediately clouds obscured the view completely. Five minutes on the top and I had to start a hasty descent before the sunset. Somehow I always end up in the jungle on a mountain just before the dark. Never been stranded on the mountain for the night so far, but the prospect of navigating my way down in the dark is not appealing at all.
It rained every day and at times was rather chilly and even cold, but it was a nice change after the heat of “lowlands”. Dorms are scarce in Vietnam, so I got into habit of sharing a room with strangers. First it was a Chinese guy I met on the bus, then David from Catalonia, whom I had met in Hoi An using the same tactic. A great company and half the accommodation costs. Why not, indeed. Furthermore sharing food is always a plus in Asian countries. Deep-fried frogs and a deer salad on one occasion and seafood delicacies on the other one. 5€ per person for a selection of exotic seafood plates and a bottle of Da Lat red wine. I shudder to think what the same set would cost in Finland. Food is definitely one of the best things about Vietnam, especially after rather bland Lao food.
I spent three days in Da Lat and did not reach the “I wanna get out of here now” point, but it was enough for the first time. I arrived to Da Lat by a sleeper night bus and left the same way to Saigon. I can think of better ways to get a good night sleep, but the hectic schedule dictates its own rules. To be continued…