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Vietnam Visual Diary: Da Lat's Mountain Town

Posted on Friday, April 29, 2016

Our Vietnam adventures continue! We left the crushing busy-ness of Ho Chi Minh City for the mountains. In our initial planning, Trishna and I were choosing between Da Lat, or the more popular and touristy beaches of Nha Trang, but I'm really glad we ended up here at the former!

7am: We showed up outside the bus company's office not sure what to look out for. One thing funny about HCMC is how they send mini buses to bring us down to the actual bus station, and you have to really look out for them because if you miss them... no bus?

Anyway, I strongly recommend using the bus company Phuong Trang. It's a sleeper bus which was surprisingly clean (you have to take your shoes off before boarding, and they provide you with plastic bags to put them in!) The 8 hours of bus ride which I was dreading passed in no time, especially because you can really lie down on the plush seats to sleep! Also, you can stretch your legs out under the seat in front (ok I had to bend mine a bit as I'm a bit too tall for asian standards), and they provide a soft fleece blanket (cleanliness uncertain) and a bottle of water.

The lunch pitstop was owned by the same company that runs the bus service, and the toilets were incredibly clean. Nothing like the horrors of my youth taking the bus up once a year to Malaysia :'D We had "Hủ Tiếu" which looks super brothy and delicious, but the weird thing about Vietnamese food is that when you eat it, it's actually quite plain. I feel that I may not be condiment-ing enough. Help?

Our hotel, the Terracotta Resort Da Lat which was seriously pretty (the facade was all glass... but we didn't spend much time walking the grounds and taking pictures, which kinda defeated the purpose of booking it, SIAN). If you peek outside our windows, you can see the pine trees, that surround all of our hotel and Da Lat.

While our rooms were clean, spacious and comfortable, on hindsight, I wouldn't have booked us this place again because it's much too far from the city center (a 15-20 minute drive) and was a bit too big and The Shining-esque quiet (we kept getting lost finding our room!) But we paid $45.00 a night including tax for the whole room, so... heck.

If you are planning to spend all your time relaxing in the resort, I would say this may be a good choice as they have things like Segway and bicycle rentals, a large lake for walking and karaoke studios at night; but if you are just spending a couple of nights like we were, and out all day, I'd say go for something nearer the city center as we walked past an abundant number of hotels!

After freshening up and getting our faces on, we head out to our first stop - Xuan Huong Lake, smack in the city center of Da Lat! We decide to take their swan (or chicken???) boats out for a ride, which were 60,000 dong (S$4.00 total, or S$2.00 each) for an hour. Love how value everything is in Vietnam!

Everything in this town is kind of kitschy and stuck in the past, which we find kind of endearing - plus the fact that the weather is basically like air-con - around 25 degrees in the day and drops to as low as 14 degrees at night since we're up in the mountains! Literally felt like we were in Europe, especially coupled with how the buildings are very French, due to Vietnam's colonial heritage. In fact, the city is sometimes called Little Paris because they have a mini Eiffel Tower here (you can see it below at the night market)!

After much vigorous peddling in our Swan Boats, we decide to chill out at a random street side store next to the lake ("ghetto style"). Tried the Da Lat pizza, which is a street food must-try here. It looks really delish with spring onions and eggs cooked over coals!

I read about Windmills Coffee online as a highly rated place to go for coffee here in Da Lat, but it wasn't really a destination on our list - we just happened to walk past it on our quest to find our tour agency (it was like "Hey! That's the place I read about!") and decided to stop over for a cuppa.Was pleasantly surprised how modern and spacious it was! Fun fact: Vietnam is famous for their coffee, and they grow it right here in Da Lat!

Da Lat is also known as the "City of a Thousand Flowers" or the "City of Eternal Spring" because they grow lots of temperate flowers due to the weather. There were plenty of colourful bushes everywhere, including hydrangeas and these pink ones which look like cherry blossoms!

Trishna and I have so much love for the Dalat Night Market, we kind of stumbled upon it, but honestly, it's hard to miss. Located along the very central street of Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, the whole street is alive with light and bustling stalls selling street food and touristy stuff to buy back as souvenirs. It's like those typical Asian street markets, except for the fact that the air is chilly - making it super pleasant and fun to take our time to walk around, look at the stores and try the food.

I think we had our best meal in Vietnam, sitting on those classic half-chairs by the road and drinking a steaming bowl of 15,000 dong (S$1.00) noodles in 16C weather. So glad we didn't settle for the expensive tourist trap hotpots along the road which were going for around 200,000 dong (S$13.00~)! We really had to walk quite deep into the market to find our local-priced noodles to the point that we were getting really hungry - but worth it!!!

Based on Vany's recommendation, we manage to track down the elusive Avocado Ice Cream store, Thanh Thảo (Address: 76 Nguyễn Văn Trỗi). You know this is some legit stuff when it's completely crowded with locals at 9pm at night. No bells and whistles in the interior, just a dollop of ice cream inside what I describe as the freshest, creamiest avocado smoothie ever, since they grow avocados here in Da Lat as well cause of the weather.

It's located quite a distance from the night market, but walkable and worth it!

Da Lat isn't exactly known for it's throbbing night life, but since the night was still young, we decide to get some drinks! Thanks to Trishna's sharp memory, we head back to the same road that our tour agency was on to a little hole in the wall place called 13 Cafe-Bar (Address: 13 Tang Bat Ho Street). While it was filled with tourists, the beer was cheap - 20,000dong for a big bottle of Saigon Red (because we're in Vietnam and what better place to drink it) - and it came with free flow nuts as well as fresh home-baked cookies the owner brought out to offer us! Not bad.

While it got a little chilly at night as it was open-air, it was nothing a couple of beers couldn't warm up. I also love how random but cosy the decor was. Hell, there was Chinese New Year decoration (even though we were well into March), but it works.

So yeah! The city center of Da Lat is really an intriguing and random place that has a place in our hearts because it's not a huge destination place that everyone goes to, but I had such a positive experience that I would recommend people to come here for a well-balanced holiday (how many trips do you get to see a city, mountains and beaches all in a week?)

The sad part about traveling is that you can only ever discover a city for the first time once, so it was fun finding out what this little town has to offer for ourselves, breathing in the cool mountain air and falling for the off-kilter charm that is Da Lat.